Friday, January 24, 2014

A word about this blog.


If you are reading this because you are curious about the formation of the first cluster of the Free Library of Philadelphia, I suggest you start at the bottom with the posts from December 2013.  This really a chronological account of events from the first meetings to discuss what a cluster should be to the current time.

The cluster, and the blog are both works in progress.  We're still not really sure where we are going, but we are finding our way and continue to discuss the directions we should be taking.  Also, the blog was written primarily for co-workers at the Free Library so they can follow along with the progress.  There has been much curiosity and speculation about our process.  So, I apologize if language is used that is not familiar to anyone outside of the Free Library.

With all of that being said, I hope you learn something about us.  And, I hope you enjoy the posts.

Leader of the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries  (The Cluster)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Community Council and Public Innovation

As mentioned in the "Public Innovation and the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries" post, we have been using some of the methods developed by the Harwood Institute to gather public knowledge about the communities we serving.  This is a very basic and elementary start to the process.

As a beginning exercise (ragged start activity) at the first NPNL Community Council, I distributed Harwood Institute community questionnaires.  Not everyone completed one, but for the folks that did, I think there is some valuable and useful information.  Below is a compilation of that questionnaire. As we gather more information, we will begin to look at the information gathered, and try to tailor our services in a way that can bring about a transformation in the community, however small.

“Community” Survey – Seven respondents
       What kind of community do you want to live in?
           There were two general themes to this question plus a specific mention of the library.
1.       Resources to “uplift and educate the community.”
·         Social Capital that can build and equip its residents
2.       Safety
·         Fewer bars and stop-n-go’s.  More sit-down restaurants, bakeries and fresh foods
·         People know and look out for each other
·         A place where children and teens have constructive outlets and learn to give back to their community
·         Economic stability
3.       Library – to be open and clean and demonstrate via its looks they care about our community.
2.       Why is that important to you?
·         Several people mentioned they live in the area and have a vested interest.  They want a suitable environment for future residents.  Two people mentioned a dramatic negative change in their community in recent years.
3.       How is that different from how you see things now?
·         One person sees growth, but feels the community on a whole is “being pushed out of the process by lack of communication”
·         Another sees people keeping to themselves and not getting involved in community affairs.
·         Violence, ignorance and no literacy are factors.
4.       What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?
·         Communication, inclusion, equity, respect, tolerance
·         Great leaders, real programs (not a lot of lip service)
·         Resources allocated to support local organizations that focus on neighborhood/community empowerment.  And, have a record of success and commitment
·         Computer classes, job search classes, math club or classes
**Tomorrow’s engineers and technicians need math & science, AND library help!
·         More community meetings and events to draw attention to problems and solutions
·         Matching funds participation from many of the different business and corporations
·         Individuals (grass roots advocates), community based organizations should, on a continuum meet/leverage resources

Outreach in the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries

Contrary to popular belief, librarians do not sit at their desks all day. Along with our various job duties (computer assistant, information retriever, social worker, therapist, mediator, etc.), we are tasked with going out into our communities. Outreach allows us to promote programs/services offered by the Free Library to new audiences and connect our existing patrons to community resources. A majority of our outreach takes place in our neighborhood schools; we supplement teaching curricula with story times, project assistance, information literacy, book talks and more. Furthermore, we also conduct outreach in non-academic settings, including churches, non-profits, businesses and other community organizations. Although we face several obstacles (inadequate staffing, building issues, limited financial resources), we are an impassioned group of librarians seeking to create partnerships and serve as the bridge between our community and our neighborhood organizations.

At the Widener Neighborhood Library, several ongoing programs are a direct result of extensive outreach. Our weekly GED class, which will begin again in February, came about after the instructor picked up a branch business card at an outreach event. Quarterly business programs from Temple University’s Small Business Development Center began I stopped by their office and asked if they present offsite workshops. Our Children's Librarian conducts weekly storytimes that have grown exponentially due to her persistent visits to each daycare provider in our area. Even our patrons assist us with spreading library information throughout the community by sharing our flyers. Attending community meetings also benefitted outreach efforts tremendously because we are able to connect with new individuals/groups, such as the 22nd Police District and Philly 311.

The Kensington Neighborhood Library provides extensive outreach to its community through El Centro High School and the East Kensington Neighborhood Association. Interns from El Centro completed projects at the branch and invited the Adult Librarian to their final presentations. The East Kensington Neighborhood Association provided an opportunity to share the library’s events and network with other organizations. The librarians also identified a local Vietnamese population and are in the process of coordinating outreach events for these individuals.

Lillian Marrero Neighborhood Library works closely with Congreso, especially around adult education issues, and its PANAM Charter School. Ms. Diana Garcia, the assistant principal, invited the adult and children’s librarian to visit the school, have a tour and participate in the Literary Parade on October 31. Since that event, they have received over 300 library card applications from the PANAM students and scheduled visits to the library with each of the classes. The Teen Librarian is currently hosting college prep every Monday from 1/6/2014 thru 2/24/2014 from 4:00 to 5:30pm. She also made contact with organizations such as BUSCA, Temple and I-LEAD by attending a network session sponsored by PCPR, after attending an introductory outreach session with a fellow librarian.

These examples mentioned represent a small percentage of the awesome outreach provided by the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries. We look forward continuing outreach and creating new partnerships within our communities.

-Christina P. (Adult/Teen Librarian at the Widener Neighborhood Library)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

North Philly Cluster Training: Bringing in 2014 with a bang! …and a click! …and a snap!

On January 2, over thirty Free Library staff members from the North Philadelphia Cluster participated in maker training, at the Kensington Library. Kensington is one of four neighborhood libraries (along with Lillian Marrero, Cecil B. Moore and Widener) that are participating in Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant-funded “Maker Jawn: Design It * Make It * Share it” programming. The goal of the Maker Jawn crew is to mentor youth as they articulate their interests through the lens of technology.

Maker Mentors are library staff, students, engineers and artists who lead daily sessions with young makers, across North Philly. The training was facilitated by Branch Manager, Rebekah Ray, Programming Specialists (K-Fai Steele, Barbara Tait and Khaleef Aye) and Maker Mentors (Brittany Walker and Amanda Suarez). The outcomes have been quite interesting! At Kensington, kids have created an entire arcade of games using nothing but cardboard. Youth from the Cecil B. Moore Library created 3d-LED snowflakes for decoration of the children’s department. Widener youth made characters using squishy circuits (PlayDoh with LEDs and batteries). At Lillian Marrero, kids have learned to edit photos using a green screen and free online software like PIXLR.

One positive outcome from all of this is the community building and strengthening that takes place when the rest of the Library staff gets involved (as seen below). These moments serve as opportunities for youth empowerment, intergenerational learning, skills sharing and positive youth development.

So, in an effort to demystify what it means to be a maker in a library environment, introduce cluster staff to some really cool and inexpensive technology, and have some serious FUN, some of the Maker Jawn crew hosted stations that consisted of some of the more popular maker activities. From PlayDoh to LEDs, everyone was able to get their hands on the tools that are being used throughout the cluster. Here are some highlights:
                   Lillian Marrero Branch Manager, Rebekah Ray
                   leads an e-textiles station where staff was invited to 
                   bring items that they “lit up” by sewing in batteries and LEDs.

                    K-Fai demonstrates the Makey Makey, a
                    device that allows the user to use conductive
                    items (such as PlayDoh, fruit, and even
                    themselves) as a controller.
                   Staff took photos in front of a Green Screen and edited
                   them using the free online software PIXLR.
                   Cluster staff learns to make their own video
                   games, online. Game making has become a great
                   way for kids and teens to explore creativity and strengthen
                   their strategizing and problem solving skills.
Are you interested in doing some of this? Here are some links to FREE resources that were used, as well as additional information about the Maker Jawn movement: - additional information regarding the Free Library’s Maker Jawn project - MIT’s scratch piano, an online music creation program that’s used with the Makey Makey –online photo editing software –online game creation website –online game creation website –online video software – great site for e-textile project ideas

Have Fun!
The Maker Jawn Team

The First Community Council Meeting

I had a lot of anxiety going into this meeting.  I was worried that either too many people would show up, or that no one would show up.  Cecil B. Moore's meeting room is not that large, and too large of a crowd would have been uncomfortable for everyone.  All six of the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Library Managers were very diligent about distributing the invitation.  We had RSVP's from close to 50 people from various organizations, large and small.  Fortunately, in regards to space, not everyone came.  We had approximately 30 people from a variety of groups.

Each attendee was given a sign-in sheet which asked for complete contact information.  It also provided space for comments in response to two questions.  The following are the responses, with an indication of the organization the respondent was representing.

  1. Which Free Library of Philadelphia services could assist my organization or enhance my community.
a.      Materials
                                                              i.      More Spanish materials (Providence Center)
b.      Space
                                                              i.      Hosting meetings (Philly Rising)
                                                            ii.      Portable board in the vestibule for current events ( Falomi)
                                                          iii.      Meeting space to conduct character building workshops (Sturdivant)
c.       Hours
                                                              i.      Saturday Hours ( Falomi Club)
d.      Program
                                                              i.      Job Readiness, Literacy, after school, STEM (Philly Rising) 
e.      Computers
                                                              i.      Any/all computer access and training services. Specifically for job preparation (Philly Rising)
f.        Outreach/Partnership
                                                              i.      Book or topic talks @ summer day camps or Wed. night youth groups (Philly Open Air Church)
                                                            ii.      Attend Final Friday Community Dinners 
                                                          iii.      Networking opportunities to leverage the services we provide (Sturdivant)
                                                           iv.      Libraries host Intro to Jazz Workshops – free concerts (Philadelphia Jazz Project)
                                                             v.      Help to get word out about Clarifi (Clarifi.)

  1. 2.  Comments
a.      Libraries across the city have been terrific partner for these services and we hope to expand to more (PhillyRising)
b.      Would like to offer workshops to the Free Library, starting with this group of libraries (Philadelphia Jazz Project)
c.       The library is a place of learning.  I’d like to see more STEM (Men and Women for Human Excellence)
d.      My family loves the story time for toddlers at LMB.  It would be good to do the story time on Saturdays when other preschoolers are not in preschool
e.      The library should seek funding for prime time advertisement telling residents just how the library can make a difference in their lives using real people who have benefited from their library experience.  
f.        This is a great opportunity as it affords organizations the opportunity to leverage social capital.
There was no formal agenda for this meeting.  We allowed the representative from each of the organizations to describe the work they do in the neighborhood, and for other people to ask questions.  When all of the groups were finished, each of the six library managers had a chance to tell the group about their library and what makes it unique.
Most of those present were from grassroots organizations.  One is working with the formerly incarcerated to help them be job ready and get employment.  Several groups are working with children, especially in the areas of math and science.  The value in this was that some of these groups had no idea of the existence of the others and were able to network.  (I see this as a “real” value-added benefit of these meetings. I don’t know that high-level work will be accomplished here.)  The “higher” level groups present, (Clarifi, Philly Rising, SEPTA and Phila Police, Mayors Commission on Literacy, as well as the library) were able to get their messages out to the grassroots organizations.  There were multiple “ah-ha” moments among them.
Based on some of the activities shared, we were able to tell the group about resources they can access immediately, such as Learning Express Library and the Job and Career Help Center on our databases page.

We are planning the next meeting for some time at the end of February, or the beginning of March.

The December Staff Meeting - I'm going to learn your name

Again, in December, I started the meeting with an update on all relevant Free Library news.  Most of the staff really do seem to appreciate this.  I've noticed the group is getting louder and a little harder to call to order.  I actually see this as a good thing.  It's an indicator that they are getting to know each other better and have much to say.

After this initial dissemination of information, I encouraged people to sign up for three different committees.  The Fun Committee, The Program Committee and a third committee whose function was yet to be determined.  Unsurprisingly, The Fun Committee got the largest response.  They are currently looking at ways for everyone in the cluster to have more fun while doing their job and, I hope, they will have something to report to us at the February meeting.

Then, we spent some time doing a team building/get to know you activity.  Team juggling is an activity I've done many times before.  By adding an extra element of calling out names, and constantly shifting who is in each group, it can facilitate the learning of names.  The room got very loud with the calling out, and laughter.  We all expended much energy and had a great time.  My intention is to do a similar activity each month until everyone knows everyone else's name.  It's an ambitious goal, but one to which I'm committed.

The meeting concluded with breakout groups by jobs.  Municipal Guards, Library Assistants, and Librarians.  My hope was they would each share successes and challenges of their particular work.  Since I could not be in all three places, I can only assume that happened.  In future meetings, I plan to have groups break out based on other criteria.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Planning the Community Council

The only true directive I have received from Siobhan Reardon, the President of the Free Library, was to form a community council for the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries.  The council is supposed to be comprised of representatives from local non-profits and CDC's, PhillyRising, schools and day care centers, and the library's Friends groups.  There may also be a presence from the Free Library's board.  The Friends groups presented a bit of a problem, because only one of the branches actually has an active Friends group.

An invitation was created which was emailed and/or hand delivered to everyone we could think of to invite.  All of the Library Managers and I did our best to track where the invitations were delivered, and Ed Saeger, Cluster Coordinator, tracked the RSVP's.

I had two areas of concern during this time.

  1. Would anyone show up?  Particularly, would the people from some of the key organizations, like PhillyRising respond?
  2. Once they did respond, and come to the meeting, I wasn't sure about the type of agenda to have.
Regardless, we plowed on and continued to invite people and hoped for the best.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The November Meeting - and I don't know your name

The second all-cluster staff meeting occurred on November 7, 2013 at McPherson Square Neighborhood Library.

There was a fair amount of information about general FLP updates to be shared at this meeting.  I have found that by delivering as much "news" as possible to the group as a whole is appreciated by most of the staff.  It allows for questions and clarification, which tends to alleviate some tension.  (This is not a new concept, but the opportunity to make it happen has not always been realistically available in the Free Library structure.)

I did a quick poll of the group to see if anyone knew the name of every other person in the room.  None did, including me.  Therefore, we will be working hard in future meetings to get to know one another.

After a break, we worked through one of the Public Innovation exercises mentioned in the previous post.  Here are the questions and consolidated responses that comprised the discussion.

1.  What are your aspirations for your community?

1)    Safety
  No abandoned buildings
  Involvement in neighborhood clean-up
  Improve quality-of-life: jobs, etc.

2)    Interaction & Communication
  Harmony and Elder
  Parental involvement with children
  Places/activities for children/teens
  Stimulation for children

3)    “Stuff”
  Supplies in school
  Better nutrition for children
  Single directory for resources responding to needs
  Electronic services: fax, print, scan, etc. readily available
  More green space
  More open recreation centers
  More programs for children/teens/adults
  Spaces for community conversations/events

 The challenges we face in reaching these aspirations are:

1)    Money
  Insufficient staffing
  Insufficient police presence
  Unfilled job slots

2)    Lack of basic skills/tools/literacy
  Resistance to/fear of change
  Unaware of community contacts/resources
  Behavioral issues
  Treating libraries as daycare centers (lack of adults)
  Guest pass issue
  Failure of the School District/poor education
  Lack of understanding of different cultures

3)    Mental Health
  Untreatable mental illness

The changes needed in my community to reach our aspirations are:

1)    Human development
2)    Modeling behavior/commitment with neighborhood
3)    Organizing skills/conflict resolution
4)    Communication
5)    Making free transit available
6)    Fixing physical infrastructure
7)    Calmly understanding and implementing Acceptable Standards of Behavior
8)    Giving patrons a sense of being stakeholders / ownership of their library
9)    Inter-generational sack race

Friday, January 3, 2014

Public Innovation and the North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries

In late October I and one of the library managers were fortunate enough to be able to attend a three-day lab on how libraries can transform communities through public innovation.  These three days were the beginning of a one-year long training program.

ALA received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance library-led community engagement.  They have partnered with the Harwood Institute of Public Innovation to forward this mission.  There are links to handouts that explain some of what I'm describing here.

Here are some of the important take-aways I got from the experience.

1. Look outward.  When planning for a program, or event do we assume we know what our community needs, or wants.  Or, do we ask them directly?

2. Public vs. Expert Knowledge.  Expert knowledge is everything we can glean from statistics.  The census, neighborhood demographics, crime data, etc.  It helps to draw a certain picture of the community.  Public knowledge is obtained by getting out on the streets and actually talking to the people.  It can also be gathered at what are called "Kitchen Table Conversations."  Generally speaking the following questions are asked.
                      1. What are your aspirations for your community?
                      2.  The challenges we face in reaching this aspirations are ...
                      3. The changes needed in my community to reach these aspirations are...

3.  Authority.  Could I stand up on a table and talk to people about their community, their aspirations and concerns, and would they believe me?

4.  Authenticity.  Do I reflect the reality of people’s lives and do they believe I have their best interests at heart, even when we disagree? 

5.  Accountability.  Am I living up to the pledges and promises I made?

We have already started asking these and other questions in the community, and will be setting up some kitchen table conversations in the New Year as I become more acquainted with the program.

The knowledge gained from these exercises is meant to supplement or compliment any formal strategic plans that are in place.

Note:  The Harwood Institute was founded by Richard Harwood, and he has been using and refining these methods for more than twenty years.  Richard Harwood is the person who was asked to conduct the conversations with the families of the victims in Newtown, Connecticut about the disposition of the Sandy Hook Elementary School building.


It looks the same, but, really, it's different.

I have been to many meetings to describe the progress of the cluster, and I've used an analogy to describe how I, and the members of the cluster view the composition of these six branches.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods filled with row homes.  Many of us grew up on one of these blocks where two or three or more of the houses were occupied by extended members of the same family.  As children, we lived in the one house with our family, but we often had the "run" of the other houses as well.  We could go in without knocking, sit down and watch TV.  We knew whose house we had to ask permission before getting a glass of water, or milk.  We knew where we could put our feet on the sofa, and where we definitely could not put our feet on the furniture.

The goal for the six libraries in the cluster is the same.  Most of the staff is assigned to one facility. But, they should feel comfortable about suggesting programs, or offering to do programs for another branch.  Already I am seeing this happening.  There is an arrangement being worked out that will move MG's between three libraries in order to enable one MG who has an interest in horticulture to do a program for the public at Lillian Marerro Library.

Traditionally, in years past, the El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebration has been a one day event at Lillian Marerro Neighborhood Library.  This year, it will be a six day event with something happening at each of the six libraries.

These are just two examples of how there is more group thinking.  One concern that we looked at was the possibility of one library's program statistics looking less robust because of the staff cooperating with programs at the other libraries.  In order to address this, I asked the web team to provide a way to look at the statistics for the cluster as a whole.  We will sink or swim as one unit.

I anticipate that regular monthly meetings with the six library managers will continue to spark ideas that can be nurtured by all.  And, the once monthly all-cluster meetings will encourage staff at all levels to participate in the overall success of the cluster.