Friday, April 29, 2016

What You Can Do to Combat Librarian Burnout

Here's the scenario: You're a super-intelligent, well-educated librarian, dedicated to public service and readers' advisory, and you really and truly care about your job. The problem is, sometimes it feels like nobody notices all the good you do. Or maybe you've just heard, "it must be nice to sit and read books all day!" one too many times. Perhaps you've spent hours of time preparing for an epic library program, and didn't get any attendance at all. We all have bad days, but if you find this mood lingering past that one day, you might have Burnout.

Whatever the problem, if you're in burnout mode, the best way to fix that is to take a few minutes for yourself and regroup. (If it's really bad, you may need to take a few days off, but let's hope we can fix it before it gets to that point.) I am very lucky in my current job, but I've had situations in the past where I've just been so burned out, I felt like I never wanted to set foot in a library again - and that is completely unlike me, and it needed to be fixed. I hope my tips and tricks help you, too.

What it is

Before we get to the fun stuff, I wanted to talk a little about burnout. The Mayo Clinic has a great overview of what burnout is and what you can do. For example, if you're feeling more than one of these symptoms, you might have an issue: 
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
Check their website for the full list of symptoms - there are many, and you may not even realize that you're dealing with a real thing, but burnout can be a serious issue, leading to depression, anxiety, heart disease, a compromised immune system, fatigue, insomnia... It's like stress, but moreso, and it's caused by work. Now, if things have gotten really bad, these tips might not help, but for those of us who just have an off day every once in a while, try...

Get Some Instant Relief


For moments when you wish you could get away but you really can't, buy yourself a stress ball, or pick one up for free at a conference. Other fidget toys are also helpful, like the Tangle, which looks like a big, twisty teething ring that you turn around in your hands. They can help with anxiety, or just distract you for a few minutes. I also like the Bubble Hourglass, where you flip it over and the colored liquid goes from top to bottom. It can be really relaxing to focus on something for a minute. I also have a large purple bunny (her name is Princess Bun-Bun) that a former coworker gave me; she's there for me to hold if I need a hug. Silly, perhaps - but helpful. A friend of mine keeps a jar of bubble stuff on her desk; another friend has play-doh. Whatever helps you.

Spend Five Minutes Or Less On...

Actual screenshot I took when I was stressing one day.

When things are stressful but you can take a few minutes to unwind, I recommend taking advantage of some of what the internet has to offer. Personally, I love watching the live animal cams from various zoos and aquariums. It's especially nice because I can leave it on in the background of the computer and keep doing my work, and then you look up and - awww! Panda bears!

  • The San Diego Zoo has polar bears, apes, elephants, and pandas.
  • The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has elephants, lions, and pandas.
  • The New England Aquarium has a webcam that looks down into the giant ocean tank, and you'll see everything from sharks to sea turtles floating past.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium has eight different animal cams, from jellyfish to birds to sharks to sea otters. (I find the jellyfish to be particularly relaxing.)

If you Have a Bit More Time...

Totally coveting these right now.
Which you would only ever do on your own time, right? Of course right. But maybe take a look at getting yourself a new cardigan, funky socks, or a new pair of amazing librarian glasses. For inspiration, check out @LibWardrobe on Twitter and see how everyone else is styling these days. (As for me, I get much of my best stuff from Out of Print Clothing.) It's amazing how a little treat can perk you up sometimes.

If you have more time (seriously, it's addictive), take a look at the Unshelved comic series by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes, and read about the adventures of the staff in the Mallville Public Library. If you need a good laugh, Awful Library Books is pretty much the most hilarious thing there is, and I'm also a big fan of Better Book Titles - which totally counts as research for readers' advisory, right? And of course, to wake up those brain cells, Mental Floss is your best friend.

Take a Twitter break:

Of course, once you've set up your Twitter account, you can easily take a quick break and see what's new and exciting. Some of our favorite Twitter accounts (in addition to the one for our blog), include:

Showing off some of the books that are circulating.

(Caution - Paperback Paradise is not always safe for work!)

Not always fun facts, but always interesting. And, of course....

And Lastly...

There are a few things that you can do to help keep yourself in good mental shape, so you don't need to go looking for cat photos online in the first place (I mean, you will anyway, but still). Sometimes all you need to do is go take a nice walk on your lunch break; the combination of fresh air and exercise will perk up your endorphin hormones, and you might find that you come back to work with a spring in your step. (Or at least, not as downtrodden.)

"Mindfulness" is a big buzzword lately, but it really works. I use the Headspace app on my iPhone to walk me through short (10-15 minute) sessions, but if you prefer to stay low-tech, the primary goal is to focus on your body, your breathing, your contact points (your legs on the chair, your hands in your lap, etc.), any noises you hear, and smells you smell, etc. You don't judge the world around you - you just pay attention to it. I was surprised at how much this helps me; instead of getting annoyed at little things, they pass me by. I usually do it in my car on my lunch break. There are tons of great books and audio books out there on mindfulness, if you're interested in getting started.

Also: take some time to remind yourself that you really do love your job, and you're doing it for a reason. I Freaking Love Libraries is a great place to start. There's also I Love Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association, and you can reach out to other librarians on Twitter, to vent and listen to their stories. (I usually use the hashtag #librarylife.) We're all here, we're all going through the same things, and we are all librarians at heart. If we didn't care, we wouldn't be so stressed out in the first place.

Let us know if there's anything else you can think of that might help you, and we'll be sure to add it to the article!

Friday, April 22, 2016

8 Best Practices for a Successful Writing Competition

In my previous job, I had the pleasure of running a teen writing competition for three years. Our first year, we had 35 participants. Our last year, we had over 100! So, we learned a few tricks over the years that we are very happy to share.

In A Nutshell, This is How We Ran It:

We had four categories: Middle School Poetry, Middle School Fiction/Memoir, High School Poetry, High School Fiction/Memoir. Each category had first place ($100), second place ($25), and honorable mention. The fiction/memoir was limited to 1,000 words and the poetry was limited to 30 lines.

Teens filled out an application and emailed it to us. (They could also drop three copies off at the library if they didn't have/want to email.) We printed out three copies and mailed them to our judges, which were local reporters and writers, and retired school librarians. They filled out a rubric for each submission and then met at the library to decide on the winners.

We notified all winners that they were finalists in the writing competition. They and their families were invited to come to the Spotlight program, where we announced which place they made, handed out checks and certificates, and gave them the opportunity to read their work to the audience. (Begin the event announcing high school winners. Middle school winners are too shy to read first but then they get caught up in the fun.)

From this whole process, we learned so much!

1. Be Specific in Your Rules/Application

Your rules should specify all important details in clear bullet points. If you want to drive something specific home (i.e. word count), make them fill it out in the application (Total words in your submission?).

In our application, we asked for contact info (name, address, phone, email, grade, school, title of piece, word count). Our last question asked them if they wanted to know about our Teen Writing Group and we'd email them more info. Unfortunately, that didn't find us new members, but I tried! I've since taken it off the application. (Maybe it'll work for you?)

Since our judges were volunteers, we held firm with the word count limitation.

Here is a sample of our Writing Competition Application, which I believe was heavily inspired from the Darien Public Library's application (which popped up when I googled Teen Writing Competition Applications, desperate for any ideas to help get started. Thanks for making it public!):

2. Finding Judges

We emailed all of the local authors in our area and asked them if they would be willing to participate. We were excited when two people said yes! To fill up the rest of the judge panel (three for each age group), we extended our search to local reporters and retired school librarians (Don't understate the celebrity factor, especially if the school librarian was beloved). We promised we wouldn't send them more than 50 entries for their age group (25 poetry/25 fiction/memoir). Most of the time, this wasn't a problem. The last year, we read all of the entries and had to weed out some of the submissions.

We had a core group of judges who were willing to do this every year. I tried to have an odd number of judges in each group so they could easily come to a conclusion on the winner. Usually I had to hunt for two more people to join each year, which was doable.

2. Create a Separate Email Account

We learned this our first year. I have a Teen Room Assistant who helps with the writing competition. The first year, I had to forward all of the submissions to her and she printed them out. The second year, we shared the same generic email address AND I had it set up to provide an automatic response so people would know we received their submission and for those who needed confirmation for their teachers. (That was 102 emails I didn't have to send last year!)

3. Deadlines

We catered to grades 6-12. Through trial and error, we learned that having a deadline in March for Middle School and a deadline in April for High School worked the best. Our best guess is that our previous deadlines fell around standardized testing, where teachers were more focused on the test than our competition (which makes sense!).

4. Advertise on Your School's Social Media

We followed our local schools on Facebook and tapped into them for advertising. (I also hear some schools are very active on Twitter, too) On Facebook, I sent messages to them asking them to share the following post and I wrote it all up so they can just copy and paste. One school had a Facebook Group which they allowed me to join, so we had a direct line to teens AND parents.

5. Email English Teachers, School Librarians -- and History Teachers

We always try to reach out to the teachers in the appropriate field connected to our program, so we've emailed English Teachers and School Librarians about the contest. Our last year, though, we decided to include History Teachers since they are also interested in stories. It made a huge difference! We also mentioned that we would accept homework assignments, if teachers wanted to give extra credit. *Hint, Hint* Note: This is the reason why we had to say "Memoir" instead of "Nonfiction". We did get some homework assignments that didn't fit into our rubric.

6. Email Previous Participants

We saved the email addresses of those who participated and emailed them again the next year, inviting them to participate again.

7. Make It Easy for Your Judges

We mailed the submissions to our judges and a rubric to help them judge on the same values (See below for an example.). They had about three weeks to read and fill out the rubrics. Then we invited them to attend a meeting where they could discuss their favorites and select the winners. I had lots of snacks, coffee, and I always gave them a small gift card to Dunkin' Donuts and a large piece of chocolate that said "Thanks!". I think it was the Winner Selection meeting that helped us create such a core group of judges -- they really got into dissecting the teens' writings to come to an agreement on the winners. The energy in the air was always filled with excitement and wonderment. They were always impressed with the submissions!

8. Celebrate Your Winners!

The teens always came excited to the Spotlight program, where we announced what award them had won, handed out certificates (great for their portfolios!), and checks. We also distributed a booklet of the winners' writing, arranged together alphabetically by the author's last name. The winners had a chance to read a portion of their work to the audience, which is a thrill all on its own (especially since we dimmed the lights, had a spotlight on the podium and a microphone). We shared the winners' writing online and in our newsletter. We also emailed the teachers the list of winners and what school they came from so they can congratulate their students. And, since we did it consistently for many years, teens and teachers started planning ahead for it.

That's it for my tips. Good luck with your competition!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ready to Go Display: Summer Reading: Health, Wellness and Fitness

Welcome to our series, "Ready to Go!" Book Display. Once a month, we'll highlight the latest or greatest for every age group (Adults, Teens and Children) that you can promote within your library or order for your collection. This month we are getting ready for summer reading with health, wellness, and fitness books! 

Recommendations for Adults:

From the New York Times best-selling author Matthew Inman, aka "The Oatmeal," comes this collection of comics and stories about running, eating, napping and one cartoonist's reasons for running across mountains until his toenails fall off.

A Harvard psychologist and TED star shares strategic advice on how to live in accordance with one's inner resources to overcome social fears and self-doubt while heightening confidence, productivity and influence.

52 Small Changes for the Mind by Brett Blumenthal (Dec 2015)
A wellness expert offers a plan for better memory, decreased stress, improved productivity, and lasting happiness by making one small, attainable change every week, whether it be eating more brain-powering foods or developing music appreciation.

The innovative guide that reveals how eating more fat - the smart kind - is the key to health, longevity, and permanent weight loss.

This book guides owners to expert care for their loyal companions in all ways, from daily fitness and health care to pet-proofing a home for a senior dog's safety. Also check out Fit Cat by Arden Moore (Jan 2015).

Recommendations for Teens:

Yoga for Your Mind and Body by Rebecca Rissman (Apr 2015)
Presents yoga techniques and poses to promote brain power, stress relief, strength, and fitness.
As a professional surfer who has overcome challenges, the author shares her expertise and an athlete and a Christian, showing girls how spiritual health is just as important as physical health.
Paleo Girl by Leslie Klenke (June 2014)
Presents a health, fitness, and lifestyle guide for teenagers that includes a seven-day paleo eating guide, stretching and exercise moves, and how a paleo lifestyle can affect puberty.
The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens by Jennifer Shannon (Sep 2015)
This guide helps teens to skillfully work through situations that cause anxiety so they can focus on their goals.

Recommendations for Children:

Invites young readers to practice a morning yoga routine to jumpstart the day and shows them how to focus, self-monitor, and self-soothe. Also try Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story by Mariam Gates (Apr 2015).
Gus, Nellie, and baby Jake visit their community garden before shopping at the farmer's market and grocery store to gather healthy ingredients that they help prepare for a picnic, in a story that explains the role of nutrition in health.

Move Your Body! My Exercise Tips by Gina Bellisario (Jan 2014)
Natalie's team isn't ready for the big race on Field Day, so Ms. Starr teaches them about exercise and stretching to help them prepare.

Describes nine simple meditation exercises to help kids find focus, manage stress, and face challenges.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Canva for Work - Free for Libraries!

As you all know by now, I am a big fan of Canva. I've talked about it a few times on here... I cannot recommend it enough. It is the perfect program for people who are ready for something more professional than Microsoft Word/Publisher but less intimidating than Adobe InDesign. Personally, I've found it so easy to use and it's upped my design skills.

But a new development has made me even more excited about Canva. A few months ago, they rolled out Canva for Work, which takes the free Canva account and upgrades it with a paid subscription for special features. I was intrigued, but I didn't try the trial because I was afraid I would fall in love with it and I wasn't ready to pay. But then I got a tip from the Libraries & Social Media Facebook Group that Canva for Work is free for nonprofits. I was disappointed to learn they asked for a 501c(3) nonprofit form first, which we don't have, but then I found out they do accept Tax Exempt forms.

I immediately upgraded my work account. They put it on a trial mode and then when the trial ended, they accepted our nonprofit status. Yay!!!

And I LOVE IT. Here's a picture tour of all the goodies:

In the first photo, I was pleased to see that my personal account was separated from the Canva for Work Team Account. I have to click on my library account to access all work designs.

Easily move between your personal and work accounts!
When you switch over to the Canva for Work Account, your dashboard adds a few new features. As you can see below, you can easily see your own designs, the designs that were only shared with you, and your whole teams' designs, called the "Team Stream."

Simple but upgraded dashboard
When you go to "Your Brand", you can make your own templates for Presentation, Facebook Post, Twitter, Instagram, Flyer, Pinterest, Invitation, Letterhead, Business Card, Gift Certificate, Poster, Card, Facebook Cover, and Custom. What a time saver! We use Custom to make images for our Website Slider and our Digital Picture Frame.

Scroll down and make templates for flyers, social media, and more!

The Brand Kit is really awesome! You can save your own colors and they'll default to the top of your color palette in any document. You can upload fonts and set each heading to different font types and sizes. And you can upload your logos for easy locating later.

Brand Kit Part 1: Set your own color palette. These colors default to the top of Fonts, Background, and Elements.

Brand Kit Part 2: Set your own fonts and sizes. Upload the fonts you want!

Your Brand Kit fonts show up in EVERY template as the default setting.

Brand Kit Part 3: Upload your logos for easy locating later.

Brand Kit Logos appear under "Uploads",
in their own folder.
One of the big advantages with Canva for Work is that you can use it with a group of people in your organization. So, you can invite up to ten people to join your "team" and you can set them to be Administrators, Template Designers, or just Members. All teammates can create and share designs. Template Designers are in control of the templates and brand kit and Administrators can do that as well as manage team members.

The benefit of being part of a team is that you can easily show your design to ONLY team members. When you finish your design, you can click on "Showing" in the top right and you'll see that option.

The images will appear in the Team Stream and anyone can easily make changes to it. They just click on your image and then click "Remix". No more having to email everyone through the share option on each design when you want some feedback. So simple and easy to use!

Just click the green "Remix" to make quick changes.
But of course, the greatest feature is their "Magic Resize" option. You can take any design, go to File and then choose which formats you want it in. It was pretty impressive. As you can see below, it kept all the images in the correct proportions and just changed the background size behind it. It wasn't always perfect (sometimes there's too much space and not enough design), but still a huge time saver!

All the options for resizing your current design.
 Example of Resizing:

Size: Small Flyer

Size: Facebook Post

Size: Twitter
And that ends our photo tour. If you really enjoy Canva, I highly recommend upgrading to Canva for Work and applying for the nonprofit status. There is so much to gain and all you have to do is scan in a copy of your Tax Exempt form.

Thanks, Canva, for supporting nonprofits!

For more articles on Canva, check out:
Canva: Make Easy Designs in Little Time
5 Secret Tricks to Using Canva Like a Pro

Friday, April 1, 2016

New Library Trend: Organizing Books by Color and Size!

An amazing new trend has been popping up in libraries across the nation. Librarians are ditching their fiction's author alphabet system for the new and improved Aesthetics System.

We were intrigued, so we went to our local library to see how it works. The Head of Circulation, Mr. Roy G. Biv, was very willing to meet with us to discuss the changes. "We had so many patrons asking us if we remembered that book with the blue cover," Mr. Biv said. "We realized that maybe we were using the wrong organizing system. If people remember colors best, maybe we should be shelving that way. So, we reshelved the whole fiction collection by color and size."

The result was a major success!

Here's what they learned:

  • People are intimidated by the alphabet. They may know the alphabet song, but to single out a specific letter and what order it is in can be overwhelming. 
  • Making the change to color and size (something everyone can easily spot and understand), has made the library feel more welcoming.
  • Browsing by color had a calming effect on patrons, adding a feeling of order to the chaos of so many books to choose from.  
  • Patrons were more willing to give new books a try because the cover was in their favorite color, hence increasing checkouts.

It did take a while to get librarians on board with the changes, but they were converted when they saw the upsides:

  • Technical Services is cataloging materials 20% faster with this simplified process.
  • Reference is happy: Patrons are no longer wandering around the library lost and frustrated. The color coding is easy for them to understand, empowering them to be self efficient.
  • Displays are now really easy to do. Grabbing one book from each section creates a beautiful rainbow that'll make your patrons smile.
  • Since children all know their colors by the age of 3, they were empowered to find a book all on their own.
  • YA Literature circulation went up! Teens were super excited about the size groupings. Many reluctant readers began pulling out the small books and found themselves working up to the larger ones.
  • Library Pages' efficiency increased 150%. It turns out, shelving by color is so much easier than shelving by call numbers. A misshelved book is easily spotted a mile away.

There were definitely a few challenges to this new system:
  • Shelving by size can be tricky. They recommend shelving the oversized books at the bottom to prevent injuries if the books fall over.
  • Be prepared for some internal debates about the tricky colors like mauve... Is it purple or pink?
  • Patrons who are color blind may find this system difficult.
  • And patrons who can't remember what the cover looks like will need to reference the OPAC to find what section it is in. (But the OPAC displays covers, so it is only a minor inconvenience.)
  • Mr. Biv does recommend buying every version of the book if they publish different covers. You never know which cover your patrons will be looking for.

"No system is perfect," Mr. Biv conceded, "but this new system has stopped patrons asking us, "Do you know that book with the blue cover?" We do; it is in the blue section."

With the success of the Aesthetics System, Mr. Biv's staff has been motivated to change the nonfiction collection. Stay tuned for our next article titled, "Ditch Dewey, Try Pictographs!"


Happy April Fool's Day!