Read, Research, and Be Spooky

Our intrepid librarian braves the world of witches to deliver the magic of information

Our intrepid librarian braves the world of witches to deliver the magic of information

Our library is filled with staff and students ready to get their fill of treats for Halloween.  Luckily no tricks, the joy of living in a fairly rural and polite region of the country.  Earlier today I was at the administration building for a meeting and the children from the child care center came through.  The halls were filled with laughter and talk, something unusual for a more serious and business-like building.  There were dinosaurs, Iron Men, Spider Men, princesses, she-devils, chickens, construction workers and the like.  There were rushes on candy and a lot of smiling faces.  Everyone looks forward to their Halloween visit.  I was glad to be there. I worked at a somewhat rural community college library as a reference librarian, and there was a period of about three years where the questions on October 31st took a decidedly macabre turn.  I think it may have been the same group of young men trying to overset the librarians.  Having grown up with three exuberant brothers and other prankster male relatives, I could handle that stuff without flinching.  The questions weren’t that weird, but definitely a little off the usual research questions.  “Did Mary Shelley do weird stuff with cats?” and the history of the electric chair were two of them as I recall.  Our library celebrates this holiday very creatively.   We use it as a fundraiser for our social events.  It’s always been fun and creative.  This year we had a department vs. department decorating contest.  For my department, the librarian action figure emerged from her sabbatical to, as the picture demonstrates, to deliver information to the witchy and wicked.  I would share their questions but that would violate their privacy and I would have to turn you into a frog.

Who needs a house to fall on you when there's a copy machine.  Don't kill the trees or this could happen to you.

Who needs a house to fall on you when there’s a copy machine. Don’t kill the trees or this could happen to you.

Alas, we did not win the contest, but we had a great deal of fun decorating, laughing, and touring other departments.  And of course we had a party with lots of good food.  Happy Halloween.

Best Library Meeting Ever…because there were dogs!

dog and handler

A dog and handler at a Library meeting

Last week, I wrote about the South Central Library Council Annual Meeting and the inspiring presentation given by the current President of the American Library Association.  As we broke for lunch, part of the program for the second half arrived.  Dogs!  I mean handlers and their therapy dogs.  Immediately, the room became convivial and a lot of people, including me, forgot about lunch and headed straight for the dogs.

The second half of the program was led by Tina Winstead, the program coordinator for the Healthy Libraries, Healthy Communities  grant from National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Mid-Atlantic region.  The six month grant was aimed at educate and encourage libraries about healthy lifestyles in order to encourage programs aimed at their communities.  The program consisted of kick-off events, participation (and competition) in The Active for Life program sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  There was online book discussions and webinairs.

This meeting was the culminating event of the grant.  Dr. Sandra Barker, Director for the Center of Human and Animal Interaction (Chai) spoke about the activities of the Center and the health benefits of interactions with animals.  Any woman who can name her center after my favorite tea blend and loves animals (did you notice her last name?!) has got to be interesting and savvy.  The Center is attached to a  VCU’s medical center and the Department of Psychiatry.  Her talk, “The Human-Animal Bond and Health:  Implications for Healthy Libraries, Heathy Communities.

The “Dogs on Call” program supports the research studies as well as the therapy at the medical school.  The dogs, adult only, must pass rigorous requirements including grooming and nail-cutting within 24 hours of each visit.  They must pass the Medical Center Volunteer training — and by they, I mean the dogs and the handlers — and they must register with one of two external programs:  Pet Partner’s Program or Therapy Dogs Inc.  In addition, they must complete Chai’s Dogs on Call training program.  It’s a lot of work just to get in the door!

The program has few restrictions on who the dog can visit and is careful about allergies and people who are afraid of animals.  Physicians must approve visits for people with infectious diseases, open wounds, IV, and emergency areas.  The dogs don’t visit the cafeteria, probably to their great disappointment.  Patients with a history of violence are also not visited.

The Center had done many studies with psychiatric students, with children who have cancer and other difficult diseases, and they have also studies the stress relieving benefits.  These interactions do support the notion that interactions with companion animals are of a benefit to people, “A consistent relaxation pattern was found among the physiological measures following interactions with dogs [from the distributed PowerPoint handouts].

therapy dog and handler

therapy dog at the library program

They have also studied dogs in the workplace –companies that allow their employee to bring dogs.  It was a small study but it got picked up by the media so the Center enjoyed a little more than 15 minutes of fame.  As Dr. Barker pointed out, more study is needed.  The results indicated that the participants scored higher on the indicators of job satisfaction including pay, communication, promotion, benefits, rewards, and operational procedures [paraphrased from the distributed handout].

One of their studies interested me  because it dovetails with my college’s Paws for Stress Relief end of the semester programs; our library partnered with PAWS for the Spring 2013 program and plans to continue.  The question the Center explored was “Does interacting with dogs really de-stress college students?  One of the posters said, “Be calm and Pet a Pooch.”  The results indicated that there was a significant difference in stress levels, that 93% experienced a decrease in stress.

Overall, the researchers at the Center have found that there are strong physical and mental health benefits for interacting with dogs including reduced mortality, reduced pain perception, increased physical activity, improved cardiovascular function, reduced depression, anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness and increased prosocial behavior, social support, and empathy.

By extension, libraries who run similar programs may well be able to help with some issues that patrons experience including [excerpted from the distributed handout]:

  • decrease stress, anxiety, and loneliness for patrons
  • decrease employee stress
  • create a more inviting and relaxed atmosphere
  • attract new users
  • and increased interaction in small groups and with group leaders

Dr. Barker made some recommendations to libraries who may be thinking of implementing a program that includes companion animals [excerpted

  • develop policies and procedures before launching activities and programs
  • establish requirements for animals and owners
  • determine appropriate times and locations
  • do a risk assessment
  • address people’s’ allergies and fears
  • educate the public
  • start small and build on success

    An old therapy dog named Sam

    An old therapy dog named Sam

The session ended with  applause and free apples from a local orchard.  I never did get a picture of the golden retriever, the owner and the dog were so popular I couldn’t get a good snap.  As someone who used to have a golden retriever mix, I know their sweet and loving personality is always wonderful to be near!  A day well spent in a world full of library goodness…and dogs!  Two of the best things ever.

Libraries are the Best Thing Ever….Except for Maybe Chocolate

girl sitting on a book statue at Brentwood TN public library

Brentwood TN’s public library

On Friday October 18th at our regional library council annual meeting, the President of the American Library Association, Barbara Stripling gave an inspiring talk on how libraries change lives.  How Libraries Change Lives is the message of her presidency, and as a former school librarian and current library school faculty member, this is a subject near to her heart, as it is to all or most librarians.  As part of her presidency, she is urging all citizens to sign the Declaration for the Right to Libraries and to understand that libraries are more than warehouses for books but are also vibrant centers of learning, community conversations, and innovation.

She began by saying that changing the world is an enormous and intimidating concept surrounded by trite rhetoric and little action; and to be truly effective, an individual who wishes to change the world endeavors to have an impact on the lives of others, one life at a time!   We don’t alway hear about the impact we have on others but as we live, work, play, and learn we need to have faith (my word not hers) that our impact may be felt in small or large ways.  When we empower individual voices to speak and to sing, we change lives.

Libraries are safe places to have democratic conversations away from the hurley burly of hyperbolic rhetoric and name calling.  Our communities

have the right to have strong libraries.  With each need comes opportunities and challenges, or as Stripling put it, “chopportunities.”

Libraries empower the Individual.  Libraries provide places and materials for people to imagine, create, communicate, discover, achieve, and develop qualities such as perseverance, self-confidence, and grit (I especially like that one).  Stripling said it’s hard to develop grit by yourself.  It’s sort of the other side of the growth of a pearl.  You can’t become a pearl without the presence of the grit to rub up against.

Libraries support literacy and learning.  In our environment, there are new literacies, social responsibility, and technologies in which to the individual needs to become fluent.

Libraries strengthen families and promote intergenerational conversations and interactions.  Libraries are great equalizers in terms of class, income, and status.  The second level of the digital divide, with the first being access, is the lack of skills in using the technology.

Libraries protect our right to know.  Libraries provide access to materials that study all sides of an issue, popular, unpopular, acceptable, and unthinkable.  Libraries and librarians make us think about our privacy, and social responsibilities.

Libraries strengthen our nation.  Libraries are democratic in their conception and hold a special place in our history and the building of the nation.

Libraries preserve our cultural heritage.

Libraries help us understand each other better.  We can develop greater empathy and understanding of how we see each other.

In an era where libraries are threatened, defunded, and questioned, it’s important to be able to articulate and communicate the importance of this ideal and the reality.  We do have the right to our libraries whether we read fiction, study for our classes, research a new invention, or learn to read and survive in our world.  The world of information is changing but the need for knowledge and wisdom is eternal.  Your library is the place to seek and create.  Sign the declaration , host an event, and/or use your local library.

Chocolate is better than libraries…except the library won’t give you pimples, expand your waistline, cost you money, or go straight to your hips.  So maybe libraries are even better than chocolate….and you have to admit that is really good!