Stories We Tell and Stories We Don’t

Over the past few months, I’ve had a lot of chances to reflect on my career and the services that libraries provide. One of the things that I love most about my job as a sole librarian for two communities is that I have a lot of influence and impact on the learning opportunities available to my patrons and the greater public. I feel so accomplished when I’m making things happen in my communities and sharing my successes with the rest of my county and my peers online. I also feel so betrayed and personally devastated when something happens that holds me back. Some hard-hitting local decisions and events have forced me to learn big lessons about advocacy and how we tell our stories.


The thing I’ve been wrestling with for the past several months is how I discuss what I do and why it’s important. In light of all that’s happened, I have a new perspective, because, let’s face it: Any time an entity or person stops the library from providing a service, they are denying the value of that service. They’re questioning the value of the person or people who provide it and, sadly, the value of the people who benefit from it.


I’ve seen a lot of reports, a lot of research, and a lot of presentations serving as advocacy for what we do and why. In these reports and presentations, I find it interesting that the stories we share are so dependent on the audience listening to them. I don’t think that’s accidental. Our jobs are much more political than most of us are comfortable imagining and for some leaders and organizations, it’s important to present the least controversial, most universally acceptable stories.


I think it’s a great credit to youth services professionals everywhere that their work is often the first to be highlighted when a sensitive audience is present. Who could ever argue with services for children? (Yet, believe me, they do.)


The next most comfortable service to bring forward is job preparation and skills building. A story about a middle-aged man laid off and struggling for work is also pretty hard to argue with when there’s a happy ending. (Just ask Hollywood.)


The next is something that appeals to lots of…people who tend to be politicians. Digital literacy and technological advancement. (Progress for all as long its elitist.)


And here’s the thing. I think all of these are undeniably, immeasurably important. I think stories about these services are important to tell and I understand why they’re favorites.


Still, there’s something very sinister about why we don’t tell some other stories.


I mean the story about how we helped an immigrant get a green card for his wife.


I mean the disabled patron who learned to type her poems and submit them for contests, who learns daily how to tell her story through a blog.


I mean the elderly man who comes every day to read the newspapers because if he stopped, he would forget how to tie his shoes.


My great fear is that we will become so skilled in weaving a careful narrative that leaves out the importance of these populations–the ones certain leaders love to call takers–that we will also forget their importance to us. Friends, it is my whole belief that there are only two kinds of people: those with struggles, and those with more struggles. No matter our monetary value, skin color, native language, country of origin, sexuality, gender, age, mental health, or level of ability we are all equal inside the library.


When do we tell the other stories? When do we decide they have enough value to be represented and defended publicly with any audience?


I love my youth services. In so many communities, libraries are the only organization creating free parent education directed at fostering early learning. Where so many others may focus on correcting developmental and behavioral problems, libraries focus on setting up adults as teachers and giving them the tools to create lifelong learning for their children. We’re also leaders in offering continuing education to caregivers in early literacy and partnering with schools to provide enriching experiences for students.


I love job preparation. There are few things more exciting than having a patron return to you with a job and paycheck for their family after months of helping her search and apply for jobs online.


I love digital literacy. I’ve helped people understand how to use the iPads their doctor’s office makes them use and taught students to search responsibly for information for school projects.


These are not services that benefit all, however. When you consider who has the time and encouragement to attend storytimes, who can make it to the library at a set time for an appointment or class, and who does not or cannot do these things, you start to see the patterns of those very real, very hard struggles that so few are striving to relieve and correct. Our statistics are important not just because of how many are attending programs or coming through our doors. When held to a light, those statistics cast a shadow of all who are missing. It’s the hardest work of every library professional to be that light and to reach for the people we cannot see and do not know yet. Sometimes this reaching means we work extra hard and provide even more or maybe just different services for the under-served than we might for our more affluent or privileged users.


What I’ve come to understand is that with every storytime, every computer class, every murder mystery party, I call upon the people who matter to our legislators and elected officials. I insulate the marginalized patrons in my library with moms and job seekers and students. With every program, I invite those with personal transportation and mental acuity, bank accounts and homes, to help me defend my patrons against those with a vested interest in seeing them kept poor, voiceless, and frankly, ignorant.


That’s my story. It’s why I get out of bed. When I sit in presentations with so many safe success stories and when I see reports go out without mentioning the others, I weep inside for all the people whose worth is too controversial to be included. We cannot fail to represent and honor those who would otherwise be voiceless and invisible because of their socioeconomic status.


(To all the libraries who are routinely advocating for their invisible and controversial patrons and neighbors, I salute you. Please feel free to share how you’re doing that in the comments.)

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Get to Know A… School Services Librarian



Rachel Reinwald


Please describe your position. Your title, duties, an average day in your work life.


I am a youth services librarian but am in charge of the school services. So I do the regular storytimes, desk work, ordering and RA, etc… but also teacher-y stuff. For school services, I do teacher resource bags, handle the teacher school cards, research and present CE workshops for teachers, team teach, host school field trips, create a teacher newsletter, etc. For YS services, I do baby storytime for 3-15 months, family storytime, 2-K, and 4-K storytime. I did the Kid Coders program for 4th-6th grade, Appy Hour for teachers, and Battle of the Books for 4th-8th graders. So, there is a lot of lesson planning, tech geekery, and research.


What attracted you to your current position? Was it an intentional move, a gut feeling, a happy accident, or a matter of convenience?


I was looking for school services positions because I just got off the teaching track. I like working with students and helping them research and learn, but I didn’t like all the school drama and bureaucracy. I like to get stuff done. My aunt teaches 1st grade in the area and she told me about it because she worked with my predecessor. It’s nice to have an insider giving you advice, like,  “[name] did this last year and this is what the teachers thought of it, so you should do this.”


What things give you the most joy in your position?


I love working with teachers and students in the schools. It’s nice to form a great relationship with them and then be able to give them supplemental materials and team teach with them right when they get into a unit. They’re like, “You read my mind! I would love a text features lesson on landform books!” (Sounds intriguing, right?) I also love baby storytime. I want to eat them up. I also like geeking out and doing readers’ advisory. The kid usually has a stack of 10 books and is slowly backing away from me while I jump up and down.


What’s most challenging for you?


I get things done pretty fast, so I don’t like waiting around on big projects that have to go through multiple people. It makes me jumpy. I usually multi-task to distract myself from the waiting. Like, waiting for your song handouts to get back from graphics? Make nametags.


If this is not your last career move, where would you like to go from here?


Eventually, I would like to be a department head. I am an INFJ (go Meier’s Briggs!) and sometimes it frustrates me when I see good things a library can be and they’re not trying to be there yet. I have a strong vision of libraries and I want to help people make the most of the library so the community can benefit. People shouldn’t just go to the library to get a book, it should become part of the community itself. I also want to get more involved in professional development. I love it. I do CPDU workshops for our local teachers, I host SU’s local Chicago social chapter, I present at conferences, I’m writing lesson plans for the Library of Congress. I’m trying to convince RAILS and ISLMA to do cool professional development with me. It’s fun. It’s like teaching, but without all the parent phone calls.


Pretend I’m a brand new library professional, eager to figure out how to get your job. What’s the advice you’d give me?


You have to work on your own professional development. I am a school services librarian but I do all youth services tasks. It helps that I have a couple of teaching certificates, so I have the education background to know lesson planning, curriculum development, all the many standards, etc…  so that I know what teachers are talking about and they are confident that I understand them. Make a feed of library blogs that help you. Do the Storytime Underground University if you do storytimes (which I’m assuming you do, because you are reading this blog). Go to conferences. Submit conference proposals. And resubmit them. Meet people at conferences or Storytime Underground Local Chapters (wink wink Chicago). Take webinars.

If you are doing school services, there is a great site, that has free webinars on education topics (early literacy, team teaching, leadership, Common Core, Next Gen, etc…) and they give CEs for educators. I’m a geek, so I do a lot of research and tinker around with lesson plans.

Read a lot. You don’t have to, and obviously can’t, read every book in the library, but the more you do, the more you’ll get a feel for the different genres, reading levels, appeals and what’s popular to recommend to kids (I love Novelist’s Appeals Chart). Ask to write reviews and/or articles for professional journals. Right now, I’m in Library Sparks and Booklist (come on School Library Journal!).

Keep a blog for yourself on what you do. You want to share your abilities with others so they can hire you and learn from you, but you also want to reflect and learn from your past programs and other library activities. It helps make you better at your job. You could also take my ALSC Online Course, It’s Mutual: School & Public Library Collaboration J.



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Sunday Storytime Challenge!

Every other week, we will post a Sunday Storytime Challenge. The goal is to encourage the SU community to try new things and share out those adventures. Challenges will vary widely and can include craftiness, elevator speeches, networking, professional development and beyond!


So here is this week’s challenge!




Hopefully we are all striving to make connections with our Storytimers. I often wonder if what I do is making the leap home. This week, let’s try and do something about it! Whether you can give your caregivers something physical to take home, are able to plan new outreach events, or find a clever way to get those early literacy messages into the car ride home, get on it!


Don’t know where to start? Here is some inspiration to get your motor running:


Storytime Katie posted some great take home ideas and her thoughts on handouts on the ALSC blog.


Kim at Literary Commentary shared her early literacy focused handouts.


I have always wanted to try a caregiver program similar to the one Amy helped organize.


Now that you have your inspiration, get out there and connect! Then make sure to come back and share with us. There are so many ways you can share:


  • Simply comment to this post!
  • Email us at
  • Tweet it out using #storytimechallenge
  • Do you have a kick-ass blog? Share your challenge story there and send us the link!


There is no concrete timeline for you to complete the challenges and they will always remain open.


We can’t wait to see what you can accomplish!


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Resolve to Rock Roundup!

At the beginning of January, we challenged you all to Resolve to Rock in 2016. And boy did you! Here’s the round up of all your rockin’ resolutions!

Resolve to Rock meme image

Edited to add:

  • Erin resolves to be positive and be herself (so important!) and get rid of that darn imposter syndrome. Go Erin go!

Check out our original post for even more resolutions in the comments!

Did we miss you? Still want to resolve to rock? Share your resolutions in the comments and we’ll add you in!

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Motivational Monday: The Ready for Anything Playlist

Some days are big. And when I say big, I mean drinking-all-the-coffee, arriving-early-staying-late, planning-all-the-things, taking-the-show-on-the-road, omg-is-that-the-entire-school BIG. Amiright?


Some days, I can’t even see the top of the mountain I have to climb. I know it’s up there in a swirling cloud of wind and snow, but I’m way down in my covers and too warm to get out and put on my boots.


This is music for those kinds of days. There’s some funk, some whimsy, some feel-good, and some serious attitude. Listen, feel amazing, and then add your own motivational favorites because it’s collaborative!


Just a heads up, this playlist is not safe for the public desk.


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