March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

What Creativity Looks Like: Put a Bunch of Librarians in a Room, and Great Ideas Fly | Editorial

What happens when you comingle 80 or so librarians for some eight hours and give them just enough structure to focus on key issues? Answer: KidLibCamp. I expected this unconference at Darien (CT) Library, on August 16, to be good, but it was so much better than that. It was professional learning at its best—the kind of inspiring event that ought to be replicated in every system and district in the country.

The small daylong confab has been taking advantage of the August doldrums since 2009, pulling in librarians from the region to help spur innovative thinking in children’s services and professional skill development, with an eye toward technology integration. Kiera Parrott, who has taken the helm of children’s services at Darien from Gretchen Caserotti, now assistant director of public services, set the tone, mapped the sessions based on a show of hands, and then freed participants to plot a new future for libraries. That’s what it felt like.

Primarily peopled by public librarians, the event had key diversity: four school librarians shared their perspectives, and, the organizers noted with glee, three participants were men. Any librarian would have benefited. Major threads included how to work with tablets and apps, tech for tweens and teens, collection reorganization à la Dumping Dewey, designing children’s spaces, and the arrival of the Common Core.

The discussion on the Common Core, for one, revealed how united public and school librarians are in their goals, and how an issue that seems to dominate one type of library (schools) has all sorts of implications for another (think homework help, collection balance, and more in public libraries). Ironically, it’s often at informal gatherings like KidLibCamp that these essential intersections are most formally (and fruitfully) recognized.

To pull off a KidLibCamp requires initiative, space, and time. It also requires leaders who recognize the value of brief time-outs from the daily pace and encourage their staffs to develop or attend forums like this. (Darien director Louise Berry has demonstrated on ongoing commitment to innovation in the field.) Every director and manager should seek out these opportunities for their teams. In a space like KidLibCamp, professionals who can feel overwhelmed by their growing workloads get an opportunity to explore new ideas and extend to others their mastery of the matters at hand.

Of course, I came away thinking about what SLJ is doing to help you innovate in your organizations. In this issue, you can explore Travis Jonker’s experimentation with ereaders (see “Travis’s Excellent Adventure,”), get guidance on how to collect Spanish-language titles and program with them effectively in our new “Libro por libro” series by Tim Wadham, and reflect on bringing parents up to speed on Common Core. And be on the lookout: Jonker will be coming your way here when his 100 Scope Notes joins the fray at SLJ’s blog network and a webcast series on implementing Common Core is in the works to launch in October..

Still, I have a long “to-do” list for SLJ. I’m excited to help share the best of the critical creative thinking that happens in libraries every day—be it through surfacing more experimentation with technology, providing deeper programming guidance, or taking in-depth dives into professional development needs around big shifts in the field.

The best feeling, however, came as I was driving home, more confident than ever that our libraries are in excellent hands. KidLibCamp was a reminder of just how much peer know-how we have within our reach. As we all get back into the pace of the school year, with homework help ramping up in public libraries and school libraries in full throttle all day, it might be helpful to remember that one of your best sources of inspiration, calm, and problem-solving is probably hard at work in the closest library nearby.

Rebecca T. Miller's Signature

Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.