Sometimes the simplest tools solve the seemingly simple problems. Last week I was introduced to a visual feedback tool, Answer Garden, that displays the answers in elegant word cloud. You make a question then people answer it. The answers looks like a word cloud. If more people answer similarly then the words are bolder and bigger. It would be great for teams in the workplace as well as the classroom. It is both a web site and an app. See here for a demo.

Disclaimer as I created a sample word cloud..not through Answer Garden. But you get the idea.

word cloud2

  • Brenda

I volunteer a lot. I realize events don’t happen without volunteers, and if I’m participating in something, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to try to make it memorable for me. So if I can, I try to help out.

I also run. I’m rehabbing right now, so instead of signing up for races, I’m signing up to volunteer. Sometimes I don’t feel needed at an event, and then I consider my volunteer time wasted. Other times, I’m assigned a job that is necessary, and I feel useful. This past weekend I volunteered for the overnight shift for a 24 hour endurance trail event called the Lemming Loop. It was the most fun I have ever had volunteering.

Library events run on volunteers. It can be a challenge to recruit the right mix of expertise to ensure a memorable experience for participants. Most of the time you’re at the whim of whoever decides to sign up. I know I pick and choose which events I’ll volunteer for. I want to feel like I’ve contributed in some way, and be proud of the end result.

What I learned from the Leeming Loop is that if it is at all possible, keep your volunteers busy. I was on my feet doing something (washing dishes, serving runners, making soup) almost the whole eight hours. There is  nothing worse than just standing around, waiting to do something. (Sometimes, there’s no choice – you need a help station staffed in case someone needs help, but no one comes.)

A compliment goes a long way. The runners were grateful for the help they received at the aid station, and expressed it often. We were thanked, told we were awesome, and so many other forms of appreciation were sent our way.

Do something for your volunteers. I’m heading to a volunteer appreciation party this evening – a hayride and bonfire at a nearby provincial park.

Your volunteers, like an organization’s employees, are your biggest asset. Keep them happy, and they’ll go above and beyond to perform for you. I had such a good time, I’ve already been able to recruit more volunteers for next year’s event.

Here’s to Lemming Loop 2016!

~ Karen

I would love to add business and industry research to my reference repertoire. It seems like it would be easy enough to pick up, and would broaden the services I can offer my lawyers. With that in mind, I attended a CALLACBD webinar, “Conducting Business and Industry Research”, presented by Heidi Schiller, Manager of Infoaction, Vancouver Public Library’s fee-based research service. What a great webinar!

To make sure we were all on the same page, Heidi started by defining business and industry research:

The process of researching businesses to learn more about them or to acquire information on a specific industry.

The first tool Heidi introduced is NAICS, the North American Industry Classification System, or as she put it, the “Dewey Decimal System” for industries. These codes are often a shortcut to the specific industry being studied, on the various databases she demonstrated. While most of the sites are fee-based, Industry Canada provides a decent-enough free service for those who can’t afford the paid services or to supplement the information available on other sites. One point Heidi made was to check several sources to ensure you got a broad cross-section of information.

The paid sites were:

  • Dow Jones Factiva
  • FP Infomart
  • Reference Canada (available through VPL, but not at my local public library)
  • LexisNexis Media
  • Business Source Premier (available through VPL)

Industry Canada’s home page, as well as  Canadian Company Capabilities are good starting points for those with only access to free sources. Don’t forget the resources available through your public library. I use Canadian Newsstand – Major Dailies, available through my public library, when I want published company news.

Now I just have to convince my lawyers to “hire” me…

~ Karen

Some people spend their summer traveling, but I spent my vacation time reading and researching. I have been designated researcher for a group of friends going away on vacation. It is one of my strengths to research and summarize what I learned. Part of research is also preparing myself for the school year and deep research.

Regular readers will know that I switched to school libraries, subsequently I still have a lot of learning to do about great authors and books in kid lit. Classics like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and contemporary work by Gordon Korman are well known to me. But I am only scratching the surface of the children’s literature canon. Summer is the best time to read more in depth.

When I told friends that I am reading “Where the Red Fern Grows”, I get immediate recognition and even leads to 2 movie adaptations. I started reading this middle school novel with some doubt and feeling obliged to. It is on the reading list for novel studies. But the subject was…ugh. Dogs. Now if I had to choose between a dog and a cat for company, it would be cats every time. I have a strong preference.

But I was hooked by the strong narrator’s voice, the rural setting and promise of a good story by the end of the first chapter. Why was the narrator looking fondly at his prize cups, after an encounter with a feisty dog? My interest grew, despite my biases.

Great novels can transcend the personal and explore universal themes. Is it love or loyalty in the story? What kind of trials happen in the boy’s journey? I will let you discover for yourself. Make no mistake that this is a coming of age story, while the legend of the red fern is mentioned at the last possible moment.

If the author Rawls was still alive, I would try to book him as a speaker because the story of writing the novel is equally compelling to my students in rural communities. He longed to be a published author, but felt his lack of education held him back. He and his wife worked as a team on the book. Here is more background on Woodrow W. Rawls.

I always take my second original manuscript of ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ to show the youngsters. I want to stress to them how important it is to learn to spell, punctuate, and mainly how important it is for them to stay in school. They always look at the manuscript in disbelief. I hope I have some effect on these youngsters, I so enjoy each and every one of them.

Rawls quoted in Childhood memories relived, Idaho Falls Public Library

The book is a great read about setting goals, growing up and the relationship of dogs and a boy. The back story of Woodrow W. Rawls is equally engaging. A trip to Idaho Falls, anyone? Here is hoping more good reads for your summer.

  • Brenda

As the cliché goes, it is fun to spend other people’s money. Next week I will be going to Saskatoon for a massive book buying trip as directed by the school division. It is an annual practice for a library technician and a teacher representative from each school go on a purchasing spree in the fall. It is a new experience for me as well as dealing with purchase orders.

I laugh at my own foibles as I want to be both prepared and leave room for the spontaneity of browsing. My strategy is admittedly a strange hybrid of lists of needs to replace tattered copies or wants of new authors, or interests as well as consulting and talking to other teachers and students about what they want.

If Karen were in my shoes, she might choose the more spontaneous approach. My standard strategy has been “defensive pessimism” or preparing and planning when faced with anxiety-inducing situation. I saw myself a lot in the Upside of Pessimism article, but immediately thought of Karen, when I read a version that procrastination is the opposite response of people, who tend to think more positively. So there is always time tomorrow to complete that project. Neither way is better than the other but just reflects the person’s view of the world.

Sometimes my inner critic becomes overwhelming and I need to step back and focus at the main outcome, as well as say “what is the worst thing that could happen.” This self talk calms me down. Anyhow I have a good problem when budgets shrink elsewhere or there is lack of support for the library. Running to Saskatoon…

– Brenda

Brenda and I have advocated often for volunteering with library associations. This year I took on my biggest opportunity yet – Program Director for the Canadian Association of Law Libraries’ annual conference. It was a huge challenge, but one I felt ready to do.

Back in 2010, I agreed to be on the program committee for the 2012 CALL/ACBD conference, to be held in Toronto. I consciously accepted that job, realizing that the conference would  be moving to Winnipeg sometime in the near future, and I wanted to be prepared to help out. That experience was invaluable! If you haven’t done it before, you may think that being on the program committee means thinking up all the programs and finding people to deliver them. Our committee was actually only tasked with finding plenary speakers (three) and advertising the opportunity for others to offer programs for presentation (and then selecting the programs that would be included). What a relief!

When I found out the conference would be in Winnipeg in 2014, I was prepared to take on programming. I selected my committee by considering colleagues I felt would follow through on the commitment. My core committee of co-blogger Brenda Wong, Jodi Turner, Michael McAlpine and Mary-Jo Mustoe were fabulous. We brainstormed plenary speakers, and divided the tasks of inviting them among us. We sent out requests for programs through as many networks as we could, both national and local. Since Winnipeg is a fairly small market legally, I took it upon myself to contact a few local lawyers to present on their fields of expertise.

The program came together nicely, although not without some pitfalls. I don’t know if it’s just librarians as a group who are not the greatest at responding promptly, but our first call for proposals required an extension – after the first deadline we only had a handful of presentations! Adding on another two weeks gave some people a push to at least let us know they were trying to put something together. It’s a little disappointing, considering we all know the conference is going to be coming up and yet we wait until after the last minute to respond.

I’d like to say the conference went off without a hitch, but that would be lying. Even before the conference started, one of the co-presenters of a session backed out, but the other presenter went ahead, so that worked out. Then two presenters cancelled at the last minute, requiring a quick change in the program. We ended up having no sessions on the last day, but that was okay. We got more attendees at the AGM, always a difficult task.

Overall the conference was a huge success. We made twice as much money as we thought we would, the cost for the program was significantly under budget, and members went home with a positive experience of the city. (The food was so good, I gained 7 lbs!) Exhibitors were happy and members were happy – what more could we ask for?

I’d like to make a special thank you to Brenda, who stayed on the committee even though she moved to Saskatchewan and switched libraries to a school library. The whole experience was a fantastic learning experience, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it again!

Against YA?


Over at Slate they are trying their best to whip up controversy about sappy Young Adult novels. Ruth Graham thinks that ” …you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

I am amused as I am both a librarian and immersing myself in YA and children’s literature. It’s plain wrong to broadly categorize all YA as too lightweight. There are some really well written novels that are still being studied. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier come to mind.

See the comment by atibamanii who is a retired librarian for a thoughtful response. To paraphrase atibamanii, a good story is a good story no matter what shelf it was found on.

Happy summer reading!

– Brenda


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