Quietly Abundant Gratitude

This post was all Patrick Remer’s idea. Because what can anyone say at a time like this? Everything is just so heavy. And yet, to look outside at a pristine spring day, at a still, serene world that looks so beautiful and so ripe with possibility. The mountain is still green, deep into spring. All around us, our environment is all verdant and bursting forth, while we are sheltered in place, tethered to our immediate vicinity, distanced from each other.

This week, if life were normal, I would have been winding up a busy spring break with my son, juggling the work in two graduate school classes with launching the two-week Valhalla Elementary Read-a-thon fundraiser and literacy event. I planned for this event (my first time running it) for over a year, writing up a lengthy marketing proposal as a project for library school. Pleasant Hill Library’s amazing Patrick Remer was scheduled to perform two launch assemblies on Monday April 13, and the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library and The Multicultural Children’s Book Store promised to supply our prizes: 10 bookstore gift certificates. The Multicultural Children’s Book Store was also going to host a Valhalla storytime and donate a percentage of the day’s profit to our school. I would’ve hung the first Read-a-thon banner outside of the school on March 21. I would right now be assembling press kits for the teachers, and I would be frantically adhering 578 stickers to 578 notebooks, one for every Valhalla Elementary student in which they could track their time spent reading.

Instead, I squirreled away that banner, those stickers and posters and I am instead posting to social media all the “would have beens” as a public gesture of gratitude to those willing to support my son’s school community. And those 578 students? They aren’t likely to see each other until the start of the next school year, if we are lucky.

In some ways, I knew balancing my April agenda would have been a challenge and so the unexpected closing of my son’s school for the rest of the academic year and the subsequent canceling of the Read-a-thon, I’ll admit, lifted a logistical puzzle from my shoulders. Instead we are all shouldering this unbearable weight of this global pandemic. Of people sheltering in place; of instability and uncertainty; of job loss and academic gains lost; of sickness; of death; of very real and very appropriate fear the likes of which most of us have never known. There is so much loss. And yet…

How can a global pandemic be both tragic and enriching?

Don’t get me wrong: the sickness and death toll that this virus is inflicting is beyond tragic. It is unfathomably heartbreaking. There is nothing that can sugar-coat or gloss over this part of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I cannot even imagine how those with sick or deceased loved ones must be feeling and experiencing, especially when held at social distancing’s length.

When I stop to think, with a dose of sobering humility, about my own set of circumstances, for which I am immeasurably grateful, I realize that it is possible for me to create the following light-hearted list at how losses and gains can balance each other out. Note the emphasis here is on light-hearted.

I know I am incredibly blessed and incredibly fortunate. And part of the reason I am humbled by my good fortune is because I have a daily gratitude practice, verbally with my family and journaled for myself, that changes how I see the world. It shifts my perspective toward the little glimmers of goodness in each and every day.

Oren Jay Sofer, a meditation teacher I have turned toward in this difficult time (check out his resources for COVID-19), pointed out in my meditation last night that “gratitude is a quiet kind of pleasure”, a “subtle enjoyment”. He points out that we only need to be open to allowing ourselves to “fully receive the nourishment of gratitude.” The meditation concludes with Oren explaining this:

You don’t have to do anything to feel gratitude. Simply bring your attention to a specific moment and let your attention dwell there and the heart will naturally find gratitude. Taking the time to practice gratitude in [a] very deliberate, intentional way helps our minds learn how to access the positive emotion of gratitude, and strengthen it.

If ever a time has called for a daily gratitude practice, it is now. We have done thankfuls with my son every night before bed for the past four years. Some days our lists are abundantly long: each other, our house, a full fridge, virtual piano lessons, holding hands, the rebroadcast of Klay Thompson’s 60-point game. Some days they are brief: each other, that it is bedtime. But at the end of the day there is always something for which to be grateful. Here is a sample of my ongoing COVID-19 thankfuls:

During this pandemic I am thankful for:
Essential service providers
My family’s health (and parents who reluctantly follow our requests to actually shelter in place and wear face masks)
A tri-level house, one floor for each person
That my mom’s house has enough room for all of us, should all else fall apart
Technology that enables us to see each other while we talk to each other
Social media that fosters connectivity
Bandwidth, like actual bandwidth
Reading and piano playing (and always and forever, Monica at Village Music for letting me get my son’s’ new lesson books hours before the shelter-in-place took effect)
Role models like Steph Curry with his Instagram interview with Dr. Fauci and his thanking nurses at Alta Bates (and giving us “Control your WABA”)
Our resilience and creativity
All the laughter in our family. So. Much. Laughter.
A heart that swells and opens over and over again
The fortitude to be still and cry as needed

I asked my son–after we rewatched for the bazillionth time the just-released Twenty One Pilots single called “Level of Concern”, a reflection of our current reality–what his favorite thing was about our day. He looked up pointed to our rainbow scavenger hunt artwork. I had needed a ploy to get him out of the house (he’s not much for exercise) and so I devised a rainbow scavenger hunt for us to collect at least one item for every color of the rainbow: we were taking a walk with good ole ROY G. BIV. He wailed in protest when I first mentioned it. I remained firm and agreed to his stipulation that if we found one thing that had all seven colors we could immediately return home. Armed with that quick escape, he hopped on his bike for our adventure.

We found all sorts of things: new vistas in our neighborhood that reminded us of the Big Island of Hawaii (there’s Mauna Loa behind that tree); where the sidewalk ends; new perspectives of the Gregory Gardens Reservoir & Pump Station (it’s so big and so little). My son tasted honeysuckle nectar for the first time, fell off his bike laughing at least three times, and split a rock just by dropping it. We managed to find all seven colors. And then some. Together, out in the still, quiet world of our immediate neighborhood, we collected so much beauty.

And so on this day, that is one of the main things we are thankful for: our rainbow scavenger hunt. And tomorrow it will be homemade brown sugar vanilla bean cookie dough ice cream (hopefully if things come together). And the next day? We’ll see. I know there will be at least one thing, if not many things.

We’ve got this, Pleasant Hill. Even when we don’t. Because we have each other. And because we have an unlimited capacity, if we allow it, for quietly abundant gratitude.

 

Originally published on April 13, 2020 on https://phlibraryfriends.org.

At Home in Our Community

The September/October issue of American Libraries Magazine features the 2019 Library Design Showcase. Whenever this issue is released, I say to myself “Watch out Pleasant Hill–our library will be featured on those pages one day.” The showcase issue is packed with examples of renovations and innovations, ways that communities prioritized, reimagined and showcased their beloved libraries. Turns out the interiors I found most attractive, the ones that made me pause and say audibly, “wow, that’s nice” were designed by … wait for it … Margaret Sullivan Studio, one of BCJ’s partners in the creation of our new library. 

This issue also includes a timely piece for our community, titled “How to Build A Library”, that traces three libraries from identifying a need for updated or facilities to securing funding to construction to lessons learned. It is a great perspective piece for where we are on the planning timeline: According to the City website, “Construction of the new library building, and infrastructure improvements are anticipated to begin as early as April 2020 and finish in the fall of 2021.” If you look on the back page of the latest Outlook newsletter, you’ll see that the City released the draft environmental impact report for the Oak Park Properties project, available at the library and online for community members to review. The wheels of progress are slowly rolling forward, Pleasant Hillians.

Outlook
Available online

Speaking of wheels moving, my family of three attended this year’s Tinkers & Thinkers Innovation Faire, a co-sponsored event that started as the Night of 1,000 Inventions at the Pleasant Hill Library and, when it partnered with Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District, grew into a full-fledged maker faire geared toward families. This was our third year attending (and sadly, our first without my son’s best friend whose adorable image appears on the Tinkers & Thinkers website) and once again it was packed with engaging S.T.E.A.M. activities and organizations and–thankfully–a lot more air conditioning than years past when it was mostly set in the park with AC respite in the Teen Center (people hear this: it is always hot on Tinkers & Thinkers weekend). This year also included food served from the Senior Center event kitchen, a life-sized R2D2 and an amazing 113-year-old printing press from Kinetic Steam Works. This year my son enthusiastically took control of multiple robots (a big robot from College Park High School, a replica of the Curiosity Mars Rover made by a librarian via her 3D printer, and Bash Bot robot called Little Shark in a robot battle) and he clanked away on old manual and electric typewriters. He made two pins but decided to forgo this year’s duct tape rockets and dragonfly drones. We came home with another awesome bag, a t-shirt and an origami planter/wall basket. And some yummy snacks.

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Tinkers & Thinkers swag

The Contra Costa County Library Tinkers & Thinkers exhibit was full of VR, Cubelets, three Code-a-Pillars, and an impressively confident and energetic tween demonstrating how to build those origami planters. While my son worked to get the Code-a-Pillar to travel in a circle between attendees’ feet, I had a chance to chat with Pleasant Hill Library Manager Patrick Remer. He said he envisions future Tinker & Thinkers exhibits staffed with more young innovators and entrepreneurs like the girl with the origami planters and the robotics students from College Park High School. We talked about how they would network and trade business cards, tween to teen to twenty-something. I predicted that they would be crafting their own cards, with inspiring mission statements and clever taglines, as needed right on the spot.

The County Library, which will soon be releasing an updated strategic plan has the following mission: “Contra Costa County Library is the pulse of our community. Working together, we spark imagination, fuel potential, and connect people with ideas and each other.” Its vision is: “The Contra Costa County Library brings people and ideas together.” And today it had a new tagline on display: “The family place to be.” While I connect with the mission and vision, it is this last sentiment that really resonates with me, especially as I basked in the sea of families who came together at the Tinkers & Thinkers event. 

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On display at Tinkers & Thinkers

Last week, when I told my son the new Contra Costa County Library cards were finally released, he insisted we go that afternoon to get our new ones. We looked at the choices online, and then once at the library, asked to see them in person. We both selected the card featuring Mt. Diablo and California poppies. How many of us love that magnificent mountain? It’s another example of how the library is once again reflecting the beautiful landscape of its community. 

The new cards come with a keychain card. My son first learned about keychain library cards when we visited his best friend in her new home in Santa Barbara, CA. Our time together took us to the Santa Barbara Public Library because of course it did. These kids spent many hours together in the Pleasant Hill Library and his friend wanted to show off her new library. Once he saw her keychain card, he wanted his own. Now he has one. His new keychain card was the first thing he told his dad about that evening when asked about his day. There really is something so comforting and exhilarating about having a library card on your keys, at the ready wherever you go. We both feel giddy thinking of the access it provides. 

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With these keys come access…

The library, for those who use it–and also for those who don’t–is home, the third space open to us all. It is such a privilege to have such a responsive community institution that provides us with education and access, information and connectivity, all for free, without asking for anything in return, except perhaps that we come back whenever we want or need to. Because what is a library without its community? A library IS its community. 

At Saturday’s Tinkers & Thinkers event, where my husband and I mostly sat back and watched our first grader ask politely for his turn, I looked around at all the people, from infants to seniors, the wide, beautiful swath of our community and I thought to myself, “Look at us all together here. Look how we came together today, to play and learn, to connect. This is our community. We are at home here.” 

It’s a beautiful thing, Pleasant Hillians. And it’s all ours. 

 

Originally published on 9/16/19 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-at-home-in-our-community/

Be Nimble

My best friend, whose daughter is also my son’s best friend (friblings, friend siblings, we call them), has been warning me for the last three months that her family will be moving away from Pleasant Hill, soon. That the details are constantly in flux does not stave the heartache I feel deep and low in my chest. Especially when I see the kids together, like the rainy afternoon they walked hand-in-hand, umbrellas tete-a-tete, through the Pleasant Hill Library parking lot, to our cars that happened to be parked directly across from each other. What are we going to do when they aren’t a five minute drive or a quick rendezvous away? My son’s response to the possibility of his bff moving? “Ut-oh.”

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It seems to be a theme of late. My mom disappeared to Florida for some sun without warning, telling me only after she arrived. My husband and I tried to surprise our son with a trip to our favorite ice cream place, Smitten, in Lafayette only to find a boarded up storefront. After an internet search, we learned it closed three months earlier. It left us feeling, well, empty–bellies and hearts. We had to drown our sorrows in Susie Cakes instead. It just wasn’t the same.

In the food industry, it is not surprising to see places open and thriving and then suddenly shuttered. It is, in fact, commonplace, a given. We recently spent time in our old Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland and marveled at changes. As we sat at Peet’s, stuffing our faces with La Farine morning buns, I pointed to the restaurant across the street. “See that place over there?” I asked my son. “It used to be Flavors, a great Indian restaurant and it was the last place I ate before I gave birth to you.” The nostalgia in my voice made me sound my age.

The City of Pleasant Hill just announced closing the current Pleasant Hill Library as soon as August of this year to prepare the land for sale. That news got me to thinking–what would we do if our community’s civic institutions had the turnover rate of our restaurants and retail stores?

Think about it–you roll up to the Pleasant Hill City Hall to find the lake drained and the building boarded up, turtles wandering around aimlessly. Or what if you parked at the post office only to find a note on the door saying “We would like to thank you for all the support this last century. The decision to close a branch is never easy. Please retrieve your mail at the Concord location” (Sadly, that scenario does not feel so far fetched). Or what if the City contacted you to tell you, a week before your wedding, that the Community Center was scheduled for demolition tomorrow and you’d have to find another venue?

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Or the library?! Think about what you would do if you drove up to the Pleasant Hill Library and found the front doors chained shut as the neon sign, blinking closed, hung from one corner, nothing but empty beyond the vestibule. It really makes my heart hurt to even imagine it. It makes me feel like I’d be losing two best friends. Where would my son be so inspired by a Tinker Tuesday event that he will fall asleep planning to build a rubber-band propeller plane next? From what library’s shelves would he pull arm fulls of space books? Where would I feel comfortable rolling up with a collapsible wagon to return 82 books? But enough about me. What about the thousand or so people that visit our library weekly, suddenly displaced, those who need storytime, computer and internet access, guidance, or a just place to get away? And all the teens from Pleasant Hill Middle School? All. Those. Teens. Could Pleasant Hill Library patrons stand to go for any length without seeing Patrick or all of the other amazing staff and volunteers?

So, what is the answer in the library scenario (in which the reality will not appear quite so apocalyptic)? According to the March/April issue of the Outlook on its way to your mailbox, patrons will go to the temporary pop-up library at the Pleasant Hill Senior Center, attend storytime at the Pleasant Hill Teen Center, or visit another library for services in the interim period while the City builds our new library. Contra Costa County is full of beautiful libraries that can accommodate an influx of patrons at any moment. These days libraries are flexible, adaptable and dedicated to serving each and every patron that walks through the door, regardless of their home address. Libraries, and their librarians, step up to serve any community, community member, or branch, in need.

Consider that this past October, a deadly and destructive wildfire tore through the town of Paradise, CA. Miraculously, Paradise did not lose its library, but it did lose access to the building and its contents, which suffered extensive smoke damage. Other libraries in Butte County are stepping up to fill the void. An article from ALA’s magazine, American Libraries, stated:

The five other branches in the system remain operational and have become information centers, offering computers, Wi-Fi, and printers to help displaced residents contact insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies.

The ALA is also assisting the Butte County Library system with ways to preserve the Paradise Library’s archive. The Marin County Library system, some 170 miles away, is raising money for the branch.

Also in October, in Los Angeles County, the Woolsey Fire threatened Malibu and surrounding towns. The Malibu Library opened soon after the fire’s containment and served as both an access point for patrons needing the technology and bandwidth to file claims with various organization and as a vaccination clinic. The article ended with this about the Paradise branch:

[Butte County Library Director Melanie] Lightbody says that although the community is devastated, the library’s survival has meaning in the crisis: “We are more than just a library; [we are] a symbol of hope to the community and a community center, which we will be once again.”

Libraries are not only “symbols of hope and community centers”, they are also reflections of the communities themselves. Imagining “what if” scenarios can help communities (and their vital institutions) remain nimble. Imagining a sudden, or even a planned, closure of a beloved library, for instance, can open up the door to various opportunities to reconfigure library services, whether they be mobile, like bookmobiles; or virtual, either through a dedicated forums or through social media; or even temporary pop-up locations, like storefronts or a storytime van tracked on social media like popular food trucks. Imagining these “what if” scenarios can lead to a focused effort to strengthen, and leverage, community partnerships or an effort to nurture new ones. Imagining “what if” scenarios can help communities prepare for the expected and the unexpected.

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Rendering of the new library by BCJ, from https://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/1226/Library-Project

With the building of its new library, Pleasant Hill has embarked on a journey where there will be a lot of change, flux, and uncertainty that will require some fantastic reimagining both from library staff and library patrons. We can start to prepare now for all the “what ifs” to come.

At the last Town Hall meeting in November where architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) and team shared the design renderings for our new library, I watched one patron storm out mumbling, “This isn’t a library!” His despair and frustration were palpable. It sounded a little like he was losing a good friend, and there is a truth in that for everyone who has come to love our little low-fi, low-slung library over the years. We cannot escape the truth that libraries in the 21st century are changing, each and every day with each and every program, and even with each and every patron. Libraries will always connect us to information and ideas, but nowadays, it’s so much more. Libraries connect us to the riches in our communities and in each other.

It’s a given: change is life’s only constant. Things happen and things change, Pleasant Hill. And while we can’t, for the most part, control those happening and changing things, we can control how we react to them. We can welcome the changes with kindness, curiosity and maybe even a little, or a lot, of creativity. We can help each other adapt by, at the very least, being nimble.

 

Originally published on 2/28/19 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/the-vertical-file-be-nimble/

Other writings at “Info for free by Julie McP”

I’m currently embarking on my MLIS at San Jose State’s School of Information, or iSchool as we call it. Over the past year I’ve collected some pieces on my student blog. Take a look here: https://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/info/juliemcp/ especially if you’re into LEGOs.

measlegoonbed

The above photo is a LEGO representation of my state of exhaustion, in our tri-level town home, after my first semester at iSchool, during which I studied the LEGO information community. I loved my research but only got through the semester because my son’s babysitter moved back to town temporarily and stayed long enough for my semester to wrap up. She actually left town the day after my last class. After the usual summer dearth of childcare and Mom time, I am happy to report now that my son is in kindergarten for almost 20 hours a week, I have plenty of bandwidth for iSchool and life. I even have time to run his PE class every Wednesday. That will look amazing on the old resume! Julie McP, head of B-1 PE. ❤

Tethers

This Halloween, my son decided to be the solar system, so my husband and I decided to be NASA astronauts. Surely this family costume, one of our best, is a metaphor for our lives. Our child is the center of our universe while my husband and I, space pioneers, are floating and bumping our way through this crazy thing called parenting. Our tether: a community that supports and protects us, and friends and neighbors who share our values. Just as an astronaut appreciates her tether on every spacewalk, I am so grateful for this anchoring.

Belonging is a precious thing.

Here’s an example: The other day my son and I drove my husband to BART and we decided to head to the Pleasant Hill station rather than his regular Concord station, partly for the nostalgia (it was his go-to station for over four years) and partly for the extra few minutes it bought us, because every minute counts when our family is together. We left late and traffic was heavy. We hit every light along the way and so my husband missed his usual train, which meant he would be arriving to work 15 minutes late. About two hours later, when I was dropping my son off at school, I realized I forgot his backpack for the first time. We had to zip home and zoom back to school where he was one of the last friends walking through the door, when usually he starts the lineup. Our morning was full of flusters. What a way to start a day, right?

But here is the great part. I am so glad all those bumps happened along the way. If we hadn’t been late catching the train, we wouldn’t have seen the lattice crane silhouetted by a suddenly fog-shrouded sun at the Pleasant Hill BART station. “It looks like art,” my son said from the backseat. My son wouldn’t have been able to pull Daddy in, not once but twice, for big goodbye hugs, which I know sent my husband away with a warmth that carried him through the tough parts of his day. If I hadn’t forgotten my son’s backpack, I wouldn’t have seen Pleasant Hill Library’s Patrick Remer (most recently seen on the cover of your CoCo County Voter Information Guide) unloading his storytime gear in the parking lot of Valhalla Elementary School and I wouldn’t have gotten to share a hug and a laugh with him. I also would have missed passing the adorable caravan of Creative Play Center preschoolers on their way back from their pumpkin patch field trip to Mangini Farm–all those little red shirted kids crowded in wagons, pulled by blue-aproned co-opers. I even got a wave from their teacher who used to be our teacher, the amazing Ms. Danielle Newton. All of these happenings were lights in my heart and became records in my gratitude journal. Moments like these anchor me to the present, to my place and to my community, making me so happy to be exactly where I am. Here. With all this. Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, calls what I feel Thisness. I am so grateful for my Thisness.

Thisness, according to Merriam Webster, is “the quality in a thing of being here and now or such as it is : the concrete objective reality of a thing.”  

Autumn is a fine time to reflect on our Thisness. It is a time of deep emotion and raw tenderness. Pumpkin-everything season (which I am really into this year–hello, pumpkin cinnamon buns, pumpkin ravioli and sweet potato cereal) ushers in the gathering of friends and family to celebrate and offer thanks. It is the season of volunteers, drives and donations because it is a time when we all feel our most generous. And while it is a time of humble gratitude and giving, it is also one of outright joy, which we all deserve in our lives. There’s no such thing as too much joy.

So get out there and start enjoying each and every moment this season in our community. There’s so much to do. Start with a walk. Or a cup of coffee on the porch. Read through your Outlook and mark up your calendars. The City of Pleasant Hill hosts Off the Grid food events every Wednesday evening; Light Up The Night is Nov 28; and the City’s holiday festival is Dec 5. Support the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library at their Giant Book Sale this Saturday, Nov 3. Meet animals from around the world at the Pleasant Hill Library on Nov 5; talk Anime on Nov 6; join Spy Camp on Nov 19 and 20; and make a gingerbread house on Dec 10 and 11. Or enjoy the regularly scheduled Lego Creators Club on Saturdays at 2, regular storytimes (every Wed, Thurs & Fri at 11:15 AM & Fri again at 1:15 PM), pajama yoga, beading sessions, playgroups, and book clubs. Yes, you can do all of those things AT THE LIBRARY. And a whole lot more. Seriously.

From: http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/2862

The point is, your community–our community–is also your tether to belonging. And our community’s institutions, like the City of Pleasant Hill and the Pleasant Hill Library are hard at work facilitating our connectedness, to events and to each other, year round.

All you have to do is show up and enjoy some Thisness.

 

Originally published October 31, 2018 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-tethers/

Aspirations

My son’s PreK class at Creative Play Center recently celebrated Career Week. During one of my co-oping shifts, his teacher read to the class from a book about different careers. In a classic teachable moment, Ms. Cory asked each of the co-opers (all moms that day) to tell the class what we do for work. Because the question of “what is a professor” had just come up, I told the class I used to be a professor and that I was also a writer and editor and in school to become a librarian. It felt so good saying it out loud to (hopefully) future patrons. Ms. Cory pointed out that I had left something off the list: my mom job. There’s a reason we all love Ms. Cory so much.

Over the next few days, the kids made drawings of their future professions. My son’s: garbage truck driver and deicer driver, of course, although after running a mock restaurant last week (where they served up quesadillas, chips, olives and lemonade to family members), he’s added controlling space ships and running a restaurant to his future ambitions list. At the week’s end, Ms. Cory sent her students home with business cards: magnets she made with their name, professional title and a miniature color copy of their drawings.

The highlight of my week was listening to my son and a school friend in the backseat of our car showing each other their business cards, talking about their future jobs. Hers: a shell collector.

“A what?” I heard.

“A shell collector!”

“A smell collector?”

“No! A shell collector!”

“Oh, I thought you said a smell collector.” Giggle-giggle.

Adorable.

They also talked about visiting each other’s houses. My son explained that “a long long long time from now, you won’t be able to come over because my mom will be working in a library.”

It’s these moments that make my heart swell with pride, knowing that all my head-down work on the weekends for now–and apparently the long long long foreseeable future–is teaching him, and me, something invaluable. Discipline. Dedication. Perseverance. Grit. A call to service. All of these and so much more.

Every week I am learning amazing new things about the profession. I felt like I was back in our town hall meeting as I worked my way through the module on user studies. My heart opened again and again learning about global librarianship. I had one brilliant Aha! moment learning about community informatics. Espousing how libraries create value in communities? Check! Bridging the digital divide with community stakeholders? Sign me up. I so look forward to delving into emerging technologies in two weeks. There’s already so much to explore, so much to get excited about.

How fortunate I am to be able to pursue this degree while living in this engaged community, with its wonderfully responsive and connected library. I cannot thank Pleasant Hill Library enough for its role in helping me realize this long-contemplated aspiration of mine.

This is the kind of thing that libraries do: respond to our needs and inspire us to aspire. All it takes is a visit (in person or online) and a conversation (in person or online). Really. It’s that simple. Here’s an example: I’ve been practically begging for meditation and mindfulness programming (and I’ve been begging for a meditation space in the new library–I mean, who doesn’t want a meditation yurt?) on every survey and multiple times in the Pleasant Hill Library’s Idea Box. And guess what? I am signed up to attend a meditation workshop at–wait for it–the Pleasant Hill Library. For FREE!

My future meditation yurt. Photo credit: A Camera Story on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Libraries, through programming and collections, and librarians, whose job it is to guide and connect, respond to collective and individual needs, with every interaction. We actually don’t even need to know exactly what our needs and aspirations are. A librarian is trained to ask the right questions to help us figure it out. I cannot wait to be a part of such a dynamic, responsive and connective institution. I will be someday soonish, unless you ask my son.

 

Originally published on April 22, 2018 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-aspirations/

It all started with…

I’ve been thinking about pursuing my MLIS for a good eight years.

It all started with a conversation after a library research workshop that my English 101 class at John Jay College had just completed. The librarian who facilitated our workshop, Marta, told me she used to adjunct in the English department, too. “I got tired of the low pay and instability. I wanted a secure job,” Marta told me. She said it again for emphasis: “It was time for me to get a job.”

Marta was spot on. I was in the post-MFA adjunct cycle, maxing out my class load while culling together research assistantships with freelance editing to pay our Brooklyn rent. My nephew counted once, “You have like, 6 jobs,” he reported. I had been trying to decide if I wanted to pursue a PhD in Rhetoric and Comp, if I could find one that didn’t require the GRE and kept coming up against a lot of internal and external resistance. After my talk with Marta, an MLIS became a glimmering mirage on the horizon.

By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So I started talking to my librarian friends. Turns out, I have a lot of librarian friends, including one of my MFA peers who went right from Sarah Lawrence College into the Queens College MLS program (and  is now a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the College of Staten Island Library). The first thing I noticed is that they all loved their jobs. I also noticed the incredible variety in their experiences before and after getting their degree. I was intrigued enough to thoroughly research viable programs and document it all on a Google Excel sheet. I started formulating a plan: fulfill a pipe dream by relocating to Northern California (my husband is a Bay Area native), switch our driver licenses right away to establish residency, and then enroll in San Jose State’s online MLIS program.

But then life took some twists and turns. After we were married, we did move across the country to start a family (and we did switch our licenses our first week here). After spending two years working for a small product design company as a writer and studio manager, and dealing with the heartbreaking reality that teaching college in California with an MFA is nearly impossible, I shelved all ideas about furthering my education to take on my hardest teaching assignment ever–becoming the stay-at-home parent for my precocious boy.

Fast forward through the dark days of postpartum depression and midnight feedings. One day, upon recommendation, I attended one of the renowned storytimes by Patrick Remer, rock star and library manager at the Pleasant Hill Library. It was love at first listen.

One of Patrick’s smaller storytime gatherings.

Like Patrick’s rock-n-rolling drew my son away from me for the first time in public into a sea of wiggling, rapt toddlers, my Pleasant Hill Library experience led me deep into my community, a place that is tight-knit, progressive and engaged.

My son and I became regulars at our new library, first for storytime, then for books. Shortly after my son’s 2nd birthday, I answered a call for a volunteer blogger to write human interest stories for the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library. That’s when the real magic started. The first post I wrote for the Friends, The Transformative Transforms, caught the attention of the ALA and they featured it as one of their first personal stories on their ilovelibraries.org Libraries Transform website.

And here we are now. Those human interest stories is now this blog, The Vertical File, rounding out its third year and still going strong. It helped informed the citizens of Pleasant Hill about an important ballot measure, and it most recently has served as a community snapshot for the architects, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, who won the contract to build a brand new library in Pleasant Hill. It is now surrounded by more incredible content generated by incredible volunteers.

It all started with that first storytime. Because of it, I’ve gotten involved in my community, attended city council meetings and town halls, and we’ve even bought our first house in Pleasant Hill. It made me realize how valuable libraries are to communities, how dedicated and important librarians are to the people they serve, and how deep my love for and interest in all things library-related runs. The library connects us, to knowledge and to each other. It has even connected me, and my family, to our new home.

And so here I finally am–pursuing my MLIS at San Jose State University. Just like I’d planned. Well, sort of.

 

Originally published on January 8, 2018 at https://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/info/juliemcp/2018/01/08/it-all-started-with/ and again on March 18, 2018 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-it-all-started-with/