By Lisbeth Boutang
Children’s Librarian, Cloquet Public Library

The one-day symposium was the perfect opportunity for me to refresh my skills and recharge my enthusiasm for work. The timing was ideal: right before the start of summer programming. I especially appreciated the diversity of sessions.

I was able to focus on my work with children via Heather Acerro’s presentation on putting early literacy practices into action. While the Rochester Public Library and the Cloquet Public Library certainly have their differences, it was helpful to learn of their successes. Acerro shared several story time and program templates, reinforcing the value of play, song, art, and talk in strengthening early literacy skills. The importance of repetition, as well as the importance of encouraging parents to participate along with their children as models of early literacy, was underlined. The use of art, scribbling or improvisational dance are also creative tools for the very young. I picked up some good ideas for reinventing the Children’s space in the library – even when the budget says no. I loved the idea of an art room, but an art space is more practical for our library.

The second session I chose to attend was “Bridges to the Mindful Library.” Mindfulness has been a buzz word for decades, and for good reasons. The concept of focusing on the present and how its practice will enhance the daily routines of libraries and librarians, makes sense. A diverse collection of books, CDs and DVDs on the subject were suggested, along with simple yoga exercises from an expert. It sounds extraordinary, but people do need help learning how to breathe. The best way we can make changes in our lives is to actively engage in the tasks at hand – tapping into the natural rhythms and resources of our bodies, minds and souls. The spurious label “New Age” is not an apt definition of what people see in mindfulness. It is more of a return to ancient practices that have been discarded by our fast-paced, media driven lives.

In the afternoon, I joined the “Literacy Equity: Engaging Resourceful Community Knowledge” session comprised of professionals from the Crosswinds Arts & Science School and Perpich Center for Arts Education. My interest was particular for our library is currently involved in a partnership with the Twin Cities schools and multiple libraries in our area, including Cloquet Public Schools, Fond du Lac Ojibwe School and Fond du Lac Head Start. The project is still a work in progress. We are exploring our own communities and how they might work together on a literacy equity project involving water and the St. Louis River watershed. We recently met with members of the Reservation’s Resource Management team at Jay Cooke State Park. Eventually, we will decide on a specific plan of action. For example, the Woodbury school assembled kits comprised of cultural, historical and scientific literature, media, and dioramic materials educating their community on its watershed. We will explore ways that we can draw on our particular talents and resources to engage our own communities regarding these important issues.

The last session led by Nicole Miller of the Gilbert Public Library was an intriguing look at one non-library professional’s successful approach to reshaping the town’s public library into an innovative, viable resource. Her out-of-the-box approach and willingness to try new paths while abandoning well-worn, non-effective channels are examples to us all. Miller literally revised the library’s operations, substituting non-traditional, yet helpful methods of doing business – from color-coding materials, to outreach story times, to taking a baby on board. One employee’s child is literally a part of the library’s creative synergy. Miller occasionally brings her own daughter to work. Miller comes from a YWCA background, which allowed her to re-imagine the library’s operation. Indeed, I’ve heard of management from non-librarian backgrounds taking the reins of a public library and doing remarkable things. When it came time for Q&A time, no one said a word. It may have been an eye-opening experience to see how a library can be successfully run by a non-traditional librarian. The most important thing I brought away from the talk was the director’s ability to remake a modest library into a doable, attractive community resource – with less inventory and increased circulation.

The luncheon talk by Jessamyn West, a librarian and technologist who concentrates on studying the digital divide in her rural Vermont community, was an entertaining look at one woman’s approach to bridging the challenging gap rural America presents for a librarian in the age of online resources and media.Ii was able to visit with a librarian from Moorhead State College as well as a recent college graduate who is entering library school. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to attend the symposium and am grateful for the Arrowhead Library System’s financial support toward such a rich professional experience.