I had a great/typical/crazy experience working at the Exploratorium this summer. I came on to the project with the understanding that the library was expanding, hiring a librarian to supervise me, and I would be working with teachers from the Teacher's Institute (a science-based educational program for teachers). However, on my first day, I was told that the library was experiencing serious budget cuts, that money that had been promised to them had been retracted, and that I had no one to supervise me and I would have to wing it with the teachers and any other work they could scrounge up for me. As someone who has worked with a small business, non-profits, and in Laos (where things move slowly and change rapidly), I'm quite used to sudden changes in solvency and staffing. In my pre-librarian experiences, I've learned all about patience and flexibility, which I've gathered is particularly important in the library world.
I really enjoyed the experience as I helped teachers find resources that worked for them in our wonderful library and learned to use the catalog and media archive. I had never done digital archiving before, but as a web designer, office manager (who did some IT), and artist, I knew that organizing things digitally makes sense to me. The wonderful librarian and digital archivist taught me how to digitally archive teacher-created binders (full of lessons and wisdom) and the Exploratorium's awesome magazines, and I was off and running, adding metadata that would be useful for teachers, categorizing, and tagging. I never knew it would be so fun! By the end of the summer, the head librarian was so satisfied with my work and flexibility that she wanted to hire me as on-call staff for a variety of projects. Sadly, the library was closed this fall and the librarian was laid off.
Wow! The layoff were not without drama. I had many conversations from the beginning of the summer on with my supervisor (who has been there since 1985) about the politics of libraries - how to save them, advocate for them, and keep them open in the face of ignorance, greed, or just dumb bureaucracy. She told me about the energy it takes to create and sustain innovative programs while proving their efficacy and preserving their budgets. I have had conversations about the Oakland Public Library system's struggles to stay open in spite of its deeply felt use to the community and exciting programs. While I think a little struggle can push innovation (for instance, some very wealthy systems are mired in their old ways), too much energy spent fighting and advocating can destroy both a librarian's will to keep working and the integrity of the programs themselves.
I had to be very flexible in another part of my summer, which was the 81st Avenue branch mural project. I tried to run a weekly arts workshop, but had trouble with scheduling (the teens weren't available when I was, so the workshop was mostly tweens), so I changed my thorough curriculum into a one day instant mural workshop, with assistance from two teen volunteers. While the result was a bit amateur, I felt that the process was preserved - teens created the mural The finished instant mural - a 5 hour workshopfrom start to finish. I felt like these two experiences were really educational in terms of learning to adapt, I also felt that they showed when to fight and when to adapt, and how to do both at the same time. With the mural workshop, I was trying to adapt to the constraints and commitments of the youth I was working with, and my own ability to make it happen. At the Exploratorium, I was learning from my supervisor when to push back, after having budget cuts year after year - though I'm not sure what the final lesson was (too much pushing? or out of her hands? I don't know!).