Monthly Archives: July 2013

MWW Review

I sat down to write this review and realized I’m incapable of expressing how incredible Midwest Writer’s Workshop was without sounding like a squealing pre-teen who just shook hands with Justin Bieber.  In all seriousness, though, this conference makes the top five best experiences of my life.  Here are just a few reasons why.

For starters, the conference had something for everyone.  Whether you were looking to improve your writing, get feedback on your work, pitch to agents, or just network with other writers, there was a place for you at MWW.  Personally, I was most interested in the craft workshops and meeting local writers.  A recent transplant to central Indiana, I knew there had to be other writers in the area, but I didn’t know how to find them.  What I encountered at MWW was a much larger community than I’d anticipated who live within an hour of my home.  More than meeting a community, though, I met people who I hope will become good friends as well as critique partners.

Outside of networking, the craft sessions taught me not only about style but also about the business side of writing.  Shout-out to Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose sessions helped me think about my book in a new way, and helped me nail down that one-sentence log line.  Thanks also to John Cusick, whose presentation on first lines was my favorite of the conference.  The examples came from some of my favorite books, and I loved getting an agent’s feedback on the first line of my novel.

Finally, many thanks to the scores of other writers who let me practice my pitch on them, offered feedback, and shared their pitches with me.  It was so neat hearing about everyone else’s projects!

Okay, this is starting to sound too fan-girly for me, so I’m going to end here.  Great job, MWW committee, faculty, and attendees!  I can’t wait to see you again next year.

Midwest Writers Workshop Preview

In a few days, I’ll be headed off to my first writer’s conference.  I chose Midwest Writer’s Workshop for its relatively low price and close proximity to home.  I won’t have to worry about hotels or plane tickets or restaurants.  However, the ease of all of my organization so far has made the whole conference seem vague and, well, not really that big a deal.
But it is a big deal.  I’ve never been surrounded by hundreds of other writers before, all with the same (or similar) goals and ambitions and frustrations that I have.  I’ve had my pieces workshopped, and I’ve taken a few creative writing classes, but it has never been anything like this.  This is basically a writer’s camp, but preparing for MWW is nothing like preparing for the summer camps I attended as a kid.  No need for bugspray, sunscreen, or secret hoards of snacks.  (Well, okay, maybe the snacks, though they won’t need to be hidden under a mattress.)  Here is what I know about preparing for writer’s conferences so far:
  1. Bring business cards.  Be ready to trade them like the once-coveted Lion King cards and (no joke) Torah cards I brought to Jew camp.  But this time, instead of looking for the rarest cards or the ones with the biggest names, my conference networking will be all about finding the right matches.  I’ll be looking for people who are working on projects that are similar to mine, or who may be interested in what I write, or know someone who is.  I’m not looking for a book deal here (not that I’d turn one down, of course), just for some advice on how to go about landing one when I start querying at the end of the year and some contacts to whom I can send said queries.  If I’m a successful trader, my business card collection at the end of the week will be full of those people.  And, if you’re one of those people, introduce yourself!
  2. Have an elevator pitch ready.  Or at least some form of an elevator pitch, even if you’re not actually pitching.  People will ask what your book/short story/poetry collection is about.  My usual “I don’t like to talk about my writing until I’ve got a draft done” won’t cut it.  First, because I have a draft (which needed an overhaul of the setting and several plot adjustments; read: a complete re-write); and second, because that’s just not professional.  I could get away with saying things like that when writing was a hobby, something I dabbled in for fun.  But now that I consider myself a professional writer, I need to be ready to talk about my work.  And not just ready to, but eager to.  I need to be as enthusiastic about my book out loud as I am in my head.  Because no one wants to hear a weak, mumbled synopsis of the twelfth “work in progress” someone’s talked about that morning.
  3. Have a plan.  Know which sessions you want to attend, and which speakers/authors/agents you want to talk to.  Also, be prepared to deviate from the plan if a great conversation is keeping you from a session or if meeting one of the speakers makes you decide to go to her talk instead of the one on your original agenda.
  4. Take notes on everything.  When someone gives you a business card, write down where you were or what you were talking about so you’ll remember which card goes with which person later.  Take notes on what the speakers say in their sessions, even if you think you’ll remember it later.  There will be so many things that you’re trying to remember, from that tip about setting to when that session on dialogue is to how to get to the meeting room to where you parked your car.  If someone gives you some great advice at lunch or in line for the restroom, find a tactful way to jot that down, too.  I’ve always been a compulsive note-taker, so hopefully this won’t be too hard for me.
  5. Have fun.  You’re going to be overwhelmed by all of the agents, the “real” authors, the people whose work makes yours look like an attempt to prove the infinite monkey theorem gone wrong.  Don’t be intimidated by them.  Learn from them.  They’ve been in your shoes, and they may have some of the best advice you’ll get.
Any other pre-conference tips?  Or are any of you going to be at MWW?  If so, be ready to swap business cards with me!

Is a separate teen library going too far?

I recently read an article in Focus on Indiana Libraries that discussed The Third Place, a teen library that is part of the Eckhart Public Library.  The building, which is down the road from the main library, was refurbished and donated to EPL with the stipulation that it be used solely for teen services.
While I am a big proponent of having separate teen spaces in libraries, parts of The Third Place’s setup concern me.  EPL Teen Services Supervisor Jamie Long says that “anyone, regardless of age, is permitted to come in [to the teen library] and check out materials” (Long 8).  However, “If patrons are not of grades 6-12 and are not accompanying a teen, they are asked to limit their stay to 15 minutes” (Long 8).  This policy seems discriminatory against adult patrons who are looking for young adult books, who may feel rushed when browsing, or who may avoid the teen library altogether because they are “too old.”  By creating a separate building exclusively for teens, is EPL limiting access to the collections that building houses?
The library is supposed to be a safe, welcoming place for all members of the community.  It was this sentiment that led to the creation of separate teen spaces in hundreds of libraries.  However, in our efforts to provide spaces for everybody, we must make sure we do not go too far in the opposite direction, limiting access to certain spaces or services based on age or other factors.  I’m not saying adults should be allowed to use the teen computer lab when there’s a separate adult lab, or that adults should be encouraged to lounge in teen seating areas; but when it comes to accessing library collections, patrons should not be given a limited amount of time to browse or encouraged to make their selections quickly (unless the library is closing).
Maybe I’m overreacting, but as an adult reader of teen books, I would feel off-put and unwelcome if someone told me to limit my stay in the teen library because I’m not a teen.  And what about teachers who are trying to select books for reading lists, or aunts or uncles looking for recommendations for their nieces or nephews?  I definitely think it’s important for teens to feel welcome and have their own space; but I think we need to make sure that everyone feels welcome to access all of the library’s collections.
Long, Jamie. “The Third Place: A Teen Library.” Focus on Indiana Libraries 7.7 (July 2013): 8-9. Web. Accessed 9 July 2013. http://www.ilfonline.org/clientuploads/July%202013%20Focus.pdf.

Airline App

On my return from Israel, I had a less-than-glamorous experience trying to get from New York City back to Indiana.  After a week of grumbling to friends, I’ve decided to channel my frustration towards something more constructive.
Some of the projects I read about surrounding the National Day of Civic Hacking inspired me to dream up an app that could have helped and maybe even prevented my air travel woes.  I don’t have the coding skills to make this happen, but I’ll share my idealistic vision in case someone who does wants to lend a hand to harried travelers everywhere.
Picture this: you go to check in for your flight at a self-service kiosk and get a message that you need to speak with someone at the ticket counter, because your flight has been delayed.  The line to the ticket counter not only winds through the stanchions but stretches across the entire length of the terminal.  Per the airline’s recommendation, you’ve arrived more than two hours early for your flight, but it will take you three hours to get through the line.  Plus, your flight has been delayed, meaning you will miss your connecting flight.
While waiting in line, you call the airline’s customer service number to see if there is a later connecting flight you could make or a different route you could take to get home.  After waiting on hold for a half hour, you finally connect with a customer service representative who has good news: there is another flight to your connecting airport that was scheduled to leave half an hour ago, but has been delayed and is now scheduled to take off in a half hour.  But the woman on the phone can’t book you on that flight, because technically it was supposed to have left already.  If you talk to someone at the ticket counter, they may be able to re-book you.
It will take you another two hours to get through the line to the ticket counter.  You stop two different employees who happen to be walking by the line, explain the situation, and ask if there is any way you can jump the line to make the earlier flight.  They tell you to wait.  The parties both in front of you and behind you are facing similar problems: delayed flights, missed connections, other flights they could be redirected to if they could just make it through the line.
Now picture this: an app that takes data on all flights from that airport to the connecting airport, including the most updated departure time for delayed flights, and allows you to re-book if there are seats available.  Going a step further, the app could also pull data on all airports with flights to your final destination, to see if there is a way to re-route you to a different connecting airport.  Finally, a separate line at the ticket counter exclusively for re-bookings would both help delayed travelers who are trying to make connections and speed the check-in process for those who aren’t re-booking by filtering longer interactions to a separate service representative.
I know that’s a lot of information to sift through, but I think with today’s technology it can be done, if not now than in the near future.  And I think both travelers and airline representatives would rejoice at such a solution.

Job description: What’s your mission statement?

We’re conducting a classification and compensation study at the library where I work, and the study has forced me to think a lot about my job description.  Since I started here, I’ve kept a list of the projects and programs I’ve worked on for my own reference.  But the job description questionnaire we had to fill out for the study really made me think about the day-to-day work.  One of the reasons I love my job is that every day is different — one day I may spend an hour and a half teaching someone to use her new Kindle Fire, another day I may spend two hours weeding the biography section to make room for new materials, and another day I may spend an hour leading a discussion for our adult book club.  Unfortunately, the inconsistent nature of my day-to-day work makes it hard to define on the form.
Though I’ve been assured that the study’s findings will not recommend that any positions be eliminated or salaries reduced, I found myself looking at the questionnaire as a defense of my job.  It feels like this is a chance to prove my worth, to show that what I do makes a difference for both the library and the people and communities we serve.  Maybe that’s because I’ve read so many articles lately about positions getting eliminated and funding getting cut at other libraries, and about libraries’ needs to prove their worth in order to keep doing what they’re doing.
Rather than tackle the questionnaire head-on, I first consulted my list of “APL Accomplishments.”  I then worked backwards, determining which of these things I considered “essential functions” and which fell under “other duties.”  Finally, I spent a good half hour contemplating the first real question on the survey: “The purpose of this position is…”
What is a public librarian’s purpose?  The librarians in my department all have vastly different projects and assignments that we work on off-desk, but when we’re on the desk (which is roughly 90% of the time for most of us, myself included), we all do very similar work.  Two of my “essential functions” came from what I do on-desk.  But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself connecting my off-desk work back to the same primary goals.  When I eliminated the details and looked at the big picture, I came up with a mission statement that I’m pretty happy with:
The purpose of this position is to connect customers with the information they desire or require through library resources, media, and programs.
All of my duties, projects, and assignments in some way work towards supporting that mission.  Of course, I go into a lot more detail in other parts of the survey, but if I had to define my job in one sentence, this is it.
Have any of you had a similar cause for reflection lately?  Even if your employer doesn’t require it, I recommend taking a few minutes to think about what you do and why it matters to the organization or institution you work for.  What’s your mission statement, and how does your work reflect that?  You never know when you’ll need an elevator pitch, and coming up with one ahead of time could prevent a brain freeze at a crucial moment.