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Building Access & Curbside Pickup Hours

  • Monday 10:30 am–5:30 pm
  • Wednesday 11 am–7 pm
  • Saturday 10 am–3 pm
  • Sunday 12–3 pm

Upcoming Events

Life as a Potluck
Date Friday, October 7, 2022, 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM

Local author Tinky Weisblat, a.k.a. the Diva of Deliciousness, will join us at the Arms Library to...

Building Access & Curbside Pickup Hours

  • Monday 10:30 am–5:30 pm
  • Wednesday 11 am–7 pm
  • Saturday 10 am–3 pm
  • Sunday 12–3 pm


Hopepunk and Storytelling

It’s rare – and amazing! - to spend a weekend with over 800 librarians. I attended the American Rural and Small Libraries Conference Tap Into Libraries earlier this month. My colleague Karen Stinchfield, of Cushman Library in Bernardston and I drove up together. Over forty presentations were offered; Karen and I each got to twelve of them. We both spent a great deal of time networking, and meeting with library vendors. This piece was originally printed in the Recorder on September 19th, preceded the week before by Karen’s column about the ARSL Conference. Here’s some of what I brought home.

Author and columnist Rebekkah Aldrich Smith (MLS, LEED AP), Executive Director at the Mid-Hudson Library System (NY), was the final keynote speaker at the ARSL. She shared the idea of “hopepunk,” coined on Tumblr in 2017 by fantasy author Alexandra Rowland, who wrote, “Hopepunk is the opposite of grimdark. Pass it on.” Grimdark is all the darkness in the world today. Hopepunk is an active, non-mainstream movement, and a lifestyle. Rebekkah offered the concept in the context of climate change and the role libraries can take to help teach sustainability and hope in the face of coming climate-related changes.

The ARSL Conference is a part of hopepunk. Librarians and libraries, in all of what we do, are too. At the conference, Karen and I networked with hundreds of librarians, sharing and discussing the resources we have to create community, hope, and sustainability.

As librarians we strive to make our libraries flourish. In changing times, this requires adaptability, openness to change, being active and involved at all levels of our communities. We respond to our global ecosystem and global society by beginning right here at home.

According to Aja Romano, culture staff writer for the website Vox (www.vox.com), “Depending on who you ask, hopepunk is as much a mood and a spirit as a definable literary movement, a narrative message of ‘keep fighting, no matter what.’ … Consider the concept of hope itself, with all the implications of love, kindness, and faith in humanity it encompasses... an active political choice, made with full self-awareness that things might be bleak or even frankly hopeless, but you’re going to keep hoping, loving, being kind nonetheless.” 

Another of our four keynote speakers was standup comedian, storyteller and national speaker Susanne Schmidt of NPR’s The Moth radio program. Schmidt asked, “Why tell stories?” Because, she told us, storytelling, sharing the tales of our lives, brings us closer to each other and what we hold dear. In a symbiotic relationship we create our stories and our stories shape us. In turn, we shape our communities, deciding which of our needs will create our social institutions and structures. Some voices are heard, others are not. This is where libraries come in, with our collections, programming, and community activities. Libraries are in the heart of communities and are part of social justice and change.

“Be vulnerable in our storytelling,” said Schmidt. She suggested “Story Slams,” where community members are invited in to tell a story about their lives. This sharing not only documents our histories, but also the fabric of our communities, creating vulnerability and in doing so, bringing us closer together.

   I went to a number of workshops about community, because that is the heart and soul of what we do. I am in love with our hilltowns and our people. I want to do my best for them.

In a presentation called Engage Community and Spark Change, we talked about Community Conversations, facilitated gatherings where a group of people come to together to discuss one pre-determined topic. The library provides a safe space and sense of community in which to discuss sometimes challenging subjects, and the facilitators ensure that the conversation stays on topic. One of the messages of this presentation: Conversations in a face-to-face setting tend to be civil and empathetic, less likely to get bogged down in argument compared to conversations in some other forums.

Looking at how we function in our libraries, I attended Did Slamming Your Head Against the Wall Help? Reframing Issues in Your Library and Community. Workshop leaders Kieran Hixon and Sharon Morris presented a bright new way to look at our libraries. Creativity and inspiration are tools for reframing how we approach our library work. The two gave examples of how we may see a situation in a certain light; we might “frame” the situation in a negative light, defining a problem incorrectly. By looking at the problem in a way “that’s about possibility”, we can be better stewards of our public places, explained Kieran and Sharon. “Go forth and reframe a better world”, they said!

The Hidden Biases of Good People, given by Jean Marie Hellig and Beth Crist, was a surprise to me. I think of myself as having few biases. Apparently they can sneak in to your subconscious levels. Some of them come from direct sources, others vicariously: for example, from social media, news sources, movies, books, etc.

A tool to help identify your biases is Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, at implicit.harvard.edu Biases can include gender, skin tone, religion, age, weight, race, ethnicity, economic status. The list goes on. Without realizing your biases, they could be impacting a library’s customer service, collection development, or reader’s advisory. Steps to tackle your biases? Take the I.A.T, or just think about how you are with people; diversify the people around you; think of positive stereotypes. “Bias cleanse” Hellig and Crist suggested.

Many of the workshops attended are on subjects which I hope to integrate into the Arms Library during the next few years. By resource-sharing, some of the workshops Karen attended are also part of my plans. I loved the idea of coding in our library, and am interested in working to make the upcoming census more successful from our small hilltown library. 

Just beginning our Strategic Planning Process - in which we set goals for the library’s next five years- we will be soliciting ideas from the community as well as introducing some of these new ideas. The conference was a refresher in how to build a better library, a place to network and share ideas with other librarians; it reminded me of the diversity of what a library can offer. Workshops I went to are: Adult Programming: Beg, Borrow, Steal; Book Club Reboot; The Smart Spaces Process: Co-Create and Transform with Your Community; and Libraries and the LGBT+ Experience; Engaging Your Community and Keeping Them; and, Innovation on a Shoestring: Free Tools.

Together, all of these workshops reminded me of the limitlessness of our potential roles in our communities. Rebekkah Aldrich Smith’s message holds true for everything we learned at the conference. She described librarians as “the optimists in our communities” and advocated that we “be active in what we are and what we do.” One of our jobs is to teach sustainable thinking and resiliency, by what we say and do and the choices we make in our libraries. Engage in practices that are environmentally and fiscally sound, and socially equitable. Work within the community and engage with our people, they said.

While understanding globally, think and act locally. “Figure out life in my tiny corner of the world. That makes a difference.” said Smith. One idea she suggested is the creation of a ‘people catalogue”, in which people with various skills are invited to be part of a database of local talents.

A final quote from Smith, “Grow people who can fix our world. We’re playing the long game.” It’s a good reminder of who and what our librarians and libraries can do.