Upset at the library

Recently, a kerfuffle has occurred in my community. People heard that I’m looking for another position elsewhere because the librarians are paid so poorly and budgets are being hacked. Letters from concerned patrons were sent as letters-to-the-editor and to the library board. It was deeply gratifying on an egotistical level–who wouldn’t love to hear that people appreciate your work. And I was able (I think) to turn it to a library advocacy issue. Yet I can’t help but wonder–what about all those people who DON’T like me? I know they exist, I’m pretty opinionated and not shy (you may have noticed). I hope that this tempest-in-a-teapot will expand to examine all the library services, what people like or don’t like, and how we can all serve them better.

Here are the letters, for anyone who’s interested. I’ve removed the names for their privacy. The local paper doesn’t have an online archive, so that’s why I’m adding stuff here.

After an entire week of thinking, writing, erasing, thinking, re-writing. .
. . I’ve finally gotten my letter written.  I’ve heard some news that
Shannon Barniskis may be thinking about leaving her job at the Horicon
Public Library.  The suggestion was to write letters telling how much
Shannon is appreciated in hopes that somehow she will stay.  The intent of
these letters is not to cause tension among city officials, librarian
co-workers, or with library go-ers.  This is simply to ask that every action
necessary is taken to try to get Shannon to stick around.  Please keep in
mind that we are very grateful for all of the library employees and all of
the work that they do for us and how wonderful they treat us.  We are doing
this for them as well, in hopes that more funding may become available.
However, I know that many families have become quite attached to Shannon
throughout the years becuse of the wonderful storytimes / programs she puts
together, so I’m sure you understa  nd why we’re writing to you about this.

This news makes me start to wonder a few things.  They are the politics that
many people face.  Is something going on behind the scenes that makes her
unhappy?  Does she feel unappreciated?  Is she being treated fairly and
equally to all other library employees that have similar job
responsibilities?  How do Horicon’s wages compare to wages of neighboring
communities?  How can we get more funding for positions like hers?  Or maybe
she’s just ready for a new start somewhere else. . . period?  Hopefully the
issue(s) can be addressed and resolved positively.

I’m sure you already know how important she is to the library and community
but I just wanted to add a few personal things to show how much she means to
my family.

I’ve known Shannon for about 5 1/2 years.  I started bringing my oldest
child to storytime when she was about 6 months old.  She is now almost 6
years old.  My son is 4 and he’s been attending since birth.  They both are
always super excited when they know we’re going to the library and have been
disappointed when it’s not a “storytime day.”

We schedule everything around storytime and rarely miss them.  I signed my
daughter up for 4k last year and chose mon / wed for her to attend school so
that she wouldn’t miss storytime on tuesdays.  I plan on doing the same for
my son next year.  My husband even makes a point to attend the wednesday
evening storytimes.  I am constantly inviting other mom’s when I plan
playdates for our kids.  My daughter’s teacher included reminders in the
class newsletter several times last year for families encouraging them to
attend storytimes.

Shannon has always welcomed everyone to storytime, young or old.  She gets
everyone involved with her enthusiasm and energetic attitude.  She always
gives everyone a chance to participate and gets to know all the children
personally, and not just talking AT them. She is very cultural and easily
finds somehow to include this knowledge at just about every storytime,
whether it be an game from a certain country, pictures, fingerplay, or
craft.  She also includes current events.  These kid-friendly activities
make it easier for the younger kids to understand about other places and
what’s going on in the world because they can start to relate things to
their own “world”.

My kids are a bit young to know what other programs she runs at the library
yet for the older kids, but I am rather excited for them to grow up (but not
too fast!) and be able to participate in some of the teen programs!  I hope
they get the chance to do so.

Hearing my husband and I talk things over about this, my daughter made
Shannon a card asking her to please stay.  She also brought up the storytime
Shannon did about protesting awhile back.  She made a few signs telling
Shannon not to leave. . . asking why is she leaving. .. how can we help
Shannon. . .etc.   This brought me to tears.  She wanted to open her piggy
bank and give everything inside to Shannon to get her to stay. How do you
talk to a child about this?  We tried to explain budgets and funding.  We
told her that many people seem like they do more than they’re asked or
expected of, and don’t get paid what we think they deserve.  It’s not that
easy to just open up the piggy bank and dump it out. . . even though it
sounds so easy to do, and some people / organizations seem to do it all the
time to fulfill seemingly unimportant goals. . .

Thank you,

I was asked to attach the following statements to my letter as well so that
they all go to the same place:

“I like that every Wednesday, Ms. Shannon reads to us and lets us do crafts.
Sometimes I have to miss stoy time and Ms. Shannon lets me come in at other
times to do the crafts or take them home. She lets me help set up the crafts
and get them ready for everyone. I love the summer reading program, I like
that she does it. I wouldn’t like to go the the library as much if Ms.
Shannon wasn’t there. I learn lots of new things from her, she is the best!”
-B (eight years old)

“I am writing this letter to let Ms. Shannon, the Horicon childrens’
librarian, and everyone else know how much she is appreciated. I am in awe
of her and what she does for this community, for the children as well as the
parents. I started taking my daughter to story times at a three years old,
we still attend and she is eight now, and it’s in large part to Ms. Shannon.
She goes above and beyond for our children. From story time, to the summer
reading program, or just stopping in to check out books, she is always
willing to listen and help with anything. At the age of five my daughter
wanted to write a book, not only did Shannon encourage it, she gave my
daughter a book kit from her own home to get my daughter started. So many of
the things she does are not asked of her, but she gives freely of her own
time and wealth of personal knowledge about so many various subjects, that I
learn right along with the children. She is a huge assest and I am positive
that without her Horicon’s families would be missing the experience of the
greatest librarian ever.
Thank you ”
-another K


I am hoping you will pass this along to the Horicon Library Board.  I just wanted to say that I am a Mayville Library Vice President Board Member.  We at Mayville have a great staff, but no one even remotely compares to Shannon Barniskis at the Horicon Library.  She is an extremely valuable person and with out her, I am not sure Horicon Library would have the turnout, or the donations you get.  She has helped young and old really appreciate the library and all it has to offer.  Please understand just how valuable this employee really is and how much everyone appreciates her!  I only wish we could have someone like her here in Mayville!

Respectfully, B


The word on the street is that Ms. Shannon, the Youth Services Librarian of the Horicon Library, is thinking of leaving her position. We can not allow this to happen! Not only would this be a tremendous loss to the Horicon Library, it would be a great loss to our community.

 Our family started coming to the Horicon Library when Ms. Shannon held a baby story time; three years later we continue to come every week for her wonderful storytimes and programs. Every storytime is an adventure with reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing games and creating crafts. Ms. Shannon has a wealth of knowledge and experience that she brings to every single storytime. She also has an enthusiasm, passion and patience that can not be matched. I am always bragging to my friends and family how great our library and Ms. Shannon are.

 Ms. Shannon not only holds story times for the younger kids, she also does so much for the older kids and adults. One thing that I have always admired about Ms. Shannon is her ability to include everyone. Whether it is making sure that every child at storytime has a chance to “help out” or planning activities like a cooking classes for teens, Ms. Shannon thinks of everyone! I Honestly, I had never heard of a library doing things with teenagers until coming to the Horicon Library. Ms. Shannon always makes everyone feel welcome. In addition, Ms. Shannon does an awesome job at organizing and executing the summer reading program. There is always something for everyone and every year she plans different experiences. That is what Ms. Shannon does, she brings EXPERIENCES to Horicon.

 Most libraries offer storytimes, programs and summer reading programs, however I know for a fact, Ms. Shannon’s attracts many families from other communities. I have had the opportunity to be a presenter at many public libraries in the Milwaukee area, and from what I have observed none of the other librarians come close to doing what Ms. Shannon does. She goes way above what is expected of her.

 One afternoon my in-laws, that were visiting from out of state, took my son to the library. When Ms. Shannon heard them talking about how it wasn’t time for storytime, she came over and read them a book. It only took her a few minutes, but it something that has left a lasting impression on our family. That is the type of person and librarian Ms. Shannon is. The library is very important part of our lives and Ms. Shannon is the biggest reason we make coming to the library a priority.

 When we heard that Ms. Shannon may be leaving we were heartbroken. We can’t imagine going to the Horicon Library and not seeing her. Ms. Shannon is the pulse of the library and with out her it is just a building that stores books. It just would not be the same. We are extremely lucky to have her as part our community and we need to do everything we can to ensure that she stays. Please make sure that Ms. Shannon understands how much she is appreciated and how vital she is to our community!

 Sincerely, yet another K


And my response:

Dear Editor,
Evidently a rumor is circulating that I (the Youth Services Librarian at the Horicon Public Library) am leaving the library. In small towns, it appears that personal plans are often public. While I do not currently have a position elsewhere, it is true that I am actively seeking one. It may take time to find one. But the continual cuts to the library budget, coupled with the fact that Horicon’s library staff make so little, are forcing me to leave the community I love and seek a living wage elsewhere. The average wage for a librarian in Wisconsin is $34,000. I grossed less than $12,000 last year. With the 5.6% cut to my pay because of Gov. Walker’s “public employees should pay more for their benefits” pay cut, I will make significantly less this year. As for the public employee “Cadillac” benefit plan–it would cost more than I make to get the health insurance, and after 17 and a half years of working at the library, I now have about $7000 in my pension.

I reveal all this not to say “poor Shannon.” I love my job and have had many non-monetrary benefits over the years–and every one has a face. Rather I am speaking up because I think local communities are unaware of the dire situation faced by librarians.While other city workers in Horicon received a raise recently to help offset the Walker cuts, the librarians didn’t. The librarians don’t get the same benefits or holidays as the other city workers. Other than the director, none of us get sick days. No one advocates for us, so I’m in the tricky position of needing to advocate for my fellow librarians and the library itself.

Horicon has an extraordinarily fine library. Our programs and services are second to none. Despite what some may think, libraries are more important in the Internet age than ever before, and our circulation goes up 12-15% month after month.  I hope that everyone reading this letter will reflect on the things that make a community worth living in, and be aware that what they do at the ballot box makes a difference. I hope that if you care about the library, or schools, or parks, or any public goods and services, that you will not sit idly by as they are de-funded. Please go to city council meetings, library board meetings, and write letters to the editor. Vote. If there are things you love, or do not love, at the library, tell us. We want to serve you as well as we can given our monetary constraints. The people who speak up are listened to. Thank you much for 17 fantastic years. Hope to see you soon–at the library!

Shannon Barniskis


I hope this was the right response. What would you do if confronted by letters like these when you were feeling downhearted at needing to find better-paying employment?


Why Buy Sexy Lit for Teens

You mean teens like to read about sex? *gasp* Who knew?

Tracy Clark-Fiory made some great points with her Salon piece the other day. The fact that there are sex scenes to make the Mormons blush in nearly all teen lit isn’t exactly news. The fact that teens like this fact isn’t news either (though the fact that they actually READ tends to surprise people). The fact that teens can learn both ethical choices and physical/mental safety and responsibility through sexy teen lit is the big shocker, evidently.

At least it appears to shock some parents. I’ve been grateful that I’ve not had any complaints thus far about sex in the books I’ve purchased at my library. I’ve bought quite a bit of sex-positive informational lit. Thanks Heather Corinna! (Who, by the way, I went to college with before she was a sex guru.) And I’ve bought more LGBTQ literature than is supported by my circulation figures, though not as much as I could. (In other words it doesn’t get checked out all that often.)

I’ve been waiting for the shoe to drop for years, and some furious parent to wave the this book is about SEX  or the more recent Sex: A Book for Teens furiously in my face.

The humping cows book--often passed around amid giggles at my library

Hasn’t happened. Why?

I think Clark-Fiory‘s quotation of Heather Corinna circles the reason no one has, in over 12 years, ever complained about the plethora of sexy books in my small-town, Republican-voting library.

Heather said:

… I think some of this, ‘OMG, sex is just everywhere, everywhere, everywhere where my children can see it!’ stuff from American parents is often really more like, ‘Dammit. It’s getting harder and harder for me to justify not talking about sex with my kids.

It’s my completely unsupported opinion that a lot of parents just want to dodge the issue od sex and are secretly relieved their kids are reading about it instead of asking about it. That’s why I think no one has complained.

Because it’s pretty hard to miss the cow-humping book cover on display in the teen area.

On a more interesting and factually-based note, a friend is working on some research on the GLBTQ holdings of several local libraries. I was interested to note that my teensy tiny library has more books for teens identified by keyword searches of “gay,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” and the same amount of books with the keyword “lesbian” than the next-door library which is about 5 times as large.

This fact may be due to the fact that I am an OWL-attending parent of teens, or the fact that the larger library has no teen librarian, or the fact that I feel more confident in my small town than the larger-town librarian does that I won’t be absolutely flattened for purchasing books like It Gets Better & GLTBQ. I am fascinated by the possibilities. Why are so many librarians reluctant to buy books that frankly discuss sex, anyway?

In any case, my colleagues pilot study has made me aware that, even though I’m doing well compared to the neighboring large library when it comes to GLBTQ materials, I’m still doing a lousy job. So my current book order includes more GLBTQ-friendly fiction, including:

Hopefully parents and community members will continue to either turn a blind eye to the content of these books, or they will support their teens and their need to read honest, representational reflections of what it means to be a teen.