Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's like the Ocean; You Can Learn the Currents: An Accessibility Series Post

Lisa Cohn is a librarian in an urban public library. Her primary focus is genealogy research, but she's worn a variety of hats in her almost 20 years of library service including: interlibrary loan, programming, book displays, publicity and, of course, reference.

"The staff thinks you don’t like them.” The Director had taken me out to lunch to tell me this shortly before she left our urban public library.  Also that she got complaints about me once a month from patrons.  I should be nicer.  I should accept social invitations more often.    She was an introvert and her husband got panic attacks, so she understood, even if her Facebook feed was filled with parties and dinners out and so many friends.   And why was I still working here anyway (after 19 years).  I seem unhappy. Why hadn't I gone for a job where I didn't have to interact with  people so often?  I left that lunch shaking my head.  It took me a while to come around to the idea that just as I don’t always understand how “normal” people can socialize so easily, it must be hard for them to understand what it’s like to live with a Panic Disorder.

 I got my diagnoses from my family doctor in college when we had to cut short a vacation because of my symptoms. I remember the appointment as a series of   questions which I answered all as yes!  I was relieved that he seemed to know what was wrong with me.  I don't remember what the questions were, but they were probably similar to these from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
-Do you have repeated or unexpected “attacks” during which you suddenly are overcome by intense fear or discomfort for no apparent reason?
-If yes, during an attack did you experience any of these symptoms?
--Pounding heart
--Trembling or shaking
--Shortness of breath
--Chest pain
--Nausea or abdominal discomfort
--"Jelly" legs
--Numbness or tingling sensations
--Chills or hot flushes
-As a result of these attacks have you experienced a fear of places or situations where getting help or escape might be difficult?
-As a result have you felt unable to travel without a companion?
-Have you felt persistent concern about having another attacks?
-Have you changed your behavior to accommodate the attacks?

I was given medication to help me cope and read every book on the topic I could find.   Workdays invariably, even after all these years, bring on some variety of symptoms.  After a while, I've even gotten to the point where dealing with symptoms is my normal.  I must hide it well, although I assume the symptoms manifest on the outside as unhappy, judging from my former boss’s comments. Everyday situations, standard patron interactions, etc, all can be difficult.

 I remember one Wednesday evening when I was helping two teenage boys look for a video. They were young, but still taller than me.  I brought them back into the stacks where we kept the videos they had asked about.  I was trapped between them.  Nothing happened, but I felt as if something was about to.  A flash flood of panic rushing through the stacks to sweep me away.  I made some excuse and fled and had to take my break early to gather myself.  After that, I tried to lead patrons into the stacks while still leaving myself some room to exit should the need arise.

When I first started here, I thought I'd be up to going to a staff holiday party one December. It was a crowded restaurant and service was slow.  The longer we waited, the louder everything seemed to be. Dishes and silverware clattered.  Voices rose and overlapped.  It wasn't long before my panic had risen to a level where I just couldn't stand it anymore.  I don't remember what excuse I gave but I fled for home.   I wasn't relieved to get out of there, but rather disgusted at myself for not even being able to go to a party.  I haven’t gone to many since, although I’ve tried a couple times over the years.
A few years ago, I went to  the state library association convention a couple of hours south by car with some fellow librarians.  I went to a few meetings on topics I was interested in and walked around the vendor room.  I was waiting for my colleagues around lunchtime when I started to panic.  I was about 2 hours from home and not there under my own transportation so I was trapped until everyone was done.  This time, however, I managed to successfully remember my coping techniques.  I went outside, took a walk near the shore, and remembered to breathe from the diaphragm.  I took  a Xanax and gave myself permission to just leave the situation for a while and I calmed down.  I haven’t gone to the state meeting since, or many meetings away from the building (thankfully, a lot are being offered as webinars now anyway).

I think some people equate panic attacks with a Panic Disorder and believe if you confront it, it'll go away.  But when it's chronic like this, it's not going to stop because you face your fear.  It's like the ocean.  You can learn the currents.  Know what your triggers are so you can avoid being swept under and drown in waves of fear, but the ocean isn't going to evaporate because you accepted a party invitation or did something you were afraid of.  It doesn't go away. You do have to keep trying though.  It might be easier to look for a job where I didn’t have to go to an occasional meeting or interact with people so much, but I know my world would shrink to the office walls around me. Interacting with a variety of people forces me to daily stretch my emotional muscles so I can keep swimming the ocean of my fears.   I may not have an active social life with lots of parties and dinners out, but I talk to a variety of people every day, with the express purpose of helping them in some small way.

I weigh situations like parties or meetings against my history of being able to deal with them and my current level of emotional balance and energy.  So, after 19 years, when the boss invites me out to an unexpected lunch, I take a Xanax to head off the flood of panic attacks.  I picked a restaurant that is within easy walking distance, not because I was planning to flee the restaurant (this time) but because knowing I could make me able to stay.  I asked the maitre'd  if we could eat in a quieter section.  I sit near the door.    I  know that some people won't understand me just as I sometimes don't understand people who can just go to or throw a party without calculating where it is, how they'll get there, how many people will be there and who.   Just as I have people who understand and accept me for who I am and value the time I can spend with them and forgive me for the times when I just can't.  And those who understand that I'm not anti-social or unhappy, that my Panic Disorder tends to consume a lot of my energy.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"A Lot of Librarians Are Spoonies": An Accessibility Series Post

Jessica Schomberg is one of my first collaborators on this blog series, and I'm excited to learn more from her as we explore this topic. 

Jessica is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where her other hats include Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. She tweets as @schomj.

It wasn’t until I read Susan Wendell’s The Rejected Body last year that I started really recognizing and internalizing the idea that I am a person with disabilities. I grew up with Type 1 diabetes, have had thyroid disorders for a few decades, and was recently diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and depression.

When I first joined Twitter (in 2009!), I primarily followed librarians and people with diabetes. I initially lurked during #critlib (critical librarianship) and #dsma (diabetes social media advocacy) chats and followed a lot of people who talked about things that resonated with me. Over time, I began participating in those chats and started to realize that my diabetes and my work life actually do intersect a lot -- and that it’s okay. I also heard about the term spoonie and began interacting with other members of the spoonie community. Through these opportunities, I learned that a lot of librarians are spoonies. And a lot of librarians live with mental illness. Talking with others like me gave me the confidence to seek out support for depression when I needed it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Librarianing is a Political Act

White text on a gray background:
"Librarianing is a political act"

As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like everything we do as library staff is political. Everything we do (at least, youth services library staff) can help to affect the social order through our communities perceptions of themselves and the world. We can empower marginalized groups, and remove barriers to service, or we can assert the status quo. We well better be deliberate about it.

Yesterday morning I wrote a letter to ALA regarding the latest statement by their Washington Office. After that I saw that the executive board has responded to the many letters they’d already gotten, addressing some main concerns but ultimately not redacting the statement of the Washington Office (which is more for the public than for members). I am posting this letter publicly, edited from its original for clarity, in solidarity with those who have already; and to possibly validate the feelings of those who felt the same types of feelings I did when reading the statement. I understand it is imperfect.

Monday, November 14, 2016

This Week in Professional Development

Picture of a brain with a thought bubble.
Text reads, "This week in
professional development."
Well, that was/is horrifying.

I don't have much else to say. I am not shocked.

Right now I have to say how happy I am to work in Youth Services. The work we do today can help shape the future. The first thing I did Wednesday morning was send my county library staff a few resources in anticipation of reference questions they'd inevitably get. I'm expanding that list here. We need to be critical of our own biases and equip ourselves as information professionals to fight for our community's children; especially those from marginalized populations.

Libraries are not neutral spaces. To say that they are is at best disingenuous. Every decision we make is a political one, and impacts the societal climate; and we need to stay conscious of what informs our decisions every day.

Here we go:

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Accessibility Series: Definitions and 5 Quick Tips

Accessibility series logo
UPDATE: Welcome, new readers! if you're interested in guest posting, please click here for more information. 

On Saturday, I was honored to present at the Oregon Library Association Children's Services Division fall workshop, as part of an afternoon on diversity. I figured a lot of what I talked about might be a good starting point for this accessibility series! Note: I am very new to this activism and, probably like many of our guest posters, still battling my own internalized ableism. If you see something that is incorrect or needs to be amended or updated, please email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com. 
Here we go:

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Disability Community in the Library: An Exciting Announcement!

Picture of comedian Maysoon Zayid
Includes quote: "And I'm like, 'No, like seriously! The part of my brain
that controls coordination is damaged!'"
The first time I ever read a children's or YA book with a disabled character I could identify with, I was 29 years old.

Reviews on Goodreads will tell you that this book is horribly written, and loses the plot halfway through, and it’s just terrible and it’s probably weeded from most teen collections even though it was published in 2011. To tell you the truth I don’t even remember much of what it was about except “If Dawson had cerebral palsy” but that was the biggest thing: It was like reading a book about an abled character. Or, maybe, it was reading a book about a character that got abled character treatment: he had interests and passions and a screwed up friend and realistic goals and all of that had nothing to do with having cerebral palsy. He just had it. And lived.

This was (and still is) rare. The closest feeling I can get to my feeling reading this book was the feeling expressed by some women with the release of Ghostbusters 2016: “this is important and cathartic and satisfying and comforting and god why wasn’t it perfect it should have been perfect.” I wished it was better so that more people liked it, so that more books would be written about realistic disabled characters.

Around this time was the first time I actually started talking to other disabled people about disabilities. Specifically, when I was 29, it was people with cerebral palsy about cerebral palsy. People with other disabilities came later: an extended family member of mine has a disability, one that they have had my entire life, and it did not occur to me to talk about the disabled experience with them until Christmas two years ago. I started reading more about myself as a member of the disability community, rather than as a person in a world not created for me and didn’t understand my experience enough to represent me in media.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Summer Reading Tic-Tac-Toe: A guest post by Katie Gatten

Poodles dancing in leotards
Katie Gatten is the Branch and Youth Services Administrator for the Mansfield/Richland County Library in Mansfield, OH, located directly between Columbus and Cleveland. There are 75,000 cardholders in their diverse county. For more information on their Summer Library Program, contact Katie a kgatten at mrcpl dot org.

This post will be decorated with GIFs of cute animals dancing because we all need that in our lives right now.

We decided to change up our Summer Library Program this year, having done the same program for many years.  It wasn’t a bad program, but we just wanted to try something fresh.  We had been giving the kids reading records to complete with 7 images to check off that represented 15 minutes of reading time.  When they turned in a completed record they got to pick a prize.  This was the classic Rhode Island Novelty stuff that was cheap quality yet costly, and fell apart soon after the kids received it.  Once the child completed 5 records and visited the library five times, they would also receive a final prize of a new paperback book of their choice.