Monday, October 10, 2016

MALiA librarians mix it up on the beautiful King University campus in Tennessee

Librarians from the Mid-Atlantic Library Alliance (MALiA) played it SAFE (Suspend judgment, Accept all offers, Focus on the others, Embrace failure) at their annual meeting by playing with improv ideas. Activities focused on exercising spontaneity, active listening, and thinking in unconventional ways. One game -- I call it mashup -- elicited some fun, interesting, and even doable library programming. Each group was given a challenge, something someone cared about, and a special skill (all generated from participants). They then mashed these 3 prompts into a single program or event. The results ranged from entertaining to completely doable. How about enlisting the Weeding King to rid people of their bad habits? Or how about creating an Empathy hotline for people frustrated by their friends' lack of book and film knowledge? What about a library event in which senior citizens create collages of their homes and share their memories? How about a student-run coffee shop teaching students about financial management?
It was a fun day meeting new colleagues and learning about the good and important work they do. Thanks so much, MALiA librarians, for inviting me and for the hospitality!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Library Improv Facebook Group!

Want to shake things up? Get your students, or colleagues, or yourself --  especially yourself -- thinking outside the box? Want to increase your comfort with ambiguity and change? Want to incorporate more fun and joy into your work? Join the libraryimprov facebook group to share ideas and resources on bringing improv techniques and philosophies into the library.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Improv at UW-Eau Claire McIntyre Library's 'Hidden Talent' conference

Recognizing that I am surrounded by talented colleagues with a wide range of interests and skills, I have long thought about having a 'hidden talents' conference -- a day long conference during which library staff would do sessions presenting or teaching or performing or whatever.... This summer it finally happened. We threw our first McIntyre Library Summer Conference. Our eclectic program included belly dancing (yes!) and document design and self defense and blues music and book crafts and cake decorating and pizza and  improv! We had a great time. We all learned and experienced something new and unfamiliar. It was both uplifting and humbling to observe colleagues sharing their passions and abilities. I hold my colleagues in such high esteem, not only for their willingness to share their expertise but also for those who stepped way outside of their comfort zones to attend and participate in the sessions and just go with it and be supportive of each other. Now that's improv!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Game: Anti-strategic plan

As my library embarked on a strategic planning process, there was some skepticism. These endeavors in the past had been painful, tedious and ultimately ineffective. We'd make plans, but then external forces would intervene, there was never any money, and the plan was shelved. This time we are taking a new approach to the plan, and to give everyone an opportunity to vent frustration and skepticism of the past, we included an activity we called the anti-strategic plan: releasing our un-values.

How to play:

  • Provide a prompt contrary to your values. Ours was: "The library is a research environment that maintains the exclusive and inaccessible nature of information."
  • Have group brainstorm values to support this prompt.
  • Talk about the cathartic nature of releasing previous negative experiences and connotations of process.
  • Look at how expressing the opposite of what you value can lead to clarifying what you do value
I got several positive comments about this activity after our strategic planning kick-off meeting. And it was a lot of fun. After we got going, it was hard to stop, and it did allow us to confront the negativity head on and move past it.

This idea was inspired by a game in Thiagi's 100 Favorite Games (Sivasailam Thiagarajan), called Double Negatives

Thursday, May 26, 2016

We can start a sentence with 'us' but don't ask us to list our favorite books!

WLA SSCS session attendeesWhen you see 'improv' on a library conference program description, it can be intimidating. But several brave souls on the lovely UW-LaCrosse campus resisted the temptation to bolt and decided to give it a try. And it was fun, wasn't it?! Said one attendee afterwards, who was nervous about her own presentation coming later in the day, "I feel more relaxed, more spontaneous." Following a keynote presentation on building strong teams, we played improv games that help develop some of those characteristics of effective teams: developing trust, a positive and constructive attitude, deep listening, supporting the team, moving beyond conventional thinking and having some fun. Way to go, Wisconsin Library Association Support Staff & Circulation Services Conference attendees! If anyone can start a sentence with the word 'us' under pressure it's these folks. Just please don't ask us to list our favorite books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fond du Lac: Birthplace of Baroque Philosophy

You had to be there. Fortunately, staff from University of Wisconsin Colleges were there. Staff development day was full of laughs, spontaneous thinking, active listening and the power of stories. Thanks for inviting me and for being such an enthusiastic group!

UWC staff development day

Baroque philosophy is born in Fond du Lac

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Students also engage in some improvising in the library

Image of Students camping out in library during finals weekStudents at UW-Eau Claire take advantage of 24-hour access to McIntyre Library during finals week. They improvise their own campsite -- or should we call it a 'cramsite?' I love that they take ownership of the space and make it their own.

Improv and authentic discussion in the library classroom

Core questions handout imageThanks to The Innovative Library Classroom Conference organizers for the opportunity to present, and the attendees for attending my session. We applied improv techniques to the art and practice of leading meaningful classroom discussions. We talked about how to build trust with your audience (students); structure questions to encourage learning and reflection in students; follow up on initial responses to get students thinking more deeply; and deal with that awkward silence that sometimes happens -- taking into account that in library instruction we often have very little time to work with. Attendees were good sports, volunteering right off the bat to engage in improv activities, and sharing valuable insights throughout. For more on my session, see slides.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

50+ librarians get their improv on at Library Collective 2016

There's something special happening at the Library Collective conference. Designed to be interactive, intimate, and inexpensive, this conference hits the mark. After a plenary session of boardgames with several new librarian friends, we did some library improv. We established ground rules:
Suspend judgment
Accept offers
Focus on the other
Embrace failure
and then launched into a rollicking round of Yes, And. A round of 7 things inspired librarians to use this game to help students generate keywords. Good sports played Good, Bad and Ugly, bravely playing with the outer limits of what's appropriate to get a sense of what's important and as catharsis. So much fun! So many good insights. And so many new friends. Thanks for playing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Game: Mash up

Looking for connections is fundamental to what we do in libraries: we connect questions to answers, patrons to resources, information literacy to the curriculum, ideas to other ideas, disciplines to other disciplines.... Sometimes unlikely connections can result is something new and wonderful. This game helps us practice making connections that aren't obvious, and expands our creative thinking that can help with planning.

How to play:

  • Groups of 3-4
  • Each group member names a favorite thing. This can be wide open, or you can give it parameters, such as a favorite activity or food. 
  • The group then selects at least 2 things names and mashes them into a new library service, event or product.
  • Each group prepares a one-minute presentation selling the director, the board or the public on the new idea. 
  • Have each group member name a problem as well as a thing. The mashup has to solve the problem.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Game: Good Bad and Ugly

Ideas for what to do can come from articulating what not to do, from exploring the unacceptable or the edge of acceptable, or from exploring another point of view. This game of role playing frees participants to do just that, by acknowledging accepted practice or behavior and by turning it upside down and playing devil's advocate...or worse.

How to play:

  • 3 players and a facilitator. The 3 players choose their roles, "good," "bad," and "ugly." They will be playing members of a panel of "experts." They can be seated or standing in front of the room. The facilitator asks the audience for a suggestion of a gathering, meeting, conference or forum of some sort. Or for a specific training or teaching situation, the facilitator provides the context.
  • Facilitator can begin be asking the panel a question. First "good" will respond with a reasonable answer. "Bad" will follow, offering advice that is, well, not so good. And "Ugly" will follow with a response that is pretty awful advice.
  • For training purposes, the panel might be experts on customer service or dealing with difficult patrons. The panel might be library experts responding to questions in a faculty forum, student senate, library board, city forum, accreditation board, etc.
  • Facilitator: Panelists, please tell me what you see as the cornerstone of good public service.
    Good: I believe that good customer service stems from respect...
    Bad: Really, you just want to get the customer in and out quickly with no embarrassing public displays...
    Ugly: People need to be loved, so hug everyone who enters, whether they want it or not... If they seem uncomfortable you just need to hug them longer...
  • Make sure you have established ground rules that make this a trusting and safe place, to explore the taboo and have fun.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Improv for a cold day at Mt. Horeb Public Library

Thanks to the staff at Mt. Horeb Public Library for inviting me to be a part of your inservice day. I appreciated your willingness to suspend judgment, take some chances, be supportive and have some fun! You all can be good and bad and downright ugly (you know who you are...), and the people of Mt. Horeb are lucky to have you.