ON LIBRARIES: Space Relations

Whether or not we consciously recognize them, we maintain four zones of space in our communications with others: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate, and this space is important to the success of our relationships. Artists are well aware of the importance of what they call negative space, referring to the area where there are no people or objects.  Negative space exists in relationships too, and, just as in art, it carries messages.  In an article entitled An Update on Proxemics, Nick Morgan explains why the term and the concept, created by Edward T. Hall, still has relevance. The space we maintain from others reflects the zone of our interactions and our connection.

In Public Space, we are twelve feet or more from the speaker.  It includes listening to a lecture or other situation where someone is usually addressing an audience of a number of people.  We are not always mindful of what is being said in public space.  You probably have noticed how many people check their cell phones – or check out completely – during a lecture of any sort. Ask the kids who sit in the back of the room.

For the person doing the speaking, the challenge in this zone is to keep the listeners engaged. If you are the one who is making the presentation, it’s important to recognize this reality and know how to draw your audience in.  Telling stories about your experience as it relates to the topic is one way. It makes it personal.  Moving away from the podium, if you can, temporarily alters the distance and can build a connection.

Social Space varies from four to twelve feet. It is what exists, for example, when we dine in a restaurant. As with Public Space, there is a mental space between us and the other diners in the room.  Unless they become loud, we are aware of then only in the most superficial way.  You might overhear a conversation that is interesting, but it is hard to concentrate on it so you tend to shift your focus.

In the education setting, you are most likely to deal with it in the teacher’s lunchroom. Each group has its own conversation taking place.  If you are alert, you might discover what unit a teacher is working on or planning.  Then you can speak to the teacher to supply the right information to make the project more successful. It can be the beginning of developing a collaborative relationship. And it’s an excellent reason to make it a practice to get out of your library for lunch.

The distance in Personal Space ranges from four feet to eighteen inches, and we are always aware of who is in this space. It’s bred into us as a matter of survival. We also need to be extra mindful here because subtle differences in how we define Personal Space can cause problems. Over time you can fine-tune your senses to be aware of how the person you are speaking with is reacting your distance.  In general, they will instinctively define it for you, taking a step back if you are too close or stepping forward if they sense you are too far.

When having a conversation in Personal Space, always be sure to accept the other person’s boundaries.  Don’t move forward if they have moved back.  It will feel to them as though you are encroaching. Accept the negative space. If you are uncomfortable with how close someone is, you can move back, but know they may read it as you trying to distance yourself from them.

Intimate Space is from eighteen inches to zero. Again, there are cultural differences as well as gender ones which make this acceptable or uncomfortable.  Unsurprisingly, women tend to prefer more distance in these situations than men, particularly in conversations with the opposite gender.  If you are a man, it is wise to be aware that moving too close here or in Personal Space may make a woman feel anxious or concerned, which can ultimately block effective communication.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, most of our communication is nonverbal.  The fours zones of space are another form of non-verbal communication. Most of our conversations, particularly the important ones, occur in the Personal and Intimate Spaces. Being aware of what the other person(s) is communicating in the negative space of body language can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful attempt at building a relationship.  And we must never forget that we are in the relationship business.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: 3 R’s for Librarians – Reading, Research, & Relationships

It occurred to me if librarians focused on the three “R’s” central what we do, our leadership will emerge naturally and advocacy will follow. Since so many of you feel becoming a building leader is hard to do, and advocacy is even more difficult, I thought this might be an easy way to concentrate efforts, and get positive result.

keep calm and love readingReading– Reading is at the heart of what we as librarians are about.  You can’t do research or much of anything else if you can’t read.  Of course, we are not responsible for the teaching of reading, but we are responsible for instilling a love of reading. The first of the “Common Beliefs” in AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.”  The explanation that follows is:

“Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.  The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life. As a lifelong learning skill, reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and development of new understandings.”

When students fall in love with reading, they become lifelong readers. Their curiosity stays present and grows, and they search out information.  In other words, lifelong readers are lifelong learners—and in our constantly changing world this is a vital attribute.

So how do we develop this love of reading?  On an individual level we pay attention to each student. We listen for their likes and interests.  We are alert to what they don’t enjoy. Not having to compel students to read a particular book or type of book, we connect students to just the right book for them.  In so many casual conversations with adults, I have heard how one book set them on a course to loving to read.lifelong readers

As I have said, forcing students to read leveled books doesn’t do this. And I don’t believe reading for a prize works either whether it’s AR or a contest to see who reads the most.  I would much rather for example see a reading motivation program that seeks to find out what types of books is the most popular.  You could set up a genre bulletin board (and be prepared to add as students choose from new areas).  When they complete a book they like, have then fill in a book-shaped cut-out with the author/title/call# and their name. Staple it to the bulletin board, creating an ever-growing graph.  You can probably come up any number of other ways to do this.

Give a small reward for the first book a student posts.  You can do the same for a post in a new category. This type of non-competitive program, doesn’t put pressure on students to read a certain number of pages or try to best others. It’s personal.

At the elementary grades, librarians are charged with the first step in creating lifelong readers.  They choose a variety of stories to read aloud.  Stories with refrains encourage group involvement. Discussions about the stories builds critical thinking and visual literacy, while cultivating an appreciation of the sounds of language, word choice, and literary heritage.

As one of the bookmarks from the Libraries Transform initiative says, “Because Learning to Read Comes Before Reading to Learn” and learning to love reading is the middle step.”

research 2Research – From the time libraries came into existence, their central purpose has been research. In an age when information is at everyone’s fingertips, the role of libraries and librarians has become ever more critical. Another bookmark from Libraries Transform says, “Because There Is No Single Source for Information. (Sorry Wikipedia.)”  We have an obligation to teach students how to search efficiently – which means to quickly locate relevant and accurate sources rather than what they get with their non-specific Google searches.

We teach how to use information responsibly and ethically as well as digital literacy which encompasses understanding multiple platforms for accessing information.  Students need to learn which is likely not only to be the best one for their current need but also which one to use to share their knowledge.

An ongoing challenge for us is helping teachers restructure assignments so they are not just asking students to collect facts – which can be one-stop shopping-but rather to weigh and interpret their findings to make meaning from them.  Even better is to have students produce something of value to others.

Without proselytizing we must show students and teachers the difference between search and research.  By being mindful of this ourselves, we can guide them into more meaningful interactions with information and truly prepare them to be successful in college and their future lives.building relationships

Relationships – At the beginning of last month I blogged on relationships and why it is vital for the success of our programs. I won’t repeat what I said then, but recognize in order to instill in students a love of reading, you need to develop some relationship with them. Teachers are far more likely to listen to your suggestions on modifying their assignments if you have a relationship with them.

When your relationships are in place, students, teachers (and administrators) are comfortable coming to you with questions and asking for help. You become a guide for new technology and trends in education.  You are trusted.  You discover that you have become a leader.  And because what you bring has become so necessary to the success of all within the building, you have built advocates for your program.