Friday, December 30, 2011

Community Dialog on the Occupy Movement

This fall the Anchorage Public Library was approached by a representative from Alaska Common Ground. Their organization had a grant to start a series of community dialogs and were hoping to partner with the library. And so with the added partner of the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Let's Talk Alaska was born.

Here I am going to quote our formal introduction:
Let's Talk Anchorage is a joint program of the Anchorage Public Libraries, Alaska Common Ground, and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Our vision is a community of citizens who gather easily and often for public dialogue or deliberation on timely topics. LTA can help plan, publicize, and facilitate public gatherings that are welcoming, stimulating, and satisfying.

Our first dialog posed a very simple question: What is the Occupy movement? Without the library or Let's Talk Anchorage taking a stand for or against it, we convened to discuss. The worldwide occupy movement is extremely timely, garners lots of media attention, and has brought their issues to the forefront of our national conversation. Despite all this, there are still many of us (myself included) without a very clear idea of what the Occupy movement is, who they are, what they want, etc. As this event was planned, promoted, and presented I heard over and over again that people wanted to know more. Hey! That's our business as a library! We can do that! And so we did, but we didn't do it alone. We did it with a committee of volunteers, the Let's Talk Anchorage group, facilitators, and others who all pitched in.

This is getting wordy. Let me get down to technical details.

Program Structure
Date: Saturday December 17th; Time: 1pm to 4pm

Set up: 12 tables scattered "randomly" around the room for a World Cafe set up (that is a specific type of facilitated dialog). It turns out I'm not good at setting up tables randomly, I like to line them up in neat rows. Drink table with water, lemonade, coffee, hot water and tea. (I could not keep up with the coffee demands with two 12 cup coffee pots.) Snack table with cookies, crackers, cheese, and mini-oranges. (Snacks and drinks provided by the aforementioned grant money.) The participant tables were covered in butcher paper and participants were provided with markers for writing. (We also had flowers at each table, a very nice touch.)

The idea of World Cafe is that there is no "front" of the room, but we did have a video screen down to show a short film. We begun with quick introductions. The first film was a collection of clips about the Occupy movement edited together as an introduction. Then various members of the Occupy Anchorage group stood up and talked about why they were involved in Occupy Anchorage.

Then a break, an introduction to the World Cafe format and we broke into small group discussions. Each table had a facilitator and ideally 4 to 5 participants. For each 20 minute discussion time period a different question was posed. The facilitator was not there for their own opinions but to keep things civil, flowing, and prevent filibusters.

We framed the discussion around three questions. At the end of each 20 minute period, all the participants got up and moved to a new table for the next question discussion. (Facilitators stayed put). The idea was to find an entirely new table of people to talk to, to mix and remix the participants.

Our three questions:
What about this movement resonates with me?
What about this movement confuses or concerns me?
What do I want to explore and/or discuss more?

Then there was another break and an opportunity for group reflections and a closing.

We had about a two week lead time (or slightly less) for advertising this. I didn't know what to expect. We put out tables for 50, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. 48 people came! They were primarily Occupy movement supporters (even if not involved in the project) and self-proclaimed "liberals", but we had a legislator and a legislative candidate (Republican nonetheless) come as well.

The evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive as were the comments I received directly from participants. People were very glad we had the program and excited about the possibility of more. From a library point of view, we were thrilled with the turn out and response of the participants. From the Let's Talk Anchorage point of view, we were thrilled as well.

Overall the entire project was a win. Where there things we learned? Yes. Will we do things differently? Yes. But that is true of every program. We proved civic dialogs will work in our community, there is a market for them. The library has a great reputation as a neutral space and is the perfect venue for this type of community conversation. And such a conversation perfectly aligns with the library's mission to facilitate information transfer. I look forward to working further with Let's Talk Anchorage and hosting more community conversations at our various locations.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Books As Gifts

I love books, but I don't always love books as gifts. That's because I'm rather picky and if you give me a book then I feel obligated to read it. It bumps something else I'd rather read more off the queue and then there is the resentment and the awkwardness when you ask me about it. This doesn't always happen, sometimes I love the book and all is well. Sometimes not. So tread lightly. That caveat aside, books are fantastic gifts. Here are some of my favorites as today's Friday five.

FYI - I'm linking to Amazon but I'm not on the program where I get proceeds if you buy from that link; it's just the easiest option. Please consider supporting your local book store.

  1. The Lego Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz
    200 pages of ideas (not instructions just inspiration) in beautiful large full color to inspire your favorite builder. While this seems an obvious for a child, I know several grown adults who have some fun diversions with legos.

  2. Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
    The first of these cookbooks (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day) changed my life. I love to bake bread but work full time. I really do make bread throughout the week now. (It's easy, you make the dough and refrigerate it between the first and second rise, pull it out, give it a second rise, and deliciousness follows.) I love that these books give you all sorts of geeky technical details (what type of flour with how much glutens/proteins requires more/less water) that let me learn why a recipe works or what went wrong. And it is amazingly versatile bread. The first book is my most used book in my kitchen. I pulled this third book from the library the day we received it and fell in love immediately. With flatbread you skip the second rise and get to yumminess faster. I made pizzas for two. We each got our own pizza (important since I'm allergic to tomatoes and rather a downer to eat pizza with) and I followed the simple directions to make marinara and pesto sauces. Incredible. In later days the dough became breadsticks to go with soup. If someone you know cooks or bakes, then you can't go wrong with this book. It's on my wish list and if I don't get it, I'll probably buy it.

  3. Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan and K. Rudy Blume
    DIY, homesteading, gardening, all of these things are becoming more popular as our economy continues to sink and more people are concerned about the environment, chemicals in their food, and a sustainable lifestyle. This book is a great overview of a range of skills. I already knit, crochet, bake, and garden (poorly). I'd love to have some chickens and figure out canning. Maybe in 2012.

  4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    Fiction taste varies so much that I hesitate to suggest anything. However Zafon is the best author that I've discovered in the last five years. Spanish Magical Realism is my favorite genre. This, his first book translated into English, is an amazing story of literature, hauntings, mystery, and love. I can not recommend it enough.

  5. A blank book
    Know a kid who loves to draw? Get him a nice, artist quality sketch book. Someone like me who journals? A pretty journal. (But not me this year, I'm stocked up for several years.) A forgetful type? One of those little books that fits in a pocket and comes with a pen. (This is all presuming they don't have a smart phone.) Your religious aunt/friend/neighbor will appreciate a prayer journal. Even if they are swimming in tech, there is still a sense of magic about a really beautiful, well constructed blank book with quality paper. It just itches to be filled with poetry, sketches, collages, thoughts, ramblings, and all the other detritus we leave for those who follow us.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Holiday Displays

I love book displays! I love making them, I love browsing them, love them in general. However this time of year, they can get fairly repetitive. There are a ton of books (for kids and adults) specifically geared to the holidays (yes I'm looking at our display) and those should be put on display. After all those mystery writers wrote a special holiday version of their normal cat/dog/antique store owner/antique store owner with a pet cat solves a mystery series and it deserves to be read* (because your library spent money on it and you would like return on investment). Beyond that obvious display, here are five other options. Some obvious, some less so.

FYI - I'm assuming you're already doing your best to put up world holiday traditions, especially those that are celebrated by different ethnic groups within your area of service. These are more Western/Judeo-Christian related ideas, but you should stick up all holidays as you can (we have like 3 books on Diwali but I'm working on it).

  1. Entertaining
    Here is where you put those cooking books (and yes this time of year a display on just cookbooks wouldn't be amiss, even a display on just cookie cookbooks), but you can also put all those decorate/make gifts/all sorts of stuff for the holiday books in the 745s. (Better Homes and Gardens puts one out almost every year as does Martha Stewart, Debbie Mumm, Mary Engelbreit and others of that ilk). But also put up books on general entertaining tips, cocktail recipes, even fashion so people can look fantastic at those holiday parties. Then checkout a cocktail recipe and cookie cookbook for yourself. You need it.

  2. Classics
    There is something about this time of year that puts people in the mood for a classic. Of course definitions of classic may vary. For many the holidays are about nostalgia and they can convince themselves that this is the year they will finally read a Charles Dickens novel. I'm not saying they're actually going to read Great Expectations, but they'll probably check it out, leave on the bedside table for 2.5 weeks, realize they're way too busy this time of year and just rewatch The Muppets' A Christmas Carol instead. Or you can save this for after the new year and try "Start the New Year with an Old Favorite" as a display.

  3. Zombies and True-Crime
    Even Carol Christmas gets a little overwhelmed with all the music, store displays, holiday specials, preparations, and sugar cookie highs until all she really wants is to murder that chick at Wal-Mart who stole the last 3-pack of double-sided tape. So this year, consider an anti-Christmas display. You'll appeal to both the Scrooges and the burntout Pollyannas.

  4. Colors
    Grab all the books you can with a red cover (or mostly red), or green, or blue. It's fun. Don't make a sign, just line them on the shelf and watch the people react. Pure magic. Super easy. And pretty!

  5. "Cold" books
    Here are cool books to read by a warm fire! Anything with the word "cold", "chilly", "winter", "snow", etc in the title, bonus points if it has snow on the cover. A few sample titles: Cold Mountain, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Snow Angel, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Chill Factor, and so forth.

Any other slightly off the wall suggestions for December/Holiday book displays?

*but not read by me because I still don't like mysteries

Friday, November 04, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Management Challenges

I've been a manager of a library branch, sorry, a neighborhood library for two months past one year. These have been the biggest challenges for me.

  1. Managing a position I just vacated
    My staff consists of three support personnel (two clerks and one associate librarian) and one youth services librarian. Immediately before this position, I was a youth services librarian. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to supervise that position. Every choice they made, I compared to what I would have done. I held them up to the standards I held myself which wasn't fair if they were a brand new professional. It was the position I am the most familiar with so it is the easiest for me to criticize. It means I could be uniquely poised to be a mentor. In the first few months especially I had to physically step away, recognize that this person was a different person and those different choices were not bad, just different.

  2. Delegating
    I'm a control freak and I'm used to not supervising people. So for me delegating has two hurdles: first remembering that I can delegate, that there are people I can ask to do these things. Second, I need to let go and trust those people to do it well. It's hard, but necessary as work piles up on my desk. I think I'm getting better. I just handed over the volunteer applications to someone else and told her she was now in charge of the volunteer program.

  3. Solving every crisis
    I like to problem solve. I like being asked questions. But there are days when I don't want to be where the buck stops. I rather suspect this is the same reason my mother used to occasionally lock herself in the bathroom when we were little. Fortunately as my competence grows, my feelings of being overwhelmed are getting farther and farther apart. I haven't wanted to lock my office and hide under my desk for at least a week now.

  4. Keeping track of emails
    I've always been a master of organization, but I was totally unprepared for the exponential way my email would increase with the jump to management. A few missives got lost in the inbox. I've gotten better about cross filing and creating reminders. I've also erased most traces of a line between my personal life and work life. My work email and calendar now alert on my (personal) iPhone. I can always turn it off if I go on vacation, but I'm a constantly connected personality type and it helps me to keep track and focused with what is happening.

  5. Meetings
    If I underestimated by half the numbers of emails, I underestimated the number of meetings by an order of degree normally only seen when talking about distances between stars. Supervisor meetings, library branch manager meetings, community meetings to represent the library, so on and so forth. There are days I'm out of the library more often than I am in. I never minded meetings when I attended two a month. I mind them more now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Customer Service Lessons

I'm not the first librarian to look for customer services lessons from the private sector. I doubt I'm even the 100th. And yet I care greatly about customer service so much so that when I'm out in the world being a customer, I try to pick up tips and tricks. Here are three that I have noticed recently.

Long Lines At The Bank
One of the more random facets of my job is to take the deposit to the bank a couple of times a week. Somedays bank lines are short, some days bank lines are long. I don't actually mind, it's time I use to catch up on my words with friends games. But for people less patient (or less iPhone addicted) than me lines are irritating. (Before you think I'm a model of patience, you should see me at the post office). Every single time a person walks into the bank, one of the tellers looks up, makes eye contact, greets them and lets them know that they will be with them soon. Even if that person knows they have to join the twelve person long line, they still feel better because someone acknowledged them. It's so simple, so easy, so FREE to implement.

Hand Offs at the Apple Store
This Monday I went to the Apple store to update my iPhone to the 4S. My cunning plan to wait three days so it would be less crowded did not take into account that this is Elders and Youth conference and downtown was crowded. Still I approached the first blue shirt (apple employee) I found free. He radio'd and found me a phone upgrade specialist. When the new blue shirt came up, the first one handed me off to him by name. He literally said "this is Eugene who will help you". Eugene introduced himself, shook my hand and then walked me through the process, helped me find a dock, and even choose a new case. When it came time to do the set up, he introduced me to a new blue shirt, "Elizabeth this Andrea who will help you with set up. Andrea, Elizabeth seems fairly familiar with the product and operating system" Andrea also introduced herself and off we went. (Set up I could have handled on my own and only took a few seconds which is I think the coded message Eugene was passing on to Andrea.)

At no point was I abandoned, no one pointed at someone else and said "go ask her", no one said "that isn't my job". It was always, "let me help you find the right person". Every hand off included an introduction of me, my needs, and the person I was being handed to. Once again this is simple, easy and FREE to introduce at the library. When a shelver is asked a question they can't answer, don't point vaguely in the direction of the reference desk, walk the patron over and say this woman is trying to find out what percentage of US households owned cats in 1989?*

Dad Gets Mad at AT&T
My dad hates his cell phone. He wants a phone that comes with an instrution book and he's still mad that his last phone (purchased three years ago) said it came with an instruction book, but really came with a pamphlet and a link to a website. That phone died and he went to AT&T because he's been paying $5 insurance/month on it for three years. To get it fixed was a $50/deductible. That pushed my poor father over the edge and he did not have a good reaction. He complained about everything, incluing the lack of an instruction book, and was prepared to storm out of the building. The customer service rep got a manager who found my father glaring at racks of new phones (Dad didn't admit he was glaring at them, but I know him really well). Together they worked out a compromise, got my father a temporary phone and promised to work with him after he returns from his vacation.

They also transferred his numbers and other data to his new phone. He then complained he couldn't get the photos off his phone. They offered to transfer them to his new phone, but it didn't solve the problem that he doesn't know how to get the pictures off the phone (a complaint he has had for the last several years). They were emailed to him. He left the store with an entirely reversed opinion of AT&T.

How does this apply to the library? Be gentle. Forgive first time offenses when you can. Work with people. We (like most libraries) don't let people save items to our computers. We do keep an extra thumb drive at the desk so people can save their items (usually resumes) temporarily to email them to themselves. I also spend a decent amount of time teaching to use Google Docs. It's amazing how easy this is and how grateful people become.

There are my musings lately on customer service.

*True story: in my reference class in library school we had to find answers to 50 "typical" reference questions and explain our sources/processes for getting them. This is the question that took me the longest to answer. No one in my actual reference career has yet asked me anything even remotely similar.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Making a Difference

I'm a bleeding heart (not a bleeding heart liberal, just a bleeding heart). Of course I do what I do because I really want to help people. I care deeply about my community and its future. The library, particularly a library in the lower socio-economic neighborhood, is uniquely positioned to make a difference.

I consider myself to work in an education-adjacent field (not in a school, but next door both literally and spiritually) and fairly up to date. However I was shocked to learn that the Anchorage graduation rate is hovering around 70%. And even more appalled to hear Anchorage citizens saying they don't want to pay for schools because they don't have children. I don't have children (at this point in my life), but I'm happy to pay for schools. I'm invested in having well-educated doctors in the next 40 years and also in having a barista who can make proper change. I know that businesses and industries don't want to build in communities where they can not recruit qualified employees. Most importantly schools are cheaper than prisons. And more than 61% of the prison population does not have a high school diploma. Healthy schools=healthy community.

United Way of Anchorage has launched a fantastic new effort called 90 by 2020, to increase graduations rates to 90% by 2020. I've attended some of their community conversations. On their site there are 10 simple things (based on research, including interviews with teens) you can do to show kids you care. The entire community, even those of us without kids, can help. It's a bit easier for me since I work in a public library, but for my Friday Five, here are five of the ten simple things I am doing.

  1. Smile At Me
    When I see a teen or young person, I smile, I make eye contact. That simple. At the library or at the grocery store. Too many teens receive hostile looks (clearly they're here to make trouble, steal, they're in a gang) or are ignored. Simply acknowledging their presence as you would any other human you share the planet with can be powerful.

  2. Learn My Name
    I know some of the teens at the library and greet them by name. And I'm trying to learn more. It's cool. The teens are asking my name and making an effort to say hello to me by name. They want to know you as much as you want to know them. (Well assuming you want to know them, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here.) I'm even trying to greet the neighbor's teens by names as I pass them.

  3. Catch Me Doing Something Right
    A lot of times we focus on the discipline issues, the 10% of the population that cause 90% of the problems. We don't pay any attention to the kids that are doing it right. In and around this library (and neighborhood) we have a HUGE litter problem. It's epidemic. We've bought trashcans and put them every 10 feet in the library and strategically located immediately outside the doors. Still I see kids toss a candy wrapper on the ground when they're within arms throw of the trash can. It's infuriating. So now when I see a kid throwing their trash into a garbage bin I very publicly thank them.

  4. Answer My Questions
    Duh. This is the entire point of the library reference desk. But we all need to remember that kids and teens as patrons are as important as adults. I've seen staff members skip over or short change teens while having long in-depth conversations with adults about the latest greatest mystery. Every patron in front of you is an individual deserving of respect and your full attention.

  5. Be Available
    After school my library is swarmed with kids from the nearby schools. It is not uncommon for the kids to number in the triple digits while I can count my staff on one hand. It's not easy to be available to them. Sometimes I'm running from question to question, discipline situation to drama/crisis and I don't look available. I look (and legitimately am) busy. And when it's over I'm sometimes burnt out. All I want to do is hide in my office and work quietly on a project on my computer. But I try my best. When I'm in my office, I leave my door open. My office is in the front of the library and I greet kids who come in with a smile. Occasionally they just want to chat a bit. That's okay too. (For a little while at least). And as I do my walk throughs of the library, I try not to just zoom past looking for discipline issues, but to slow down and engage with the teens.

So that's what I'm doing. I encourage you to look at the site and think about what you can do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No you may not have a pony

One of my jobs as library manager is to respond to patron comment cards. I email the patron a response directly (if they provided their email) and put the typed response up on the bulletin board. I have a love/hate relationship with patron comment cards.

I love that patrons have taken their time to share feedback with us.

I hate it when we have failed them.

I love it when they're praising us.

I hate it when I have to say no to a new service that they want. These are usually things that other libraries offer (ie fax service) that we don't or can't afford.

I love the ridiculousness of some of their requests. Some of the things they ask are completely out of the realm of possibility. They want me to do a major renovation to the building, stop the sidewalks from ever having snow (we're in Anchorage; we do get them shovelled, but some accumulation is inevitable), double my library staff, and so forth. I had one patron complaining because the library staff did not remember her personal email address password. Then there are the people who would prefer me to change basic human nature and stop the teenagers from congregating in groups. So far the requests have stopped just short of asking me to bend the laws of physics. But someday someone is going to ask that I make the sun shine for longer.

When I answer these comment cards I feel like the parent living in the middle of the city explaining to their urban child why they can not have a pony.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Keep It Positive

It's easy to focus on the negative, not just for librarians but for society as a whole. However I don't write a society-as-a-whole blog, I write a librarian blog. Too many of our behavior guidelines for patrons focus on the negative. You can't do this, you can't do that. Of course it is (usually) quicker to list the prohibited behaviors rather than all of the allowed behaviors. And that might be acceptable in policies but it isn't acceptable in daily staff behavior. (Oops, that's me focusing on a negative, let's try that again.) But there's a better way to deal with the public daily.

Focusing on the negative, the forbidden, the prohibited can lead to a combative atmosphere between librarians and patrons. They feel like we're always waiting to "catch" them doing something wrong and staff feels like patrons are pushing to see how much they can get away with. It's not fun, not fun for staff, not fun for patrons, not fun at all. This combative atmosphere can be true with any patron but seems to mostly manifest in our interactions with teenagers.

At my library, we're trying a different approach. Rather than focus on the negative behavior, we are encouraging a positive alternative. Here's a few examples:
  • Instead of don't run, we say walk please!
  • How many DVDs can I check out? Not only five but rather up to five!
  • The sign could say: No Food or Drink Allowed! but instead it says: Food and Drink Free Zone: bottled water welcome
  • Teens getting noisy and unruly? Don't tell them to quiet down, ask them to be a little calmer

Now clearly this won't work in every situation. Some behavior is egregious that it must be immediately corrected. (I have been known to order in no uncertain terms a kid to stop punching another kid.) However 90% of patron interactions can be handled with a positive twist. It's surprising how quickly this can change the tone of your library and improve the morale of everyone, patrons and staff.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Combining Passions

Anyone who has been paying attention by now has realized two things. 1) I love being a librarian. 2) I love to knit and crochet. And now I shall combine those two.

Have you heard of Yarnbombing? (That blog isn't the only one. Go Google it. A Google images search is even more fun. It's a real thing, getting bigger all the time.

Look at these bike racks outside the Berkeley Public Library

It's not quite yarnbombing, but a library in the UK created a knitted garden that is an amazing and ongoing intergenerational community art project.

Somewhere in these stories a project for my library was born. This fall is the 25th anniversary of the Loussac Library. To celebrate that we are inviting the public to knit or crocheting hats to decorate the statues and busts of famous authors throughout the library.

We are calling this Hats Off To Loussac Library. Hats can be dropped off between August 1st and September 5th at any Anchorage Public Library location. They will be on display between August 15th and September 17th at Loussac Library. After the anniversary, all hats will be donated to charities.
Click for more information

Happy Knitting! Happy Crocheting! And as always, Happy Reading! (It might be fun to listen to an audio book while knitting and/or crocheting a hat. That's my plan.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What if it's in my pants?

Conversation I just had with a library patron, a regular. He's a 10 year-old boy who walks to the library everyday with his 12 year-old brother, uses the computer for as long as he can, hangs around other kids using the computers, and then goes home. They both have library cards, but they don't bring them. This means I log them onto the computers instead of them being able to do it themselves. It's not really a big deal except when they make me redo the reservation three times so they can sit at a specific computer. That led to this conversation.

Me: You know this would go a lot quicker if you brought your library card. You could log yourself into whatever computer you wanted.
Kid: What if it's in my pants?
Me: Your library card?
Kid: Yeah, what if it's in my pants?
Me: The pants you're wearing right now?
Kid: No, other pants.
Me: Like pants at home?
Kid: Yeah.
Me: Okay, tomorrow, before you come to the library, take your library card out of the other pants and put it in the pants you're wearing.
Kid: Okay, yeah.
Me: You're on computer #6.

I don't know if he was making a very lame 10 year-old boy attempt to embarrass me (it's in my pants!) or he was just confused. Either way, a slight failure to connect.

And then I taught a 40 year-old man how to double click. Yep. A day in my glamorous life as a neighborhood library manager.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Strong Women

Occasionally strong women rather get the shaft from history. Their contemporaries may judge them and latter historians may assign the worst possible viewpoint to their motivations and actions. I'm not a radical feminist, but I do know that in a man's world, a woman is judged twice harshly. Never did I set out to do this, but lately I've read a lot of books written by female authors relooking at some of the famously strong women of history.

  1. Notorious Victoria: the life of Victoria Woodhull, uncensored by Mary Gabriel
    Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of Victoria Woodhull. She was one of the early suffragettes, was extremely successful with her sister on Wall Street as the first female brokers, edited a newspaper, and most impressively was the first woman to run for President of the United States. So why then do we remember her contemporaries Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and not her? Well those aforementioned ladies at first hailed her as one of the leading lights of the suffragette movement, and then dropped all support for her. While she was campaigning for women's right to vote, she also campaigned for some more out-there ideals such as free love, workers rights (in the Karl Marx sense), and spiritualism. Previously she had worked as a medium and spiritualist. Those views were a little too far afield for the suffragettes who tended to be fairly straitlaced Christians. And so Woodhull was dropped from the suffragette movement and from most history books as anything but a footnote.

  2. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life by Alison Weir
    Eleanor of Aquitaine was the richest and most important heiress of her day. By birth she controlled large areas, then by marriage she would be Queen of France and later Queen of England. Throughout her life she was a patron for artists and writers of her day as well as an accomplished politician. Never was she content to sit quietly in a corner doing needlework, but rather she actively participated in a crusade. Eventually she was imprisoned for her meddlesome ways, by her husband for encouraging her son to rebel against him. After his death, she ruled as regent for her children and continued to plan marriages, alliances, and other matters of state up until her death in her 80s.

  3. Lucrezia Borgia: life, love, and death in Renaissance Italy by Sarah Bradford
    One of the most famous villains in history, or at least that's how we remember her. What's harder to see is the woman who was intelligent and capable, much at the mercy of her father's plays for power, and worked to turn situations she was thrust into to her advantage. However her name became forever linked with the worst abuses of power by her family, even those she was not involved with or had no control over. That is not to say that she wasn't ambitious for herself, only that she is not the pure evil her name has become a synonym for. Highly fascinating book, and subject. If you want to take the easy way out, Showtime has a new series following the Borgias, but I can't promise their portrayal will be balanced.

  4. Cleopatra: a life by Stacy Schiff
    Yes, I have mentioned this book before. I'm still reading it on my Nook, almost done, and still loving it. When you think about Cleopatra, words like temptress, seductress, beautiful come to mind. Perhaps what should spring to mind is politically astute, powerful, smart, ambitious, and doing her best in a desperate situation. Her history was written by those who defeated her in a culture that viewed women as political property to be traded in marriage not as able to rule. It is amazing to look at her story and think, she didn't seduce Caesar in a wanton play for power; she was trapped with him in a castle during a war, fighting for both their lives. They had a lot in common, it was inevitable. It's great to be able to toss out the Shakespeare, Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra and see a real woman, not perfect, but doing her best and better than many of us would have done.

  5. East to the Dawn: the life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler
    Definitely not a vilified female, Amelia Earhart is the other extreme, she's been sainted in our cultural remembrance. However our common mythos about her is "daredevil pilot, flew a lot, broke some records, disappeared in the Pacific Ocean". That story, especially that ending, has overshadowed many other fantastic achievements in her lifetime. She was a dedicated social worker, spending much of her time with poor and immigrants. Earhart helped promote the idea of commercial aviation at a time when flying for travel was not considered feasible; without her we might not have the aviation travel industry as we know it. And of course who can forget her many feats in promoting the rights of women as pilots, including helping to found the 99s. I listened to this biography on audio and it completely changed my mind about Amelia Earhart. I would still put her on any hero/heroine list, but for completely different reasons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I Don't Read Mysteries

When people ask me what I read, I always say "anything but a mystery". And it's true. I don't read many thriller or horror books, but I'll read one rarely. I never read mysteries. I just can't get into them. After some mulling over, here are my reasons why.

  • Skipping Ahead
    I'm one of those people who invariably skips around in books. Usually when I'm between 1/3rd and 1/2 way through, I skip and read the last 5-10 pages. If I'm in a particularly tense (or boring) moment, I'll pop ahead 20 pages or so to see if it resolves okay (or picks up). This is a bit harder to do on my ereader (a Nook) and on audiobooks. I might be able to handle a mystery in one of those formats, but maybe not. When I'm reading ahead on any type of book but a mystery, knowing the ending only makes it sweeter because I can't wait to see how they get there. With a mystery, it kills it for me.

  • The Helpful Civilian/Amateur Detective
    There are many series mysteries that featuring detectives, forensic investigators, and the like. That I have no problem with. What irks me are the series that feature ordinary citizens who become amateur detectives. There is always someone, like an antiques dealer, who is continually running into murders, arson, and other assorted crimes as they go about their daily business. I've never been even tangentially close to a murder or arson case and if I did, I'd probably run the other way trusting that the boys in blue would take care of it, but not so our amateur sleuths. And the police never seem to mind their help, in fact they welcome it.

    If there is anything I know about police work, it is that they welcome help from untrained community members. At no point would they stop to question why this particular antique dealer comes across a dead body with every estate sale find. They would instead rejoice that their burden is lightened by some random stranger. (This entire paragraph should be read in the sarcasm font.)

    This leads me to my next point (which is really a side note/rant)...

  • A Side Rant on Angela Lansbury
    I used to love watching Murder, She Wrote as a kid. A kindly, grandmotherly woman who solves mysteries? Perfect. As an adult though, I have some questions. If you were friends with Angela Lansbury, wouldn't you at some point say, "Dear Angela, you're very sweet, I treasure our friendship, but wherever you go dead bodies appear. I am uninviting you to the weekend getaway at our country house and am going to ask you to never contact me again." I've also developed two theories about her.
    1. Angela Lansbury is being stalked by a serial killer. This killer passionately loves our heroine and kills for her. He then leaves enough evidence framing someone else that the object of his affection can (incorrectly) identify a culprit and be hailed a hero.
    2. Angela Lansbury is a serial killer, but she's had a psychotic break and is entirely unaware of it (like Fight Club). She's been framing people for her murders for years, no wonder she can always catch the "killer" before the police - she's planting the evidence!

  • Handling Reader's Advisory
    Now while I don't read mysteries, millions of patrons do. These patrons are deserving of my help when they come to the library desk seeking a recommendation for the next book to read. When I was a youth librarian, I tried reading a few mysteries. (Children's books are shorter). Though I imagine that if the police are thrilled about adult amateur sleuths, they must be over the moon to have the help of minors. However The Westing Game by Raskin is the only mystery book I've ever enjoyed. As an adult services librarian, I concentrate on reading reviews, blogs, articles and the like to keep me up to date on trends in mysteries. It works well enough. You can't be an expert in everything. Sometimes being a generalist means getting an overview instead of an in depth look.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Finding Your Tribe

One of the most important parts of my adult social life has been the finding of my tribe(s). I'm very blessed to have been born into a lovely family full of people I genuinely enjoy spending time with. This entry is not about them nor in any way meant to disparage them, but merely about those other tribes we find in life.

In my life (outside of family) I have three tribes. Most people have trouble locating one, I'm so blessed to have three. (Yes I just used the word blessed twice in close succession. That's how I feel.) Finding your tribe is about finding people who care passionately about the same things you do. People you can have a 45 minute conversation with before you even exchange names. Those conversations that are almost incomprehensible to people outside your tribe. These are my three. I write about them in hopes you might be able to identify who your potential tribes are.

Those 45 minute conversations before you bother to exchange names? They happen to me all the time at library conferences. I cheerfully wear myself out going from 6:30am (when I meet someone for breakfast) until late at night (meeting people for late night drinks, deserts, coffees, just chatting in hotel lobbies until all hours). In every session, in lines at restaurants, in the hallways, every person is a friend waiting to be met. We always seem to have something to talk about and some of the post-conference follow ups have lead to great things for me/my library/programming/etc. Library conferences always feel like "coming home" to me because of the people. That is a sure sign that you've found your tribe.

Crafty People
Mostly it is knitters and crocheters, but I have quite the kinship with all crafty people. Partially because I also sew, scrapbook, cardmake, cross-stitch, etc., but mostly because there is just some overarching motifs that all crafty people feel. Last week in the button/thread aisle of JoAnns I ended up in a 20 minute conversation with two other ladies as we gave each other advice matching notions to projects and compared using natural materials versus man made materials. I knit in public and often get other knitters who come up to "talk shop" with me. These are the conversations that are mostly incomprehensible to outsiders, full of jargon, in jokes, and references. My tribe speaks my language.

Church People
In church, I find people who share the same world view as me, the same mores and morals. When I don't understand where the rest of the world is coming from, I find like minded individuals there. When I'm tired and weary, exhausted and frustrated, ready to give up, these are the individuals who lift me up and give me strength. It's almost impossible to explain how important these people are in my life. My family is over 5,000 miles away and these are the people who I spend holidays with, who celebrate with me, cry with me, drive me to the hospital. They go beyond tribe and are my family in everything but DNA.

Some people cross lines. I have some Christian knitter friends or some crafter librarian types and those people are doubly close to me. Have you found your tribe yet? When you do, it can be the most rewarding part of your life.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Spring Fever Edition

It's a beautiful sunny day and I'm having a bit of trouble focusing at work. Here's an extremely random spring fever edition of five things.

  1. It turns out Greg Mortenson, author of the bestselling Three Cups of Tea might be a liar. Questions are arising about the authenticity of his story and how he is handling the money coming into his charity. A group of legislators are suing him and the very well respected Jon Krakauer (himself a best selling author and one of Mortenson's first backers) wrote an ebook called Three Cups of Deceit (scroll down) about the whole thing. Interesting story to watch develop.

  2. School ends in two weeks on May 18th. It's hard to tell who is more ready, the staff at the school, our public library staff, or the kids.

  3. The weather has gotten so very nice in the last couple of weeks in Anchorage that is hard not for me to stare longingly at the window. This does not apparently affect the teens. I kicked out a group of them yesterday for playing hackey sack in the library. I told them it was gorgeous outside and there was a very large lawn in front of the library open for play. They seemed resentful. I almost told them that I'd be happy to go play hackey sack outside if they wanted to play librarian for the day.

  4. I'm really curious to see how summers will go at the library. We've not been open in the summer yet. Our Saturdays are typically a lot quieter because we don't have kids walk over from our next door middle school. However during the summer, the kids will be bored, need Internet access, and the weather will be nice (by Alaska standards) for walking. We could be dead or we could be slammed.

  5. Last Friday I made a "Royal Fever" book display. It has a few of the books from my list as well as the book written by Charles, Prince of Wales, recently, a book on Diana, and various other royalty type things historical and contemporary. No one has checked out a single book from my display. It's in an awkward place, but still... A week and not one checkout? Display needs to come down.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Gotta have my tunes

At some point in the last 30 years, we developped the concept of a personal soundtrack as your inaleianable right. I'm not pretending to be a social historian, but I suspect it began with the development of the portable transistor radio and then the walkman, the diskman, and finally the iPod (or generic MP3 player). The generation of teens today has never known a time when it wasn't possible to have whatever music you wanted whenever you wanted it. To be fair, I'm in my late 20s (part of the Millenial generation) and I can't really recall a time when I didn't have some sort of portable music player.

An example from a staff side. Years ago when I was active on livejournal, I belonged to a community based on sharing funny stories of frustrating library patrons and ranting about them in general. One library clerk posted a rant. Apparently a patron complained about the music she was playing. She had music streaming over the speakers on the circulation desk computer. Her rant was that they (presumably library management) wouldn't let her use her headphones (reasonable when she's working a public service desk) and she could not be expected to go 8 hours without her music. This woman literally believed it was her right to play music at all times. A scary number of comments agreed with her. Of course some agreed with me when I pointed out that it isn't too much to ask you to work without music when at a public desk at a library. But it was for me an interesting insight into a totally different mentality.

In a similar vein the question "Should shelvers be allowed to listen to music on ipods while shelving in the public stacks?" comes up regularly on library listservs.

It may be that I have developped some cranky old lady personality traits long before crows feet and gray hairs, but you do not have the right to have your music going at all times. (Also get off my lawn!) Shelvers shouldn't listen to music because it makes them unapproachable to members of the public. It is not unreasonable for you to be asked to work 8 hours without music. Yes many people work in jobs where they can listen to music; library work (except in back offices) is not one of those fields. Deal.

Let me spin you a very common story from the public side. This happens two or three times a day at my library. A patron will come in blaring music on their iPod. One earbud will be plugged into their ear, the other will be dangling loose. Everyone within 25 feet can clearly hear the music. They will not stop, pause, or turn down the music while talking to friends, browsing library materials, or interacting with staff members. I (or another staff member) will politely remind them that library policy requires that music only be listened to through headphones or earbuds. A small percentage of patrons will then make an appropriate adjustment, but the vast majority of them will look confused. We then further explain that they need to either stop the music or put both earbuds in their ears.

A secondary situation (as common as the first): the patron has correctly plugged both earbuds into their ears but the music is loud enough that everyone around them still hears every beat. Either their earbuds are cheap enough that they don't properly direct the music or their hearing is damaged from years of this abuse that they need it that loud or a combination of the two. Usually (even with the teenagers) it is a combination of cheap earbuds and damaged hearing.

Two less common scenarios (so I only see them once a week instead of twice a day) are patrons who are using oldstyle headphones (not earbuds) and wearing them around their neck to listen to music instead of over their ears. Or they are using their earbuds in the middle of the table as little bitty speakers for all their friends. The latter teen will typically argue with me that they are using headphones/earbuds.

And of course there are the people who simply use their device with external speakers in the library. I've overheard some private conversations as a person on speakerphone sat a library table consulting paperwork and yelling at their phone. Or people watching videos on phones/devices and showing them to friends. No headphones at all.

There are two simple rules. If we all agree to them, life will be easier. Or at least my life will be. And since this is my blog, that is what matters.

Rule Number One
Use headphones/earbuds in the library or hold your phone directly to your ear. Basically the sound needs pumped directly into your ear. This is a library specific rule (though it seems to be common sense to me) and I have no problem explaining it to you once. When we're having the same conversation about it every day, then I get irritated.

Rule Number Two
If you are using your headphones/earbuds properly, only you can hear the sound. That's the point of headphones. This is a general life rule and should be observed at all times by all people, especially on public transit.

Two rules. And then we can move on to not talking on your cell phone when trying to interact with a person behind a service desk (at the grocery store, at the library, wherever).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sample Socks

So I saw a tweet about a new indie dyer (Socks-to-be yarn) who was offering 50 gram yarn samples to people for review purposes to promote her new etsy store. Now I love sock yarn, hand dyed yarn, supporting small businesses and indie artists, and free stuff. Clearly I was all over this.

When offered my choice of colors, I asked for pink (it didn't really matter, but pink is almost always my preference). This loveliness arrived in my mailbox:
It's 80/20 Superwash wool/nylon.

I greatly debated what to make from this yarn. It came close to being baby booties. Or perhaps wrist warmers. Ultimately though it had to be socks. Normally you need a 100 gram/400 yard skein of sock yarn to make a pair of socks, but I made my Harry Potter socks from 50grams or so by making them with a large (for socks, a US 2) needle and short (just barely over ankle). The theory was that if I chose a lace pattern and made ankle socks it would work, even with my freakishly long narrow feet. I cast on in the highest of expectations.

The pattern I chose is Ribbed Ribbon Socks (Ravelry link) from Socks from the Toe-Up* by Wendy Johnson. I used US size 1 (2.25mm) DPNs because I knit too tightly to ever knit with the size 0's that are recommended.

This time I wasn't playing any games with the yarn. I weighed before I started, just about 51 or 52 grams. The first sock came in at about 26 or 27 grams. To avoid (unnecessarily) boring you with knittery details, I made a teensy mod to the second sock that makes it a tiny bit snugger but not unwearably so and ended up with two socks. I cut it so close, nearly ran out of yarn but I made it. Naturally I abhor anything resembling gambling adn this was way too risky for me.

All told I love how they turned out. The small amount of yarn forced me to do only five rows of ribbing after finishing the heel so they rest just under my ankle bone. They fit much like (but better than) my favorite commercially produced ankle socks.

Yarn review: Love it. The yarn was great to work with, not splitty or icky. There was one knot in the skein, not a big deal, but I mention it because some knitters view any knots as a cardinal sin. They're overreacting; one is fine, four are not. The color is perfect, a lovely slightly heathered pink. It's perfect for this lace pattern. It accentuates the lace without being overbearing. The second picture really shows how nicely tonal the yarn is in the sole of the foot.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this yarn. A nice yarn to work with and a beautiful color.

*I've never signed up for the thing where I get Amazon credits for linking to a book if you buy it, and I don't want to, so no more Amazon links. You can easily find the book on your own, on the author's webpage, or at your favorite local store. Also I think I've done enough hyperlinking in this post to last a good little while.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Royal Books Edition

Somehow I managed to completely avoid Royal wedding fever. I certainly wasn't waking up at 3am Alaska Time to watch the wedding. I highly value my 8-9 hours of sleep; I'm not sure I'd wake up at that time for my own wedding. I checked the news long enough to see a gallery of photos and the dress. Then a second time I peeked in to see the hats. (It's all about the hats.)

However I love history books, particularly those with monarcy. So here are five books as my five things that royally rock. They're a mixture of fiction and non-fiction because that is how I roll.

  1. Innocent Traitor: a novel of lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir
    (Historical Fiction) I love Alison Weir's books. She's a very esteemed British historian and one of the most popularly known. Her non-fiction works are great; I particularly recommend her biography, Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life and her work The Princes in the Tower about the fate of the two lost (murdered?) princes during the time of Richard the IIIrd. In the last few years, she has also branched into writing historical fiction. The results can be a bit stilted at time, but are overall wonderful. This book, which follows the life of Lady Jane Grey who was queen for 9 days and then convicted of treason by her sister Queen Elizabeth I is marvelous. The story is marvelously told from the other side, not the one usually told (that of Queen Elizabeth). My favorite part of any historical fiction is the author's historical notes at the end and in this part Weir excells. Because of her background as a historian, she practically falls over herself to apologize for any liberties she took with the history. All told a great story about a reluctant and ultimately doomed queen.

  2. Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman
    (Non-fiction) This book isn't about royalty per se. However, many of these women slept with royalty (or were rumoured to have done so). They were never admitted to court, but instead lived in their own world: the demimonde. Besides their prowess in the bodouir, they were also charming, well-read, at the height of fashion, linguists, experts at banter, and a thousand other gifts. At their peak, they were expensive and men paid dearly to even be seen in public with them. Proper society women shunned them outwardly, but could not cease to gossip about them or copy their taste in clothing and fashion. This book follows the lives of five of the most famous and most influential courtesans of the 19th century, the heyday of the courtesan and balances that fine line between history and gossip that manages to be fun, fascinating, and educational.

  3. We Two: Victoria and Albert Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
    (Non-fiction) It is impossible to measure the effect these two had in shaping history, morals, and society globally for years. They were of course shaped and lived their lives in reactions to the people who raised them. If they were known for their high moral standards, it is a reflection of the debauched rulers who preceded them and their own eccentric upbringing. This book focuses on them individually first, what shaped who they were when they got married, and then later them as a couple. Victoria was very much a traditionalist who would have been submissive to her husband, but British law would never allow him crowned as king or given actual political power, a fact that would frustrate them both. However Victoria did relish her role as Queen and even in that one place where she superseeded her husband. Their marriage (as told through diaries, letters, more) was a partnership and a continual rivalry. The author even delves into their bedroom (given Victoria's many pregnancies) and homelife with some fascinating insights. Before you go on a rant about "those uptight, stick in the mud Victorians" try this book on for size. You'll be surprised. I couldn't put it down.

  4. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
    (Historical Fiction) Remember how much I like author's historical notes on fiction books? Gregory could do a better job of them. Other than that I love her books. She did a marvelous job with the Tudors and her Boleyn series. Now she backs up a few generations to the War of the Roses with this new series. (First The White Queen and then The Red Queen.) Here we have Elizabeth Woodville who marries in secret a Plantagenet King fighting for his throne. As their house rises to power, she fights for him at every turn. And eventually she would become the mother of the two famously doomed princes in the tower. I loved reading this one and have The Red Queen queued up on my Nook.

  5. Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
    (Historical Fiction) I love large sweeping historical epics and Rutherfurd does it wonderfully. These two volumes (the sequel is Rebels of Ireland follows a handful of families through the major events of Irish history. The story starts with the last of the Celtic/Druidic prince-priests just as St. Patrick is Christianizing the island. It continues through rebellions, invasions, and more as those formally royal families make their way thorugh history. Obviously not every year and every generation is followed. Quite often there are several hundred year gaps as all the major parts of Irish history are covered. Wonderful stories and well worth the hundreds of pages.

Cleopatra: A life by Stacy Schiff
(Non-Fiction; Biography) I'm adding this one off the five thing list because it is my current friday reads. I've just started it, only 75 pages in, so I can't really judge it overall, but so far I'm really pleased. It's a more balanced look at the life of Cleopatra instead of just saying, "ooh seductress" or "powerful women misjudged by generations of male history". Somewhere between those two views lies the truth of this most powerful and famouns of royal women and I'm enjoying watching Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff sort it out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Thanks to the wonder that is Ravelry I learned about the Iknitarod. The Iknitarod is similar in theory to other knitting challenge events (such as the Knitting Olympics or Ravelympics). During the time span of the Iditarod, you challenge yourself in your sport. The dogs/mushers are taking on a challenge and so can you, if your sport is knitting. Come on now, you've been training for years!

I joined the Ravelry Iknitarod Group and chose my challenge project. The challenge can be anything, a new technique, a bigger project, anything that is a bit of a stretch for you. For me just focusing on one project was going to be the largest portion of the challenge. I'm a non-monogamous knitter always switching back and forth between many different projects.

I fell in love with the beautiful Peaks Island Hood from Ysolda Teague's Whimsical Little Knits 2. It's the perfect thing for the Alaskan winters. The size of it would be enough of a challenge in the 11(ish) days the race ran (though I'd been knitting enough socks I forgot how fast working on size 10 needles would go). Plus it included buttonholes which I had never attempted before. So there was my challenge.

I picked up some Cascade 220 from my local yarn store in a beautiful dark charcoal gray (used their ball winder for the first time - so much fun, I need one) and cast on that afternoon as I was headed to my friend's wedding. I very nicely refrained from knitting during the wedding or reception.

Here's how far I got on day one:

Here's day two:

And at that point I stopped taking pictures. I finished after the first place finisher but before the red lantern (trail sweeper) so that is good. I wore it about three times before our freakishly early spring stopped that. But I live in Anchorage and will never complain about a freakishly early spring.

Mods: The buttonholes as written were really confusing. After reading other people's notes on Ravelry I just fudged it. Bound off 3 stitches and cable cast them back on in the next row. While I had purchased 3 skeins of Cascade 220, it only 2 plus a teensy bit of the third. (I think I used the third skein for the last four rows.) Based off other people's notes I added five rows before starting the buttonholes and two rows between each of the buttonholes. Without the added rows I would not have needed the second skein.

And the final project. I love it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Teen Programming Edition

I'm updating again! This time is all about the ups and downs of teen programming at our library. As I've said before we share a parking lot with a middle school. We get tons of teens, pre-teens, tweens, and hangers-on. Here, very briefly, are five things that work for us. Or they're working for us as of right now. It's still very much a work in progress. I will eventually write an update with our entire trials and tribulations.

  1. Food. Food brings them in. It doesn't seen to matter what, just food. We were wondering around Costco trying to find affordable relatively healthy edition. We ran into someone else buying for large quantities of teens too. Costco is the place to go. I don't know if it is our neighborhood (very low on the socio-economic scale) that heightens it, but every group of teens I've worked with can be bribed with food.
  2. Popcorn. Popcorn is cheap. We got one of those very large popcorn machines (not the countertop one, the one in its own little cart) and a 50 pound bag of popcorn, 500 popcorn bags, and a ton of oil. We're set for a while. It's simple, but the kids love it. And the coolness factor is so much greater with the machine popcorn than the microwave stuff, plus it is easier to portion out.
  3. Ukuleles. Ukuleles are cool. Teens and hipsters love them. A local store cut us a deal (ask for the educator discount) and we picked up half a dozen ukes. Our youth services librarian plays ukulele. The kids play their instruments, bring their own, borrow ours. I had them sitting out at the teen afterschool program and they were never idle. My favorite afternoons are the ones where we get impromptu concerts of kids singing and playing. One teen is even writing her own songs!
  4. Playing cards. Cards are never out of style. We have a board game cabinet for the teens to use and however many decks of cards I put in there get checked out. I remember from my own teen years always keeping a deck of cards in my backpack. Their popularity does not seem to wane and of course the games that can be played are limitless.
  5. The current iteration of our teen program is an "Open Zone" where they can come/go and hang out, play games, etc. We were struggling with how to keep track of how many teens were coming with all the in/out. So I counted how many cups I put out by the lemonade. A few kids took more than one cup (though they were encouraged to just refill) and a few kids took no drink. If we assume that those kids cancel each other out, and since it makes my life easier we will assume they do, we had 78 kids at our last teen zone event.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Get your vote on!

I've blogged before about how important I feel voting is. Yesterday was a municipal election and as always I voted on my way into work. All day I proudly wore my "I voted" sticker. I work in a youth-centric library. One of our afterschool kids asked me who I voted for and I explained the concept of secret ballot. But they do notice and it is a chance to be a rolemodel without saying a word.

That being said if you're an ALA member, you have until April 22nd to vote. I have, but only about 10% of the membership has. Vote! It's your civic and professional duty. ALA makes it easy with candidate bios and statements of concerns right on the ballot. I wish the municipality did that. (Instead I looked it up and typed who I wanted to vote in a note on my iphone. I'm lousy at remembering names when it comes to the school board candidates.) If you're an ALSC member, you can vote for me (Elizabeth Moreau) for Newbery Award Committee.

So off you go! Go vote!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Knitting Socks!

I've been bitten by the sock knitting bug. It all started innocently enough, I heard of the existence of the official Harry Potter Sock Yarn, drooled over it, and decided to buy some in late 2008/early 2009 (it was winter, but my memory is fuzzy after that). I made my first trip to a local yarn store to track it down. Though I'd been crocheting for years, I was just relearning knitting. I hadn't discovered Ravelry, knitting blogs, or anything much beyond what my mother taught me which tended toward the big box chain store yarns and Leisure Arts pamphlet patterns. (Note there is nothing wrong with either of those things, there is just a whole world of luxury yarns, natural fibers, and independant designers beyond them.)

Because I had to buy the Harry Potter yarn, I had to learn to knit socks. (At this point it didn't occur to me that I could use sock yarn for something else.) I remember standing in the local yarn store (a little shocked at how much it cost, but remember I'm used to big box store cheap prices for generic acryllic junk), and questioning carefully if one skein would be enough for a pair of socks. They reassured me it would. I took it home and immediately realized I would need to learn to knit in the round. So I made a hat. Other things in life happened. And a year later I was ready to start my socks.

Back I went to my big box store to look for a book or pamphlet for knitting socks. I found Toe-Up Techniques for Hand-Knit Socks by Janet Rehfeldt. Glancing through it, I realized toe up socks made an intrinsic sense to me, grabbed the right size needles and brought it home.

According to my Ravelry page, I started the socks on April 6, 2010. At first it was weird, but very quickly it was a lot of fun.

I finished the first sock in July 2010, but I bound off my regular way and managed to create an edge that would not stretch over my heel. So I put the socks in "time-out" for a while. In the meantime I had discovered a lot about knitting. In October I was travelling back down South for a friend's wedding and I took along the socks as a travelling project. I unpicked the knitting and redid the bind off until it was loose enough to work. I was so proud of myself I immediately took a photo in my friend's parents' kitchen and put it on twitter. A photo I can not find right now, but I know exists.

Started the second sock immediately but it languished as I completed other projects (mostly those baby blankets). But I'd been bitten by the sock knitting bug. I really wanted to join Rockin Sock Club so I made myself a deal. If I finished my socks by January 4th (when signups opened) then I got to join sock club. Then my superstitious/crazy/OCD side kicked in. Clearly if I had my socks done by the new year and were wearing them when I rang in the New Year I would have good knitting mojo all year long.

That would have been completely doable if I were capable of being a monogamous knitter and focusing on only one project. I'm not. Which is how I ended up knitting them on New Year's Eve at an Alaska Aces hockey game. (I have a photo of that somewhere). Then I tried a different type of bind off and it ended up (once again) still too tight (or my heel is too big). Quickly I unpicked the bind off and rebound off and I was wearing them by 11:35pm.

The astute of you will notice that I have ends not woven in. I didn't have my darning needle with me. The next day I wove in the ends, blocked them, and took a better photo.

I've learned a lot since those socks (including that using 5 instead of 4 DPNs will greatly reduce the ladders, that is to say 4 DPNs in the sock and one working needle). However I was really proud of how well I got the self striping yarn to match up even if I really hate how bad the ladders are. I used about half of the yarn on these socks (which are more like ankle socks). I didn't know how big to make them, how much yarn to use, so I stopped prematurely. (Now I know about weighing the yarn, as I have said I learned a lot.)

I've already started my next pair (which aren't the pair I got for my first Rockin Sock Club kit). And I've picked up a ton of other sock yarn (including some real splurges like malabrigo and some hand dyed yarn from some smaller dyers). I think I may have found my new love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Five Things on a Friday

I'm back... I went on vacation for 12 days and apparently blogging vacation for a month. I've half written a bunch of posts, but here are some of them condensed, five things style.

  1. If you're a librarian or at all tuned into the library blogoverse, twitter feeds, or listservs at all in the last few weeks then you're aware of the controversy over Harper Collins ebooks. A short recap, Harper Collins (one of the biggest United States publishers) decided that all of the ebooks they sell to libraries through distributor Overdrive (the most popular service used by libraries to provide downloadable ebooks and audiobooks) will expire after 26 checkouts. Library Journal had a good article about it and then Overdrive weighed in with their response. Lots of librarians/bloggers/library systems also weighed in. Google it or search for the twitter tag #hcod and you'll get thousands of responses. I particularly like the response of Librarian in Black.

  2. Our collection development librarian has decided that our system will not be buying Harper Collins ebooks whenever we can avoid it. Paperbacks have a limited number of checkouts before they're in such bad condition that they can't circulate anymore. We try to avoid buying those whenever possible unless the book is super popular and that's the only way to get it (such as graphic novels). Our budget is small and we make tough choices like that. We try to buy books that will last the longest and be enjoyed by the most patrons. 26 ebook circulations just won't do it.

  3. Keeping with my ereader theme, there's another rumor circulating that Amazon will start giving away Kindles as soon as November. The gist of the rumor is that if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber (you pay $80/year for unlimited free 2-day shipping) then you get a free Kindle. Amazon Prime is a good deal for Amazon because even if they're consumers use it often enough to make their money back on shipping, Amazon still makes money because people aren't likely to stray from Amazon even if another seller has a lower price. Giving people a free Kindle just further locks them into the Amazon world and it's a very viable business model if they can get the Kindle hardware production costs down enough. Plus it would entice more people to join Amazon Prime. It will be interesting to see in the next few years how many more places follow this model.

  4. The Iditarod is in full swing. I love the Iditarod. This year we have an Iditarod map up and little yellow pieces of paper with mushers names tacked on it. Once a day our Associate Librarian (who rocks so hard it's barely legal) moves all the little people to their new position. It's a lot of work (THANKS TERESA!) but it seems to be very popular up here. Mitch Seavey had to withdraw due to an injured hand which makes me sad. So now I'm rooting for his son - Go Dallas!

  5. I fell into Graphic Novels rather backwards. First I started ordering them for the library, then I started reading them, then I fell in love with them. I've reached the next stage. I'm thinking about taking home an anime to watch this weekend. I'm already kinda crazy with the knitting things so hopefully someone will stop me before I'm going to conventions in costume. (There's nothing wrong with going to conventions in costume but I'd prefer to limit the number of consuming crazy-making passions I have and I want to go to knitting conventions.)

Friday, February 04, 2011

Five Things on a Friday

Next Friday I will be boarding a cruise ship and the Friday after that I will be on a cruise ship somewhere in the great blue sea. I don't promise posts then though I suppose one before boarding is possible. Talk about a field test for my Nook! But as usual, here are my five things.

  1. Yesterday, I gave a tour to a group of adult literacy learners. In addition to the challenge of learning to read, they were all also new immigrants and learning to speak English. They were not literate in their native language either. What an amazing challenge they (and their teachers) have chosen to undertake. They all got library cards and our children's librarian did a good job of demonstrating storytime (the students all had children). It was a warm, squishy, happy, this is why I became a librarian moment.

  2. A year (or more) ago we renamed our Science Fiction and Fantasy section into Speculative Fiction or SpecFic for short. The abbreviations on the spine labels remain SF, but the signs on the end of the shelves changed. This has confused some (okay lots) of our patrons, but it does seem to make it easier to justify why Lord of the Rings and I, Robot on the same shelf. Speculative fiction is that which speculates and asks a great big "What if" question. What if wizards, elves, hobbits, and assorted other magical creatures lived together in another world? What if robots could think and act like humans? What if aliens on Mars attacked us? Of course I had a patron argue (erm discuss) with me that all fiction is by its very nature is speculative and every author begins their journey with a "what if" question. True that. But let's just go with this for now.

  3. I've been really enjoying the 2011 Printz Award winner: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. It's sci fi (or spec fic if you will) which doesn't usually win mainstream awards. Nailer is living in a dystopian future where he has to pull apart wrecks of old ships in order to find enough usable scrap to survive. Happy to recommend this as my Friday reads because it is a page turner so far.

  4. Yesterday a kid was trying a dance move during break dance club and kicked a hole in the community room wall. He missed the mural by about 6 inches. The irony of him breaking the wall during break dance club (yes an official library sponsored event) is not lost on me. It's not amusing me, but I do see the irony.

  5. We share a parking lot with a middle school. (Have I mentioned this before?) This causes lots of discipline challenges with kids and I've been thinking (and writing but it's not share-ready) about that a lot lately. However, it also causes parking issues. Though our area of the parking lot is clearly separate from the middle school parking, you drive through their parking lot to get to it. Parts of our lot are closer to the middle school than their own lot. Thus we also have issues with their staff filling up our parking lot. See? A problem that can't be blamed on "rowdy teenagers". It's nice to remind the rest of the world that the teenagers aren't the root of all evil.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Librarian and Her Nook, pt. 1

Three weeks ago, I cracked and bought a nook. I'd been reading ereader reviews for months, oohing over friends who had an ereader, and endlessly contemplating it. It takes me a little time to talk myself into something like that. (Wherein something like that is defined as something costing more than $50.) Of course once I made my decision, I drove as fast as I could as soon as I could to the nearest Barnes and Noble to pick mine up.

Why did I choose a Nook?
Lately my eyes are really bothering me from spending all day at a computer screen. I knew I couldn't read off a backlit style screen so that kicked out the iPad, the NookColor and anything that wasn't eink. After a lifetime of library work, it turns out I have a pathological aversion to purchasing books at full price. (Though I'm all about used book stores and friends of the library book sales). That meant I had to have a reader which could borrow the ebooks available from my library's website and knocked the Kindle out of competition. (Though my sister has a Kindle and loves it). One nice feature of the Nook is you can walk into the Barnes and Noble store and there is a help desk right up front (like the genius bar at the Apple store) to help you with your device. Local help and support is what won me over to the Nook over the Sony ereader or Kobo. And finally since I already have an iPhone, I didn't need the ability to do 100x extra things on my ereader so I didn't need one with 3G or one with color screen so I was able to buy the cheapest one (at $149).

Buying the Nook
I went to B&N and bought it in just a few minutes on my lunch break. (Love living in Alaska and not paying sales tax.) I also chose out a cover for the Nook and picked up a screen protector. I know myself, electronics need that extra little bit of padding since I'll be tossing it and our bags/purses. There were some really cute Kate Spade covers that cost almost as much as the Nook itself. ($85 for a cover for a $149 device? Nope!) So I went with a less expensive, but still good looking black and white Jonathan Adler cover (if you care about brands).

ebooks onto the Nook
The following came pre-loaded onto my Nook: a Nook user guide, a Nook tour, Pride and Prejudice, and Little Women. I was amazed; I thought that surely these Nook people know me, those are two of my all time favorite books. Then I noticed they also gave me for free Dracula (about which I'm apathetic), and samples of Three Seconds by Anders Roslund (don't care), and Awakened: House of Night Series #8 by P. C. Cast (hate this series). So maybe not.

There are a lot of free books available; they're classics that are out of copyright. Some can be downloaded directly from the nook website or through another website such as Project Gutenberg. And of course many ebooks are available as ebooks from our library's website.

Setting up the Nook
Set up was fairly easy on the Nook end, though using library ebooks was a teensy bit more of a challenge. (Hint download Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer, delete the version on your Nook and let the ADE on your computer recognize/authorize the Nook and reinstall ADE onto it. 5 minutes of googling turned up this solution and it worked.) Also when you sideways load content into your Nook (ebooks and pdfs), you have to turn it off and back on again to see them. When you get them through, you can just do a check for new content.

The first ebook I downloaded from the library was The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The first out of copyright ebook I got for free (from the website) was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The first ebook I bought was The Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 1 edited by Harriet Elinor Smith et al. (That book cost me less that $10 as an ebook but would have cost me between $22 and $35 as a hardcover and weighed my bag down with a hefty 743 pages. Much nicer to just load it onto the Nook.) I also immediately loaded it with some knitting patterns and personalize photos for screensaver and wall paper.

As I said, I've been living with it for three weeks now and I have more opinions. However this is a part one post and is long enough already. Happy Reading be it on paper or a screen!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Kansas Day!

Today is the 150th Birthday of Kansas. I've fully embraced being an Alaskan, but I'll always be a Kansas girl at heart. At school we always celebrated Kansas Day with an assembly and Kansas Cake (cake baked in the shape of Kansas, very easy - bake a rectangular cake and cut the upper right corner off). You know it is a real holiday because there's a dedicated dessert.

On January 29, 1861, Kansas joined the union after a long and bloody struggle that would eventually spill over into the rest of the country and the Civil War. 150 years later, it’s still an amazing place.

So here are a few fantastic Kansas facts for you:

  • State song: Home on the Range
  • State flower: Sunflower
  • State Motto: Ad Astra Per Aspra (to the stars through difficulties)
  • State animal: Great Plains Bison (buffalo)
  • Some Famous Kansans: Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Buster Keaton and Charlie Parker
  • Kansas is home to the geographic center of the contiguous United States.
  • The very first female mayor in the United States was elected in 1887 in Argonia, Kansas.
  • Pizza Hut was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1958.
  • And Kansas has the largest ball of twine in the world in Cawker City, Kansas with a circumference of over 40 feet and still growing!
  • Kansas has been scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake.

To celebrate Kansas Day, I made (and am still making) Kansas dishcloths. These are going to lucky fellow Kansans as gifts (though some may not get them for a few weeks). I love knitting dishcloths and often in the lure of "sexier" knitting and crocheting projects, I forget about the simple joy that is creating a dishcloth.

Kansas Dishcloth:

Original pattern: Knitted Kansas Cloth; Yarn: Lily Sugar'n Cream in Yellow

I made a few modifications to make the picture look more like the map of Kansas (and I might do some more modifications to fix the "S", if I do, I'll post the changes). I don't think the original looked much like Kansas - just changed a few rows. Every other row I knit according to pattern instructions. Also I lightly steam blocked this (by hovering my iron and pushing the steam button but not actually putting the iron to the dishcloth) so it would look better for photography and gift giving.

Dishcloth modifications:
Row 29: k3, p3, k25, p3, k3 (basically just starting the repeat for the "body" of Kansas a row earlier)

Row 47: k3, p3, k24, p4, k3
Row 49: k3, p3, k23, p5, k3
Row 51: k3, p4, k24, p4, k3

Friday, January 28, 2011

Five Things on a Friday

I really do write more than just five things entries. They're all half written draft posts. Coming soon I hope! In the meantime, here's five random things.

  1. For my Friday Reads, I'm tweeting about You'll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man by Carol Tyler. It's a fantastic graphic novel memoir done in scrapbook style. The author, Carol Tyler, explores her father's past in WWII and how that affected him which in turn affected her and her relationships with men, particularly as she goes through a separation from her husband. It goes back and forth from present day Tyler dealing with the separation to her WWII era parents and through the times in her family history that shapes them all. Great read and I have to put a hold on volume two, really enjoying it.

  2. I haven't been able to stop reading the articles about Egypt and the riots/protests/revolution that is happening. I saw an initial (twitter) report that Egyptians linked arms to form a chain to protect the Egyptian museum against looting. I'm also seeing news reports that the museum was secured by the army. Either way, it's a good day to be a news junkie and I'm hoping it's one of those days that helps rebuild our world a little bit better.

  3. We have a large lobby in the center of our building with one side off the lobby being the library and the other side off the lobby is the community room. The lobby has two doors, one on the parking lot side and one on the street side. A lot of kids after school cut through the lobby as they walk home. They don't walk by a sensor though (sensor is in the entrance off the lobby into the library side) and so they don't count in my statistics.

  4. I was given a plant by a very well meaning person who does not know my history with house plants. I brought it into work because this library needs some plants (my director recently called it stark but we've only just begun) and the library gets much better sunlight than does my house. Unfortunately I brought the plant into the library on a -5 (Fahrenheit, -21 Celsius) day and that froze many of it's buds and leaves. It has some new growth but isn't looking good. Turns out I feel more guilty when a plant at the library starts dying than I do for one at home.

  5. I promised myself for my New Year's resolution that I would stop reading the comments on the stories on the local newspaper's website. That didn't last. Reading an article about a development in our neighborhood and some of the comments were about this library. I found my blood pressure rising again. Must remember that four angry people with too much free time who seem to do nothing but comment incessantly on the newspaper's site should not affect me so much.

Have a good weekend people! And if you're like me and you work at your library on Saturdays, may all your patrons be smiling.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Things on a Friday

As always, a random collection of my thoughts.

  1. No food is allowed in the library, no drinks, bottled water is fine. I tell the same group of kids this every single day. I don't care that Ramen noodles barely qualify as food, you still can't eat it in my library with the brand new carpeting.

  2. I'm torn on gum, hard candy, and vitamin water. Vitamin water is kinda like bottled water but it has added flavoring and color so it could stain the carpet. Even though it says "water" on the bottle, I usually ask them to take it out. It just seems petty to ban gum and hard candy, but I find those stupid little wrappers everywhere. If none of these people ever throw something in a trash can, what do their houses look like?

  3. When the library was opened, they ordered one chair for each computer station. This is a lovely fallacy. People use computers in pairs and groups. Not just the teens (though that is one of their defining features) but also the adults. A ratio of 3 chairs for every 2 computers is more appropriate or at least more reflective of how the public actually uses the computers.

  4. We've noticed an unusual phenomenon in this library. If we put up a display on an empty shelving unit with the books in the easels and no sign of explanation, the books will be checked out at a fairly good clip. If I put a sign up with the book display, then no one checks out the books. So what appeared to be a random collection of books, checked out. As soon as I added the "seen the movie? read the book!" sign, they stayed put. Only one person has taken a book in the last week and she timidly asked if it was okay. Don't know if it is the culture, the neighborhood, or what. Totally baffling.

  5. I'm sharing my Friday reads with you. (It's a twitter phenomenon wherein everyone posts what they're reading on Friday.) I just (over my lunch break) finished up my first ebook on my Nook. (I'll post about the Nook experience as well.) It was a free ebook checked out from the library. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Excellent read. He's a bit too liberal for my taste, but he did a really good job of approaching the subject with an open mind. Coming from a family of hunters, I found the hunting section particularly humorous. It has definitely made me rethink what I eat and where it comes from. Unfortunately eating locally is not a valid option 10.5 months of the year in Alaska (except for seafood and I eat a lot of halibut and salmon caught by my friends). My parents are in a CSA in the lower 48 and I garden, but I do wish there was more I could do to eat off the industrial food chain. This is the best things in non-fiction, it makes you think, it provokes good conversations, and it was an engaging read. Totally recommended.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Five Things on a Friday

Five signs that your work life is becoming all consuming, creeping into other aspects of your life, and generally making you one of those people who aren't invited anywhere because you can't talk about anything except libraries.

  1. As you walk into the church building, you pull your work ID/lanyard over your head. You've begun to feel a bit naked without it.
  2. You answer your personal phone with, "Hello blahblahblah library, this is blahblah."
  3. You can't get into your house and it takes you far too long to realize that the library key won't open your front door. (We have about 4 keys for the library, I peered at the key to make sure it was the right one that opens my office door and tried about three more times to open my home door.)
  4. You tell random children in Target to "walk please" and they listen to you.
  5. You answer a reference question at a hockey game and find yourselves doing readers advisory in the stacks at Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Camping Out At The Library

Opening a new library is crazy. Crazy fun, crazy busy, crazy weird, just crazy. And I crazy love it. Rather than tell you another woeful tale about current problems, I'm going to tell you fun stories about opening up the new library.

I was hired rather late into the project, actually just over a month before the library opened. Overseeing it before then were the library's development director, the associate librarian (para-professional) for this branch (and we'd had multiple staff members cycle through that position), the project manager for the city (for the facility stuff), branch manager of a neighboring branch, contractors and building types, and other assorted library personnel. It was explained to me that if anything seemed inconsistent or missing it probably was, this project had been in a lot of different people's hands. (Or as the development director said, we've lost a lot of soldiers in this fight.)

When I took over, the associate librarian had been bouncing around branches and only spending part of her time at Mountain View. She and I started working full time at the library (still closed) to get it ready. We were the first official occupants and the building wasn't quite ready for us. Have you ever spent time (serious 40+ hours a week time) in a not quite finished building? It can be fun if you approach it with the right attitude. Like camping there are some inconveniences (in camping lack of running water and a pillow top mattress top my lists) but some great benefits (unlimited time with those you love, great scenery, fresh clean air, s'mores) that make it worth it.

Some of my favorite little things that popped up and made me feel like we were camping out at the library.

Incomplete Furniture
The first few weeks we were here, we didn't have all of our furniture. In particular, we lacked office chairs. I was sitting at my desk in a very ergonomically unfriendly chair bought for the patron floor. Between that and hauling boxes, my back ached every night. It really made me appreciate my office chair when it finally came.

No Janitorial Service
Why pay for janitorial when you have only a few people in the building? We followed camp rules and "packed out what you pack in". That meant that every day I took my trash from lunch (or even any used kleenex) home with me and threw it away there. Considering my recent woes, I'm might be doing that again.

No Office Supplies
We didn't have any of the basics. Every trip to the main library, I'd pop my head into a different department's supply cabinet and "requisition" a few basics. And by a few basics, I mean I took literally 3 ink pens from one department, 2 pads of post-it notes from another. Let me tell you how fun that first trip to the office supply was store - a stapler of my very own! With plentiful staples! But no matter how good and thorough your list is, something will be missed or not bought in a plentiful enough of a quantity. Plan on a second trip about two weeks later.

No Bathroom Supplies
Our janitorial contractor provides the bathroom supplies so before they started, we were bringing in our own toilet paper and paper towels.

No One Knows Where You Are
We weren't a brand new library, just a library in a place that hadn't been a library in 20 years, so out of most people's working memory. And our building didn't have a library sign. (Still doesn't, that's a different story.) Every conversation or delivery required a detailed description of the building even though we're on a well known corner. I like to say that with no sign, I'm operating a stealth library, a ninja library if you will.

Wildlife sightings
Much like the woods really belong to the moose and bears and we're just visitors who must play by their rules, a new but not yet finished building really belongs to the contractors. The guys in hardhats need to cut power halfway through my epic masterpiece of an email? That's their prerogative. I'm sad whenever civilization runs off wildlife, but rather happy when completion runs off contractors. Of course my library has been open 5 months and they're still showing up trying to fix things and make them work right. (Today they came to play with the heat settings and repair a blown hydraulic door hinge.) Perhaps we're not totally out of the woods yet.