Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Anchorage Mock Newbery Winners

On Saturday we held our Anchorage Public Library Mock Newbery. I mentioned it here.

Our winner was Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Honor books (in no particular order) were The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and Temple Grandin: How the girl who loved cows embraced Autism and changed the world by Sy Montgomery.

Reminder all the books under consideration were:
(we ask all participants to read a minimum of four of these before coming)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Neversink by Barry Wolverton

It was a great deal of fun, school librarians, public youth librarians, even non-librarians. Next year I hope to use our new OWL (online with libraries) project equipment to video conference in librarians in other areas of Alaska. Then we can have the Alaska wide Mock Newbery. (Currently the video conferencing equipment is in a box in my office.)

It was a great morning, fantastic discussion, and I was scribbling notes down frantically (though I can not comment or confirm that any or all of those books are officially under consideration). Smart people talking about great books while eating homemade cookies? There's no better way to spend a Saturday morning.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Final Newbery Nominations - IN

Turned in my last round of nominations for the Newbery. When I finished writing them up last night, I was no longer obligated to read basically every eligible book published. I have to go on faith that we didn't miss anything amazing. I've been following the blogs and I don't think we have. Between the 15 of us, we surely cast a fairly wide net.

I especially spent the last bit of time before the final nominations reconsidering Graphic Novels and the Newbery. Initially I blogged about it and then the amazing Chris Schweitzer (of Crogan's March which is one of my go to recommendations for middle grade graphic novels) showed up with some very insightful comments. And then I got a text, "did you know you're in The Mary Sue?" And thus began one of the most surreal weekends of my life as about 8 of my friends texted or messaged me that. (Why yes, I do have cool friends). I also read the comments by Comics Beat and Heavy Medal on this issue. Tons of good comments by everyone and I really re-read my 3 favorite youth graphic novels of the year. I can't tell what I decided regarding nominating one of them, but it was the nomination I thought hardest about all year long.

We did a Mock Newbery at the Anchorage Public Library. I'll blog that tomorrow. I'll probably be a better blogger now that I'm not reading all the books and feeling very conflicted about what exactly I can blog. And avoiding talking about work due to some complicated situations (all resolved now). However I've never been a super-reliable blogger so you probably shouldn't hold your breath.

In a couple of days when we get the final list of nominees from our committee chair, I'll start re-reading very heavily and critically. But for now I'm taking a "vacation". I watched tv and knit last night! I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (Right before the screening I leaned over and whispered "roads are dangerous things" and my fiance asked me to marry him again.) This weeknd I'll do some holiday baking and spend a lot of time with friends and family.

This year of being on the Newbery committee has been amazing. But I'm glad there is a 4 year waiting period before you're eligible for a new committee. Because I'm exhausted and I miss reading adult books, watching tv and movies, and knitting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mock Newbery at APL

This year I am excited to host a Mock Newbery discussion at Anchorage Public Library. I loved doing these when I lived in Kansas and so far the reaction from other librarians and literature lovers has been very positive. If it goes well, I'll make it an annual event.

We've already released the Mock Newbery reading list so we could have the event in mid-December though I think that after this we might shoot for mid-January. I want everyone to have plenty of time to get a chance to read at least four of the books before discussion. Of course this means anything that comes out later or that APL doesn't have a copy of yet won't be on our radar. That's fine. It's all for fun.

And I feel obligated to say this. Yes, I am on the committee this year, but that in no way should mean that what is on this list is on the official committee list. I asked for nominations from librarians who wanted to join us and I read sites like Heavy Medal and For Those About to Mock. So please don't take this list to mean anything more than it would from any other librarian or youth literature lover.

Saturday December 15th, 10am to Noon
Mountain View Library, 120 Bragaw St, Anchorage, AK 907-343-2818

(we ask all participants to read a minimum of four of these before coming)
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Neversink by Barry Wolverton

If you go to our website, you'll find the full details and clickable links for the books that search the APL catalog. Several of those we own in downloadable ebook and audiobook form.

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Five Books I've Recommended

Five things on a Friday: In reading my "Newbery Year" of juvenile books, here are five I've recommended and the reactions I got from the other readers (including myself). As always this does not indicate that I or anyone else on the committee have suggested or nominated these books, only that as I attempt to read a broad swatch of juvenile literature this year, these five were included.
  1. One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
    I recommended this to a young man who was sad that all of the Animorphs books had been weeded due to age, lack of popularity, and lack of a complete set. He reported loving it. At least one librarian I discussed it with didn't like it and didn't think it would appeal to kids. I liked it, but found it quite hard to push myself through the pathos in the middle.
  2. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
    Recommended this to a local school librarian who LOVED it. I haven't got to try it on a child reader yet, but I liked it and I don't normally enjoy mysteries much. One quibble was that I kept forgetting that the book was set in North Carolina and kept trying to put it in the Gulf Coast instead. I'm not sure if that is my issue or a failing in setting by the author.
  3. Neversink: a puffin saga by Barry Wolverton
    I lent my copy to a friend's 10 year-old son and she ended up having to buy it for him. It was THE BEST book that boy has ever read and he is continually drawing the characters from it even four months later. I liked it a lot too. Maybe it is that we live in Alaska with the puffins? Or maybe it is just that puffins are cool. The setting was marvelous both the arctic I know and the arctic of fantasy at the same time. I think this would be a huge hit with kids who liked the Ice Age movies.
  4. Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton
    When a 10 year-old boy asks you for a boy "with a kid who rides his bicycle", this is an obvious answer. Two weeks later he was back to ask for the sequel. Sadly I've told him not every book has a sequel. But I understand that feeling. This book had very engaging characters and I found myself emotionally attached enough to Frankie Joe and his brothers to want a sequel too.
  5. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
    I feel like everyone has read this book and everyone is talking about it, but that might just be the fact that I read a lot of children's literature blogs and my slice of "everyone" on the internet is skewed.  When my fiance and I have conversations about what "everyone" on the internet was talking about during a given day/week, we find that we have very different groups of everyones. Lent my copy to my children's librarian and my future mother-in-law. Haven't heard yet from the future mother-in-law but my children's librarian adored it. This is another book wherein I got really invested in the characters. Everytime we switched narrators I was a bit sad because I felt like I was leaving behind the voice of a friend until I got to know the new narrator and then was sad to leave them behind. It's amazing to me how quickly each narrator's voice was established as unique and yet it formed a cohesive story. Unfortunately there were one or two moments that felt forced and rushed that pulled you out of the narration and caused you to doubt those particular narrators.
Realizing I haven't much committed myself about what I've thought about any books read this year, at least not in print. It's not forbidden by Newbery rules, but you are warned to be cautious. And with every book, I tend to have a gut reaction and a more nuanced reaction with a more critical eye. Here you're mostly getting my gut reactions to five random books.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dead Mom Books

When I got elected to the Newbery, someone cracked a joke about all the "dead mom" books. They weren't joking. I've started to think of this as the "dead mom year" though it is really dead parents of both genders. Below are the ones I've noticed (not at all a complete list just a quick glance through my notes) that have a dead parent before the book begins. Not included are missing parents, divorced or run off parents, or parents who die during the book. Included are a few books where the parentage is a bit of confusion, but they're dead. At least two of these the dead part could be considered a spoiler so consider yourself warned. Also two of these might be more properly considered teens.
  • Laugh with the Moon by Burg (dead mom)
  • Letters to Leo by Hest (dead mom)
  • What the Dog Said by Reisfeld (dead dad)
  • Fourmile by Key (dead dad)
  • Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Loftin (dead mom)
  • The Great Unexpected by Creech (about half the town are orphans)
  • Tracks by Wilson (dead dad)
  • Child of the Mountains by Shank (dead dad)
  • The Wicked and the Just by Coats (dead mom)
  • Summer of the Wolves by Carlson-Voiles (both parents dead, mom most recently)
  • The Unfortunate Son by Leeds (there is confusion here)
  • Irises by Stork (dead father, comatose mother)
  • Starters by Price (both parents dead)
  • The False Prince by Nielsen (confusion about who his parents are)
  • The Book of Wonders by Richards (dead mom)
  • If Only by Geithner (dead mom)
  • Winterling by Prineas (dead mom and dad)
  • The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Stone (dead mom)
  • The Humming Room by Potter (dead mom and dad)
  • Oddfellow's Orphanage by Martin (everyone's an orphan give or take)
  • Glory Be by Scattergood (dead mom)
  • Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Rocklin (dead dad)
This is probably not an unusually large number of books; it's probably that high every year. I just don't look at every single book published on a normal year. Still I don't think I knew a single kid with a deceased parent when I was a child. Of course in my children's lit class they taught us that the first problem of children's lit was to get rid of the parents, freeing up the kids for adventures.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Reading Everything

This week our chair sent back the list of nominated Newbery books. Just like Roxanne I read mine on my phone squinting without glasses. Later in the day I gave it a closer re-read, paying attention to the wording of each nomination.

We didn't all nominate the same 3 books and we didn't nominate 45 different books. I've gotten better about not finishing every book this year, but I still have finished FAR more than I probably should have. (I can think of at least three books that I kept reading after I knew they weren't distinguished because I was still enjoying them and at least in one case it was the only book I had brought with me.) Our chair keeps telling us to be ruthless, if you know by page xx this isn't distinguished, let it go.

Good news: there's only one book on the nominated list I didn't finish (and one book I haven't gotten a copy of yet). The one I don't have yet looks amazing. The one I didn't finish was boring (at least to me, hence the not finishing). I'll try it again. Maybe it will catch me this time, but even if it doesn't I will finish it.

There was one book earlier this year that was getting a ton of hype that I just couldn't get into, until I did. David caught me at one point still reading, very late, because I couldn't put it down, after complaining to him about it and forcing myself through the entire first half.

Some of the books I was nervous about nominating got other nominations and that made my week. I was surprised by what was nominated and by who. Maybe I don't remember people or I've switched them in my head. At ALA we all had nametags on the table in front of us. I need a sheet with our photos and names to help me remember people.

This weekend: I'm pulling into a special section all the nominated books so I can start the re-reading and reviewing. I'm sorting that huge box of books I haven't sorted yet. But yesterday I took a night off as did David from his studies and we went to a movie. (I completely recommend Pitch Perfect FYI).

And if you're interested, we've got a personal blog/wedding site/website going now:
You'll all be happy to see that the knitting goes there now. And really I've resisted flooding this blog with knitting. So from now on it should be all librarianship all the time, mostly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Now it gets real

For (give or take) 10 months I've been reading like a mad woman on all potential Newbery candidates. Every month I've sent in suggestions of the best of what I've read to my chair. Those were compiled and sent out to committee members but who suggested what remained anonymous.

We'll still suggest, but now we move on to the serious stuff, the nominations. Each committee member gets 7 nominations. Nominated books are the ONLY books on the table at the final discussion meeting.  3 of those 7 nominations were due this month.

That's a lot of pressure. Almost half of my nomination slots. And they won't be anonymous anymore. I wrote up between 150 and 500 words on each book which the other committee members will receive with my name attached.

At some point, I thought that my committee chair had sent in an example of a written nomination. But I couldn't find it, so I wrote on my own sans guidance. That part was scary. It's been a long time since I wrote critically about books. (Blog and goodread reviews aside, those don't really count). In the end I wrote a sentence or two about each book, a few sentences about each specific criteria in which I thought that book was particularly distinguished, and a few sentences in conclusion. (Thank you to my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Ruggles for teaching me the five paragraph essay format, it really is the answer to everything, just shortened or lengthened.)

Writing aside, choosing the books was the hardest part. My collection of books has long since grown out of the entire wall full of book cases dedicated to it in my house. The ones I have read are stored in large Rubbermaid tubs. Over the weekend I went through all of them and pulled out books that I could see either myself or someone else on the committee nominating. That was about 20 books but I'm sure I've missed some. I'll probably be very surprised at what people nominate.

Of those 20 books, I sorted out 10 that I would be happy to nominate. Clearly that is too many, so I chose four for this first round. As I was writing the nominations I narrowed those four down to three based on which nominations I thought would be easiest to write first.

I kept running into one problem when choosing books to nominate. I'd look at a book that was clearly distinguished and knew that someone on the committee would be nominating it, probably several someones. Part of me then wanted to put it aside as it was a "sure thing" and choose an also distinguished but less obvious choice. Isn't that a bit disingenuous to choose not the best book because I'm playing a game with which books get nominated?  I had this great ethical debate with the cats. The cats were in favor of being sneaky. They were also in favor of immediate treats, snuggles, and being allowed into the backyard to chase the birds around the bird feeder. Needless to say, the cats don't always get their way.

I can't tell you what I chose to nominate. Sorry! I am very excited about the crop of books we have available to us this year. There are some marvelous things out there. And I can't wait to see what my fellow committee members have nominated.

That said, a giant box of books, apparently the entire Houghton Mifflin Fall line arrived for me today. I'll have to sort that tonight. Except it is too heavy to lift. That might be a problem.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weeding Dilemma

If you follow me on twitter, then you know this summer and fall I've been weeding a library that has not been weeded in effectively 20 years. I'm finding some amazing/awful/atrocious stuff. Normally I'm a fairly efficient and decisive weeder. I like to think I do well at walking the fine line between far too ruthless and sentimental to the point of being a librarian-hoarder.
However, I've got a book that has me flummoxed.

Famous Negro Heroes of America by Langston Hughes. (blurry iPhone photo, apologies)
Copyright 1958 and that is the edition we have.


Cons: Not great condition, but not the worst. Passable-ish. Also potentially offensive title, slightly mitigated by the fact that it was written by Langston Hughes. Hasn't circulated since 2007.

Apparently this was part of an entire series of Famous Biographies for Young People, all listed on the back. And you can see below Hughes' name that he also wrote Famous Negro Music Makers which we do not own though the local University library does (shared catalog and reciprocal borrowing privileges).

So is this a classic because it is LANGSTON HUGHES or was this his quick contribution to a publisher series because dude had to eat you know. Or somewhere in the middle?

Thoughts? Weed? Keep? Try to fob off onto our local university? It hurts me to weed Langston Hughes, it really does, but condition and age and disuse speak against this one.

Related: My favorite TwitPics of books I'm weeding, but by no means a complete list. If I had photographed and tweeted everything that was ridiculously awful, I'd have doubled my time weeding. (all links should open in a new window, sorry I'm too lazy to re post them all here):
  • When you change the title because it is offensive, try totally changing it.
  • By "patriot" do you mean betrayed their people to the white man?
  • Maybe the 70s were different, but this picture does not seem to be advertising a children's story.
  • To be fair, I don't know that this book was every funny.
  • I don't think all clowns are inherently creepy, but really.
  • This status got published on page 17 of the September 2012 issue of School Library Journal!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Five Other Books

Friday Five (a very semi regular feature that is a list of five things). Today it is five books I would be reading if I were not reading for the Newbery award. I'm not complaining, it is an honor to be on the committee and I'm loving my work there, but this is what I'm missing.

  1. Railsea by China Mieville
    I didn't completely understand The City and The City but I loved it. A youth adventure from this brilliant author? It's rumored to be brilliant. (However he is British and thus this book is ineligible for the award.)
  2. Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
    I should have read this in January when it came out before the Newbery thing really exploded. (I only had a handful of books available to me then either through my library or through the publishers.) I've been a fan of the Ender Saga since my middle school days, and I keep coming back to them. They're old friends having new adventures. Dying to know how Bean and his children are coping in space. (Aimed at adults, Newbery is a children's award.)
  3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
    If you've not heard of it, it was a hit overseas (where it was first published) and is a take on a Russian fairytale set in 1920s Alaska by an Alaskan author. I've actually got a copy of this (lent to me with the understanding that I won't be able to read it for months). It may be on the top of my list to read in January. (Aimed at adults, Newbery is a children's award.)
  4. Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    I can say without reserve that Zafon is my favorite living author. Other than Jane Austen works, my favorite book is Like Water For Chocolate. Spanish Magical Realism is one of my favorite genres. A coworker suggested the works of Zafon 4 years ago and I've devoured them ever since. Then I've turned my sister onto them. Usually I pre-order these books electronically so I can wake up and find them downloaded onto my device. I'll probably get the ebook to read to and from the conference. I'm actually surprised I haven't cracked and read this. Shows you how dedicated I am to reading Newbery eligible books this year. (Zafon is Spanish and his books are first published in Spanish both of which make him ineligible for the Newbery.)
  5. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
    I got an ARC of this and then a final printed copy. Clearly the publisher is trying to tempt us. And I am so tempted. Fantasy? Strong female Character? Elaborately drawn world and the beginning of a series? Check, Check, and Check. Any other year and I would have read this months ago. (It is aimed at teens and pushes too far at the "up to age 14" requirement for Newbery.)
Was on the list, but I broke down and read it anyway: Giants Beware by Jorge Aguiree. Fantastic children's graphic novel. The character is a strong female character (desperately needed in graphic novels, but popping up more often in children's graphic novel to my delight) in an action-adventure that would delight everyone and should appeal to girls and boys.

There are more. I've got a bunch. I'm still listening to some adult fiction and non-fiction on audio book, especially with my expanded commute. I've listened to Edith Wharton both The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. (Someday I'm going to host a tea party and all we will do is eat dainty foods and discuss the parallels between Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. It will be pretentious and amazing. Because Lily Bart is Lydia Bennet.) There were many other audiobooks, lots of non-fiction, and right now I'm listening to It by Stephen King. I've never attempted one of his long books before; just read Carrie when I was 17. It's interesting and perfecting commuting on gray days fare.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two moments of library cuteness

Work has been hard and stressful lately. (Did I tell you all that I am managing two locations one of which also doesn't have a children's librarian? It's special.) There continues to be a massive in pouring of books to read for the Newbery. (Thus far I've received in the mail 386 books so far, but I continue to also pull in from other sources.) And I've been focusing on the negative too much. I'm trying tricks to keep myself from going into a funk. When I can tell I've been complaining about work too much, I tell my fiance we're having an "us" night and even if all we do is sit on the couch together, I'm not allowed to mention work. And I'm re-living some of my favorite library moments. So for you, here are two of my favorite library stories.

A few years ago, when I was a Kansas library, it was a sunny summer day and in to my vision ran a young boy about 5 years-old.  As fast as his little legs could carry him he was at the reference desk and placing in front of me a plastic shoebox sized storage box. "HI!" he practically yelled, and before I could respond opened up the box, pulled out a caterpillar and placed it gently (as gently as a five year-old can) on the desk in front of me. "Grandma and I found this caterpillar in the garden and she said you would know what kind it was." About that time, Grandma, a little out of breath, caught up with him.

She and I convinced him to put the caterpillar back in the box where he had thoughtfully been supplied with twigs and leaves. The little boy was sure to inform me they took the leaves from the plant on which they had found the caterpillar. I reassured him that was very sensible.

After finding them several caterpillar/moth/butterfly field guides, they sat down at a table and began their investigation. On every likely looking picture, the little boy would plunk the caterpillar for a side by side comparison. Grandma would read aloud the descriptions. When the most likely looking candidate was identified, he took further investigative steps. The description included that the fully grown caterpillar would be about as big as a big toe. So he put the caterpillar by his toe (sandals). Then deciding it probably meant grown-up feet, he tried his grandma's toe.

Eventually the caterpillar was determined to be a tomato moth (it was found on one of Grandma's tomato plants) and he happily trundled off with his new pet/science project. Fantastic day, fantastic use of library resources, fantastic coaching by grandma in discovery and learning, and fantastic of all library staff (including the branch manager who wondered by) in not pushing the "not pets or insects in the library" policy.

About two weeks later two brothers of about the same age came running into tell me they had found a SNAKE! in their backyard. (Boys between age 4 and 10 are often only capable of pronouncing snake as SNAKE!)  But they said their mom wouldn't let them bring it to show me, but that I would be able to help them find out what type it was. After consulting the books, one of which they took home for further study, we agreed that it was a garter snake. (No surprise to their mother or me as those things are rampant in Kansas. I think I caught a couple as a kid.)

That's one of the things I love as a librarian. I love watching patrons, especially children, who are genuinely curious and want to know more. I love helping people learn to research at all levels. And there is something magical about a child who for the first time is trying to find the answer all by themselves. Blessings on all parents who encourage that process and not give the answer in the interest of time.

Lest ye think all my work is gloom and doom right now, a patron I helped with the computer today just came in and thanked me profusely and complimented the helpfulness of the staff right and left. (They are a fantastic bunch.) Good stuff happens every day at the library, and it is different every day. That is one of the best parts of being a librarian.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Graphic Novels and the Newbery

Here's a question that came up in informal talks at the ALA annual conference: Could a graphic novel (previously known as a comic book) win the Newbery Medal? According to the official criteria, there is no reason it couldn't. However I will quote one passage: "The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective."

That is fairly damning. You can't consider illustrations unless they detract from the text. I imagine that is why The Invention of Hugo Cabret didn't win its year.

I'm receiving boxes and boxes of free books from publishers. (245 unique books at last count, 293 total - I get ARCs and then final copies and a few duplicate copies.) Initially I believed all members of the committee were receiving exactly the same shipments, but not so. Chatting during our meeting in June revealed that I might be the only one receiving some extra Graphic Novels.

Clearly some publisher has noted "Graphic Novel Buyer" beside "Newbery Committee Member" in their database and that is lovely. Though I can't guarantee it, it is most likely I'm the most prolific/experience graphic novel reader on the committee. Hence our discussion.

And so I began to ponder, could a graphic novel be the winner. I have some graphic novels from this year that are eligible in every other way (author is US resident, publisher is US based, etc) and so I pulled them. 20 pages into Giants Beware by Aguirre and Rosado and I was hooked. This is clearly an outstanding children's graphic novel.

But can it win the Newbery? For the next five pages, I covered up the illustrations with post-it notes except for little gaps around the text bubbles and the people's heads (so I could see who said what) and then I started reading.

Note: for this to be a truly effective experiment, I should have had someone else cover up the illustrations so I never even saw them. People already think I'm crazy, this request wouldn't even have them raising their eyebrows.

And then I read. And it didn't work. Without the illustrations the text was fun, but mostly flat. The setting was non-existent. And far too much was lost. I mourned a little bit as I replaced it on my shelf.

Then I pondered for a week or so more. Do I want a graphic novel that could win the Newbery Medal? The beauty of a graphic novel is in the interplay between text and illustration. In the best ones, the two work together, build off each other, complement each other. What one lacks, the other supplies, but you need both to fully appreciate the experience. A graphic novel that could win based on text alone would feel redundant. Constantly the text would be repeating what was clear in the illustrations: the emotions, the setting, and all those subtle effects.

Once as an experiment I checked out a "described" VHS tape (a million years ago) for the blind from the library. In breaks of dialog, the action and setting were verbally described for the benefit of the visually impaired. I found it boring, irritating, and jarring to have what was in front of me constantly described. (A lot of DVDs offer this feature, try it someday.)

So in theory a graphic novel could win the Newbery Medal, and it might be an astounding book, but I imagine it would be an awful graphic novel. Much like watching an audio described movie feels to a non-visually impaired person would be the graphic novel that wins on text alone.

And I don't want to read that graphic novel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reimaginings galore

This week for Newbery Wednesday I want to talk about reimaginings, inspirations, and their ilk. Now I've never paid this close attention to every single book published for kids, but this feels like an unusual amount of books that are clearly retellings. Here briefly are the ones I've seen. It is by no means a complete list, just what has come across my desk so far.

Standard disclaimer: As always my opinions are my opinions and don't reflect on anyone else on the committee. Nor does the brief notes I'm about to give mean that a book is or isn't a serious contender for the

Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards ~~ 1001 Nights (Arabian Nights)
This is not precisely a retelling. It's a new tale in the old world, incorporating many of the characters and elements of that beloved world. The main character is a girl named Zardi (short for Scheherazade) and her father is the Grand Vizier for the evil Sultan who kills one girl a season (four girls a year). Their are also djinnis who grant wishes, Sinbad the Sailor (and his crew) and a missing prince named Aladdin. It's a good middle grade fantasy with an obvious set up for a sequel at the end.

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter ~~ The Secret Garden
This one is intentionally a modern retelling. It isn't bad, just a bit forced. Orphaned child goes to live with rich
uncle who has a secret. They live on an island in an old TB sanitorium. She befriends a local boy who knows all about the local plants and animals. You know this story. It's a quick read and will appeal to many girls (including the girl I used to be) ages 8 to 11 (basically the same girls who liked the original).

The Last of the Gullivers by Carter Crocker ~~ Gulliver's travels
Think of this as a kid friendly sequel. The Lilliputians have been cared for in their own town in a walled garden in England by the descendants of the original Gulliver. A local youth discovers their secret and becomes their caregiver. In doing so, he pulls himself back from the brink of delinquency. And naturally has a chance to prove himself a hero when the town is endangered. Very clever book. Best part: the recreating of the "fire-putting-out" scene from the original. (No spoilers because if you've read the original, you know what I mean, if not, well... My main complaint about this book is that the author (a Californian) felt like he was forcing the English setting. Just tell the audience that the Gullivers immigrated to California and took the Lilliputians with them. It would work better than creating this false inauthentic feeling setting.

The Invisible Tower by Nills Johnson-Shelton ~~ King Arthur (assorted legends)
Only Arthur's clone is being raised as a semi-normal video game obsessed kid. Merlin runs a video game/comic book store. And through the video game Arthur gets his first taste of his destiny before eventually travelling to the parallel world that contains all the Arthurian legendary folk. You'll find the familiar elements, including a sibling (sister this time) named Kay. Again (as with much fantasy) there is an obvious sequel set up at the end. Overall it is a fairly solid fantasy with a few modern elements thrown in for fun.
Pinch Hit by Ted Green ~~ The Prince and the Pauper Haven't read this one yet. Two kids look alike, but one is a movie star and one is a star only on the baseball field. They trade places so the movie star can play baseball and the baseball player can help his dad's screenplay get made.

Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler ~~ Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans
Haven't read this one yet either. It's about a princess whose brothers were turned into swans by their new stepmother. Of course it is a retelling, that is Diane Zahler's bread and butter. She has an entire line of chapter books turning the familiar princess tales into longer versions for tween girls.

Newbery Reading Update:
I've read 37 books for a total of 9,092 pages. I've received 128 unique books or 132 if you count the second copies I got. (Second copies were donated immediately.) Currently I'm reading Bittersweet Summer by Anne Warren Smith and Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Organizing Piles of Books

Everyone who knows me knows I have a strange obsession with organizing things. It is part of what makes me a good librarian. Asked to clean up a supply cabinet during my college job and the office got much more then they requested (a very efficient if slightly weird office supply organizational system). Now I am turning those powers of mine to the books coming for the Newbery committee.

When last I blogged about being on the committee, I had received no books. Now I have received nearly 100. One warning I received from previous years' committee members was to have a good organizational system in place before the books started to arrive. Borrowing heavily from others suggestions and my pre-existing systems, I did so. Here loosely are how I am handling things.

Electronic Management
In 2004 I participated in a librarian read challenge at my library. To keep track of my pages/books I started a spreadsheet. And then I never stopped tracking. Since 2004, I have one massive spreadsheet chronicling all my reading. I love it and its existence is probably the reason I have never fully committed to Goodreads, shelfari, librarything, etc.

Spreadsheets continue to be my best friend for the Newbery. There is a spreadsheet for what I read specifically for consideration for the award. I also use the spreadsheet to track the books I receive and when (if) I read them. Every month we suggest titles that we believe are strong contenders and the committee chair sends out a spreadsheet with all the suggestions. To that I add a column so I know when I've read those. (We're required to read all books that have been suggested.)

I'm taking notes about each book in a word processing document making full use of the headers/table of content feature to make it easy to navigate. Currently my notes are fairly bare bones/initial impressions. I will probably have to go back and fill them in more as I determine which books are serious contenders.

Physical Management
There are a lot of books coming in. Many are coming by post now. It isn't unusual to get multiple packages a day. And of course I continue to pull things from the library's collection. After entering them in my spreadsheet, I sort them onto some shelves. I cleared shelves in my office for this. (This method was suggested by a committee member from a previous year.)

The shelves are "have to read" (because they were suggested), "want to read" (based on my personal interests or initial 5 second judgement of the book), "will read when I get time", and "meh". Any books I pull from the library go on the higher priority "want to read" shelf (even if they aren't my first choice) because I have to return them. I've got a separate shelf for ARCs, sorted by publication date. After reading them, if I own them, they go into a cabinet. If I receive the "real" version of a book I had as an ARC (and some publishers are sending me both), then the ARC goes into the library's box of prize books.

I'm trying to alternate a "have to read" with a "want to read" and pulling an occasional "will read if I have time" into the mix. I'm also trying to alternate genres if only to keep them clearer in my head. Read two fantasy books in a row and they become a bit muddled.

Time Management
I know that many people receive "released" (paid) time from work to do Newbery committee work. And my supervisor was willing for me to do so. However, we're short staffed and I was having time determining how to do that and still get my regular work done. For now I'm squeezing it in as I can. I write up my book notes on the reference desk between patron questions. If I finish a project/report/book order, I'll take 15-30 minutes to read in my office. As the year goes by, I will probably look for larger chunks of time to read at work.

At home I try to read some every day. I read before bed, while my other plays video games, while the water is boiling for tea, while drinking tea, etc. I don't have a dedicated "must read NOW" time, but I am making a conscious effort to find time every day. (And yes I'm still knitting, but it is drastically cutting into knitting time.)

The Stats
Since I started reading in the last week of January (the first I could get my hands on some books), I've read (completed) 34 books for a total of 8429 pages. And please don't tell me they are short books, they average 248 pages each. I'm averaging almost 3 books a week (around 700 pages/week) and I know I need to pick that pace up. So far I have received 97 books for free. About 1/3rd of the books I've read I have culled from our library's collection as opposed to a shipment from a publisher.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Five Things I Wish I Learned in Library School

Yesterday, I wrote about why you should or shouldn't go to library school. Assuming you did decide to go to library school (or are already there), then for today's Friday five, here are five things I wish I learned.

  1. Statistics
    I spend a decent amount of my time looking at numbers (door counts, circulation stats, etc) and wondering how best to interpret them. I've never had a statistics course in my life. So I do somethings that I'm not sure are totally valid. But usually I just divide and find the average. Every now and then I have a question and I'm sure I have the right raw data, but I don't know how to find the answer. My sister is a stats genius. I should ask her to do it for me for a birthday present. That's what sisters are for, right?

  2. Management
    I had one management class in library school. Only one and it was only one credit (as opposed to most library school classes that were two credits). It was the most helpful class I took. But I'm a manager now of a small public library branch and I'm mostly self taught. I've read a lot of the books, but I made a lot of mistakes at first and I continue to do so. It's not just managing people. It is also managing a budget, supplies, everything. Running a small library is akin to running a small business. Since I see my future in management, I'm considering going back for a masters in public administration (MPA), but I could understand the appeal of a masters in business administration (MBA) as well.

  3. Advocacy
    What training I've had in advocacy has come from conferences and other similar opportunities. I had zero in library school. Libraries are under fire and if we had more graduates coming out of library school who were politically savvy, knew how to woo donors, knew how to get politicians on our side, I would feel better about our chances. It isn't the MOST important thing, but it would be a nice one credit seminar. We need to know how to prove our worth (then again statistics help).

  4. Graphic Design
    I design a lot of fliers and I'm not good at it. Now that I'm a manager, I delegate that to more talented people. Previous library systems I've worked at had in-house graphic designers and PR systems, but this is a lot smaller of a system. Even larger systems are loosing those positions as budgets are slashed. Knowing how to make a pretty flier/display/newsletter can never hurt. (Web design can be a similar experience. Our system has a person for that, but I still taught myself elements of CSS so I could alter and customize our Summer Reading online program).

  5. Psychology
    I had one psychology course my freshman year of college which was quite a while ago. I'm in an urban library with a large homeless population. We see our share (more than our share some days) of mentally ill patrons. I don't want to offer treatment, but I would like to have a better handle on why the homeless man charged me last week. And perhaps better strategies to work with them. Quite often, I end up in the bartender/priest role of hearing a lot about people's lives. I offer sympathy and general comments without any specific advice. I keep hoping my good intentions and vague generalities will cover up that I don't know the first thing about counselling. (Nor do I want to be a counsellor).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Library School: Yay or Nay?

One of the questions I was asking about the midwinter conference was this:

Would you recommend someone go to library school (masters) right now?
(And to be clear I meant to the masters in library science programs, not the undergraduate programs. Don't even bother with those.)

A few (very few) people gave unequivocal yeses, a similar few said no, most like me said a very hesitant "maybe". I feel like as a profession we're talking about this some, but not enough. There are a ton of blogs (each word is a separate link and I'm only linking a small percentage) and articles about the issue for aspiring attorneys. This is my contribution to the discussion on the library science level.

Let's break this down to the three answers.

YES! Go!
Being a librarian is awesome. More librarians I know (in a very anecdotal unscientific way) are happier with their jobs than your typical white collar cube dweller. A librarian can be a fairly versatile degree with a number of fields to choose from during and upon completion. And if you have a passion for it, then yes, it is an amazingly rewarding field. I love my job. Contrary to what the Beatles say though you need more than love. And I was lucky in that I finished library school in 2006, and switched systems in early 2008 before the huge crashes.

And that leads us to:

NO! Don't go! You'll be poor!
Librarians never made tons of money. But current librarian unemployment rates are staggering. And libraries (public, academic, school, all types) are being cut nation-wide. That means there are a lot of experienced librarians thrust into the job market to compete with newly minted library grads.

A recent study showed that library science had the fourth highest unemployment rate out of nearly 173 majors. It's a bit deceiving of a study as this blog entry explains. (Basically it boils down to those undergraduate degrees in library science. Don't get them. You need a master's degree for professional work. Get a bachelor's in an unrelated field so you have more skills to bring to the table.)

In the searches I have been involved with, I have seen some very, wildly, overqualified candidates for entry level positions. And we've all heard tales of library positions with 150 candidates. It's a big scary world out there. And it can be VERY hard to find a job. Not impossible, but very hard. So think about that before you go to library school.

A lot of the people I know who finished library school with me in 2006 are still sitting in their entry level jobs. Because about 3 years in, when everyone should have been going for the next level position was 2009, well into the recession. (For the sake of argument, I remember the recession getting into full swing in late 2008, go with me here.) A lot of libraries fire on seniority (mine included) and then shuffle the remaining people into the remaining positions. So my friends are staying where they have enough seniority built up to protect themselves. Or they're academic librarians and are staying because they know what the budget clime is at their current institution and can't risk jumping ship to a potentially worse situation. So they're not vacating (voluntarily) those entry level positions making the competition for the entry level positions that do open up that much harder for a new grad.

That's a lot of reasons NOT to go to library school. And that would be my answer to most people. However, for a few people I would say...

Let's start with: why do you want to go to library school? Is it because you love books? You can't see us but every seasoned librarian just rolled their eyes. I've heard professors complain about how many library school application essays start with some variation of that sentiment. Very little of my job is about books, but a lot of my job is about people. I love people. I love connecting people with the information or book they need. I also really love organizing (and reorganizing) things (sooner or later I'm going to figure out the perfect way to store plastic food containers). Those are better reasons to be a librarian. But they're not enough if you can't get a job.

Do you have any real world library experience? Because that person who spent five years being a clerk in a library is going to get hired before that person with the masters in English literature (at least in a public library). Previous library experience proves that you know what this job entails, you can do it, and I don't have to train you on everything. Looking at two newly minted library school grads, I'll choose the one with the real world experiences 9 times out of 10. If nothing else, you MUST do an internship during your schooling. I don't care if your library program requires it, if you don't have any experience, find or create one on your own.

Do you have another specialty? A lot of non-public librarian positions require some sort of other specialty. I understand law librarians are still in high demand, but most places want you to also have a J.D. An academic librarian with a second masters will have an easier time finding a subject specialist position, bonus points if it is a science/technical/math masters. Medical librarians are also in demand, especially if you have a medical background. (I know a former nurse who was physically unable to be a nurse, got an MLS, and became a killer medical librarian at a major hospital).

What other skills do you have? Some of my other skills are wishy washy: I play guitar (only helpful at storytime); I speak French (might be more useful if I were Canadian). Others of my skills are a lot more marketable (fluent in sign language, a TON of experience with youth). Skills that I know libraries are looking for (and often tip the balance when considering otherwise equal candidates): graphic design (a lot of PR & flier design is done by librarians); computer programming skills, web skills (building & designing websites); relevant foreign languages (not French, Spanish in a lot of the country, but I'd be more interested in Hmong). Relevant non-profit work can also help since more libraries are using partnerships to expand what we can do. There are more special skills, but those are the ones that stick out to me. And whatever subset of librarianship you go into will have its own special needs. (When I was a youth librarian it was very helpful that I am an avid crafter.)

Can you move? Sometimes life ties you down to an area, but if you can move, you'll have more choices. Be aware that many libraries no longer have the ability to offer any moving assistance.

So there you have it. I can not unequivocally tell you to go to library school for your master's degree. It isn't the absolute worst idea in the world, but I would think long and hard about it. The strongest answer I can give you is maybe, if you have experience, other skills to bring to the table.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Volume Control

I'm not trying for a perfectly quiet library. I don't sit behind my desk, with my hair in a bun, cardigan, and glasses on a chain and shush people. (Well I do have a desk, wear my hair in funky ballerina buns and wear cardigans, but no glasses chain!) People can converse in normal inside voices. We've got ukuleles for check out and playing in the library. It's a fairly relaxed environment.

And yet still we require a limit to the chaos. I'd realized how bad it gotten when after a two hour desk shift during the afterschool hours I had ringing ears and a headache.

We average between 60 and 110 teenagers that visit the library during a two hour span afterschool every day. That's never going to be quiet. Sometimes no one person or group is noisy, there are just a lot of them. I'm of the belief that middle schoolers are naturally about 10 decibels louder than adults anyway.

We struggle a lot with headphones and music played over speakers on ipods, iPhones, and various other devices. I've ranted posted about this before. Today when I asked a teen to turn down his music, he expressed surprised that "no loud music" was a library rule. I reminded him that this is a library, and he explained that it was a "lousy library" because it's always noisy.

Can't win. If I ask him to turn down music, I'm mean. If I don't, it's a lousy library because it's too loud.

I've been looking at a number of ways to address the noise issue. When you just ask teens to be quieter/calmer, it's subjective and only effective for about 85 seconds.

My first thought was to get a decibel meter attached to a stop light. It's called a Yakker Tracker and has been effective in classrooms and school lunch rooms. Another librarian pointed out it would be extremely unfriendly to teens. A staff member thought they might see it as a personal challenge. True all that. Idea dropped.

My next idea was a portable decibel meter. (I saw them using one on Top Gear and that inspired me.) You can get a relatively decent one for ~$40. The advantage of a decibel meter is it gives me a scientific tool. It's no longer my discretion and face it we all have bad days when we're more sensitive and easily annoyed. The teenagers don't feel that I'm singling them out. It's SCIENCE! Who doesn't love science?

As I was perusing various portable decibel meters, I had a realization. (And I admit this should have come up a lot sooner.) I bet there's an app for that! Sure enough, I downloaded a decibel meter app and started using it immediately.

I consulted various decibel charts to see what an appropriate noise level should be. Finally I decided that a "dull roar" was less than 80 decibels at 5 to 10 feet away from the group of teens. A more ideal number would be less than 70 decibels at the same distance.

So far it is working really well for us. The teens see me walking around with my iPhone out and know what I'm looking at. The objective nature of it prevents them from feeling attacked. They often ask me how many decibels they are. It also gives me ammunition against adults who say it is "too noisy".

I'm happy enough with the app that I am considering purchasing the portable decibel meter for a tool for all staff to use.

So what is everyone else doing for volume control at your libraries?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bye Bye Britannica

Earlier this week the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years of publishing, it would no longer print a new edition. All content will now be available only digitally. This set off tearful editorials, hand wringing, and pearl clutching throughout the Internet. I particularly liked this editorial in the New York Times because it triggered a memory of my own first encyclopedia set. So here for five things on a Friday are random reflections on encyclopedias, reference, and classic pop songs.

  1. Funk and Wagnalls
    My first set of encyclopedias, the one we had when growing up, was a set of Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias. They "sold" them at the grocery store, but I believe you got them very discounted if you purchased x amount of groceries. Or something. I was too young to be much interested in the details. I do know that they were released slowly (or so it seemed to me as a child) and every few weeks we would get the new volume, the next letter in the set. I can remember the excitement of watching the shelves fill up in the living room (I bet they are still there in my parents' living room) and flipping through the latest volume looking at all the colored photos. They got me through our first few years of school reports and random questions.

  2. Microsoft Encarta
    Thanks to my mother's job (running payroll computer systems) we had a computer at home and an internet connection before many of my peers. Before we were online, I can remember the fun of CD-ROM games. My parents were anti-video game and we never had a console system, but we had all the educational CD-ROM games (Dr. Brain, Carmen Sandiego, etc.) My favorite game was an extra feature included with our CD-ROM copy of Microsoft Encarta (a digital encyclopedia). It was called MindMaze and you wondered from room to room answering trivia/general knowledge questions. Each room had its own guardian and quip for you. That was one of my favorite games when I was in middle school. I've always been a sucker for trivia games. And I do remember using Encarta as a source in a few reports; mainly I remember how much of a pain it was to figure out how to cite in my bibliographies. Our librarians had photocopied sheets for us about how to cite new formats like CD-ROM encyclopedias.

  3. New World Books
    One of my favorite things in the year is when the new World Book Encyclopedias come in. They always have this beautiful panoramic/mural style photo along all the spines. All the staff gets excited to see it. So pretty.

  4. A Librarian Confession
    And this is the point where I admit I'm not a very good librarian. I've never directed a patron to the Encyclopedia Britannica for a reference question. Databases or World Book yes, but never the good old Encyclopedia Britannica. It just isn't as useful for quick reference as World Book and as good for in depth reference as a dataabase. So I guess I'm not all that upset about it going away.

  5. Bye Bye Britannica
    I've been trying really hard since I heard the announcement to rewrite the lyrics of "American Pie" to fit this situation.
    Bye Bye Britannica,
    Drove my ferry to the brary but the shelves were bare.
    And good old kids were drinking gatorade
    singing This'll be the day that I upgrade!
    This'll be the day that I upgrade!

    It doesn't work I'm afraid. However I have had that song stuck in my head for two days now.

Friday, March 09, 2012

DVD and CD Suggestion Box

Normally our system does not do suggestion boxes for materials. We have a suggest a purchase link on our website and encourage patrons to use that. (It's so much easier for our selectors). When a patron can't or won't use that, staff might fill it out for them. Staff can also use it to let selectors know of gaps in the collection they notice.

However I have some grant money to spend for my location on DVDs and CDs. Instead of going through the normal media selector, I'm ordering the DVDs and our youth services librarian is ordering the CDs. So for just this location we placed a "Suggest a DVD or CD" box complete with papers or pencils directly on top of the (short) shelves that hold those materials.

Our patrons have been very happily giving us suggestions and I've been emptying the box every two days or so. There are the normal generic suggestions (more exercise videos, more PBS features) and that is very doable. Some of my favorites are for items that we own but were checked out when they asked. But that is neither here nor there.

For today's five things on a friday, I give you five unusual suggestions from our suggestion box:

  1. Comments on staff member's bodies or suggestions of activities to do with them.
    I'm not surprised by this one. I knew this box would have some kind of abuse. But I've never been sexually harassed by comment card before.

  2. A full page typed list (single spaced) of suggestions
    They were all anime. We've actually set aside some of our DVD money especially for anime. I'm really impressed by the amount of time a person took for this.

  3. Vague insults
    One card said "your mom!", another "in your face" and a third "F you". They actually just wrote the F and not the full word which made me chuckle. We're adjacent to a middle school. These things happen.

  4. Stuffing the ballot box
    We have one child who writes down every title he wants three or four times, on three or four different cards, and puts each one individually into the box. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but it isn't an election.

  5. "Akward chink"
    This was written twice (on two different cards), but not by the boy mentioned above. I tried that spelling, the correct spelling, and every possible variation and I can't find a movie, anime, TV show, CD, band name, song name, or anything that would makes it make sense. So I can't purchase whatever it was this person wants. (And I'm quite sure that this is not meant as an insult to any of my staff since I have no staff members of Asian-American ethnicity.) If anyone has any ideas, I'd like to hear them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Language Observations

Before I was a librarian, I was a language geek, specifically a linguistics major. Today I bring you five things on a friday, five language notes.

  1. Bitchin'
    This is apparently back as teen slang, at least in Anchorage. I waited until I heard 3 teens say it in one week before making that declaration on twitter a few weeks ago. I hear it at least that often if not more now.

  2. Awesome possum, cool beans
    Things I say on a regular basis that make me sound like a character on a 50s sitcom. I don't care. Awesome possum and cool beans are fun, happy, cheerful words to say, and I'm not giving them up.

  3. Circulation, discharge
    Words we use all the time in the library field that have limited meaning to the rest of the world. Staff tells patrons to go to the circulation desk or that their materials have not been discharged and they get blank look. Check out desk. Checked in books. And there are a lot more examples. Don't force people to learn our jargon to use our services.

  4. Redemption, repent, lamb of God
    Words we use all the time at church that have limited meaning to to the rest of the world. How easy is it to be new to a church or a faith and not really understand most of what is being said? You redeem coupons and vouchers, what does that have to do with the guy on the cross? When was the last time you heard repent outside of the church? And lamb of God makes no sense without an explanation of traditional Jewish rites. There are a bunch of other words like this, these are those that come to mind right now. Why are we creating a language barrier between those with a lifetime's worth of church background and those who lack that vocabulary?

  5. Adult movies, adult books
    Words that mean something very different outside the library. I am so used to the "adult movie" section at the library which is basically every feature film not geared for kids under 10. I blithely (and naively) wondered into the adult movie section of a video rental store a few years ago reading titles outloud to my friend a few rows behind me. She was laughing uproariously (she's known me long enough to know how my mind works), but I really embarassed the two gentlemen who were browsing in that section. And myself.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Weird even by our standards

When you work in a public library long enough, you get used to a certain amount of crazy. Walking downtown in a major city (not Anchorage) and some companions were concerned about the homeless man yelling loudly at the air as we walked by. Please. I'm a public librarian, that doesn't even phase me. Bring on your best crazy. I've probably seen it before, if not worse.

But this week two events happened that are weird even by my jaded standards.

Unidentified white powder
There are few phrases in our modern era as scary as unidentified white powder. (Probably no cell phone service and the plane has minor mechanical issues are a close second and third.) I was in a meeting talking about spending grant money when my cell phone rang. Since it was the library, and my staff is extremely capable and only calls in emergency, I answered it. My youth services librarian explained that the women's restroom was a disaster zone (read: covered in diarrhea) and there was an unidentified white powder on the floor.

Everyone assumes different things for white powder. Most of the staff assumed drugs. Despite the fact that I had just finished drug awareness training that morning, I assumed anthrax. (Because I'm paranoid and watch too many news shows.) One staff member assumed rat poison. Regardless it wasn't safe for any staff member to get close enough to find out. Police department was called and the restroom locked. They determined it was talcum powder. Janitorial took care of the rest.

Despite the benign resolution, my staff handled it completely correctly. I'm not allowing any of my people to get close enough to smell the powder for fear that they would accidentally ingest some cocaine or rat powder or anthrax. Paranoia is the first step to safety.

Special delivery!
After lunch today, my staff handed me an air mail envelope from Australia. That's fun. There was a koala on the stamp! The addressing seemed to be done by a younger person (judging by the handwriting and smiley faces) so my initial guess was a student looking for a pen pal. The envelope was rather squishy for just a letter.

Please note for future reference that squishy very rarely turns out to be anything good.

There was a short typed note expressing that the author had always wanted to visit our country and was saving up to do so. But until then she wanted to have a piece of herself in all 50 states and had decided to mail some of her hair* to various libraries. (I'm paraphrasing.)

*My sister pointed out I'm lucky all she sent was hair. My sister is smart and perhaps even more paranoid than I am.

Folded up in the note was a small tulle bag of hair. Some of the hair escaped the bag and was loose in the letter. The sender requested I place the hair under the tree or in the sunshine. She did not require an email or confirmation of any sort that I had done this. (Though she did provide a phone number, but no request for communication.)

The sad thing is I kinda get why she did this. It isn't that different than the Flat Stanley project. I've happily photographed four of those around town since moving to Alaska. It just requires no photos and is a bit creepier. And I'm completely unclear on how she chose my library to do this.

I decided against photographing the letter for the blog, though not against blogging it. I'm still undecided about placing the hair under a tree. I probably will because what could it hurt? (Unless she is using it to introduce some sort of foreign parasite to Alaska. I'm not sure how a two inch packet of hair would do that though.)

Perhaps the universe is just trying to see how far they can push me this week. Or make me laugh. Or something.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Blogging about the Newbery

It is my pleasure and honor to serve on the 2013 Newbery committee. One issue of special concern to me was the ALSC policy on social networking and blogging about committee work. This is my first time on a book award committee and I really don't want to do anything wrong. I think I understand it.

I can blog/tweet/facebook about my opinions all I want. I can not blog/tweet/facebook about any of the discussion among committee members or anyone else's opinions. That's fine. I have enough opinions on my own to go around.

This was all told with a caveat. You must be careful. You don't want to give anyone false hope. My opinion is only one out of 15. People pay more attention when you are on a committee. And mostly I am going by the doctrine of "avoiding even the appearance of evil". Or to put it in more secular terms: "Caesar's wife must be above reproach."

So will I blog about the Newbery committee? Yes. Sometimes about the process. My friend Dale has a blog about voting processes and is interested in talking about the Newbery process. (Not which books we liked, but the actual process.) Sometimes about how I am feeling about the workload. Will I blog about every book I read? Nope. I'm writing up notes for myself and that's good enough.

When I was first elected, I was terrified about how much work it would be. Then I talked myself into thinking it wouldn't be so bad. I'm back to being terrified. Last year's committee received 450 books (down apparently from the 600 they used to receive when self-publishers had access to your address). Even if you don't read every book, that's a lot. And you'll read things from other sources (libraries, book stores, etc) as well, not just what comes in the mail. It's a lot of work and I'm back to being scared.

A note on free books: no publisher is required to send committee members review copies of the books. Many still choose to do so. I have not yet received any. This is apparently normal not to get any in January and for it to really kick into high gear in March. I don't doubt I will be laughing at this vague feeling of worry and free time in six months.

For now I'm reading advanced reader copies I picked up at Midwinter (I'll review the final copy as well if it is a serious contender or even a very interesting book or a slight possibility). And I placed holds on some library copies of books for the 2012 publication year.

I will start this little counter though:
books received: 0; books read: 4

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Library Sanctioned Cupcakes

Searching emails for another issue, I stumbled upon these emails from two years ago. And they made me laugh. First there was an email from a coworker that she had found a box of cupcakes on top of the recycling bin by the catalog computers. She brought them into the library workroom then sent an all staff email with concerns about health and safety issues.

I immediately investigated because CUPCAKES! I then proceeded to write one of the best emails of my professional life:
There was a note on the box of cupcakes (which I saw when ***** brought them in) labeled “Free Cupcakes”. I am a cynical untrusting person, but I would not eat a cupcake left in a bakery box by an unknown person in the public library and obviously we don’t allow food on the public floor and we definitely don’t want people to think that this is a library-sanctioned box of cupcakes.

The rest of the staff concurred and the cupcakes were put into the dumpster.

It reminds me of a sequence from the amazing Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. Start here and read the next four.

So would you eat a cupcake of unknown provenance? I didn't.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Five Questions I asked at Midwinter

For Five Things on a Friday, I was going to talk about five things I took away from the recent ALA Midwinter conference in Dallas. I'm still processing so that will have to wait. Instead I want to tell you about the five questions I took with me to the conference. These were questions I asked in discussion groups, at dinners, and hoped to find answers and inspiration from my colleagues.

I always go excited about certain sessions, or speakers, but knowing the real treasure of knowledge happens at dinner in a random restaurant or conversations between formal presentations. Here is what I asked and learned. All of these could be (and still might be) a post on their own, so I am trying to keep it brief.

  1. What do you do when patrons have the latest gadget but no supportive equipment?
    This has been bugging me for a few years now. Parents, especially in the lower socio-economic bracket, will buy a cool gadget for their children. But many of them don't work without a computer to synch them with, or an itunes account and credit card. And the library has computers locked down so tight that we can not download the needed software onto them. It's crushing to tell kids that I can't make their new present work. Brainstormed this with several people. More solutions later.

  2. How does a library manage large numbers of teenagers?
    I've talked about my afterschool hours before. I didn't get a ton of new solutions, but I did get reminded that all of our staff needs a break. I can feel in my soul and see in my staff's faces how very weary, jaded and burnt out we all are. Our busiest hours are 3pm to 5pm so I try to stack reference desk shifts for 2pm-4pm and 4pm-6pm so no one does the entirety of the worst time, and people get a break. Still pondering, especially how do I keep my staff from burning out?

  3. What new book(s) are you excited about in 2012?
    I primarily asked this of publishers as I visited their booth/dinner/breakfast. Partially spying for comittee work, partially to know what will excite my patrons in the next year. (Confession: I heard someone else ask this the first day and stole it.)

  4. Would you still advise people to go to library school?
    This is a question I ponder a lot. Short answer: I probably wouldn't. Long answer to come, at some point. More people said they would not recommed library school than those that would. Of course I didn't ask at any of the library school booths.

  5. What is Newbery going to require of me?
    I am scared and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being on the Newbery committee. That was my primary goal at conferene to understand better my responsibilities. And I do. I'm still overwhelmed but now I'm only quite nervous instead of extremely scared. There are a lot of books to read

Friday, January 13, 2012

Five Things on a Friday - Conference Survival Tips

Are you getting excited about the ALA Midwinter Meeting? Packing? Perusing the vendor list? Playing with the conference scheduler? Constantly typing MidWinter and having to correct yourself to Midwinter? That last one might just be me.

I love conferences. I run myself from 6am (first breakfast meeting) to 1am (drinking with friends) and sleep as little as humanly possible. I catch up with old friends/colleagues and meet new ones. The energy, excitement, and knowledge are better than any form of caffeine. However just going into it can be really draining. There are loads of tips and techniques for making the most of a conference. Humbly I submit mine. I really thought I had written this post (or one like this) before, but I couldn't find it in my archives.

  1. Before going: schedule multiple sessions for time slots
    The conference scheduler provided by ALA has been better and worse over the years, but it works fairly well right now. I always browse and choose as many sessions as sound remotely interesting. I'll put highest priority on the one I think sounds the most interesting. However I often find that once I'm there another sessions sounds more interesting. This saves me from frantically flipping through a conference schedule or trying to pull up the (overloaded) website trying to remember what that other session was. Go ahead and print out your schedule. I export my schedule to my phone, but I'm always prepared for catastrophic technology failure.

  2. Stay hydrated
    Bring your own reusable water bottle. Fun travel tip: you can take an empty water bottle (even one of those metal ones) through airport security and fill it up with water once you're through. Carry that water bottle the entire time, including in the conference hall. Refill it often. Drink a ton of water. You need the fluids. The refillable water bottle is better on your budget and better for the earth then buying water.

  3. Carry snacks
    I have low sugar issues, so this is one of my life mantras. But even if you don't, it's easy to get caught up in the fun of conference and forget to eat (or run out of time). Stock up on some granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, etc., before you leave and you'll avoid getting lightheaded and thinking the $4 conference center muffin is a good idea. (Also true for airports). As a side note, get your coffee before you go to the conference center. Lines are too long. It's not worth it.

  4. You need more business cards
    I only took four once because I wasn't thinking. Don't forget them. Digital era and all, they're still going to be what everyone asks you for.

  5. Be ready to organize paperwork
    Speaking of business cards, you're going to get a lot of them. Turn the card over and scribble a note about why you talked to them. Put them in a dedicated place for just received business cards. Whatever you do don't put them with your business cards. (That way lies madness and embarrassment when you hand out the wrong card.) An envelope put in your purse/briefcase/messenger bag will do nicely, but you can go fancier. I always have receptacles organized for all my paperwork. A folder with the printouts I will need (the schedule, hotel and flight confirmation, registration info, etc.). Additionally I have a folder for handouts and an envelope for storing receipts. This makes my life post-conference about 100 times easier.

There you go. Those are my hopefully practical and helpful conference tips. See you there!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Management Lessons from History

I love history, historical fiction, period dramas, and old movies. Recently I've been looking to them for management advice and techniques.

One of our biggest issues is (as mentioned in previous posts) the large numbers of teenagers. It's a good problem to have but 100+ teenagers in the library can be overwhelming to staff and other patrons. Normally (as I have to explain to some cranky old person* at least once a week) it isn't that any one person is too loud, it is only that there are a lot of people.

Sometimes it is that one person or one group of people are being too loud. If we can not easily identify which kid is the lynch pin and repeated general warnings do not work, we go to one of these techniques.

In the original meaning of decimation, a group of Roman soldiers were punished by drawing lots. One out of every ten was thus randomly selected to be killed. Horrifyingly, he was executed by the nine not chosen.
My form of decimation is a little more humane. If a group is consistently loud and will not quiet/calm down despite repeated warnings, then they get one last warning that the next time some of them will be asked to leave. We then go down the line and count them off (usually by 3's) and kick out a random group (either the 1's, 2's, or 3's). It's surprisingly effective. We only have to do it once and kids then learn to be calmer when we ask them. (We don't ask for perfect silence just a degree of calm and no shouting.)
And as my sister pointed out when I told her this method (after she finished laughing) you can make sure that the number you choose "randomly" kicks out that lynch pin kid. She knows me really well.

I am Spartacus!
If decimation doesn't work, we try this. If they won't be calmer and can't stop hitting/screaming/throwing furniture, just kick out the entire group. Yes even the kid who hasn't been doing as much. It's the same as crucifying everyone if you don't know which is the real Spartacus. We know only one or two kids is tossing the volleyball over the shelves, but we're going to punish everyone. No, it isn't fair. But it does teach you to walk away when you see behavior like that. And in this city, the police can arrest you for hanging around known gang members. Sadly guilt by association is a real thing. We don't use this technique much, but it is very effective when we do.

Two quick techniques to deal with large numbers of teens in the library. We use them sparingly, but they work. In a future blog post, I'll write about my recent obsession with medieval history and the result (hint I'm getting very protective of my sovereignty over my domain).

Happy Reading!

*I wrote this in a cranky moment. A week later and the combined noise of all the teenagers got to me and I snapped. It can be overwhelming and I'm inured to it. It's not only cranky old people who complain, just mostly.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Five Things on a Friday - 2012 Goals

As a general rule, I dislike resolutions on New Year's. I believe any day is a good day to start something better. Why wait until that one day? Make a decision and follow through. However there is a certain psychological thrill for big round numbers (hence why the 38th birthday isn't a big deal but the 40th is). And a new year appeals to that same sense that appeals to round numbers. It's a good benchmark and a pretty decent time to make goals. So here are my Friday Five professional goals. (For the record I was tempted to write in my official goals "continue to be awesome and don't burn the library down" but I resisted.)

  1. Be on the Newbery Committee
    Did I blog about this? I can't recall. I was elected to the 2013 Newbery committee. My term of service is now through next January. I'll read (almost) all the books eligible in 2012 and we will vote and announce the winner at Midwinter conference in January 2013. It's a huge time commitment (bye-bye knitting time) for this year in terms of reading and library conference trips (ALA Midwinter in January 2012 in Dallas, ALA Annual in June 2012 in Anaheim, ALA Midwinter in January 2013 in Seattle). It's not a goal so much as a plan, but it is my first time on an award committee and I'm really excited about it. I'll be blogging in moderation about it.

  2. Teach a class on Craigslist
    Last year's email class was fun and definitely served a great purpose. One of the things I do most is help people navigate Craigslist. I used it to sell my old phone this week and I got confused (and I'm good at this type of stuff). I think it would be a really great and helpful program for our patrons. When I do it, I will require that people have a valid email account BEFORE they come to learn about Craigslist. That always seems to surprise people.

  3. Expand our library's community partnerships
    Currently our two most valuable partnerships are with the Food Bank of Alaska and Let's Talk Anchorage. The Food Bank provides (as part of a federal program) full meals for some of our youth programming. We're hoping to present on it at the PNLA Conference in August. It's a great partnership but we can always flush it out more. I'd also like to see our library staff explore more partnerships as well.

  4. More audiobooks!
    I've been the graphic novel selector for our system for a couple of years now. (I do a bit of additional selecting, managing our leased book plan for best sellers, and spending grant money.) In 2011 I had the chance to place an audiobook order for the standalone audiobook players known as Playaways. This year I will be making all the playaway orders. As an audiobook addict, I'm quite excited!

  5. Take advantage of opportunities. Try something new.
    Too often we get comfortable in a routine and we stick to that. I love this library and the work we're doing. I want that to continue. But I also know that we have been open now for a year and a half, long enough to get routines established. When you first open, with a brand new staff, everything is a first, is new, is experimental. I want to keep that feeling as much as possible. We should keep the enthusiasm for the good things strong, toss the stuff that isn't working, always be willing to try something new. Everyday should have as much enthusiasm as that first week. And when an opportunity arrives, find more reasons to say yes than no.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Hat Knitting Frustration

Warning this is one of the posts that has nothing to do with librarianship and a lot to do with knitting.

I've knit a lot of hats. I'm pretty good at it. Do you hear that? That's hubris. And pride as we know goes before a knitter falling on the floor, weeping and throwing pointed sticks around.

It all started simply. My dad's head is oversized and he has trouble buying a hat that fits him. I thought I would knit him a hat to wear in the winter when he walks the dog. He needs it to keep warm, especially as every year passes and he has less natural coverage up there. He seemed agreeable to this plan. Normally he likes ribbed stocking caps because they stretch to cover his head. I don't like knitting boring stocking ribbed caps because they're boring. Knitted hats should be special. It seemed a bit daring but I chose the Knotty But Nice hat from Knitty. I added a full extra repeat of the cables to make it big enough. It was fun to knit, fairly quick, and turned out lovely. It was mailed to him (mostly) in time for his September birthday.

See how pretty?
Note how the bottom part is wider than it should be? I should have read the comments on Ravelry and done the ribbing down a needle size, the cables up a needle size, and the crown down a needle size. The hat (despite my mods) was too small/too short for Dad's head. Grrr. But it's pretty! (That doesn't count for anything). Yarn is Cascade 220

So I tried again. This time with the Ryan hat in navy blue Ella Rae Classic Superwash (one of my new favorite workhorse yarns). Modified the pattern for worsted weight (basically added a lot of extra pattern repeats and winged the decreases). Made it nice and long so it could be rolled/folded up double over ears. This one was mailed off in the first week of November. It looks lovely, see:

This time Dad thinks it is too big (and too loosely knit).

Now by the rules of statistics and Goldilocks if the first one was too small and the second one was too big, then the third one should be just right. Maybe I'll try that next year. Maybe not.

I knit two other hats for Christmas for D's sisters.

Quest from Knitty in Ella Rae Classic Superwash.

by Brooklyn Tweed in Cascade 220 Heathers

Those two hats fit well and worked well for their recipients. (I really only bat about 50% success rate at knitting for people other than myself.) Now I'm working on two baby hats and a hat for my knitter group's January hat swap.

I apologize for the poor quality of all these photos, I'm never home during daylight hours this time of year.