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.