Manual for the Future of Librarianship

libraryandMy librarian friend Brita, who knows about everything before I do, recently wrote a blog post about her submissions to the Manual for the Future of Librarianship project (under the auspices of the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries, inspired by the Long Now Foundation’s Manual for Civilization). She inspired me to do the same, and I’m sharing my submissions here as well.

1. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd
itscomplicatedIt’s Complicated is a must-read for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who disparages Millennials or “kids these days.” Researcher boyd unpicks the mindset that kids don’t care about privacy and shows how much of online life is “public by default, private through effort” instead of the other way around, making privacy difficult to obtain for those using social media. She makes the case that adults can best protect kids and teens by educating them about risks. boyd also addresses inequality and information literacy.

2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
littlebrotherLittle Brother is a young adult novel, but adults can learn a lot from it too: it’s a fast-paced story set in San Francisco before, during, and after a terrorist attack blows up the Bay Bridge. Seventeen-year-old high school student and hacker Marcus Yallow (a.k.a. w1n5t0n) and his friends are swept up by the Department of Homeland Security as the DHS cracks down on the city, and Marcus’ new mission is to expose their abuse of power. Marcus is more tech-savvy than most people, but Doctorow explains everything in a way that is interesting (and paranoia-inducing). It’s easy to imagine this scenario coming to life, and it leads readers to consider the relationship between privacy, security, and freedom. The follow-up novel, Homeland, is also worth reading.

3. “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming” by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman in October 2013. Photo by Robin Mayes.

Neil Gaiman in October 2013. Photo by Robin Mayes.

British author Neil Gaiman writes across genres and for all ages, and he’s a passionate advocate for libraries. In October 2013, he gave a particularly strong and articulate lecture on the importance of fostering literacy through teaching children to read and making sure they have access to books they enjoy. He also spoke about the positive correlation between fiction and empathy, which has now been shown in a number of studies, and the importance of libraries: “libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication…Libraries really are the gates to the future.” [I wrote about this same speech at length soon after it was published online by The Guardian.]

Julia Glass at the Weston Public Library

On a night that introduced me to the concept of “ice mist” (I think that’s what it was), there was a packed house at the Weston Public Library to see Julia Glass read from her newest novel, And the Dark Sacred Night. I’d seen Glass speak once before, in conversation with her editor at the McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho in 2009, and thanks to a major tidying effort, I turned up my notes from that event just a few weeks ago. At the time, Glass said:

“All serious fiction is emotionally autobiographical.”

“If you choose fiction, you distort.”

“There are always mysteries and things we will never know [about the people we’re closest to]….You cannot know everything about the people you love the most.”

Her words, and especially the concept of emotional truth in fiction, stayed with me, enough to get me out of the house on an ice-misty night. (What is that, Massachusetts? Seriously.)

Hardcover book jacket

Hardcover book jacket

In Weston, Glass started by observing the difference between a hardcover tour and a paperback tour: during a hardcover tour, the material is fresher in the author’s mind, but most audience members haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. With a paperback tour, on the other hand, the author may have forgotten details about the book, but the audience is more likely to have read it.

She spoke about her local connection, having grown up in Lincoln, MA and worked in the library there: “I really regard that library as my third parent.” Glass also talked about how she begins her books. Writers approach stories in different ways, but Glass comes to her stories through character. Malachy Burns’s mother Lucinda, a secondary character in Three Junes, was inspired in a unique way: Glass and her partner were stuck in traffic*, and the bumper sticker on the car in front of them read “Life: What a Beautiful Choice.”  That, Glass realized, encapsulated Lucinda’s Catholic outlook.

*Glass’s advice for couples stuck in traffic is: Don’t talk! It will only lead to fighting over whose fault it is that you’re stuck in traffic. She believes that the declining divorce rate is due at least in part to the rise of GPS devices.

Unlike some authors with ideas spilling out of their heads and onto scraps of paper everywhere, Glass says she doesn’t have lots of ideas for books. “Every time I’m coming to the end of one book, I’m terrified it’s the last one.”

“All of my books stand alone…but I do seem to be in the habit of bringing characters back.”

Paperback cover

Paperback cover

Glass’s books are all set in the semi-recent past. Does she rely on her memory to fill in details appropriate to the decade or year? She laughed at the idea of relying entirely on memory, but said that “personal stories that people tell me make their way into fiction,” and her books are usually set on “familiar turf” (New York, New England). But “research is important for every book…I always want to give myself a challenge…What’s something I really want to know about?” Fiction writers, Glass said, “are the people who want to be everything,” and researching for books is a great way to learn more about other topics and vocations. “There are so many ways of being and living in this world. The ‘what-if’ questions drive us.” Glass is particularly interested not just in what people choose to do, but in how that vocation in turn shapes them.

But research, for Glass, comes after writing. “I bluff my way through writing first, and research later.” For her books, she has interviewed oncologists; doctors familiar with HIV/AIDS treatment in the early days of the disease; classical cellists; and professional bakers of wedding cakes. She has also explored YouTube, especially when seeking particular pieces of music, and has learned to look at the number of page views to find the best quality videos. “YouTube is very dangerous.”

She writes her books from beginning to end, not allowing herself to skip over difficult scenes. Her manuscripts tend to be much longer than the final published versions of her books. Glass’ editor Deb Garrison told her, “You have a wonderful sense of responsibility to your readers…[but] they don’t have to know everything.” This revelation led Glass to cut an entire section from Daphne’s point of view from And the Dark Sacred Night.

After Glass read two scenes from the novel (one from Kit Noonan’s perspective, one from Walter’s), an audience member asked if she could talk more about her third book, I See You Everywhere. “You could see it as a novel, perhaps,” Glass said, but it’s really a collection of linked stories, all of which stand on their own; in fact, one of the stories won the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren award, which was, Glass said, one of the best moments of her life. I See You Everywhere is her most autobiographical novel, which she published once she decided she did not want to write a memoir; “I just wanted to write about a certain kind of sibling relationship.”

I haven’t read And the Dark Sacred Night yet, but I plan to read it soon, and I can definitely recommend Three Junes, The Whole World Over, I See You Everywhere, and The Widower’s Tale. Thanks to the Weston Public Library for hosting, and to Julia Glass for a lovely and inspiring evening.

Incidentally, the ice mist has now turned to snow.

The Official TBR Challenge

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I have officially entered the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. I’ve tagged fourteen of the titles on my TBR shelf (plus two books I don’t own but have been meaning to read, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Graceling by Kristin Cashore) with “2015-TBR” in LibraryThing. Thanks to Linda at Three Good Rats for the nudge to join the official challenge.

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I hope to read even more books from my TBR shelf this year, but this challenge is a good start. I do like checking things off a list…not that books should ever be reduced to mere list items.

The TBR shelf

At the end of 2013, I reorganized my books, shelved all the books I owned but hadn’t read yet together, and declared that I would read them all in 2014.

This plan failed.

In terms of quantity, it wasn’t an ambitious goal. (I ended up reading 147 books last year, and that’s if you count conservatively.) However, as noted previously, I’m much better at reading books with due dates (either from the library or borrowed from friends) than books without them.

Of the 26 books on that top To-Be-Read (TBR) shelf (pictured here), I actually read only three: Life After Life, The Welsh Girl, and Above All Things. Incidentally, they were really good and I’m definitely glad I got around to them. I tried reading White Tiger, both in print and as an audiobook, and decided not to finish it; I also set aside Archetype partway through. There were eight others I decided I wasn’t ever going to read, and I got rid of them.

I still intend to read (or start reading and definitively give up on) twelve of my 2013 TBR books:

Birds of Paradise

Equal of the Sun

Wild Girls (this is my book club pick for January, so I know I’ll read it)

Good Harbor

The Waterproof Bible

American Ghost

Kitchen Confidential

Quiet

The Te of Piglet

The Gospel According to Jesus (my dad sent me this, and I don’t read enough of the books he sends)

Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler

My Heart is an Idiot

From the lower shelf in the photo, I still intend to read God’s Hotel (sent to me by my oldest friend – oldest in terms of time we’ve known each other, not in terms of her calendar age) and Far From the Tree.

I have decided that A Passion for Books is more of a reference book than a cover-to-cover book, therefore I feel no guilt about keeping it, even though I don’t necessarily plan to read it this year.

Over the course of 2014, even as I got rid of some books I finally accepted I wasn’t going to read (or if I did, I’d get them from the library), I added more books to the shelf. So in addition to the titles mentioned above, I plan to read the following:

Invisibility

Nora Webster

The Starboard Sea

City of Women

We Are Called to Rise

The History of Us

Between Shades of Gray

So that’s 21 altogether, which – if I were to read nothing else but these until I had finished them all – should take about three months (Far From the Tree is 976 pages). Make that 22, because I set Our Band Could Be Your Life aside after the third chapter last January and have been meaning to finish it ever since. That’s a year now, if anyone’s counting.

The 2014 TBR shelf, featuring many titles from the 2013 TBR shelf.

The 2014 TBR shelf, featuring many titles from the 2013 TBR shelf.

This is doable. Possibly I can sneak a few more of these in as book group choices, but either way, I’ll either read them or get rid of them “this morning. By noon. By noon or one. By 1:37 exactly!”

Gold star and a Mark Knopfler soundtrack to you if you recognized the Empire Records quote there. But seriously, I’m planning to read these by the end of June. Or by 12/31/15 exactly. Wish me luck, and let me know if I should bump any of them to the top of the list, or off of it.

 

2014 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

The beginning of January: the traditional time to collect statistics on the previous year’s reading. At least, this is the tradition on librarian blogs. See: Jessamyn West, Meredith Farkas, and my co-worker Linda.

Last year I read 154 books; here’s the complete wrap-up from 2013. In 2014 I re-discovered picture books in a big way, so I’ve got an inflated-looking number (281!) as well as a more comparable one (147).

Number of books read in 2014: 281

Books per month average: 23.4

Total page count: 54,111 (most picture books are 32 pages, most audiobooks are “unpaged”)

Fiction/Nonfiction split: 244 fiction/37 nonfiction

Books read minus 6 partially-read books: 275

And minus 128 picture books: 147

Books per month average minus partially-read books and picture books: 12.25

Audiobooks: 20, including a few re-reads (Will Grayson, Will Grayson; My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece; Landline; Every Day), not including one I didn’t finish (White Tiger)

The male/female author split in my library (read, currently reading, and to-read)

Figure 1: The male/female author split in my library (read, currently reading, and to-read)

Female/male authors: roughly 50/50 if this year is consistent with my library as a whole (see Fig. 1)

5-star ratings: 18 books (though two of them were The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one in English and one in Spanish).

And as Linda wrote, “I stand by my 5-star ratings, but when I look at what I read this year, there are many other books that really jump out at me, that when I see them on the list I think ‘That one was really good.'” It’s hard to tell, when you finish a book you really liked or loved, if it will stick in your mind or not. Some fade quickly, and others continue to grow in your memory until they’re firmly lodged there; these are the ones you end up recommending to others for years, even if they weren’t the ones you raved about the instant you finished reading the last page.

For the Robbins librarians’ collaborative blog post about our favorite books of 2014, in which we  particularly focused on books with 2013-2014 pub dates, I chose to write about The Bone Clocks, Station Eleven, All the Light We Cannot See, Men Explain Things to Me, and Far Far Away. I also strongly second many of the other librarians’ choices, including The Magician’s Land, Landline, Thunderstruck and Other Stories, Say What You Will, and I’ll Give You the Sun.

As for reading resolutions, stay tuned. Or if you’re looking to make a reading resolution of your own, check out Linda’s blog post about reading challenges, or mine on bookish resolutions.

 

Thanksgiving vacation reads: middle grade books

I read a lot of picture books, and a lot of YA (to say nothing of adult fiction and nonfiction). Recently, though, I went on a middle-grade kick, and found some fantastic books. (Plus, it felt great to read an entire grocery bag full of books in a week. You can do that when the print is a little bigger, and you don’t have to go to work.) Some of these were recommended to me by friends and librarian-friends, some I chose from the ALSC summer reading lists for grades 3-5 and 6-8, and others came from review journals or blogs.

Print books

bookcover_questforamaidQuest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry: Someone at my book club was staggered that I hadn’t read this growing up, so I remedied the situation, and this book was right up my alley. It’s got a little bit of magic and a lot of adventure, with a gutsy young heroine, Meg, and her loyal friends: Peem Jackson, a cottar’s boy whose life she saved (and who, in turn, saved her life several times over), and Davie Spens, a clever young boy with a harelip that prevents others from understanding him. (Meg can understand him, though, and they wind up betrothed at a young age.) Meg winds up as the protector of the young princess of Norway during an ocean crossing that is cursed – by Meg’s own adored older sister Inge. (Inge is definitely the most complex character in the book, but it’s Meg’s story.) This fits perfectly between The Boggart by Susan Cooper and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. The Scots dialect isn’t too tricky, and there’s a glossary in the back.

bookcover_wednesdaywarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt: Set on Long Island during the 1967-68 school year, this is the story of seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood, lone Presbyterian in a class full of Catholics and Jews, often at the mercy of his teacher, Mrs. Baker, who makes him read Shakespeare, probably because she hates him. (Actually, Holling realizes pretty quickly that she doesn’t, and also that Caliban has some pretty good curses.) Beyond ordinary seventh-grade concerns, world events intrude into the everyday life of teachers and students, most notably the war in Vietnam. This is a great piece of realistic recent-historical fiction that features a character who is beginning to be aware of the world and people around him, including his conservative father, flower child sister, disempowered mother, and his teacher, who, it turns out, wasn’t born behind that desk.

bookcover_lemoncelloEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein: This was such a fun read! It reminded me of The Westing Game and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I’ve always liked mysteries and puzzles, and this is full of both, plus there are tons of allusions to other books and authors, from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to Sherlock Holmes. The main character, Kyle, is the youngest of three brothers, and he loves playing games, especially Mr. Lemoncello’s games. It turns out that Mr. Lemoncello has designed the new library in town, and Kyle is one of the lucky twelve to enter it first. The lock-in turns out to be a contest, a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Kyle quickly teams up with his friend Akimi. Kyle demonstrates a really interesting set of qualities: he loves games and is competitive, but he’s also fair to the other players, and he’s generous with his family, friends, and teammates. Charles Chiltington provides a foil for Kyle: he’s got all the competitiveness but none of the sense of fair play, and he’s arrogant besides. Naturally, Kyle’s team prevails, but the tight time frame and the puzzles make for a page-turner. (Grabenstein’s next book is out in March 2015!)

bookcover_dollbonesDoll Bones by Holly Black: He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies.” Poppy, Zach, and Alice are all struggling with the transition from childhood to adolescence: Zach’s dad, who has been absent for years, wants him to be more manly; Alice’s grandmother will ground her for the slightest offense; and Poppy is afraid that she isn’t changing, when her closest friends are. These realistic fears blend with the surreal: a doll they call the Queen makes ghostly overtures to Polly, sending all three of them on a quest to return her to her home. Will this be their last game? Or is it for real? Between Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, I actually expected this to be much creepier than it was. It has remained pretty vivid in my memory, though.

bookcover_grimmlegacyThe Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman: This was a really enjoyable read full of fairy tale lore, set in modern-day New York. Elizabeth Rew hasn’t really made friends yet at her new school, but one of her teachers sends her to interview for a job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Depository. It’s a library of sorts, but instead of lending books, it lends all kinds of things – including objects from the Grimm Collection, objects associated with the fairy tales the Grimm brothers collected. Something shady is going on with the GC, though, and Elizabeth has to figure out if she can trust her fellow pages – hotshot basketball player Marc, prickly Aaron, and beautiful, competent Anjali – and how they can find out what’s going wrong, and put a stop to it. The Grimm Legacy is fast-paced, magical, and realistic; it will capture the imaginations of those who want to believe magic exists, but know that sometimes it creates more problems than it solves. (It inspired me to pick up Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, too.)

bookcover_titanicTitanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson: No matter how much I read about the Titanic, it turns out I can always read more – and learn something new. Deborah Hopkinson’s Titanic is an excellent new resource, with a clear, chronological narrative; she highlights a few lesser-known survivors, including men, women, children, passengers from all classes, and crew members. There’s plenty of added value in the form of photographs, illustrations, charts and lists, a timeline, primary source documents (such as letters from survivors), and a bibliography. One letter from a third-class passenger who survived read: “Our ship struck an iceberg. I went on deck and met a sailor who asked me to help lower the boats. The sailor said, ‘Take a chance yourself.’ I did, as did my friend, but the officers came along and ordered us off the boat. A woman said, ‘Lay down, lad, you’re somebody’s child.’ She put a rug over me and the boat went out, so I was saved.”

bookcover_wimpykidDiary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: This “novel in cartoons” takes us through a year of middle school for Greg Heffley. Greg’s certain he’s amazing, but he’s stuck with a lame best friend, a jerk older brother, and bullies at school. He gets himself (and hapless friend Rowley) in trouble trying to circumvent rules and/or make money, but despite the repercussions, he doesn’t really change his ways – he continues blithely on with his self-confidence intact. He’s honest, if unreflective, in his journal, and it’s clear he’s trying to do his best to jump through all the hoops set up by school and parents. The cartoons are entertaining and I can definitely see the appeal, though I’m not the target audience.

bookcover_bignateBig Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce: Nate knows he’s “destined for greatness,” and a fortune cookie fortune confirms that he will “surpass all others today,” so it must be a great day! But class after class, Nate collects detention slips from each of his teachers…when is his good fortune coming? Irrepressibly optimistic and confident, Nate is somewhere between Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Jeff Kinney’s Greg (Wimpy Kid). Text is interspersed with comics, and both are pretty funny. (“You have so much POTENTIAL!”
“And this is news? Dude, I KNOW I have potential. I’m just SAVING it for something more important than school.”)

bookcover_countingby7sCounting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: For someone grieving, moving forward is the challenge. Because after extreme loss, you want to go back.” Twelve-year-old Willow Chance was adopted at birth, and she is also a genius, but that doesn’t help her fit in during her first day at middle school. It also doesn’t help when she loses her adopted parents in a car crash. Without extended family or close family friends, Willow latches on to teenage Mai, Mai’s mom Pattie, and her brother Quang-ha. Willow’s unimpressive school counselor, Dell Duke, is also drawn in, by virtue of having been there when Willow got the news. Over the next few months, in shock and grief, Willow binds these people to her and begins to rebuild her life. Willow’s insights and the way she processes her loss are unique; this is a memorable book.

Audiobooks

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan: This is YA, and I’ve read it before, but the audio version is amazing. Should you happen to be going on a seven-hour car ride, you can’t bring a better traveling companion than Tiny Cooper.

bookcover_nightmaresNightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: I’ve been waiting for this to hit the shelves ever since I first heard about it. Celebrity books can be hit or miss, but I had faith in Jason Segel (The Muppet Movie, How I Met Your Mother, and did I mention The Muppet Movie?), and my faith was rewarded. I missed out on the illustrations in the print version, but his narration more than made up for it. Segel and Miller used some familiar elements – a stepmother (“stepmonster”), a haunted house, a doorway/portal between worlds (the waking world and the Netherworld where nightmares reside) and spun them into an original tale about Charlie Laird, a boy who faces his fears and defeats them. Charlie is afraid – his fear is so big that it allows the door between the worlds to open – but when his little brother Jack is threatened, Charlie finds he has the courage to rescue him.

bookcover_gregoroverlanderGregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins: I’m less than halfway through this right now, but I like it very much so far. Eleven-year-old Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, fall through an air duct in the basement laundry room of their New York apartment and find themselves in the Underland, which is populated by four-foot-tall cockroaches (“crawlers”), pale and violet-eyed humans, bats, and most terrifying of all, rats. Gregor realizes this is the place his father disappeared to over two years ago, and he makes it his mission to find him. The Underlanders believe Gregor is the warrior in one of their prophecies, so they agree to help. Fly you high, Gregor: I suspect you’ll survive your mission, as this is a series now.

There is a LION in the LIBRARY: My love affair with picture books continues

extrayarnTuesday was Veterans’ Day, and the library was closed. A librarian friend was in town, so what did we do? Went to bookstores, of course. This friend is a children’s librarian, so naturally we ended up in the picture book section, discovering new titles and sharing our favorites. She read Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s newest, Sam and Dave Dig A Hole, but I decided to wait for the library copy to come in so I could read it with my husband. (He’s hooked now too. We just read Barnett and Klassen’s Extra Yarn and loved it.)

tangomakes3I tried Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Egg again, but I still didn’t love it as much as Oliver and His Alligator, one of my all-time favorites (“…a lady who was NOT his mom…”). I finally read And Tango Makes Three, the oft-banned nonfiction book about penguins in the Central Park Zoo, and thought it did a beautiful job telling the story in a straightforward way. (The illustrations of the fuzzy-headed baby penguins didn’t hurt, either.) I discovered Marcel the Shell in print (The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been), and Birgitta Sif’s Oliver, about a little boy whose only friends are toys and puppets…until he chases his tennis ball into another little girl’s yard and finds someone who’s different in the same way he is.

meerkatmailAt home, we’ve been on an Emily Gravett (Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear) kick; my favorites so far are The Odd Egg and Meerkat Mail. The latter might be the first epistolary book I’ve seen for the picture book crowd: Sunny the meerkat goes visiting relatives and sends postcards home to his family.

Before Gravett’s books, I brought home a stack of Peter Reynolds’ books, after seeing him speak at this year’s NELA conference. We both loved The Dot and Ish, colorful books with lots of white space that encourage readers to let their creative and artistic sides flourish.

Reading picture books as a grown-up is different from reading them as a kid (or having them read to you), when pattern and rhyme are particularly important. As an adult reader of picture books, I like a blend of cute, funny, and sincere: too much of one quality and not enough of the others makes the book less enticing to me. (However, I remember reading Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt and Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw’s Love You Forever as a kid and not finding them cloying at all – though Love You Forever did make my parents tear up. And don’t even mention Bob and Jack: A Boy and his Yak by Jeff Moss and Chris Demarest to my father unless you want to see a grown man cry.)

journeyThe best books are those that maintain their appeal, reading after reading. One way to achieve this lasting appeal is by making the reader do the work: books with minimal text, such as David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles and Aaron Becker’s Journey, let the reader narrate from the illustrations alone. The story can change from reading to reading, depending on who is reading it. (Mr. Wuffles can get particularly vehement at our house.)

Stories that encourage a lot of expression in the reader, and reaction or participation in the listener, are also sturdy favorites; one of these is Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer, which always seems to be checked out of the library. George is a dog, but instead of barking, he meows, quacks, and moos. George’s mom hauls him to the doctor/vet, who reaches deep down inside George and pulls out the true cause of George’s curious sounds. George’s mom’s mounting frustration and surprise, and George’s own innocent surprise, make this book a favorite, even before the ending – but I won’t ruin it for you. Read it yourself!

librarylionGot any favorite picture books I haven’t mentioned here (or here)? Please share in the comments.

The title of this post comes from Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes’ book Library Lion, which should be the default graduation gift for any library school student.