BEA 2014, Part One: When we love a book, we can’t stop talking about it

Thanks to Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes (perhaps better known as “the Unshelved guys“), I got to go to BookExpo America (BEA) for free this year. I built a schedule in advance with the BEA show planner, and ended up following the schedule pretty closely.

BEA14WedThe keynote on Wednesday afternoon, “The Future of Bricks and Mortar Retailers,” was focused on booksellers, but much of it could apply to libraries as well. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, noted that there was a “real resurgence in indie bookselling,” and that “localism” was becoming a powerful movement (“Small Business Saturday” being one example). However, it’s still a challenge to convince customers to think of bookstores as places to buy e-books.

Michael Tamblyn, president of Kobo, acknowledged that the virtual browsing experience doesn’t (yet) match the physical, but that booksellers could be strategic about what books they stock in print. Romance novels, for example, sell better in e-book format, so it’s less important to have them on the shelves – just point customers toward the e-bookstore. Cookbooks, gift books, and picture books, however, are much more popular in print.

John Ingram, CEO of Ingram, said of digital and print, “it’s not either/or, it’s either/and.” Many readers buy both print books and e-books; this is supported by research from Library Journal. On the limited (thus far) success of bundling a digital book with the purchase of a print book, Ingram said, “Somewhere in there, there are economics that work for everybody.” Ingram also proposed that “each [bookstore] could be a publisher.”

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstore, had great advice about connecting to the community and attracting customers. Tattered Cover has 500-600 events annually, including storytime, author events, and “Book Happy Hour.” She recommended using media, including public radio and podcasts, to “be part of the story.”

BEA14_tatteredcoverOf course, the keynote wouldn’t have been complete without a dig at the ongoing Amazon/Hachette issue; indie booksellers “make ALL publishers’ books available all the time.”

BEA14buzz

Next was the BEA Editors’ Buzz. Robert Sindelar from Third Place Books in Seattle moderated a panel of seven editors, each of whom raved about one book from their list. Sindelar said he initially had a negative reaction to the word “buzz,” but said it connotes activity; “When we really love a book we can’t stop talking about it.” The best editors and salespeople, he said, are “cool, have good taste, and know how to talk about books.” All editors on the panel fit this description, and after the event there was a mob around the tables of galleys that resembled hyenas feasting on a carcass. (Note to the organizers: Spread the galleys out. Use more than two tables for a room of a few hundred people. Have an exit plan. Have signs. Encourage people to form lines. Etc.) Though the print galleys disappeared in a flash, e-galleys should be available through Edelweiss. Here are the titles and authors:

  • Jenny Jackson from Knopf called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel “a requiem for the world as we know it.” This “plausible and terrifying” book, which she compared to Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, is about art and fame, and has already garnered positive word-of-mouth buzz.
  • Marysue Rucci from S&S described Matthew Thomas‘ ten-years-in-the-making We Are Not Ourselves as an “epic” of three generations of an Irish family in New York, a novel that describes “the great unwinding of the middle class” and “resilience in the face of disappointment.”
  • Lee Boudreaux from Ecco mentioned a slew of comp titles for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, including Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Song of Achilles, Slammerkin, and The Signature of All Things. Suspense builds in this “dollhouse mystery” set in 1700s Amsterdam.
  • Jeff Shotts from Graywolf Press was aware of the irony of his last name when introducing On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. This slim work of nonfiction addresses parents’ impulse to protect themselves and their children, as well as issues of race, class, and government, and the “far-reaching ramifications” of the “implications of vaccination.”
  • Amy Einhorn touted My Sunshine Away by M.O. Wilson from her eponymous imprint. Like The Help, My Sunshine Away is set in the South, and the story is inseparable from the setting. A debut novel and a literary mystery, My Sunshine Away is about adolescence, family, memory, and forgiveness.
  • Josh Kendall from Little, Brown admitted that author Laird Hunt was “not the new guy,” but that Neverhome was going to be his breakout novel. Hunt discovered a trove of letters in a family barn in Indiana, and those letters inspired this tale of a woman who goes to war in place of her husband.
  • Colin Harrison from Scribner closed the session with The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League But Did Not Survive by Jeff Hobbs, Peace’s roommate for two years at Yale. This is a true tale of poverty, race, education, drugs, murder, discrimination, and fate.

And that was just the first day. Stay tuned for more.

Elizabeth McCracken in conversation with Paul Harding at Porter Square Books

thunderstruck“I’m just tickled to see you all here,” Elizabeth McCracken said to the audience after a Porter Square Books staff member and author Paul Harding introduced her. McCracken is a former public librarian and the author of Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry: Stories (1993), The Giant’s House (1996), Niagara Falls All Over Again (2001), the heart-wrenching memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (2008), and, this year, Thunderstruck and Other Stories. McCracken said that she had thought she might not go back to writing stories, but when a novel she was writing wasn’t working out, “I tossed it aside and it broke into pieces.” Three of those pieces, including “The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston,” made it into Thunderstruck.*

The conversational format was excellent, especially as both writers are extremely – and in Harding’s case, surprisingly – funny (Paul Harding is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers, a lyrical but decidedly un-cheery book), and McCracken taught Harding at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so they know each other well. Harding, a former drummer (?!), asked how McCracken settled on the sequence of the stories in Thunderstruck. They are not organized in the order she wrote them, but the oldest, “Juliet,” is first, and the newest, “Thunderstruck,” is last.

They talked about the recurring themes in McCracken’s work, particularly loss and missing people. “I just repeat the same things over and over again,” said McCracken. “A finite deck that you keep reshuffling,” agreed Harding, but while “it’s easy to keep most stories at arm’s length if you want to,” that’s impossible with McCracken’s work. She is fond of writing in the second person, which can be effective at drawing the reader in, but also has its risks.

Harding used this example:
[Author writing in second person] “You’re in a bar on a Tuesday night, snorting coke–”
[Reader reaction] “No, I’m not.”

McCracken’s “you” is more generalized, though, and works well; she shifts from third person to second so smoothly the reader may not even notice at first (“Whatever you have lost there are more of, just not yours.”). She was self-effacing about Harding’s praise (“Anything I do is entirely accidental”), but I suspect there’s rather more to it than that.

Speaking of her fascination with lost people, including relatives she’d never met, she said, “Grandfather McCracken was a genealogist.” (She pronounced it jenny-ologist, a career I’m fairly certain no one has, except possibly an obsessed young man in a yet-to-be-written Nick Hornby novel.)

They moved on to talking about the writing process. “Writing is not a particularly efficient process,” said Harding; he compared it to archaeology, digging through the rubble and picking the best bits. They talked about truth in fiction, and the “distinction between imaginary and factual truth.” McCracken, with good humor, called it “aggravating” when something she had made up turns out to be true.

sinewave_credo

Sine wave illustration from The Penguin Dictionary of Science

Harding observed that McCracken writes in “experienced time, not linear time,” and is great at “not over-determining.” He described a sine wave with his hands in the air: “Anything between here [top of sine wave] and here [bottom of sine wave] could have happened.” It’s a way of acknowledging that “somewhere in the universe, things are different.”

“It was on this day, a Monday, that we first saw Juliet.”

McCracken read from the beginning of “Juliet,” then the Q&A began. Someone asked a version of the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, and McCracken answered, “Stories can arrive in any different way…Every story in this collection occurred in a different way.”

How do you shift between the story and novel formats? “Writing a great short story is harder than writing a great novel.” She might one day write a great novel, she said, but “I am never going to write ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’” While that point is indisputable, and it’s true that Elizabeth McCracken is not Flannery O’Connor, this overlooks the fact that she is Elizabeth McCracken, and many readers would respectfully argue that she has already written great short stories.

Do you write poetry? “I used to write poetry. It was really bad.” She would go to poetry readings and become inspired to write poetry, but then realize, “I don’t want to write poetry; I want to write that poem you just read.” She said, “Poets are better at leaving things out.” Dream Songs by John Berryman is a favorite collection of hers.

While poets may know when to leave things out while they’re writing, McCracken knows when, where, and how to cut something she’s already written. She said it is easy for her to cut whole pages and paragraphs, but to cut “a single sentence pains me.” She is unsentimental about her writing, to the point of scrapping whole stories entirely. (At this point, I’m sure a few people in the audience considered stealing her trash in order to read these abandoned stories.) Harding asked, “If you have to cut a line you love, do you ever smuggle it into the next thing?” YES, McCracken answered, no matter how many tries it takes. And some things reappear again and again: “I’ve written a house fire into everything I’ve ever written.” McCracken is likewise fond of writing about cake, furniture, and corpses in the walls. (Need I say there was more than the average amount of laughter at this author event?) Harding suggested that these things provide the armature “while you figure out what the story is really about.”

I wanted to find a way to ask Elizabeth about the following passage from “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey.” Surely, only someone who taught writing could or would write such a passage:

     Somewhere, a dog barked. No, it didn’t. Only in novels did you catch such a break, a hollow in your stomach answered by some far-off dog making an unanswered dog-call. Dogs were not allowed at Drake’s Landing. Still, surely, somewhere in the world a dog was barking, a cat was hissing, a parrot with an unkind recently deceased owner was saying something inappropriate to an animal shelter volunteer.
     Outside, in the light from the Drake’s Landing floodlights, the snow sparkled like something that wasn’t snow. Diamonds, or asphalt, or emery boards.

How has teaching affected your writing? She replied that she had included the cliche sentence “Somewhere, a dog barked” because Ron Charles had said something about it on Twitter and, being “so bloody-minded,” McCracken wanted to include it in her next book. I couldn’t find the original Twitter exchange, but I’m calling this McCracken 1, Ron Charles 0.

Why did you choose “Thunderstruck” as the title? “I really like past tense verbs.” She’s interested in “what happens right after a disaster.” She also pointed out a strange fact: thunderstruck is a word, but lightningstruck isn’t – even though thunder doesn’t actually strike and lightning does.

Do you know where the novel is going when you start? “I know who’s alive at the beginning and who’s dead at the end,” but not how. (How Shakespearean!) McCracken was careful to note that her process works for her, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. “Every single writer is different. All that matters is that you manage to write from the beginning to the end.” McCracken writes chronologically, from page one through the end, then moves things around. (Cake, furniture, corpses, fire.) “Your job is to figure out what your process is” – there is no one right way. The “terrifying and wonderful” thing about fiction writing is “there are no rules. Absolutely no rules.”

McCracken told of being on a panel with her friend Ann Patchett when an audience member asked, How do you know you’ve chosen the right scene to write? In fiction writing as in life, Patchett said, “You make a decision and you stick with it.” McCracken revealed that for some, there is more second-guessing, regret, and doubt involved. “The way that you write fiction is the way you process life,” she said. Then she introduced a cooking metaphor: If writing a novel (or short story) was like making a souffle, she could stand in front of a room and teach people how to do it. Difficult, yes, but there are steps to follow; it could be done. However, “There’s no souffle in fiction writing…All you can do is make the stew you’re going to make.” (Harding said of his own creative process, “I feel like I’m taking dictation from the universe. If I’m sitting in front of the drums it comes out as rhythm, if I’m at a laptop it comes out as words.” A lovely idea, but again, there’s probably more work involved than that.)

Overall, an absolutely lovely evening. I’m so glad I got the chance to see her speak!

Someone at Porter Square Books was live-tweeting the talk.

 

*Edited to add 5/23/14: elizmccrackentweetSo there you have it!

MLA Conference 2014, Day Two (Thursday)

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 8.53.24 PMHarvard Library Innovation Lab: Pop-Ups, Prototypes, and Awesome Boxes

Annie Cain, Matt Phillips, and Jeff Goldenson from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab  presented some of their recent projects. Cain started off by introducing Awesome Box: the Awesome Box gives library users the opportunity to declare a library item (book, audiobook, movie, TV show, magazine, etc.) “awesome” by returning it to an Awesome Box instead of putting it into the book drop. Library staff can then scan the “awesome” items and send them to a custom website (e.g. arlington.awesomebox.io), where anyone can see the “recently awesome” and “most awesome” items. Instead of librarian-to-patron readers’ advisory, it’s patron-to-patron/librarian. Cool, fun, and easy to use! “Awesome” books can also be put on display in the library.

Phillips talked about the idea of “hovermarks,” bringing favicon-style images to the stacks by placing special bookmarks in books. Patrons or librarians could place a hovermark in a book to draw attention to local authors, Dewey Decimal areas, beach reads, favorites, Awesome Box picks, or anything else. It’s a “no-tech” way to “annotate the stacks.”

Goldenson floated the idea of a Library Community Catalog, inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog. The Library Community Catalog could contain real things, ideas, speculations, interviews, or other articles. It could be “hyper-local,” in print and/or online.

Of the three ideas presented, Awesome Box is definitely the most developed, and Harvard, which “isn’t necessarily known for sharing,” is eager to get it into public libraries. Contact them if you’re interested in setting it up at your library!

Libraries are Keeping Readers First: An Update on the National Initiative and How You Can Participate

Readers First is “a movement to improve e-book access and services for public library users.” Kelvin Watson from Queens Library and Michael Santangelo from BookOps presented an update on this initiative, explaining the work that’s been done thus far and how far we have to go. The more people (and libraries) sign on, the stronger the team, the better ability to effect change. Already, said Santangelo, Readers First represents over 20 million readers.

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 3.57.31 PM

It’s worth going to the Readers First site (link in the previous paragraph) to read their principles. The two main challenges regarding e-books in libraries are availability and discoverability/access. Availability is an issue with the publishers; the issues of discoverability and access can be taken up with the vendors. Because libraries are only indirectly connected to publishers, but directly connected to vendors, Readers First decided to focus its efforts on the discoverability/access challenge.

Santangelo said that Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science applied to e-books also (save the time of the reader, (e)books are for use, etc.) and that libraries have a responsibility to ensure open, easy, and free access to e-books the same as we do for print books. However, the e-book experience now is fragmented, disjointed, and cumbersome, creating a poor user experience. This is where the four Readers First principles come in: readers should be able to discover content in one comprehensive catalog; access a variety of content from multiple sources; interact with the library in the library’s own context; and read e-books compatible with all e-reading devices.

A Readers First Working Group sent a survey to vendors in order to create a guide to library e-book vendors. This guide will help librarians who are choosing an e-book vendor for the first time, or moving from one to another; it will also help vendors design their systems and decide what to prioritize.

Watson said that libraries should see vendors as partners, and challenge them to “do the right thing.” Librarians should hold all vendors accountable to the Readers First principles, with the end goal of a seamless experience for the user. The long-term objective, said Michael Colford of the Boston Public Library, is to “have the discovery layer be the platform.” Until then, we’re relying on APIs. “We can make things less complicated, but we can’t make it easier,” said Santangelo.

Readers First is working with the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) to develop standards for e-books, but according to Watson, the perfect format hasn’t been invented yet. (Other than PDFs, most e-book files are proprietary formats, wrapped in DRM and not usable across devices.)

MA E-Book Project

Deb Hoadley presented an update on the Massachusetts E-Book Project on behalf of the Massachusetts Library System. I was already familiar with the project because Robbins is one of the pilot libraries, but it was good to review the history, see where the project had hit snags, and hear from other librarians at pilot libraries (Jason Homer from Wellesley and Jackie Mushinsky from WPI) about how they had introduced the project to patrons.

150x71-MA-EbooksYou can read about the project’s history, the RFP, and see updates on the website, so I want to use this space to draw a parallel between the MA E-Book Project and Readers First. Although the pilot consists of three different vendors (BiblioBoard, Baker & Taylor (Axis 360), and EBL) with three different models, the end goal is a single e-book platform that offers integrated and seamless discovery. Any Massachusetts resident would have access through this user-friendly platform to e-content that is owned – not licensed – by Massachusetts libraries; local content would also be hosted and discoverable.

Although we are far from this goal right now, “Our vendors are listening to us,” said Homer. He said that participating in the pilot project has enabled him to start conversations with patrons about how much we spend on e-books now and why we need a new model. Mushinsky, who added local content through BiblioBoard, said that we need to ask, “Will this resource be of value to us? Can we add value to it?”

I came away from these two sessions (Readers First and the MA E-Book Project) convinced that we have the right goals, and dedicated people working toward them, but a little depressed at how far we have to go. Slowly but surely…


Teaching the Tools: Technology Education in Public Libraries

Clayton Cheever live-blogged this session; his notes are posted on the Teaching the Tools site.

Anna Litten from Wellesley did an excellent job moderating this informative panel. Litten and the other panelists (Michael Wick, Theresa Maturevitch, Jason Homer, and Sharani Robins) built a website called Teaching the Tools: Libraries and Technology Education, which they hope will serve as a resource going forward. To borrow from the site: “All reference librarians are technology trainers, educators and instructors these days.  But what does it really mean to teach technology topics in public libraries?  What can and should we teach?  How does technology instruction fit into our broader mission and core responsibilities?  What resources are available to use and to our clients?  How do we become better presenters and instructors?”

The panelists addressed these questions during the session. They all teach in their libraries, but the teaching takes different forms. “I teach to whatever question comes to the door, in whatever way the learner can understand it,” said Wick. Maturevich talked about printed brochures, online resources, and videos; Robins talked about beginner classes, one-on-one sessions, and “Wired Wednesday,” when patrons can drop in for tech help. Robins has also had reps from Barnes & Noble and Best Buy come in to help people with e-reading devices, and she often uses the resources at GCF LearnFree.org. Homer teaches intermediate classes in the Wellesley computer lab, and other Wellesley staff teach beginner classes. Clearly, there are many approaches, and flexibility is key.

Litten suggested taking the time to read instructional design blogs; most librarians don’t have a background in instructional design, but the field does exist and there’s a lot we can learn. “We have to focus on what’s going to work,” she said. “If it’s not working, abandon! Abandon!”

What to do when you offer a class and no one shows up? Wick and Litten talked about forming partnerships in the community. “We can be really useful to you in ways you didn’t even realize,” said Litten. “Listen,” Wick encouraged. Ask people, “What do you want? We’ll give it to you.” As for whether teaching technology is part of the library’s mission, Wick said, why wouldn’t it be? “We help everybody with everything else. Why aren’t we helping them as much as we can, more than they’re asking?” Find your audience first, said Wick, then design your classes.

Some library staff are reluctant to teach classes, but that isn’t the only kind of teaching. Nor do tech teachers have to be experts; in fact, said Wick, good teachers can be just one step ahead of their students. Knowing the librarian/teacher is not an expert but a fellow learner can put patrons/students at ease. Confronted with a question she doesn’t know the answer to, Maturevich often uses the line, “I don’t know either, but this is how we find out.”

“Good instruction depends on having good goals,” said Litten. “We’re already doing these things, we just need to do them a little bit better.”

carlitos_Simple_Pencil_ho

That’s all, folks! If you missed it, you can read about Wednesday’s sessions here (part 1) and here (part 2).

See the whole MLA conference program here [PDF]

 

MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part Two

Read a recap of the first three sessions of the day in Part One.

Working with and Managing Multigenerational Staff/People

In a day full of really good sessions, this might have been my favorite. Presenter Cally Ritter was fantastic: organized, energetic, a skilled moderator who blended small group talk with lecture and discussion. The lack of diversity in libraries is a common topic, and it’s true that in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, library staff skews toward middle-class Caucasian women, but in terms of age, library staff spans the whole range:

“Traditionals” (b. 1945 or earlier; 69+) 4% of the workforce
“Baby Boomers” (b. 1946-1964, 50-68) 44% of the workforce
“Generation X” (b. 1965-1980, 34-49) 44% of the workforce
“Generation Y” (b. 1981-1999, 14-33) 8% of the workforce

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 8.29.46 PM

In small groups, we talked about what characterized each generation, from pop culture (TV/movies, music, hairstyles) to historical influences to preferred working styles. Because of the generational differences, Ritter said, we all need to “upgrade” from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated. In order to do that, we need to listen to what people want. Ritter suggested having a conversation about preferred communication styles (face to face, phone, e-mail, paper memo, text, etc.) and then establishing norms (because it’s not efficient to send the same message through five different channels). In a situation where coworkers’ communication styles are different, Ritter asked, whose responsibility is it to shift their style? Who needs to change? (Answer: Yes!)

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 8.29.31 PM

The age diversity among library staff as compared to other professions is remarkable. What could be the cause? One idea is that the age diversity of staff reflects the age diversity of the “customer base” – library users are all ages. One audience member/participant said, “We need all these generations to do what we do.” To which Ritter responded that every workplace needs age diversity. We should remember that what we have in common unites us more than our differences separate us; we are more similar than we are different. We should avoid stereotypes, communicate strategically, encourage collaboration, and capitalize on the diversity of thought. And get ready for “Generation Z” (b. 1999-), the Millennials…

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 8.30.02 PM

Building Intergenerational Collaboration & Programs: Serving People of Different Ages

Andrea Weaver developed the Bridges Together program, which brings different generations together. It has been used in school systems, and recently at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury, MA. Weaver started the session at MLA by asking the audience to think of their first memory of interacting with an “older adult” (OA). Many people mentioned grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, neighbors, or teachers. Then, Weaver asked what activity this interaction included, and people mentioned reading (of course – it was a room full of librarians), music, games, food, holidays, and gardening.

The term “multi-generational” means that multiple generations are included; the term “intergenerational” indicates a skipped generation, e.g. grandparents and grandchildren.

Demographically, there are more and more OAs, but there are fewer opportunities for interaction. Many kids now have little or no experience interacting with OAs, and that’s what the Bridges Together program aims to correct. OA volunteers are paired with children and they build a relationship over the course of several weeks. According to Weaver, these intergenerational programs help reduce or prevent ageism, increase compassion and respect, give kids a chance to learn about possible careers, give OAs a chance to reflect on their experiences and share their stories, and give kids (and OAs) attention.

Where do libraries come in? Libraries build community by giving people permission to engage with each other. This can take the form of the Bridges Together program, or any other form; potential programming partners include the Council on Aging (every city/town in MA has one), the senior centers, garden clubs, theater troupes or dance companies, the Cultural Council, the historical society, the Parks & Rec department, and after-school programs. Other ideas mentioned: an oral history project; watching and discussing silent films, then looking them up in IMDB; hosting an intergenerational book club. (Weaver suggested books by Jennifer Chiaverini, Adriana Trigiani, and Dorothea Benton Frank; these authors generally write about multiple generations of families. She also read from a book used in the Bridges Together project, How Old Is Old? It’s out of print now, but there are still a couple copies in Minuteman.)

That’s it for the Wednesday sessions! Thanks to those who live-tweeted other sessions on Wednesday, especially Kristi (@booksNyarn), Anna (@helgagrace), Clayton (@cfcheever), Erin (@ErinCerulean), and Beth (@infogdss29).

Thursday session post(s) coming soon.

We interrupt this broadcast…

Another post or three about MLA still to come, but first: May 6 was International Day Against DRM. Please go read what Sarah (a.k.a. the Librarian In Black) has to say about this, and follow all her links (especially check out Defective By Design).

librariansagainstDRM“Consumers, and libraries by extension, should have the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software we choose.” -Sarah Houghton

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part One

It’s that time again! This year, the Massachusetts Library Association conference is in Worcester, and once again the lovely and gracious Friends of the Library enabled some of our library staff (myself included) to attend. Here’s my round-up of the first three sessions I went to today, with more to come. Several conference-goers are also on Twitter (#masslib14).

Brand New You: How Libraries Use Branding to Establish Relevance and Engage Users

Anna Popp from the Massachusetts Library System presented on MLS’ experience developing their brand with Walter Briggs of Briggs Advertising. Popp convened a task force and established a clear decision-making protocol (essential, according to Briggs). Popp and Briggs explained that an organization’s brand is evolutionary, not visionary; it’s not the same as its vision or mission statement (‘it’s not what you aim to be, it’s what you are’).

MLS logoThe process involved brainstorming everything about the organization, then crossing out everything that wasn’t unique, with the goal of distilling it down to 3-5 words or phrases – the “brand mantra.” The brand mantra is an internal tool, and is not the same thing as a tagline (e.g., Nike’s brand mantra is “Authentic Athletic Performance,” not “Just Do It.”) MLS came up with “Uniting, Empowering, Library Enhancement.” The brand mantra is “the most important deliverable” from the branding process, more important even than the logo (at left). The logo’s job is not to show or tell what an organization does.

The tagline should be “evocative, inspiring, brief, lyrical” and have “integrity.” The (awesome) MLS tagline is “Stronger together,” which perfectly suits an organization dedicated to building a statewide community of libraries, empowering those libraries, and championing resource sharing.

Briggs finished the presentation by sharing some of his past work. I especially loved the Patten Free Library tagline, “More than you’ll ever know,” and the tangram-like logos (below) for the Curtis Memorial Library (both libraries are in Maine).

CurtisMemorialLibrary logoCurtisMemorialTeenCurtisMemorialKids

 

 

 

The takeaways from this session included: (1) Recognize what people bring to the table, (2) Establish role clarity – who will have an advisory role, who will have a decision-making role?, (3) Let people do their jobs, help when necessary, (4) Prepare to learn something about yourself, (5) Plan ahead, but be prepared for eventualities and opportunities. It may be hard to prove the ROI on a logo, but Popp mentioned the idea of “mindshare”: “in marketing, repetition wins.” Establish your relevance and constantly reaffirm it.

An Agenda for Information Activism: Internet Freedom and Press Freedom Today

Kevin Gallagher stepped up here in place of the original presenter, Josh Stearns, formerly of Free Press. Gallagher clearly knew his stuff, particularly the threat that government mass surveillance poses to journalists and society at large, and he did a good job on short notice. He wasn’t the most comfortable speaker, and his presentation jumped around a little bit; the audience wasn’t all familiar with some of the terms he used or the services he referenced. The presentation had no handouts or visual component (other than the trailer for the upcoming Aaron Schwartz documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy). However, privacy is something librarians care deeply about, and this program took a step toward convincing us all to do more research for ourselves, and think about what we can offer patrons, both in terms of tools and education. Here are a few points and links from the session (thanks also to Alison Macrina of Watertown Free Public Library):

  • When the government undermines and weakens Internet security standards for the purposes of surveillance and data-gathering, it makes us all less safe, not more.
  • There are library privacy laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Patron privacy and confidentiality is essential for the free pursuit of knowledge.
  • If the government can collect metadata on journalists’ communications, that exposes journalists’ sources, whose confidentiality should be protected.
  • Read the full text of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto by Aaron Schwartz on the Internet Archive.
  • “There is already a war” against whistleblowers, journalists, and activists (examples: Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, Edward Snowden, Barrett Brown, Jim Risen).
  • “We need a new Church Committee.”
  • Government agencies and private companies are collecting personal data and metadata. Be aware of what personal data private companies are collecting, and what permissions you are giving when you use services like facebook. See Terms of Service; Didn’t Read.
  • Use search engines that value privacy, like DuckDuckGo, or use plugins like Ghostery or services like Disconnect.me. Install Tails, an operating system that lets you use the Internet anonymously via TOR.
  • What can we (in libraries) do? Use more privacy and security tools (like https everywhere from the EFF). Use free and open software instead of proprietary software (“There’s a free and open alternative to everything”). Make sure patron privacy policies are up to date, and make sure we aren’t collecting any more patron information than necessary. If libraries are receiving federal funds that force compliance with CIPA, make sure you aren’t filtering any more than you have to – or, if possible, don’t accept the strings-attached funds. Host a “crypto party.” Support the USA Freedom Act, make FOIA requests. Remember the Library Bill of Rights.

How We Doin’?: Public Libraries Using LibSat to Gather Patron Feedback

The Los Angeles Public Library uses LibStat.

The Los Angeles Public Library uses LibStat.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) is providing LibSat from Counting Opinions to all Massachusetts libraries for a three-year term. All library directors have the login information, and can pass it on to any of their staff. From what we saw in this session, LibSat is a pretty incredible tool to gather continuous patron feedback about their library experience; data nerds in the room were audibly delighted.

This session began with the proverb “A guest sees more in an hour than the host sees in a year.” Patron feedback is valuable to libraries, offering reminders of how much people appreciate library services and staff as well as presenting opportunities for improvement; patrons who rate the library’s importance as high but their satisfaction with the library as low direct attention to areas for improvement.

LibSat offers patrons a choice of a short survey (3-5 minutes), a regular survey (5-7 minutes), and an in-depth survey (~15 minutes). Other than possible survey fatigue, there’s really no reason MA libraries shouldn’t be using this tool. The results could really come in handy when it’s time to prepare those annual reports…

Next up:

Working with and Managing Multigenerational Staff/People

Building Intergenerational Collaboration & Programs: Serving People of Different Ages

Last year’s (rather long) MLA posts:

4/24/13: Teaching Technology to Patrons and Staff & Afraid to Advocate? Get Over It! & Library Services and the Future of the Catalog: Lessons from Recent ILS Upgrades & Loaning E-Readers to the Public: Legal and Strategic Challenges

4/25/13: On Life Support, But Not Dead Yet!: Revitalizing Reference for the 21st Century & Authors, Authors, Authors!: Three Local Authors Strut Their Stuff & Analyze Your Collection & Print and Digital Publishing: How Are Publishers, Editors, and Authors Adapting.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Some novels take place over the course of a day; some cover several decades. How much story is an author able to fit into 350 pages or 500 pages or 750 pages? How much they can develop their characters so the reader feels like they are real people? These questions point to the magic and the mystery of writing. A reader might pause on page twelve and wonder, How do I already know so much about these people? How did the author do that? Or the reader might be fifty pages in, thinking, Nothing has happened yet, but I sure do know a lot about nineteenth-century London. Some writers are economical; some are expansive. Either kind of book can be powerful.

storiedlifeajfikryGabrielle Zevin does a lot with a little. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is 272 pages, and it covers about sixteen years. A.J. is a widower and a bookshop owner on Alice Island; he has just told off a new sales rep, Amelia Loman, and is proceeding with his plan to drink himself to death when he discovers two-year-old Maya in his shop, accompanied by a note. Soon afterward, Maya’s mother’s body washes up on the shore, and instead of handing the baby over to social services, A.J. decides to keep her.

A.J. does the paperwork and jumps through the necessary hoops off-screen, as it were, leaving the reader to enjoy Maya’s non-christening christening party in the bookstore. Because of Maya, A.J. becomes involved in the life of the town in a way he never did before; though his wife Nic was an islander, A.J. himself was perceived as an outsider. He emerges from his shell, becoming friends with the remarkably kind and sensible police chief, Lambiase, and forging a relationship with Amelia. (Again, they surmount some practical obstacles – i.e., the inconvenience of her living on an island when her job involves so much travel – off the page.)

“Shelf-talkers” for short stories serve as section dividers. These are addressed not to the reading public, but to Maya; the reason A.J. is writing these becomes clear late in the book. Maya’s history is also revealed: Lambiase discovers it (along with the valuable copy of Tamerlane that went missing from A.J.’s apartment just before Maya’s arrival) not through detective work but when he begins to date A.J.’s ex-sister-in-law, Ismay, after the death of her husband.

The characters in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry are at once easy to slot into roles, and more complicated than they appear. Books and stories play a powerful role in all of their lives, and there is a good deal of book-related wisdom throughout this novel, delivered with a light touch. “We are what we love,” A.J. finally concludes. Most people who love books (and especially those who have ever dreamed of living in a bookstore) will like this one.