Still here

It’s been a little while, but I’m still here. The last week and a half has been difficult because of a tragedy that occurred at the library. In the aftermath, everyone has been incredibly supportive: town officials, library administration, the local community, and the broader library community have all shown care and concern in different ways. Patrons left kind notes in the book drop while the library was closed, many people sent flowers or brought food, and a counselor has led coping groups and met with people individually.

In more pleasant news, I just wrote a long post about my favorite picture books for toddlers. And I just attended a singalong at the Cambridge Public Library for the first time and was inspired to make a song cube as a future storytime tool. (The song cube idea is stolen directly from my friend and colleague LB, a genius children’s librarian if there ever was one.) I actually had more songs that I wanted to include, but a cube only has six sides…I may need to make another one the next time we use up a box of tissues.

Song cube decoded: Turtle for “I had a little turtle, I named him Tiny Tim,” Rocket ship for “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon,” Spider for “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” Hand for “If you’re happy and you know it,” Teapot for “I’m a little teapot,” and ABC for the alphabet song. All pictures drawn freehand with marker and crayon, except the hand (traced my two-year-old’s hand).

I’m also very excited to be attending PLA for the first time this year. I’ve started combing more closely through the schedule, and realized that there are at least seven sessions that I want to attend in the same time slot on the same day. Where is Hermione’s Time Turner when you need it?

Questions for you, readers: (1) What are your favorite storytime inventions, songs, and books? And, (2) Are you going to PLA? Which sessions are you excited about?



New year, new look (and ALA YMA!)

After several years (long enough that the theme I’d been using, Misty Lake, was retired), I’ve chosen a new WordPress theme to have an updated look. (In real life, I also got a haircut, new glasses frames, and a new job. So. Changes.) Please let me know if something isn’t working the way it should!

As part of my new job, I get to work in Children’s Services, and I am loving it! I am “upstairs” at the adult services desk most of the time, but I work “downstairs” in children’s once a week. Neither desk is as busy as the library where I worked before, which is nice for me as I learn on the job. So far, projects have included cataloguing the storytime collection and organizing and updating booklists by topic/theme/genre and age/grade/reading level. (I’m making booklists “upstairs” too – read-alikes for book group selections.)

There are definitely some different questions in children’s, and some of them are much more serious and emotional than any I encountered working at the adult desk; for example, twice in less than two months I’ve helped people find books to help explain death and grief to their young children. I’m also working hard to familiarize myself with books for younger readers, particularly the chapter books and early middle grade books. A self-assigned project I’m working on is to read all of the 2017/2018 Reading Rocks books, a program for fourth- and fifth-graders in the town. (I made a new tag for it in LibraryThing; I’ve read 5 out of 20 so far.)

Big news in the children’s/YA world today is, of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards (YMA), including the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Printz. The live stream of the announcement was here, and the award and honor books are listed below the video. As usual after the announcements, I celebrate the titles I read and enjoyed (this year: A Different Pond, Piecing Me Together, The Hate U Give, Saints & Misfits, The Eyes of the World) and start requesting those I haven’t (Wolf in the Snow; Hello, Universe; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut; Long Way Down; The First Rule of Punk; We Are Okay).

Did you watch the ALA Youth Media Awards? Which winners did you cheer? Are there any books you wish had gotten awards or honors that didn’t? Which books have you added to your to-read list?

Screenshot of old blog theme
Goodbye, Misty Lake theme. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

2017 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Previously: 2016 year-end reading wrap-up | 2015 year-end reading wrap-up | 2014 year-end reading wrap-up | 2013 year-end reading wrap-up

Number of books read in 2017: 240

Number of reviews by month
Number of reviews by month (2017)

Audiobooks: 15, mostly children’s and YA, and including three of the partially-read books (though one of those was a Neil Gaiman short story that I realized I’d already read in another collection)

Nonfiction: 34, including a couple of nonfiction picture books and a few of the partially-read books. Also, one entire book about compost.

YA/children’s (middle grade) books read: 31

Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy

Partially read books: 16, including a few cookbooks and gardening books (i.e. not necessarily designed to be read cover-to-cover)

Books read in 2017, excluding picture books and partially read books: 120

Average number of books read per month (excluding picture books and partially read books): 10

Five-star ratings: 13

Total page count: Too damn annoying to calculate from LibraryThing exports. A lot.

Author Gender pie chart
Author Gender pie chart from LibraryThing: now a definite majority of my authors (nearly 54%) is female, while 46% is male.

Looking ahead (well, further into) 2018, I haven’t set any specific goals and am not participating in any challenges.* Some of my favorite authors are publishing new books this year, and I’m looking forward to those, of course – Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Walton, Curtis Sittenfeld. Like last year, I’m aiming to read even more in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks area, for myself and for the little one. (Lately, she’s really liked Jabari Jumps, Thunder Boy Jr., and A Different Pond.)

Books that have been recommended to me by more than one person (triangulation: not just for fact-checking anymore!) usually move up on my to-read list. I’ve already made a dent in the to-read list I made in November: I’ve read Fun Home, The Hate U Give, Rebecca; I have Far From the Tree checked out from the library, and my book club just chose The Bear and the Nightingale for February. (I have the cape, I make the whoosh noises! Note: that’s a link to a Cyanide & Happiness cartoon panel.)

*Okay, not entirely true: I do plan to read all of the “Reading Rocks” books [PDF] for the 4th- and 5th-graders in Winchester, where I am now working. Proper blog post about this change to come! So far I’ve really liked Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and am listening to the excellent audiobook of Stella By Starlight.

I do occasionally read things other than books, though I don’t get credit for it in LibraryThing: most days I read at least one article from The New York Times, and most weeks I read a few pieces from the LitHub (“the best of the literary internet”) email newsletter. I read most of the Library Link of the Day links, and occasionally will find a good piece in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or somewhere else (Teen Vogue!) via Twitter or Publishers Lunch.

So that’s the 2017 wrap-up. How was your year in books?

Favorite books read in the second half of 2017

Here we are, nearly halfway through January, and I’ve finally made my list of favorite books that I read in the second half of last year. (See favorites from the first half of 2017.)

There’s really no need to confine it to a list of ten, is there? Here are some books I really enjoyed over the second half of 2017.

Children’s/Teen (not picture books, that will have to be a whole separate post, there are SO MANY GOOD ONES, this truly is a golden age of picture books)

All the Bright Places and Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (audiobooks): Really top-notch realistic teen fiction set in normal high schools. These kids aren’t as clever and quippy as John Green characters; they’re damaged and struggling, but they find and help each other. Reminded me a bit of Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will).

Cover image of The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (audiobook): Pure, perfect fairytale/fantasy, truly inventive. Every character has their reasons for doing what they do, good and bad. Magical.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (audiobook): A prose poem that is easy to listen to, the story of a young girl who leaves Vietnam with her family (sans missing father) and arrives as a refugee in the American South. Full of imagery, and all the feelings that come from being different in a new place.

The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu: I requested this book with trepidation, as a review mentioned Bridge to Terabithia. That comparison is not inaccurate – consider yourself warned.

Cover image of Tumble and BlueTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley: Tumble doesn’t believe in curses – until she meets Blue and his family. Beasley (Circus Mirandus) creates an entirely different type of magic in this book: two families, blessed and cursed, vie for a special blessing under a red moon in a place called Muddy Branch.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford: I adore Greenglass House and everything about the world of Nagspeake that Milford has created; Ghosts is no exception.

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore: I read this genre-infused, Choose Your Own Adventure-style novel over the course of three or four days, and it got so thoroughly into my head and my imagination that I thought about it even while I was sleeping. Very different from Graceling but no less brilliant.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: Just finished reading this a second time, actually. Quite possibly one of the best ways to better understand what it’s like to have a mental illness, and also a really good book. I loved the (unusual, for YA) epilogue-type ending.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman: Immensely satisfying. I could spend forever (or at least ten years) in Lyra’s Oxford. Can’t wait for the next volume.

Adult Fiction

When the English Fall by David Williams: An Amish man’s journal entries of a period of time including some type of disaster that wipes out all of our “English” conveniences: electricity, engines, etc. A few English join the Amish, and others protect them, but the community doesn’t want violence done on its behalf.

Among Others by Jo Walton: When I finished this book, I realized that very little had happened, and yet I loved it. Technically a fantasy novel (a witch, fairies, magic), the whole thing is a love letter to sci-fi, and librarians.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: A blurb compared this to Jane Austen, and I scoffed, but actually…it’s sort of like Jane Austen meets the first season of Downton Abbey, with a bit of Maggie O’Farrell (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox) thrown in. A small English town becomes more and more affected by the Great War, first taking in refugees, then losing its own men.

Cover image of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: This is such a brilliant title (if you have to say you’re fine, you’re obviously not) and I loved the cover too. Awkward, cranky, pedantic Eleanor narrates her story of being in the world, a rigidly circumscribed existence due to past traumas, as her routine begins to break down and she forms relationships with other people.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Five perspectives on a Clinton/Lewinsky-type political scandal in South Florida; marvelously, pointedly feminist without sacrificing anything of character or plot. Zevin is great.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: What happens when women become physically stronger than men? (Hint: not a utopia.) A thought experiment with several narrators’ perspectives. Really, really thought-provoking and at times truly visceral.

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines: A time-travel road trip through American history, with our heroes pursued by terrifying faceless men, all searching for the physical manifestation of the American Dream. Fun!



Cover image of All These WondersThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: I’m not a devoted listener to The Moth podcast, but these stories are amazing even on paper. There’s not a dud in the bunch, and in a collection with this many stories, that’s saying something.

Mama Tried by Emily Flake: So funny, so true, so disgusting. A chronicle of pregnancy, childbirth, and the early days of parenting, all in a quick graphic novel format. The author, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, lives in Brooklyn, a.k.a. hipster/yuppie-parent ground zero.

Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado: This was on the Arlington Reads Together (a.k.a. Community Read) shortlist, and it got my vote. A straightforward personal story of what it’s like to live at, under, or near the poverty line. If you can read this and not be convinced that we need a better social safety net – particularly better protection for workers, and high-quality universal health care – well then…read it again.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen: A thoughtful analysis of ten different modes of “unruliness,” as represented by eleven different women in the public eye. A forceful refutation of the myths that sexism isn’t still powerful and that feminism is no longer necessary.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein: A recommendation from an extremely well-read and music-loving friend encouraged me to pick up this memoir about Brownstein’s childhood, adolescence, and life in Sleater-Kinney (Portlandia fans, be warned: the show is mentioned only once). I had “Dig Me Out” and “One More Hour” stuck in my head for days.

So – what were your favorite books of the year? Keeping in mind, of course, that none of us have read All the Books and our opinions are subjective (see this thoughtful, funny piece from The Cardiff Review on “best of year” lists).





Services for library patrons with low vision or hearing loss

This training was held on March 26, 2015; I typed up notes to share with my co-workers but didn’t write a blog post at the time.

Perkins Solutions hosted a “Library In-Service” at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown to help make libraries more accessible. I went to learn more about what kinds of difficulties and obstacles patrons with disabilities face in libraries and what libraries can do to help alleviate those and make the library more welcoming and easier to use. After all, the Library Code of Ethics states, “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests” (emphasis added).

Here are some takeaways from the training:

Navigating the library for blind patrons (physical and online)

  • Offer to help if it looks like someone needs it, but do not touch them; the courteous thing to do is ask, e.g. “How can I help you best today?” They may want to take your arm (don’t take theirs) or they may not want physical contact.
  • If they have a guide dog, do not pet it; the dog is working. It’s nice to have a water dish for dogs, especially in the summer.
  • Websites are important; accessibility is key, but there is a difference between ADA compliance and true usefulness and efficiency.

Assistive Technology: Low-vision people are an “unseen, underserved” population. The technology has gotten very advanced; now it’s our job to catch up to technology, and do outreach to bring these potential patrons into the library.

  • CCTV (video) magnifiers: the reading material is placed flat on an X-Y tray (it moves on an X-Y axis, up and down and side to side), and the text is magnified on a screen. This is a “live” view of original material. Another version has a trackpad instead of the X-Y tray.
  • Handheld video magnifiers: These are good for scanning or skimming, not for long in-depth reading. They are portable and have more accessibility features than a simple magnifying glass.
  • OCR devices/magnifiers: This device presents a digital view by using OCR [optical character recognition] to capture the text and present it on the screen, but the original context and layout are lost.
  • Large print keyboards, keyboard guards: Large print keyboards (sometimes color-coded) can help low-vision people type. Keyboard guards can help those with fine motor control issues (e.g. Parkinson’s) choose one key at a time without accidentally pressing others.
  • iPads: iPads are very accessible!

Digital Accessibility: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to all agencies that receive any federal funding. There are three easy-to-check pieces of HTML code that will make your website more accessible:

  • Check that every page has a title (e.g. <title>Using the Library – Robbins Library</title>)
  • Check that the language is set to English (lang=”en”)
  • Use alt-text to caption images. If an image is decorative, like a border or a line, hide it by using alt=””. Otherwise, describe the images, e.g. alt=”Children listening to a librarian during a storytime in the Community Room”

Screen reading software such as MAGic or JAWS can also help patrons with low vision or blindness.

Patrons with hearing loss

  • One out of six Baby Boomers have hearing loss. In Massachusetts there are an estimated 546,022 people living with hearing loss.
  • To communicate with a person who has hearing loss, get their attention before speaking. Make eye contact. Try to avoid background noise, backlighting, or darkness (anything that makes it hard to see your face).
  • Ask the person for their preferred method of communication. Writing back and forth on paper or a whiteboard, or typing back and forth, is one good method. If you’re speaking, keep your hands away from your mouth, speak at a moderate pace without exaggerating or shouting, don’t overemphasize lip movements. Use short sentences. Rephrase as necessary.
  • Walk people to the area they’re looking for, draw a map, or give directions by hand signal.
  • Relax and be patient. Don’t ignore the person and have a conversation with someone else.
  • Don’t comment on how people communicate, even “compliments.” Don’t assume deaf people know sign language.
  • Keep a large-print, step-by-step “how-to” guide for the catalog, library databases, etc.

Assistive devices

  • Assistive listening devices (ALD) amplify sound for people with impaired hearing. Can keep at reference desk (make sure it’s charged!) and/or use during programs: the speaker wears a mic, the receiver wears headphones and a pocket device.
  • Assistive Listening Systems and Induction Loop: this is a loop built in to the perimeter of a room so that people with hearing aids or an ALD can “tap in.”
  • Text Telephone (TTY) Services (e.g. Sorenson, Purple, Convo, ZVRS) may be used by some deaf people to make phone calls; an ASL interpreter will facilitate the call.
  • Online chat reference should be accessible (large print, subject to screen reader software)

Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library Services

Perkins Library also offers resources directly to patrons; anyone with a print disability can be a member. (Keep applications [PDF] at the reference desk!). They can also contact visually impaired people in the library’s community, and help set up volunteer programs in libraries to help patrons learn how to use assistive technology.

What assistive technology does your library offer? Are there specific outreach efforts to promote these services? What barriers to access remain?


A year of read-alikes

readalike logo/graphic, made in Canva
Logo designed in Canva

This year on the library blog, I started writing a new monthly post suggesting “readalikes” for one of our most popular books that month. It’s been a useful readers’ advisory tool, both for readers eager to read the most popular books, and for those who have already read them and are looking for similar titles.

Of the most popular books each month, I   featured books from different categories or genres, from literary fiction to nonfiction, young adult fiction to cookbooks.

January: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – a psychological thriller

February: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – a personal account of growing up as part of the declining white working class

March: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – a popular work of literary historical fiction set in the Metropol hotel in Moscow in the 1920s, by the author of Rules of Civility

April: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – YA fiction inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and racial inequality

May: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – short stories by the author of My Name is Lucy Barton

June: Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan – literary fiction about a complicated family, set in Ireland and Boston

July: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken – a leftist political humor memoir (note: Franken has since resigned from the Senate after accusations of sexual harassment)

August: Dying by Cory Taylor and The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs – memoirs and other nonfiction on the topic of death and dying

September: What She Ate by Laura Shapiro – culinary historian Shapiro looks at three famous women through the lens of food and cooking

October: Glass Houses by Louise Penny – the newest Three Pines mystery featuring Armand Gamache

November: Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman – a second cookbook by the blogger with a dedicated following

December: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan – a new work of historical fiction by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, set in WWII-era New York



Early literacy and 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

1000 Books Before Kindergarten logoThe 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative is one I first heard about via the Cambridge Public Library. Like all the best arts & crafts projects and recipes, it looks wildly impressive, but is actually quite simple and manageable. As their mission statement says, “Numerous studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success. Public formal education does not typically start until ages 5-6. Before then, parents and caregivers are the first education providers during the 0-5 early critical years.” The goals of the organization are simply “to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers” and “to encourage parent and child bonding through reading.”

A thousand books sounds like a lot, but remember that picture books are short, and board books are really short. If you read just one book a day, that’s 365 books in one year, 730 books in two years, 1,095 books in three years, and 1,460 books in four years. It doesn’t have to be a thousand unique books, either; young children love (and learn from) repetition, growing more familiar with words, rhymes, and patterns.

If your parents, caregivers, and teachers read to you when you were a young child, then you’ve already shared this experience and it will be easier for you to model it from the other side. If reading aloud to/with a child isn’t as natural for you, or if you aren’t sure why it is important, here are some resources to help:

  • Reading Tips for Parents from the Department of Education (in English and Spanish)
  • Early Learning tips from the Hennepin County Library: “Learn how all family members and your public library can help prepare young children to be readers with five early literacy activities [talk, sing, read, write, play] that are fun yet powerful ways to encourage early learning.”
  • The Six Early Literacy Skills [PDF] from Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR)

If you don’t know what books to read to (or with) your child, librarians can help! If you can get to a storytime, that’s great – a good storytime librarian will model great read-aloud strategies, and for younger ages will often include fingerplay, songs, and rhymes; reasonable people don’t expect two-year-olds to sit still and listen quietly for half an hour! A decent bookstore is also likely to have a weekly storytime, and staff who can recommend great books for little ones.

If you can’t get to a storytime, just ask a librarian or bookseller what they recommend, and they should be able to give suggestions based on your child’s age and interests. Here are some other resources for finding great books to share with your child:

Does your library, bookstore, school, or other organization support 1000 Books Before Kindergarten? Have you participated with your child? There are participation resources on the site, from reading logs to certificates to apps to hashtags, though my favorite idea is keeping a handwritten reading journal. In general I don’t like incentives (e.g. “if you read 100 books you get a sticker”) because reading is its own reward (intrinsic motivation), but I like the T-shirt – it reflects pride in an accomplishment, and helps spread the word about the program.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library
1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library (names and faces obscured for privacy purposes)