Back in March (which seems much longer than three months ago), I wrote a feature article for Information Today, and now it has been published! If you are one of the librarians who helped, either by providing your feedback or proofreading, you have my sincere thanks. Here it is: “Ebooks in Libraries: Equal Access to Digital Content?” (Hint: no, not yet. But we’re working on it…)
I have not written here for two months – the longest gap since I’ve started this blog – but I have been reading. Here are a few of the adult fiction standouts over the past couple months.
“We have to make choices. I used to think we had time to do anything we wanted, but we can only do some of the things in any one lifetime.” -My Real Children
My Real Children by Jo Walton
I just finished this tonight, and I loved it; it spans a century, and the part that takes place from WWI to WWII reminded me strongly of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. We begin in 2015, when Patricia is in a nursing home, “very confused.” On top of her ordinary memory problems due to aging, she remembers two separate lives. The reader wants to know which is real, of course, but both are equally real in the world of the book; only in the final pages does Patricia work it out (at least, I think she does; it’s a bit open-ended). This has been on my to-read list for a while and my book club is discussing it this month; I’m eager to hear what others thought of it
Liz had tried not to experience the doubly insulting sting of being excluded by a person she didn’t care for. –Eligible
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I suggested this for book club also. The main appeal for discussion is to compare it to Pride & Prejudice, which some of us remembered better than others. I have adored Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous novels (Prep, American Wife, Sisterland), and had high expectations, tempered only somewhat by mixed reviews. In the end, I thought she did an excellent job adapting Austen’s story and characters, bringing them into present-day Cincinnati, New York, and California. Mr. Bennet’s quips are sharp, and Liz is observant (with one significant blind spot). Highly enjoyable, though it ends on Mary Bennet, which is a bit odd.
He considered how memories hold our lives in place but weigh nothing and cannot be seen or touched. -Father’s Day
Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy
Sad and lovely as all his novels and stories are (The Illusion of Separateness, Everything Beautiful Began After, Love Begins in Winter, The Secret Lives of People in Love). Set on Long Island and in Paris, Father’s Day is the story of Harvey and her father, Jason. Harvey’s first parents were killed in a car crash when she was in first grade, and thanks to a persistent, good-hearted social worker named Wanda, Harvey is adopted by her father’s brother. Now, Jason is visiting Harvey in Paris, where she lives and works; he has come for Father’s Day, and Harvey has prepared a gift for each day of his trip. Each gift connects to a memory from their past. The final item, some official documents, are a surprise to Jason and to the reader, though Harvey herself won’t understand the significance unless Jason explains it to her; like My Real Children, there’s something of an open ending. Van Booy’s writing is beautiful and tender without being at all showy.
Why should one expect to feel the same every day, in a world that was rearranging itself by the hour? -Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Like Sittenfeld and Van Booy, Chris Cleave is another of my favorite authors (2016 is a good year for me in this respect, and I hear there will be a new Ann Patchett this fall!). With Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Cleave departs from contemporary fiction and delves into historical fiction, specifically the early years of World War II. Mary and Tom are in London during the Blitz, and Alistair is suffering during the siege of Malta. Unlike in Gold – my favorite of his previous novels – I did not quite feel as though the characters were wholly real. Mary’s sensibility was imperceptible from a progressive modern one, and Tom and Alistair were too perfectly British, with their dry wit, pithy quips, and good manners even in the face of bombs and starvation. Still, this is high-quality WWII fiction; it reminded me a little of Corelli’s Mandolin, perhaps just because of the Malta setting. I enjoyed it, but I hope he returns to the present in his next novel.
I’ve had this “creative library display ideas” post kicking around in my drafts folder here for the better part of a year, and I realized…someone else should write it. Specifically, my kickass colleague Rob Lorino (@lostboybrarian), because he makes some of the best displays I’ve ever seen. Take it away, Rob!
Confession: Making displays is probably my favorite part of being a librarian. I think that’s due in part to my photography background. I tend to put photographers in two categories: there are the documenters, who try to capture the world as they see it, and there are the constructors, who create objects, situations, and worlds to photograph. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and the skills I’ve developed creating props, outfits, and more for photo shoots have really lent themselves to the art of display making.
Photography background aside, why do I love making displays so much? Making displays combines creativity, problem solving, and self-promotion. (Or is that shelf-promotion?) You get instant feedback and can see how patrons are responding. Honestly, it’s still a small rush for me every time I see an empty spot on one of my displays. It’s also value added for your patrons by collecting materials that don’t necessarily get shelved together. Sure you can point patrons to the 970’s if they’re looking for books for Black History Month, but you’re missing so many other areas that are just as relevant to Black History month: biographies, parts of the 300’s, movies, music, etc.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in libraries that have pretty much allowed me carte blanche in terms of selecting themes for my displays. I largely pick a theme based on what’s been on my mind recently; but that’s not me being lackadaisical. If you’re paying attention to current events and pop culture, what’s on your mind will in all likelihood be what’s on your patrons’ minds. I’ve done displays based on holidays, like Black History Month and Banned Books Week. I look to current events as well, like with my display of Oscar-winning films. Sometimes I’m inspired to highlight a collection that I know some patrons don’t know we have, like Playaways or graphic novels. Other times I’ll use the season or other feature of a month to get a little punny, like a “cold-hearted characters” display I did in December, or a “fall into adventure” display of autumn-colored covers I did in November. Displays are a great way to show off new collections too: I made a display celebrating the addition of adult video games to our collection.
After I’ve got a theme, I try to visualize what I want my display to look like. Bold, graphic, and unexpected are adjectives I try to keep in my head throughout the process. For me, displays are places to catch patron’s attention visually, not necessarily places to feed patrons lots of information. If you can do both, that’s great! But the visual impact is key to making patrons walk over and engage. Don’t muddy the waters by putting too much on your display – negative space is just as important as your visuals. It’s also important to remember that books or other materials will be occupying the same space as the rest of your display. You’ll want to remember to make sure that the materials don’t get in the way of important parts of your display. The materials will also be another layer of visual interest, which is why I try for more simple but graphic visuals on my displays.
When it comes to the actual construction of displays, I try my best to make or borrow as many elements of my display as possible. I will occasionally buy a piece here or there if I’m really married to a specific idea, but a lot of times you can make things using really basic materials like construction paper, poster board, card stock, glue, etc. I recently made a (fake) jumbo size AAA battery using a roll of paper as a base and covering it with construction paper. Websites like Pinterest and other crafty blogs have innumerable guides and tutorials on how to create pretty much anything you’d need. Creating interesting lettering or graphics is easier than ever now with software like Publisher, InDesign, and Photoshop, and free online tools like Canva. I feel like every display I make teaches me something new or a way to be more efficient next time, through trial and error. Learning things like the fact that painting on card stock might make it warp or that different types of glue are more effective on different materials aren’t necessarily intuitive to folks (like me) that don’t craft all the time.
I tend to judge the success of a display by three things: did materials get checked out, did people stop and browse the display, and did patrons comment to staff about the display. Having materials move off the display is the most obvious, but the other two are just as important. Even if a patron doesn’t physically take anything from your display, if you get them to notice it you’ve still given them something. That something could be knowledge of something the library offers. It could be perspective on something in the world; several people relayed that they had an “aha” moment with the tagline “Black History Is Now” I used for my Black History Month display. It could even just a positive experience, like a chuckle at your bad pun or appreciating the artistry of the display itself. Sometimes it’s hard to capture the latter two, so if you notice patrons stopping to look at a coworker’s display or if patrons say something nice about a display, definitely let your coworkers know!
I know that thinking up new displays and executing them every month can feel like a slog to some people, but displays are an incredibly important service we provide to our patrons. They can be a really fun and engaging way to interact with your patrons – don’t underestimate them!
Thanks, Rob! (Again, he’s at @lostboybrarian on Twitter.) Does anyone else have any display ideas they’re proud of? Stuff you’ve always wanted to try? Challenges? Handy crafting tips? Please share in the comments!
My online reading habits have shifted over the past few months, both in the amount of time I have to spend reading online (less) and the way I do it (more on the smartphone, less on the computer). It was a little surprising to me how much the device I use determines what content I consume.
I’m still using Feedly (their app is pretty good, though if you go in and out of it, it doesn’t save your place, which is annoying), and reading many of the same blogs as I’ve been reading for years (see this post from August 2013). Some old favorites have fallen by the wayside, particularly webcomics, which don’t display well on the smaller phone screen. I’ve also, happily, discovered some new ones (and am taking recommendations!).
Here are the blogs I’ve kept up with through these months of erratic sleep and limited free time:
Linda @ Three Good Rats
Brita @ Library &
Anna @ LCARSLibrarian
Brian @ Swiss Army Librarian
Jessamyn West @ librarian.net
Delicious (if labor-intensive) recipes: Deb Perelman (author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) @ Smitten Kitchen
Technology, privacy, general nerdiness: Cory Doctorow @ Boing Boing (I make a valiant attempt to keep up with this one, but am perpetually behind)
What makes you stick with a blog – content, humor, consistency, post length, post frequency? My ideal right now is a shorter post – several paragraphs, say – a few times a week; most of the blogs above follow that formula fairly closely. What blogs do you read? Whose writing do you enjoy?
Have you ever noticed a shift in your reading habits due to format (print, digital) or device (computer, smartphone, tablet)?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) has been on my to-read list – and on my bookshelf – for some time now. My book club chose it for our April meeting, and once I picked it up, I read it quickly; it’s written in a clear, accessible style and makes a great deal of sense. Cain draws on a large body of research and writes about her own experience as well as that of others, and this mix of data and anecdotes makes for a perfect blend.
There are plenty of differences between introverts and extroverts, but one of the main ones has to do with stimulation. How much do you need to stay in your “sweet spot” where you’re neither bored nor overwhelmed? Introverts and extroverts feel comfortable – and do their best learning and work – with different levels of stimulation (noise levels, new environments, crowds of people, etc.).
Cain gives a bit of history about how, especially in America, we’ve shifted from a “Culture of Character” (in which “the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable”) to a “Culture of Personality” (a focus on how one is perceived by others). The “Extrovert Ideal” is now pervasive in the workplace as well as in schools, despite the fact that 1/3 to 1/2 the population is introverted and that there are actually disadvantages* to setting up schools and offices to suit only extroverts.
Can introverts fake being extroverts in order to fit in (and get ahead)? Sure, to some extent; but, Cain writes, “We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality….We can stretch our personalities…only up to a point.” While an open floor plan office might provide just the right level of stimulation for extroverts, it’s likely to exhaust and stress an introvert unless s/he has the opportunity to recharge by working in quiet and solitude some of the time. (Open-plan offices have also been found to “reduce productivity and impair memory” – probably not what employers are after.) Likewise, working in large groups or teams in a classroom might be great for some kids, but others will do their best work independently. (Indeed, Stephen Wozniak has said, “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.”)
*I found the following two pieces of information surprising and interesting:
(1) “…excessive stimulation seems to impede learning….the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity. Even multitasking…turns out to be a myth. Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.”
(2) “…group brainstorming doesn’t actually work….Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases. [Online collaboration is an exception.] We fail to realize that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own.”
A more balanced approach in schools and workplaces would benefit everyone, not just the introverts. (Cain’s section on the Wall Street crash is one example.) But if you’re an introvert and your school or workplace is set up to honor the “Extrovert Ideal,” at the very least, Quiet affirms that there’s nothing wrong with you; you just don’t happen to fit “the prevailing model.” Try to carve out “restorative niches” wherever you can, and don’t feel guilty if you’d rather be home with a book than out at a bar.
During the month of March, I took an online workshop called “Designing Interactive Library Spaces and Collections” through the Simmons School of Library and Information Science Continuing Education (SLIS CE) program. The brief course description was:
“Modern library practices and strategies are driving many libraries to rethink and redesign their spaces and their collections. This workshop will focus on how to design and deliver spaces and collections which facilitate and grow user interaction and engagement.”
I was torn between this one and “Graphic Design for Librarians,” but ultimately chose this one in case the other was too basic. (Did anyone take that one, or have any tips or great resources along those lines? Please share in the comments!)
The course requirements included some reading, posting to the discussion board each week, responding to other participants’ posts, and completing a final assignment. In the past, I’ve found that online discussion boards really enhanced a class experience, whether the class was blended or entirely online; in this case, however, only about four of us posted, and by chance our libraries were all different: academic, school, special, and public. Of course, some ideas work just as well in any of these settings, but with such specific cases, there were fewer transferable ideas than I had hoped. I was also disappointed that the workshop instructor did not participate or offer feedback.
She did, however, pull together some interesting reading (and video) and an overwhelming number of food-for-thought questions; the discussion board prompts (below) are only the tip of the iceberg. As usual with online learning, you get out of it what you put into it; anyone who answered every prompt and question would have produced a pretty thorough long-range plan for their library, at least in terms of designing the space and collection to promote interaction.
The first week’s discussion board, Designing for Engagement, asked participants:
Please discuss your current approach to user engagement. Include:
- An overview of your current user engagement strategy and model, as well as your library’s definition of successful user engagement
- The strengths and weaknesses of your spaces and physical layout
- Your vision and goals for the future
The second week’s discussion board, Designing for Participation and Discovery, asked:
Discuss how you develop valuable and compelling opportunities for participation and discovery at your library:
- What is the desired participatory experience?
- What are your goals? What do you promote?
- How would you like people to create, share, connect, etc. around your content?
- Do you trust your users?
- Are you comfortable with messy?
The third week’s discussion board, Evolving Services and Interactive Collections, asked:
Consider and discuss your collections and services:
- Do your collections offer any avenues for fluid experimentation, open exploration, or immediate feedback on new ideas?
- Do you offer people tools and supports to pursue their interests and passions? Could you expand your offerings?
- Are you more engaging or more transactional?
- What are your short and longer term goals for your collections?
Finally, the course project:
Develop a strategy to increase user engagement, participation, or discovery within/with your library. Focus on any aspect of your collections, services, partnerships, programming, and/or spaces at your library or institution which you wish to adapt. This can be a simple, or more complex, strategy according to your needs and time available. Establish a timeline and a schedule for implementation, and determine and state specific and measurable objectives. What are you focusing on? User engagement, participation, discovery? Who are you trying to reach? What outcomes are you trying to achieve? What actions will you be taking?
The “strategy” I developed for this assignment was simple: I would like to install a Welcome Board that all visitors to the library see upon entering the building. We have just one main entrance/exit, so the Welcome Board would be visible to all foot traffic, no matter the visitor’s ultimate destination within the library. The Welcome Board would (a) communicate a welcoming message (ideally in concert with an overhaul of library signage), and (b) promote events and programs happening in the library that day (as well as upcoming programs that week, space permitting). [Note: I’m borrowing this idea from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA.]
Most events and programs at our library take place in one of two rooms: one is up on the fourth floor, and the other is on the basement level, accessible by elevator or by walking through the Children’s Department. Thus, it’s likely that most library visitors may be entirely unaware of what’s happening at the library, even as it’s happening! Of course, there are many other ways to learn about library events – flyers, our e-newsletter, the website calendar – but a Welcome Board is a simple, high-visibility way to promote things that are already happening at the library. Even if visitors don’t have time to attend or aren’t interested in that day’s offerings, the Welcome Board sends the message that the library is more than just a place to get books and movies – it’s a place where things happen and people come together.
As for a timeline, this one should be easy to implement. We already have the information about library events on the calendar and the monthly press release, so it’s just a matter of presentation. The fancy, high-tech option would be a screen, either freestanding or wall-mounted, but the simpler, less expensive, and more personal option would be a whiteboard or a chalkboard (again, freestanding, wall-mounted, or easel-style). We could get two, so Tuesday’s events could be prepared on Monday without taking the board down early Monday night or requiring any staff to come in early Tuesday morning. And we could even do a program on chalkboard art and lettering, for staff and patrons alike.
What do you say, boss?
What are your favorite interactive/engaging elements you’ve seen at a library? Please share!
Recently we attended a baby sign language class at the library, taught by Sheryl White of Baby Kneads. According to Sheryl, the benefits of baby sign language include:
- reducing frustration for everyone
- giving babies the ability to express themselves before they can speak
- accelerating babies’ development of speech
- enhancing early literacy skills
- deepening bonding and increasing contentedness
Sheryl taught us several signs and when to use them: when you have the baby’s attention (when s/he is looking at you), before, during, and after the activity or item in question. For example, you might sign “book” before reading, during reading, and after reading. (The exception is “milk”: if the baby is already hungry and fussy, give her milk first, and make the sign for milk during and after she eats.) Always say the word along with the sign, and make your tone of voice interesting and relevant (exciting for “dinosaur,” soothing for “sleep”).
The signs to start with are milk, more, and finished/all done, and the usual recommended time to start is around six months, though Sheryl said starting as early as two months could help some babies start signing earlier. Babies will catch on and may start trying to sign well before their adults realize it, so watch closely if you’re trying this with your baby.
In addition to the four signs mentioned above, we’ve chosen a few others to introduce once she gets the idea: play, music, jump, ball, water, bath, diaper, yes and no, please and thank you (it’s never too early for good manners!), hello and goodbye, and mom and dad. You can tell by our selection what we’re up to these days…
We’re hoping these signs let us communicate with each other sooner than we would be able to otherwise, since she’ll be able to sign before she can speak. Have you used baby sign language? What was your experience with it?
Bye for now!