Here’s my final post about NELA ’12. (Read about Sunday afternoon’s sessions here, and Monday morning’s events here.) The following two sessions were on Monday afternoon:

Library Renewal, Ryan Livergood

Neither publishers nor libraries are happy with the current model(s) of access to digital content (e-books and digital audiobooks) through libraries: not all publishers will sell or license e-content to libraries, and librarians aren’t pleased with the cost, availability, or difficulty. Library Renewal proposes a new model: “fairly priced equitable access to e-content.” To this end, Library Renewal is building the non-profit infrastructure that will allow rights-holders to sell directly to libraries, have transparent pricing, and be easy for patrons to use.

Some have predicted that in ten years, libraries will circulate more digital content than physical content. If one accepts that (a) technology makes libraries more relevant and useful, and (b) communities need libraries to thrive, this new infrastructure begins to look absolutely essential. Furthermore, it streamlines the process: instead of Publishers –> Vendor (e.g. Amazon, OverDrive) –> Libraries –> Vendor –> Patrons, it looks more like Publishers –> Libraries –> Patrons.

Now if only Library Renewal had the same kind of funding as the DPLA.

Reshaping Reference, Julie Kinchla and Patty DiTullio

Julie Kinchla, Head of Information Services at the Winchester Public Library, spoke about opportunities to create change, and types of changes to consider. Opportunities include major and minor renovations, strategic planning, technology upgrades, new staff hires, and analyzing usage statistics. Types of changes include weeding, downsizing the reference desk, redesigning the reference stacks, and offering different types of reference services, such as tiered, roving, or book-a-librarian. New technology (think iPad) makes roving reference a good choice for helping patrons at their point of need, a smaller desk is more approachable, and generic business cards make it easier for patrons to contact reference librarians.

Patty DiTullio, Director of the Amesbury Public Library, spoke about the importance of having a mission and vision for the library. Working in an old building, a small space with significant constraints, DiTullio described implementing a new model – making changes to the circulation and reference desks – as “adventures in change management.” She said that retraining staff was a circular process, not a linear one.

Staff buy-in is important to any change, as is clarification of division of labor (e.g. when does a circ question become a reference question?). Patrons, too, need to be “retrained”; a great sign for the reference desk is “You’re not interrupting our work, you ARE our work.” (A similar sign says simply, “Interrupt me!”)

Even if a brand-new building, major or minor renovation isn’t in the cards, we can all use DiTullio’s formula: (small actions) x (lots of people) = big change

See also: the Swiss Army Librarian’s NELA conference wrap-up.


Read NELA Part I here (or scroll down to previous post). Here are my summaries of the first two sessions on Monday; the last two will make up the final NELA post.

Connecting through Social Media panel

Ryan Livergood, Library Director of the Arlington (MA) libraries, led off with some guidelines for libraries using social media. He reminded the audience that social media was more than just advertising and shouldn’t be just one-way, but should be an interactive dialogue that engages the community. When trying to decide which platform(s) to use, he said, “Go where your users are.”

Next, Michael Wick of the Peabody (MA) Institute Library talked about what works in social media: conversations, informing your community, finding a niche, and instruction. (Wick is the local hero who created the how-to videos for downloading e-books from the Wellesley Free Library and throughout the Minuteman network.)

Finally, Ona Ridenour and Allison Babin from the Beverly Public Library talked about how they use Pinterest. They have created many beautiful and useful boards with visually curated content, and in many cases (such as book lists), links to click through to the library catalog. After their presentation, I was much more open to Pinterest than I had been.

The need for a social media policy arose during the Q&A session. Not all libraries have one, though most follow a few rules of thumb: be respectful, create/reuse appropriate content, think twice before posting anything, and follow/friend only other organizations, not people.

The Trouble With E-Books, Scott Kehoe and Danny Pucci

Massachusetts Library System consultant Scott Kehoe outlined the history of the relationship between publishers and librarians, focusing on recent thorny issues surrounding e-books, such as digital rights management (DRM), proprietary hardware and software, and the erosion of the First Sale Doctrine. It’s clear that another solution is necessary; for out-of-copyright works, that solution is already in the works, in the form of the Internet Archive and Open Library.

Digital Projects Librarian Danny Pucci of the Boston Public Library also spoke about e-books (she described OverDrive as the BPL’s “28th branch,” and said it had the second-highest circulation after the main branch, Copley) and digitization. The BPL works with the Internet Archive to digitize library materials and make them available to a wider audience online; visual collections are available on Flickr.


New England Library Association (NELA) Conference

The New England Library Association (NELA) conference was Sunday, October 14 through Tuesday, October 16th. I attended the first two days, and every panel and session I went to was valuable. Plus, it was a great opportunity to see former classmates and colleagues, and meet new people (otherwise known as networking, I suppose).

I’ll just do a brief overview with a few takeaway points from each session I attended. Anyone who’s looking for a more exhaustive analysis, head on over to the official conference blog; if you’re looking for specific play-by-play, search for #nelaconf12 on Twitter.

Keynote Address: Librarians’ New Dawn, T. Scott Plutchak

Plutchak spoke personally about his granddaughter, a digital native who also enjoys print media and sees them not as competitive, but simply as different experiences. Print is part of a rich world and a broad range, said Plutchak, but applying print terms to the digital world is rarely successful.

He affirmed that communities do need librarians’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, and encouraged us to take credit for our work: “Libraries don’t do things, people do things. Librarians do things.” The librarians’ mission and function is to connect people with knowledge, something that’s just as important now as it has always been.

New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) panel

This panel was similar to the one I attended at MLA last May; participants and mentors from NELLS spoke about their experience at the “life-changing” week-long program that was described only half-jokingly as “library summer camp.” The focus is on leading from within, managing change, and appreciative inquiry. ALA president Maureen Sullivan helped develop the curriculum and will be moderating at NELLS 2013.

Beyond the Book Sale: Friends of the Library

Representatives of three different Friends groups, as well as Ernie DiMattia, the president of the Ferguson Library (CT), spoke about how Friends groups can help their libraries. The Friends’ purpose is primarily to raise funds beyond the municipal and state money that libraries receive; one common way to do this is a book sale (annually or ongoing). The Friends often provide funds for library programs, as well as museum passes. They should support and promote the library, and be advocates for the library within the community.

That was all for Sunday; I’ll post about the Monday sessions next.

What makes a good book club book?

First off: this question assumes that at least one of the main purposes of a book club is to discuss a book with friends and acquaintances whose opinions and ideas you respect. Other purposes can certainly include wine, cheese, chocolate, gossip, etc., but in the context of this post, “book club” refers to a group whose members read (at least partially) and discuss (at least for a while) books on a semi-regular schedule.

 So you are in, or want to start, a book club: how do you choose a book? There are all kinds of processes, from democratic to dictatorial, but I’m not going into that here. Whatever your process, the real question is: how do you make sure your selected book can fuel a discussion?

There are books I have enjoyed, but about which I have had very little to say; there are books I have loved, but have not been able to talk about well. It is often easier to identify what you dislike about a book, and harder to say what makes you love one; however, you don’t want to choose a book you think you’ll hate, just for the purpose of discussion.

In the best book club discussions I’ve been part of, there have been lots of mixed opinions. A character might inspire sympathy in some readers, indifference in others; an author’s writing style might be praised as poetic by some, while others will dismiss it as too flowery. Differences in opinion drive discussion, but these differences have more to do with the book’s readers than the book itself.

What about the book itself? I look for the thought-provoking book: the book with a central moral dilemma, where the characters must make difficult decisions or deal with unfamiliar situations. Ann Patchett is one author who excels at putting wonderfully real characters into settings that are strange or uncomfortable for them: a Jewish woman from Los Angeles in Nebraska with her in-laws, a shy scientist searching for her lost coworker in the Amazon, opera lovers held hostage in a South American country. Chris Cleave, on the other hand, is a master of the moral dilemma: family or ambition, sacrifice or cowardice?

Other books explore the future, or alternative versions of the present, and these books are thought-provoking in their own ways. Examples of these are A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, and The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (nonfiction). The beauty of these books is that they subtly encourage you to put yourself in the character’s shoes, to compare the character’s actions and thoughts with what you imagine your actions and thoughts might be in his or her place.

 Other books are simply unique in some way. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell has an inventive structure: it consists of six related narratives told in halves (in the first half of the book, each narrative is interrupted by its successor; in the second half of the book, “each interruption is recontinued, in order”).

Other stories are unique because of their premise: Room by Emma Donoghue not only features a five-year-old narrator, but one who has lived with his mother in one room for his whole life. Arcadia by Lauren Groff is the story of Bit, a child born on a commune, who at age fourteen is plunged into the real world when the utopian community dissolves.

 Depending on the preferences of your group’s members, you might decide to focus on a subset of literature. You might choose a nonfiction area like science or history, or decide to revisit the classics, or read just one author’s work. “Not so young adult” groups read books aimed at teens or children (e.g. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky). The book clubs I’ve been part of have focused on contemporary fiction, with occasional classics and nonfiction. Some of the criteria we consider are:

-Page count: most people don’t have the time for thousand-page tomes.

-Availability: Are your book club members willing to buy the book, or is everyone going to get it from the library? Something to consider before choosing that brand-new hardcover bestseller.

-Description/interest: the description of the book should appeal to a majority of the group; reviews need not be stellar but should be at least promising.

-Awards: If you have no idea where to start, there are plenty of awards lists, including the Pulitzer, the Booker, and the National Book Award, as well as genre awards like the Hugo, Edgar, and Nebula. Remember that awards are a good guideline, but they are also subjective.

-New vs. re-reading: book clubs can be great for re-hashing old favorites, but they’re also a great place to try new things and tackle challenging works that wouldn’t appeal to you solo. I might never have read Cloud Atlas on my own, but I loved it. Also, with a well-read bunch, it can be hard to find a book that everyone is interested in reading but that no one has read yet, so a willingness to re-read is a plus.

What are your book club success stories? Flops? What books do you think inspire discussion? Add suggestions and discuss in the comments.

Because I Said So! by Ken Jennings

 Because I Said So!: The truth behind the myths, tales, and warnings every generation passes down to its kids by Ken Jennings is perhaps the only book I can think of that I can wholeheartedly, unreservedly, recommend to EVERYONE, even those who usually don’t read nonfiction. Young or old, male or female, left brain or right brain, parent or child, skeptical or gullible, superstitious or scientific, this book is for you. Really.

The subtitle sums it up: this is the Mythbusters of books (with, alas, fewer explosions). Jennings takes dozens of myths, tales, and warnings, from “don’t swim after eating” to “put on a sweater, I’m cold,” and does the legwork to discover where they came from, and whether they’re true or false; sometimes, it turns out to be a little of both. Debunking or affirming each claim in just a few pages, his writing is clear, concise, and often amusing. For example, here’s a snippet of how he debunks the “no swimming after eating” warning:

“It is true that when we eat, our body diverts blood to the stomach to aid in digestion, but, as you may have noticed after every meal you ever ate in your life, that doesn’t immediately immobilize your arms and legs….Not one water death has ever been attributed to post-meal cramping.”

Truly, I recommend this to everyone. And, the scheduled publication date is December 4, just in time for the holidays. Usually, I try to avoid giving books as gifts (partly because I’m a librarian and people expect it), but I’ll probably be buying this for at least one person. So there: it has the librarian stamp of approval!

Goodreads shelves

[Note: if you don’t use Goodreads, and never plan to, there is zero need to read this post. Scroll down to read about Banned Books Week, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and other things instead.]

I’ve been using Goodreads, a social networking site for readers, since 2007. I started using it as a way to keep track of books I’d read, as well as to keep an actual (as opposed to mental) “to-read” list. I’m still using it that way, and now I have a personal database with five years of data that I can consult anytime someone needs a recommendation.

Not only can I sort books by self-created categories (“shelves”), such as young adult, mystery, history, or science, I can also look back on my own ratings and reviews, and see friends’ reviews as well. Friends’ reviews count for a lot: research has shown that a recommendation from a friend is likely to be more influential than a professional review, a bookstore or library display, or an auto-generated Amazon suggestion.

Overall, Goodreads’ usability and user experience (how easy and how pleasant it is to use the site) are pretty top-notch. The only problems I’ve ever had are (1) when the site is getting too much traffic and I’m not able to access it for a few minutes; this message is accompanied by an elegant line drawing of a woman sitting in a chair reading a book, and (2) creating a fourth permanent shelf for “partially-read” books, in addition to the three automatic shelves: read, currently-reading, and to-read.

This is such a small thing, but I’ve had conversations with other Goodreads users, and it’s come up for most of us. Though a book can be on as many of your self-created shelves as you want, it must also be on one – and only one – of the three original shelves. But what if a book is neither read, currently-reading, or to-read? What if you read the first few chapters and put it down, never to return? (There’s no guilt in that.) Many people have created shelves for these books, such as “partially-read,” “abandoned,” or “unfinished,” but the book still had to be on one of the original three.

This is no longer the case, I’m glad to report. I wrote to Goodreads about it, and a Customer Care Representative got back to me overnight to inform me that I could make my partially-read shelf “exclusive” by going to the Edit Shelves page and checking a box. Which I did. And it worked. I’m not sure how long that’s been an option – it wasn’t in 2007, I don’t think, but I could be wrong – but it is now.

So, big points to Goodreads for creating a great site and being responsive to its users. This is how it’s done.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the 1999 young adult cult classic by Stephen Chbosky, is that rare thing: a timeless high school book, and now also an excellent book-to-movie adaptation. Chbosky wrote and directed, which surely has something to do with the adaptation’s success, and the casting was superb. Logan Lerman is an utterly believable Charlie, Ezra Miller is a fabulous Patrick, and Emma Watson is an enchanting Sam (and she maintains a pretty good American accent throughout, with only one real slip-up that I noticed).

Some material (e.g. the Thanksgiving holiday; Charlie’s favor for his sister) was cut from the book, and there were a few other changes here and there, but the spirit of the movie was the same as in the book; even the new dialogue was true to the original, and of course many of the most emblematic and resonant lines from the book made it into the movie (“I feel infinite,” “We accept the love we think we deserve”). Needless to say, the soundtrack is also stellar; the Smiths’ “Asleep” appears early on.

 What was most captivating and touching about Perks the book was Charlie’s voice. The book is structured as a series of letters to an anonymous recipient: “Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have…” (In this Chbosky interview on NPR, he almost reveals who Dear Friend is, but doesn’t.) The movie manages to capture Charlie’s voice; it reminded me how much I loved the book, while also being satisfying and enjoyable on its own.

Read my review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower (the book) on Goodreads. If you haven’t already read the book, I encourage you to do so. Then go see the movie.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

 There are a lot of “big books” this fall, much-anticipated books by well-known authors, such as NW by Zadie Smith and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. Perhaps the biggest of all is The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books. In case you’ve been living under a rock since 1997).

Very little information about The Casual Vacancy was given out before its official publication date, other than that (1) it would feature neither witchcraft nor wizardry, and (2) it was for adults, not children. Having just finished the book, I can confirm that both of these things are true. I can also tell you a bit more:

The Casual Vacancy begins with the death of Barry Fairbrother. Barry leaves behind a widow, four children, and an empty seat on the Pagford town council. There is an important vote coming up, concerning the Fields, a low-income housing area that has long been a thorn in the side of many Pagfordians. Depending on the result of the vote, the Fields will either remain part of Pagford, or will become instead part of the larger neighboring town of Yarvil, which will most likely close down the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic. (Pagford’s small, but not sleepy.)

Enter an ensemble cast of townspeople who are, largely, self-important and petty. There are gossipy old women, self-conscious and selfish teenagers, resentful wives, fearful wives, affluent families and poor ones, insiders and outsiders. This isn’t a comedy or a farce; Rowling’s skill is such that each character is multidimensional. Though they don’t understand each other, and tend to assume the worst, the reader sees the true motivations behind their behavior. Every character wants something, which makes each character believable.

On top of that, Rowling is, as we all know, a master of pacing, and The Casual Vacancy is compulsively readable. For more detail (but no serious spoilers), read my review on Goodreads.