Recaptains to the rescue

allegiantAllegiant, Veronica Roth’s third and final installment of the trilogy that began with Divergent, has finally hit the shelves (and promptly been snatched up by eager readers). I’m still waiting for a library copy, but in the meantime I needed to refresh my memory of the first two books. I’m in the habit of writing reviews of nearly everything I read, and indeed I wrote about Divergent and Insurgent, but with series there are always details that fade, and I try not to give away the ending in my reviews. However, I also don’t want to re-read all the preceding books in a series every time a new one comes out, so what to do? (Hannah Gomez at The Hub has one solution, but I don’t have the willpower for that.)

Recaptains to the rescue! I forget where I originally heard about the Recaptains. (If it was you who told me about them, please let me know. I have a feeling it may have been via Maggie Stiefvater, who wrote the recap for her own book, The Raven Boys.) The Recaptains, as the name suggests, write recaps – not reviews – of series books, including spoilers to help those who read the first book(s) but want a refresher before starting the next in the series.

If you, too, are waiting for a copy of Allegiant, here are the recaps of Divergent and InsurgentThey aren’t perfect, but they serve their purpose. And if you’ve read them both but still aren’t sure about continuing on with the final book, the FYA review of Allegiant is pretty safe (no major spoilers).

Lost in Austen

For my 201st (!) post on this blog, I’m going to take the unprecedented step of writing about a TV show (well, mini-series) instead of a book.

lostinaustenOn a co-worker’s recommendation, I checked out Lost in Austen, a  British (ITV) miniseries from 2008. The premise: Amanda Price is a modern-day young British woman with what seems to be a rather boring job and a less-than-romantic boyfriend; Amanda finds romance in the pages of Pride & Prejudice instead. Right after her boyfriend proposes (about as un-romantically as possible, while still being sincere), Amanda discovers Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom. Lizzie has entered through a door that used to go nowhere, but now is a portal (sometimes) between Amanda’s bathroom and the attic of Longbourn, the Bennets’ house, right when Pride & Prejudice is about to begin. Lizzie, entranced with the electric light in the bathroom, desires to stay; Amanda goes through the little door/portal, it shuts behind her, and voila: the two have changed places.

From this point on – until nearly the end of the miniseries – the viewer stays with Amanda in P&P, with no idea what Lizzie’s up to in present-day London. This is a significant choice, as most switcheroo stories go back and forth about equally between the two characters. However, Lost in Austen focuses on Amanda (“Miss Price”) as she royally screws up how the story is supposed to go, despite her best efforts to make everything happen the way it does in the book.


  • If I were Amanda, as soon as I realized where/when I was, I would endeavor to obtain some period clothes ASAP. Instead, she blunders around wearing a leather jacket, a vivid purple top with studs, pants, boots, jewelry, and makeup. Eventually she does start wearing some of Lizzie’s clothes, but she rejects one of the Bennet sisters’ (Jane or Lydia, I forget which) offers to do her hair, and she continues to wear makeup (did she have a kit with her?). 
  • At one point, Lizzie slides a letter under the still-locked portal/door, which Amanda brings to Mr. Bennet. (Amanda and Lizzie have concocted some story that Lizzie went to stay at Amanda’s place in Hammersmith, while Amanda came to visit Longbourn, chalking this up to a cute miscommunication.) However, it never seems to occur to Amanda that she might be able to communicate with Lizzie the same way (i.e. letter-under-the-door), even though she’s desperate for her to come back and fix the story.
  • Late in the series, Amanda gets fed up and rips up her beloved paperback copy of P&P, scattering the pages all over Pemberley. Darcy finds them and accuses her of being the author, despite the fact that he can’t possibly have failed to notice the difference between that book (its paper quality and its type, even if he didn’t see the page with the cataloging-in-publication information) and contemporary (to him) books.
  • Finally, despite all of the changes from the original story, Austen’s text doesn’t change to reflect it. This would seem to violate one of the rules of time travel in literature, but because the Bennets et al. were supposed to be fictional to begin with, maybe that’s the loophole. Regardless, P&P still features Elizabeth, not Amanda.

According to IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, Lost in Austen got about 70% approval from viewers, which isn’t bad. Forever Young Adult liked it more than I did too (see here and here), so perhaps it was just really that Amanda’s bangs (“fringe,” if we’re being British) and constant reapplication of lip gloss irked me. All in all it was okay, but for a real Austen fix I’d just go back to the BBC miniseries, or even the 2005 movie adaptation. Hugh Bonneville makes a good Mr. Bennet, though.

(I realize that most of this “review” is made up of quibbles. I’m not always so critical about TV, and I don’t even believe that the book is always better than the movie in cases of adaptations. I mean, usually the book is better, but not always.)

NELA 2013, Part 4: Information literacy

In addition to all of the great material on the NELA conference blog recapping various sessions, my colleague Linda posted a rundown of the sessions she attended, and of course the Swiss Army Librarian wrote a recap as well (he also contributed to the conference blog). Both Linda and Brian’s posts are concise and informative.

In my previous three posts about NELA, I neglected to list the sessions I attended (normally I post more chronologically!), so here’s the belated list:

1pm Keynote address: Rich Harwood
2pm The Art of the Ebook Deal: Jo Budler, sponsored by the Information Technology Section (ITS)
3:45 Table Talk: Engaging the Library in Long-Range Planning, with Mary White (formerly of Robbins Library!)

8:30am BYOD: Supporting Patrons’ Devices in the Library, sponsored by the ITS (unfortunately, this conflicted with Library Trends: Pew Research, and I heard Lee Rainie was an amazing speaker; there were also some great tweets coming out of the Rating Library Materials: Censorship or Guidance? session at the same time)
10:45 Not Your Average Book Group
12:30pm Culture and Collaboration: Speaking the Language of Faculty, with Laura Saunders
2pm Censorship on the ‘Net 2013, with Melora Ranney Norman, sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC)
4:30pm Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges
6pm Visit to Portland Public Library

The links above mostly go to one of my or Brian’s recaps on the conference blog, or to the description of the session on the official conference site (which in many cases include links to the presenters’ materials, such as slides or handouts). I noticed no one had written about Laura Saunders’ presentation, so my recap of that is below (also cross-posted to the conference blog). No one had covered Melora Norman’s session either, so I wrote a brief post about that on the conference blog as well (see link above).

I think that will be all for my NELA posts, but I can’t guarantee it…I may need to write about ebooks some more, because Jo Budler was awesome.

Laura Saunders, Culture and Collaboration

The ACRL defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Though the term “information literacy” itself is somewhat problematic and can be off-putting to some, most faculty recognize its importance. Despite the agreement about the importance of IL, many college students are not as prepared as faculty would like. The library fits into the larger mission of the university, providing an opportunity for collaboration in this area. However, the reality is that most IL instruction is covered in “one-shot” classes or within General Education (GE) requirements; there is a lack of assessment, a lack of time devoted to it, and a lack of faculty buy-in (they agree that students should have the skills, but aren’t so sure it’s their responsibility to teach them).

Who is responsible for doing what? Where does the library fit into curricular support? Though IL instruction is often covered in GEs, Saunders suggested it might be more useful to move it into the individual academic disciplines. There are “cultures within cultures,” she found when she surveyed faculty, asking, “Do you think information literacy is different in your discipline?” Common concerns include searching for and evaluating information sources, but different kinds of information are preferred in each field (primary vs. secondary sources, for example).

Most IL instruction sessions, however, are structured the same way: most of the time is spent on finding sources, not evaluating them. In an oft-retweeted phrase, “The role of the librarian is to turn students into skeptics.” Often, though, students aren’t skeptical enough. In the words of one faculty member from Saunders’ survey, “The idea of digital natives is such a lie.” Indeed, Project Information Literacy (PIL) has found that students value convenience over quality.

How, then, can librarians improve information literacy instruction? Talking to faculty is the most important step, Saunders said. Anticipate the needs of the faculty, know their concerns, talk to them about what they’re interested in, target your message to their discipline. Students must realize that finding information is only the first step, and just because something is peer-reviewed does not mean it’s 100% reliable; evaluation (“thinking”) is still necessary.

Saunders had excellent slides to accompany her presentation; I didn’t get a chance to write down the details of her data, and the material isn’t up on the conference site (yet). Meanwhile, PIL has lots of great data, and Saunders also recommended Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) on track, which is a neat resource. Although this presentation was aimed largely at academic librarians, information literacy is important to everyone, and public librarians ought to be looking for opportunities to help our patrons improve their information literacy skills. (For a start, see my post for the Robbins Library blog, “Can You Trust It?: Evaluating Information Sources.“)

NELA 2013, Part 3: Robbins Library librarians represent

its-kind-of-a-funny-story-posterRobbins Library was well represented on Monday, with two of our librarians presenting on panels during the day. Though the panels themselves were on different topics, both librarians talked about book groups they had started at the library. Linda Dyndiuk started off the “Not Your Average Book Group” session at 10:45 by talking about the “Not So Young Adult” (NSYA) book group she started in February 2012. As the name suggests, this is a group for adults who like to read young adult literature. Though it has thus far attracted mostly women, the age range is dramatic (30s-70s).  The group has been successful, with 20+ people on the mailing list and a core group of attendees; a reporter from the Arlington Advocate interviewed Linda for a story (“Arlington adults share love of young adult literature“). Other presenters included Theresa Maturevitch from Bedford (MA) Free Public Library, who runs a cookbook book club complete with cooking demonstrations; Sophie Smith, from Nashua (NH) Public Library, who runs an adult summer reading program; and Sean Thibodeau from Pollard (MA) Memorial Library, who leads a nonfiction book group. You can read Theresa’s notes on the whole session from the first link above.

Check out all of the Arlington Book Groups

qbg-game-night_scrabbleLater in the day, Rebecca Meehan spoke about the Queer Book Group she started at Robbins on the “Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges” session at 4:30. Rebecca facilitates the QBG, but it is member-directed; every other month, they have a book discussion, and in the months in between they have a social night with games. Fourteen people of all ages showed up at the first meeting in February 2013, and a core group attends each monthly event. Even if attendance was lower, having flyers for the programs all over the library raises awareness – “now people are really paying attention.” Arlington is a pretty liberal community, but flyers are still torn down from time to time. However, Rebecca pointed out, “We have an unlimited* printing budget,” so she just makes extra flyers. (*Probably not unlimited, but it does stretch to extra flyers.)

Rebecca also talked about the difficulty of finding books by and about the LGBTQIQ community (and about the difficulty of the acronym, which is why she chose “QBG” for her group). She encouraged librarians involved in collection development to order these books and make sure they are on the shelves. Good resources for books include Lambda Literary, and for books, movies, and TV shows, Towleroad, Autostraddle, and AfterEllen.

During the same outreach panel, Lydia Willoughby from Vermont Technical College talked about her work with the Vermont Queer Archives, and Amber Billey from the University of Vermont talked about outreach through dance parties in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Chicago (see links below).

The Desk Set: “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,The New York Times, July 8, 2007.

The Desk Set’s Biblioball (to benefit literacy for incarcerated teens)

Inspired by the Desk Set: Que(e)ry Party, to bring attention and support to queer collections and to provide a fun social space for queer information professionals & friends

NELA 2013, Part 2: Bookmobile, Maurice Sendak at PPL, and LibraryThing

Monday morning the Portland Public Library Bookmobile came by the conference center for a visit. It’s on the small side (compared to the only other one I’ve ever been in, the Worcester Public Library Bookmobile), but wonderful all the same.


“Portable Library” helps “[create] a city of readers.”


The bookmobile had children’s, teen, and adult material, including books, graphic novels, DVDs, audiobooks, and large print books.


Monday evening I visited the main library, which is beautiful. It is also currently hosting an incredible exhibit of Maurice Sendak’s work (though it looks like this will be coming down in a few days). The exhibit included a copy of the Imagination/Celebration poster, as well as many illustrations for fans, and quotes from fans (some of whom are/were famous themselves).

This is one of my favorites (at left); Sendak replied to a little boy’s card with his own card, which included a drawing. The boy’s mother wrote back that the little boy “loved [Sendak’s] card so much he ate it!”

There are a few more quotes below (click to enlarge), including one from Judy Blume (“I cannot put into words…what his work meant to me”):


Most of the art in the exhibit was 2D – sketches, paintings, etc. – but there was also this sculpture of Max and a Wild Thing:



Upstairs on the main level of the library, between the adult fiction section and the teen area, there was a readers’ advisory desk. Not a circulation desk (that’s right up front near the entrance), not a reference desk, but a desk specifically for readers’ advisory. Raise your hand if you want to work there…



Most of my two days in Portland were spent in the hotel conference center, but what I saw of the city was really great. Speaking of which – I almost forgot – Sunday night there was a party at LibraryThing HQ, and while everyone else was by the food table, I was marveling at all the books.

DSC06069The photo’s a little dark, but there are built-in bookshelves on three walls, plus a window seat and a fireplace. Basically, every librarian’s dream room.


NELA 2013, Part 1

I’m back from the New England Library Association annual conference in Portland, and it was great. I was on Twitter (@itsokihaveabook) Sunday afternoon and all day Monday, madly tweeting and re-tweeting with fellow conference-goers; the conference continues today, and you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #nelaconf13.

The NELA Conference blog is also a great resource. I just wrote a post there about the Table Talk I attended Sunday afternoon, Engaging the Community in Long-Range Planning. I highly recommend Brian Herzog’s (a.k.a. Swiss Army Librarian) post about The Art of the E-Book Deal, which was earlier Sunday afternoon; Jo Budler, the Kansas State Librarian, was energetic, inspiring, fierce, and funny, and Brian summarizes her presentation well. There are also links to notes and slides.

Working backward…the keynote event with Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute kicked off the conference on Sunday at 1pm. His message – “Libraries are needed more now than any other time….Healthy communities need healthy libraries” – was received well, though overall his presentation was less electrifying (and less specific) than I’d hoped.

Harwood said, “We need a greater concern for the common good,” and that libraries should focus on shared aspirations, work, and narrative with the community. Especially in times of pressure, libraries should “turn outward into our communities, not inward toward ourselves and our organizations.” Libraries are trusted, and can leverage that trust to help the community. “Community is a common enterprise with shared challenges,” Harwood said, but we shouldn’t focus on the problems; instead, we should ask, “What are your aspirations for our community?”

The fact that we aren’t supposed to focus on the problems doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that we shouldn’t get bogged down in them. No one individual or organization can solve all of the issues in a community, but the library should be an important partner, working together with other organizations and individuals to set achievable goals (and celebrate victories). “Narratives play a critical role,” Harwood said. Libraries can help move away from an ingrained negative narrative and create a shared positive narrative instead – after all, storytelling is a big part of what we do well.

I don’t think anyone’s arguing with Harwood’s message; most of us agree about the “what,” it’s the “how” that can be puzzling at times. The keynote speech was a good reminder to keep trying, and that it’s okay to start small.

I’ll be writing more about NELA soon. Meanwhile, remember to head over to the official conference blog to read about some of the other sessions. And if you want fairly priced e-books in libraries, consider “liking” the facebook page “The Big 6 – eBooks in Libraries.”

Alba, Continued

For those who do not know, The Time Traveler’s Wife is my favorite book. This is not hyperbole. I first read it approximately nine years ago, and I’ve never really stopped reading it. We have at least four print copies in the house: two U.S. editions, a limited edition with a cover by the author, and a U.K. edition (purchased during a semester abroad in Spain; I lasted about two months without a copy, then went to London and bought a new one at Paddington Station. First agenda item, before museums or anything).

I have also followed Audrey Niffenegger’s other work: her novel Her Fearful Symmetryher artist’s books and graphic novels, and recently her exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Awake in the Dream World.” 

TTW_zolaFor a long time, The Time Traveler’s Wife was not available as an e-book*, but recently it has become available from Zola Books, which sells platform-agnostic DRM-free e-books that work on all devices. (That bears repeating: platform-agnostic DRM-free e-books that work on all devices. How marvelous.) So of course I bought the e-book. I probably would have anyway, but I was (am) especially excited because this version had a new author’s note, and – and – a snippet of the sequel. Tucked at the end, after the permissions, are 18 (Zola says 25, but I counted, it’s 18) beautiful, magical, perfect pages – “Alba, Continued.”

*Here is Audrey in an interview with UR Chicago on the subject of e-books:

“…E-book feels like a misnomer. There’s nothing booky about it. It’s like when Gutenberg invented the printing press….What he was doing was imitating, as best he could, the handwritten word. Every time you get a new technology, it tries to kind of impersonate the old technology until everybody calms down, and then it can go ahead and progress and be whatever it is going to be. That’s the stage I’m waiting for, because I’m getting kind of grumpy with this thing that is trying to impersonate a book.”

But back to “Alba, Continued.” This is very much like, if you happen to be a Narnia fan, someone casually opening the door to the wardrobe and inviting you to step on in. Or if you are a Harry Potter fan, receiving a letter from Hogwarts (never mind that you aren’t eleven years old anymore). Or if you are a Philip Pullman fan, and you come across a window into Lyra’s Oxford. If all three of those things happened to me simultaneously, I could not be more excited.

Part of the excitement comes from surprise; unlike Narnia, Hogwarts, and Lyra’s Oxford, Henry and Clare’s Chicago was never part of a series; I never expected there to be any more of it. For years after the publication of TTW, the author said she was done writing about Clare and Henry and Alba. In an interview with Dear Author, she said,

“I wasn’t planning to write a sequel so this is still new to me. Joe Regal of Zola Books asked me if I had any Time Traveler’s Wife material that hadn’t been published; he was looking for something to publish with the e-book of TTW as an extra. I had nothing that would have made any sense to a reader, just notes and revisions. So I promised to write something new.

It was a funny experience, writing about Alba. I have always made a point of not imagining the lives of Clare and Alba and the other characters beyond the scope of the book, but when I tried to think about them many things came flooding in, as though I knew them already. The imagination is a strange thing, it often works best when you don’t watch it too closely.”

And so the wardrobe, when you least expect it, opens.

Neil Gaiman: “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth”

I have spent my whole life in the world of books. I was lucky; my parents read to me every night while I was growing up, from before I could talk until the night I took the book away and started reading it myself, because that was faster and I wanted to know what happened next.  I was lucky, and I took that luck and ran with it: I’ve spent the last six years officially in book world, first in publishing, now in libraries.

Over the years, I have identified a few heroes, here in Book World: these people are authors, yes, but they are also, variously, library advocates, booksellers, privacy experts, generous public speakers, tirelessly creative, funny, kind, intelligent, empathetic. (At least, they are all of these things as far as I can tell.)

The-Library-Book-154x250_largeI’ve written about them all here before: Cory DoctorowAnn Patchett, and Neil Gaiman.  But the latter has gone and given another brilliant talk, so I must write about him again. An edited version of this talk, which Gaiman gave for The Reading Agency, was published in The Guardian. (Not coincidentally, The Reading Agency is the organization that The Library Book – not the easiest title to find, but well worth it – was published in aid of.)

In his “impassioned plea” to support libraries and librarians, Gaiman spoke about the importance of literacy, and the role of fiction in fostering literacy. Fiction, he said, “is a gateway drug to reading.” He said,

“The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.”

Banned Book Week is still fresh in many librarians’ minds just now; it’s when we encourage everyone to celebrate the freedom to read. Some kids want to read Batman comics, some want to read Calvin & Hobbes, some want to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe or Pride and Prejudice or The Catcher in the Rye or Twilight or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Let them; it won’t hurt. And once they love reading, once they want to know what happens next, maybe they’ll discover new books and new genres – but they’re much more likely to pick up a second book if they liked the first one.

Gaiman also discussed the relationship between fiction and empathy, which has been studied and written about recently. (There are several links in this Banned Books Week post about censorship.) Gaiman explains just how prose fiction stretches the imagination in ways that film does not:

“And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals….Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

So: fiction leads to empathy as well as literacy. And literacy “is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.”

Where then is one to acquire all this nutritious and delicious fiction? The library, of course. But the library, unfortunately, is frequently under attack, less from outright anti-library sentiment than from a need to cut municipal, state, or federal budgets. This problem isn’t specific to the U.S.; it’s just as bad, if not worse, in the U.K. Closing libraries, though, is shortsighted in a society that, presumably, wants literate, engaged, imaginative, problem-solving citizens:

“Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open….We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.”

For most of his talk, Gaiman was speaking as a reader, but he is also an author (quite a prolific one). He spoke out powerfully about writers’ obligations to their readers – what to do and what not to do:

“We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers’ throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.”

This single paragraph gets at the heart of reading and writing, fiction and truth. We have an obligation to write true things…when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were. Truth is not in what happens but that it tells us about who we are

My friend Kelly just co-wrote an article for the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) blog that explores the common prejudice against fantasy and science fiction. She and her co-author make a strong case for these genres, and arrive at the same conclusion as Gaiman: “The way that we receive guidance from books is not a literal process. We are influenced by something much deeper in literature, which is the connections we share as humans and the ways in which some experiences are unique, and some are universal.” All fiction, whether it’s realistic or fantastical, stretches the reader’s imagination and builds empathy.

Gaiman’s final point – “We have an obligation never…to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves” – is important, too, and it explains why so many adults have not just lingering nostalgia for the books they loved as children, but a fierce love for them, and even an interest in reading them still. Many, many grown-up readers today are passionate about YA fiction (despite some others’ judgment on the matter); the people waiting for the library copies of Every Day by David Levithan, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – not to mention the dystopian trilogies by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games, etc.) and Veronica Roth (Divergent, etc.) – aren’t all teenagers.

If all of this isn’t a strong enough argument for reading and libraries, check out Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way I’ll give you a hint: their parents read to them.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Last year, on the last day of November, Dana Sachs published an essay in Publishers Weekly called “Doing 50,000 Words in 30 Days.”  The title of the article refers, of course, to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which started in San Francisco in 1999 and has grown and spread since then. Now there are participants all over the world – over 300,000 in 2012 – and hundreds of “write ins,” many at libraries.

NaNoWriMo2013bannerThe idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple: write a novel in a month. Specifically, write 50,000 words in 30 days. This works out to 1,667 words per day. (For reference, Sachs’ essay in PW is 750 words.) Admittedly, 50,000 words is pretty short for a novel – about 200 pages – but still, to write that much in a month is nothing to sneeze at, regardless of quality.

In fact, quality isn’t the point of NaNoWriMo. As Sachs writes, “Many writers…suffer from a gnawing perfectionism that can, at its worst, torment us over the placement of a single comma. Forget completing a first draft; perfectionists have trouble completing even a paragraph. NaNoWriMo forces us to ignore our incapacitating inner critic and keep going. The genius of NaNoWriMo is that it obliges us to (temporarily) lower our standards.”

After November, the writer has a working draft; s/he can edit, cut, amend, tinker, and add. The novel may eventually go into a drawer (or computer folder, more likely), may be self-published, may be published through the traditional process with an agent and an editor. No matter the outcome, it’s still an achievement: you’ve made something. And NaNoWriMo provides an encouraging community in which to make that something.

nano_12_new_Come_Write_In_Logo1Library literature has been full of buzz about MakerSpaces lately. Many libraries are re-envisioning their mission and redesigning their space. This is an old idea with a new label (“making” instead of “crafting”) and new technology (e.g. 3D printers). The library was never purely a place for consumption; people have always come to libraries to create as well as consume. And what better place to write (or “make”) a book than a library?

That’s why I’m pleased to be hosting Write Ins at the Robbins Library for the second year in a row. Are you a writer in the Arlington area? “Come Write In.” 

“The real secret is that anyone can write a book… Writing is for everyone, and this is your chance to scrawl your name across the page. By month’s end, you’ll have done that which many dream of, but never accomplish.” -Gennifer Albin, author of Crewel

“As you enter this month of writing, write for yourself. Write for the story. And write, also, for all of the people who doubt you. Write for all of those people who are not brave enough to try to do this grand and wondrous thing themselves.”  -Kate DiCamillo, author of The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie

Google redesign: from one click to two clicks

Not a long post, just an observation. It used to be that when you had Gmail open, all your menu options for other Google tools (calendar, etc.) were listed across the top of the page, like so:

google_menuSorry the image is so small; click to enlarge, or perhaps Google hasn’t forced you over to the new look yet.

It was just one click to get to your calendar, drive, groups, etc. As an avid user of the calendar and drive features, this was handy for me.

Now, all those menu options are stored almost invisibly over in the upper-right-hand side of the page. You have to know to click on the icon that is made of of nine squares:


In what language does “square of squares” mean “menu options”? To me it looks like a waffle.

Now, instead of taking one click to open my calendar, it takes two clicks: one click on the squares, which opens up the following menu, and a second click to choose which feature to open.


Aha! Here they are.

Why make these items harder to access, when the principles of usability call to minimize the number of clicks it takes to accomplish a task? I don’t know.

The number of clicks is the more annoying part of this, but the vague icon is also bothersome. This isn’t Google’s only vague icon, to be sure. There’s also this:


Three horizontal bars. I know that’s an I Ching trigram, but what does it mean in a web browser?

Google Chrome users will recognize the above image from the upper-right corner of the browser. The light blue parallelogram shape opens a new tab; its location is indicative of what it might do, so that’s okay. Minimize, maximize, and close are all standard icons. Clicking the star will bookmark whatever page you happen to be on. Three horizontal bars…? Oh hey, here’s the menu we’re used to seeing all the way over on the left: save, print, find, settings, etc. (Let me tell you, this confuses the less tech-savvy library patrons no end, and why shouldn’t it? There is no natural mapping.)

Speaking of icons, I remember reading one or two excellent articles (with examples) in my Usability and User Experience class at Simmons, but they were either saved in Google Reader (RIP) or Delicious (to which I am trying to regain access). If I’m able to dig it/them up, I’ll post them here; meanwhile, feel free to share any links about good design in the comments.

Edited to add (10/8/13): Found it! Thanks to the responsive team at Delicious, I was able to access my old account. The article, from UX Movement about two years ago,  is called “9 Rules to Make Your Icons Clear and Intuitive.”