Flaunt It, Baby: Creating Inventive Library Displays

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.


The Black History Month display featuring a timeline of events from the 1960s-present, as well as a variety of materials to check out.

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.


A display highlighting the new collection of adult video games.

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.


A display of graphic novels with speech bubble text.

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.


A display of Playaways featuring a homemade jumbo AAA battery.

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.


A display of Oscar-winning films includes an Oscar statuette, a film reel, tickets, and the movies themselves, all framed by fancy red curtains.

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!


Stuff I’ve Been Reading, Online Edition

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:

Librarian blogs

Linda @ Three Good Rats

Brita @ Library &

Anna @ LCARSLibrarian

Brian @ Swiss Army Librarian

Jessamyn West @ librarian.net

Librarian Problems

I Work At A Public Library

Non-Librarian blogs

Wonderfully weird: Jenny Lawson (author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy) @ The Bloggess

Delicious (if labor-intensive) recipes: Deb Perelman (author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) @ Smitten Kitchen

How to live a “luxuriously frugal” lifestyle (which sometimes dovetails and sometimes clashes with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up): Liz @ Frugalwoods (discovered via this Boston Globe article)

Parenting/humor: The Ugly Volvo (start with her deconstruction of Goodnight Moon)

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)?

Blog posts elsewhere: privacy tools and summer reading lists

In addition to blogging here and at my personal blog (mostly photos of the dog or the garden, with occasional recipes), I also write for the Robbins Library blog and, nominally at least, I’m a contributor to Teaching the Tools, a blog about libraries and technology education.

Library Freedom Project logoI just wrote my first full-length blog post for Teaching the Tools, a recap of Alison Macrina’s (The Library Freedom Project) presentation to the Minuteman Library Network (MLN) Teaching Technology Interest Group (TTIG), which I co-chaired for the past two years. Alison, who used to be a librarian at the Watertown Free Library, was kind enough to come to our June TTIG meeting and present about a variety of privacy tools. You can learn about the TOR Browser, Duck Duck Go, Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere, Let’s Encrypt, and KeePass at Teaching the Tools.

While I was there (and writing the annual report for the TTIG group), I added a blog post to recap our March meeting, including a link to the presentation slides on Teaching Technology: Assessment and Evaluation. If you teach technology at your library – even if your instruction is no more formal that tech-related questions at the reference desk – check it out.

Cover image of In the Unlikely EventIf you’re in the mood for lighter fare – looking for a few summer reading books, perhaps? – I’ve been writing about books for the Robbins Library blog. Here’s an annotated list of lists: the top summer reading books according to various sources. I also wrote a recap of a Book Talk I did with my co-worker, separated into fiction and nonfiction. I’m looking forward to Judy Blume’s adult novel this summer, In the Unlikely Event, and a whole slew of new books this fall, including novels from David Mitchell and Rainbow Rowell. There’s always something to look forward to (or back on, if you’re revisiting classics) in the book world…

Learning from novels

Here, now, in the future – ever since 2010 it has seemed like the future – we are flooded with information, bombarded with it. It used to be that a significant part of a librarian’s job was finding information; now, much of it is sifting the good from the bad, the reliable from the slanted, biased, agenda-powered, and outright made-up.

The Internet, unlike books, does not come with a neat copyright page; it can be difficult to tell when something was written, let alone who by, and what that person’s affiliations and qualifications are. Much “information” is actually opinion – and then there is advertising or “sponsored posts,” and it’s enough to start calling the Information Age the Misinformation Age instead (sounds Orwellian, doesn’t it?).

This is just to say – and you can keep your plums, William Carlos Williams – that where you get your information is of crucial importance, and that it can be very hard to remember. Was it an article from The New Yorker or The Atlantic? Was it on Slate, Salon, or – please no – Buzzfeed?

Or was it, perhaps, from a novel? Over a lifetime of reading, I’ve acquired many facts from fiction. Ask me to cite my sources, and I’m as likely to mention a Dick Francis mystery novel or a Cory Doctorow YA novel as I am to mention long-form journalism from a reputable source.

Cover image of Life After LifeAbout two years ago, as I was immersed in Kate Atkinson’s mind-bendingly good Life After Life, I came across this sentence:

“[Her knowledge] was random yet far-ranging, the sign that one has acquired one’s learning from novels, rather than an education.”

I recognized the sentiment immediately. Fortunately, I’ve acquired my learning from novels in addition to a formal education, but I find that more often than not, it’s the facts from novels that stick in my mind, and I can more easily recall a specific novel than a particular article. (Another quote, from Jenny Offill’s marvelous Dept. of Speculation: “These bits of poetry that stick to her like burrs.”) Then, of course, there’s always the Internet to fact-check the fiction.

What facts have you learned from fiction?



MLA 2015: Through the Library Lens, Part II

Here we go, Day Two of MLA! Read about Monday sessions here.

Flexibility in Library Design, or Agile Libraries that Evolve with You, presented by Lauren Stara and Rosemary Waltos of the MBLC and Sal Genovese of the Walpole Public Library (Tuesday, May 5, 8:30am)

Three cheers for Lauren Stara, who posted her presentation slides online in advance of this session. Check out her slides for lots of great visuals of “lightweight, portable, modular, convenient, approachable” furniture, from service desks to comfy chairs; she included examples from many libraries in the U.S. and Canada. (The presenters’ contact info and a link to several useful Pinterest boards are available through that link as well.) There were tons of tweets during this session (see below), and between those and the slides, I don’t have much to add except that I’m in favor of flexible, adaptable design in libraries and I want to use at least 75% of these ideas right away. Also, I’ve added Aaron Schmidt’s Useful, Useable, Desirable to my ever-growing to-read list.

Screenshot of tweets including What is the first thing a new user sees when they enter your library building?Screenshot of tweets including If you're gonna have movable furniture, make sure it fits in your elevator.Screenshot of tweets, including "When we opened the new building, we put a piece of furniture everywhere there was a window and an outlet."

An Introduction to Fighting Surveillance and Promoting Privacy in Libraries, presented by Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project and Kade Crockford of the ACLU (Tuesday, May 5, 9:50am)

I’ve heard Kade and Alison before, but even though most of their presentation was familiar, it’s worth hearing and sharing again – plus I picked up a couple of new tips, as usual. Alison introduced a whole series of online privacy tools, which are also collected on the Library Freedom Project’s resources page.

Libraries can introduce patrons to some of these tools by installing them on public computers, and posting signs to explain the changes and raise awareness about protecting online privacy. The TOR browser is one option (“it’s not just for criminals anymore!”), and the Firefox browser with the DuckDuckGo search engine and HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger plugins is another great choice. (I’m planning to switch from the Ghostery plugin to Privacy Badger, after learning that Ghostery sells information to advertisers – though this is something you can control in your settings if you do have it installed.) Good privacy options (secure texting and phone calls) for mobile phones  can be downloaded from Open Whisper Systems.

Screenshot of tweets, including Libraries can help educate patrons how to protect their digital privacy. Try duckduckgo instead of google search.

Screenshot of tweets, including Book rec from @flexlibris: The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser #masslib15

Advocacy and Your Library, with panelists Edward M. Augustus, Jr., City Manager of Worcester; Representative Kate Hogan, 3rd Middlesex, Chair, Public Library Caucus; John Arnold, Town Moderator, Westborough. Moderators: Susan McAlister, Dinah O’Brien, and Beverly Shank, MLA Legislative Committee Co-Chairs  (Tuesday, May 5, 11:15am)

The takeaway point from this session: the importance of building a relationship with local legislators so that your only contact with them isn’t when you’re asking for money. (At the same time, “You are never going to get what you want if you don’t ask for it.”) It’s important for library staff to be involved, and also to encourage library trustees and patrons to advocate for the library; often, a patron’s voice is more persuasive to a legislator than a librarian’s. When librarians do speak on behalf of the library, the focus ought to be “We’re not here to preserve my job, we’re trying to make the community a better place.”

Demonstrating real outcomes for real people, through qualitative (anecdotes, stories) and quantitative (numbers and statistics) evidence, is most effective. Collaborating and building coalitions with other community groups is also helpful; there are many groups and limited resources. That said, libraries do a lot with a little – specifically, with 0.07% of the Massachusetts state budget.

Screenshot of tweets, including Be aggressive and persistent. There are an endless number of worthy causes competing for limited resources. #advocacyScreenshot of tweets, including Library budget is 7 one-hundredths of the total operating budget (.07%) in Mass!!

A Whale of a Good Time: Summer Library Programming for All Ages, presented by Jennifer Harris and Margaret McGrath of the Plymouth Public Library (Tuesday, May 5, 2:30pm)

Attendees had two choices during this session: get inspired, or take your ball and glove and go home, because this was a hell of a summer reading program/community read (“One Book, One Community”). First of all, they got people to read Moby-Dick, which is impressive on its own. Second, they did a massive PR push, with mailings to 25,000 households and visits to all the elementary schools, raising awareness for all ages; high school art students were recruited to help with PR design. Third, they used every last drop of a $3,000 programming budget, spreading programs for all ages throughout the summer. Programs included three book discussions (it’s 600+ pages, folks), concerts on the lawn in front of the library, knot-tying lessons, a mini-readathon, a craft program series for teens, a hard tack tasting (verdict: not tasty), a movie screening, a Melville impersonator, a field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and visits from two separate inflatable whales.

Key to the success of the Plymouth Public Library program was staff buy-in and great brainstorming sessions, as well as a healthy budget, good planning, and great PR (in addition to the mailings, they were active on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Pinterest, and events appeared in the Boston Globe and on local TV as well).

Our library does a Community Read (Arlington Reads Together) in the spring, separate from our summer reading programs for children, teens, and adults. I’m curious how many other libraries combine their Community Read with summer reading.

Screenshot of tweet: PR: The message has to go out so that we can bring the people in. #summerreading #masslib15Screenshot of tweet: "If someone doesn't call you back, and you call a few days later and they still don't call you back, move on!" #lifeadvice #masslib15Screenshot of tweets: A Melville impersonator for Moby Dick summer reading program. I'm thinking of the Ben Franklin episode of The Office. #masslib15

RA Toolbox: Staying Alive – Readers’ Advisory Continuing Education, presented by Laurie Cavanaugh of the Holmes Public Library, Nanci Milone Hill of the Parker Memorial Library, Molly Moss, of the Forbes Library, and Leane M. Ellis of the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library (Tuesday, May 5, 4:15pm)

Each panelist in this session had been the recipient of a LSTA grant for readers’ advisory, administered through the MBLC, so each panelist talked about how they’d implemented the grant, as well as how they’d come to be interested (and expert) in readers’ advisory. Molly had a background in science and academic libraries; readers’ advisory was the most intimidating part of working at a public library reference desk for her. She tackled the task and became involved in the Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT) of Illinois. There is now a Readers’ Advisory Round Table (RART) for every region of Massachusetts (Northeast, West, Metrowest, Southeast), and each one has a blog.

Grant money can be put toward speaker fees, conference fees, materials (books), shelf talker materials (those plastic things that clip on to shelves), staff time, and mileage. Nanci invited Duncan Smith from NoveList to speak to her staff, as well as the Sisters in Crime; Molly invited Barry Trott of the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library. The WRL was the first library to put a “reader profile form” online; many libraries, including the Forbes in Northampton and the Robbins in Arlington, have adapted the form (with permission) to use on their own websites. Librarians at the Forbes have also done blitz-style RA, asking patrons to post to the library’s Facebook wall with a book they liked, and recommending another book based on that one.

All the panelists talked about genre studies. A typical model includes monthly or bi-monthly meetings where participants read one “benchmark” book in a genre or subgenre, and one secondary selection. This allows for common ground (the book everyone read) and new recommendations. Genre studies can be done within a library, in partnership between two libraries, and through the round table groups across the state. Virtual participants are welcome in the Massachusetts Readers’ Advisory Goodreads group.

Laurie said that readers’ advisory was “customer service in the digital age,” providing a personal touch. Leane, too, said that RA was “public service on a personal level for your readers and potential readers.” Customized forms are just one way to provide great recommendations to patrons; other models include “five to try” booklists, “If you like [author/title, TV show, etc.], you might also like [___],” subgenre booklists, and staff picks lists.

This session concentrated on the LSTA RA grant and implementing genre studies, rather than specific RA tips such as including appeal factors as well as a summary when talking or writing about a book (and no spoilers!). The RA interview was covered in a previous session, RA Toolbox: Conversing with the Reader – the Readers’ Advisory Interview. Additional RA tips and resources are available from MLS. The MLA RA Toolbox handout should, hopefully, be available soon on the Presentations & Handouts page of the conference site.

Screenshot of tweets including #readadv is a public service on a personal level for your readers and potential readers.Screenshot of tweets including Making sure entire library staff is on board with #readadv as an essential library service. #masslib15Screenshot of tweets including Writing about a book can cement information about it in your mind. Create booklists. #readadv #masslib15 2 retweets 1 favorite

Overall, a great conference experience that gave me plenty of ideas and resources to follow up on in the coming weeks, plus an opportunity to see friendly faces from grad school, past library work, fellow committee members, and even friends from Twitter.

If you have questions about any of these recaps, or have written your own recaps to share, please ask or link in the comments!


MLA 2015: Through the Library Lens, Part I

Thanks to my library’s wonderful support for professional development, once again I got to attend the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) annual conference. This year’s theme was “through the library lens,” though none of the sessions I went to specifically addressed what that might mean. (Could it just be a joke about how most of us wear glasses?) (Probably not.) The conference hashtag was #masslib15 and several of us were active on Twitter during the conference.

Throughout my session recaps, I will include links to presentations and slides when possible; most aren’t available online yet, but they should be posted on the presentations & handouts page of the MLA site. (I spoke to a conference organizer about maybe having the materials posted online before the conference started; she said it was hard enough to get the details of everyone’s programs in advance of the conference, getting presentations ahead of time would be next to impossible.)

Bite-Size Learning: Staff Training a Little at a Time, presented by Michelle Filleul, Amy Lannon, and Patty O’Donnell of the Reading Public Library (Monday, May 4, 10:30am)

This session started off with a seven-minute video (“Did You Know 2014“); it’s worthwhile, but I recommend watching it without the sound. The main point is that the world is changing rapidly, especially technology. Libraries can encourage their staff to be “lifetime learners” and create a learner-centric culture by implementing a “bite-size learning” program: each participating staff member gets to spend an hour a week learning something new. This learning is self-directed, internally motivated, goal-oriented, and self-paced; it is relevant to the individual, and is experiential (learn by doing).

Individuals might choose to familiarize themselves with Overdrive or read storytime blogs; they might explore Ancestry.com or take a webinar on any number of subjects. Managers/leaders can start with competency checklists and tailor them to their departments. Staff set specific goals and check in with their supervisor each week to track progress; supervisors participate in the program too. Seeing department heads and directors learn new things sets a good example and breaks down the fear of failure that can accompany trying something out of one’s comfort zone.

A paralibrarian from Reading spoke movingly about how the bite-size learning helped her; she said, “Technology isn’t my thing, but learning is….I don’t want to become a senior citizen who didn’t keep up with technology. I want to communicate with the younger generation on their terms….We have to know how to do these things.” Learning new skills builds confidence in one’s ability to learn, and in one’s ability to help others – a pretty big payoff in exchange for an hour a week.

Screenshot of tweet: Self-directed learning: internally motivated, goal oriented, self-paced, relevant to learner, experiential #masslib15Screenshot of two tweets: Cross-training helps staff better understand and appreciate others' work in the library -and- Bite size learning: Overcome fear of failure, learn something new, increase confidence.

Stealth Reference: Reaching Non-Library Users, presented by Margot Malachowski from the Baystate Health Sciences Library, Anne Gancarz from the Chicopee Public Library, and John Walsh from the Newton Free Library (Monday, May 4, 1:15pm)

“Stealth reference” is a very cool name for what is usually referred to as “outreach.” Margot from Baystate talked about identifying your vulnerable populations, and aligning programs with community needs. She teaches the public directly, taking questions and answering them by mail (five stars for follow-up!), and she also teaches the people who teach the public, like The Literacy Project.

Screenshot of tweet: If a user population isn't using the library, the library may not be serving them effectively.

Anne from Chicopee asked herself, “Who am I seeking? What am I offering?” and asked what motivation potential users had to come to the library. Anne, I suspect, doesn’t sleep much: she has gone into schools, visited homebound patrons, worked with teens, connected to the visually impaired community, gone to the farmers’ market, worked with the sheriff and ex-offenders, and worked with the Council on Aging (COA); there is a bookmobile in her future. Anne suggested collaboration: with town departments like Parks & Rec, the COA, planning boards, and local events. She noticed that program popularity is cyclical; what works one year may not work the next year. “We’re always awesome and helpful,” she said, “but people don’t always know that.” If every library had a Community Services Librarian like Anne, more people would know about all the things libraries have to offer.

Screenshot of tweets and RTs, including "Any opportunity to discuss your library gives you the opportunity to engage your community of potential library users"

Last but not least, John also talked about leaving the library building, going where the people you want to be users are, and showing them what they’re missing. “They don’t know they want things” or they don’t think the library has them. He recommended contacting businesses in the area; even chains like Starbucks and Whole Foods sometimes have community relations people who may be eager to help. Bring some handouts with you, he advised, but those handouts should be immediately useful – a calendar of events, a link to the digital media catalog, etc.

One of the challenges libraries face with outreach efforts – assuming that library leadership supports it – is finding the time for staff to leave the building. Many public libraries are short-staffed, and most won’t consider leaving the reference desk unattended while librarians are at the farmers’ market, the high school, or the senior center. Off-desk hours are precious too – that’s when we order books and other materials, plan programs, create booklists and displays and flyers and a hundred other things – but starting small is better than nothing at all.

Connecting the Dots of Internet Freedom: The Future of Free Speech, presented by Evan Greer from Fight for the Future (Monday, May 4, 2:45pm)

Like many privacy advocates, Evan is an impassioned speaker. She concentrated on four modern threats to freedom of expression on the Internet: (1) attacks on Net Neutrality, (2) mass surveillance, (3) overzealous copyright enforcement, and (4) secretive trade deals, e.g. the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Her presentation was both entertaining and convincing, though I suspect the people in attendance were convinced before they showed up. I tweeted throughout this session; see below for tweets and additional links.

Screenshot of tweets, including Net Neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. Slowness equals censorship. Screenshot of tweets, including PEN America report on chilling effect of mass surveillance:  http://pen.org/global-chill  #masslib15Screenshot of tweets including TPP will export US copyright law to the rest of the world - minus Fair Use. Congress loves phone calls https://www.stopfasttrack.com/ Links:

Power of the Written Word: Librarian Influence Through Writing Reviews, presented by Kristi Chadwick of the Massachusetts Library System, Rebecca Vnuk of Booklist, and Nanci Milone Hill of the M.G. Parker Memorial Library in Dracut (Monday, May 4, 4:00pm)

Rebecca, Kristi, and Nanci all gave general advice about writing reviews as well as specific tips for which publications are looking for reviewers and whether or not they pay (mostly they don’t, but book reviewing shows engagement with the profession and looks good to potential future employers, etc.). They also talked about how they got started; they all “fell into it” (but only if “falling into it” means seeking out and creating opportunities for writing reviews and honing their blogging skills).

Rebecca (Shelf Renewal) talked about some of the standard review publications – Library Journal and SLJ, Booklist, Kirkus, VOYA – and their different style guides. Find your voice: is it conversational or formal? Figure out what you want to say and who your audience is. Incorporate readers’ advisory aspects (e.g. appeal factors) into your reviews, and a sense of humor. If you do get your reviews published in one of these sources, cut out your printed review and compare it to what you submitted, line by line; this will improve your reviews. Take cues from existing blogs and websites, and practice writing reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or LibraryThing.

Kristi’s advice: find your review style, decide your limits, have a review policy, and don’t read other reviews of the book you’re reviewing (beware unintentional plagiarism). Identify the hook, the who/what/when/where/why, who the book will appeal to, and of course…no spoilers! Get e-galleys through NetGalley and/or Edelweiss and submit reviews to LibraryReads.

Screenshot of tweets, including Writing book reviews: What do you want to say? Who is your audience? #masslib15 -and- Find a style that works for you, decide your limits, have a review policy, don't plagiarize! -@booksNyarn Nanci suggested getting involved with your local Readers’ Advisory Round Table (every region of Massachusetts has one), and mentioned a few less obvious candidates for would-be reviewers and writers: NoveList, Public Libraries magazine, Bookmarks magazine, ALA Editions, the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and your local newspaper. Creating readers’ advisory materials for your own library is good practice too: shelf talkers (“If you like ___, try ___”), author and title readalikes, appeal readalikes, “five to try” (genre suggestions), etc.

As usual, presenters mentioned so many good resources and opportunities that follow-up will take me the next several weeks. And this was just day one – stay tuned for day two.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow

cover image of Information Doesn't Want to Be FreeCory Doctorow is one of the most articulate and outspoken advocates for online privacy and sensible copyright laws; he is staunchly opposed to Digital Rights Management (DRM). As “Doctorow’s First Law” states, Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won’t give you the key, that lock isn’t there for your benefit. His newest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, is organized into three sections, one for each of his laws.

Doctorow’s First Law has been illustrated neatly by two excellent webcomics: “Steal This Comic” (xkcd, a.k.a. Randall Munroe) and “I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened” (The Oatmeal, a.k.a. Matthew Inman). Both comics make the point that buying digital content through official online platforms (a) can be difficult-to-impossible, and (b) means you can’t take it with you, whereas illegally downloaded content can be used on any device or platform.

Plenty of consumers want to pay creators for their work, but also want control over that content once they’ve bought it. (As Amanda Palmer writes in her foreword to the book, “People actually like supporting the artists whose work they like. It makes them feel happy. You don’t have to force them. And if you force them, they don’t feel as good.”) Digital locks – DRM – tie up our digital purchases in ways that make them complicated to use and sometimes make them outright obsolete. This is frustrating for law-abiding people who just want to be able to bring an audiobook from computer to car to digital media player of choice, or who want to read an e-book on any device they happen to have, no matter what operating system it’s running. There’s no reason an e-book file from Amazon should be incompatible with a Kobo device, except of course that Amazon – not the author, not the publishers (anymore) – wants it that way.

Doctorow’s Second Law applies more to creators than consumers: Fame won’t make you rich, but you can’t get paid without it. He’s not talking Lady Gaga levels of fame; simply, if you’re an artist, no one can buy your work if they don’t know it exists. The Internet can work to connect content creators with a potential audience. However, Cory writes, “The fewer channels there are, the worse the deal for creators will be. Any choke point between the creator and the audience will turn into a tollbooth, where someone will charge whatever the market will bear for the privilege of facilitating the buying and selling of creative work.” The publisher Hachette realized this belatedly with Amazon last year; by requiring DRM on all the e-books they sold, publishers handed over control to the retailers, who aren’t about to give it up. Authors – the creators – were caught in the middle.

I marked more pages in the third section of the book than in the previous two combined. Doctorow’s Third Law states, Information doesn’t want to be free, people do. As a creator himself, Cory isn’t against copyright, but he points out the difference between industrial regulation and regulation on an individual level: “Copyright is alive and well – as an industrial regulation. Copyright as a means of regulating cultural activities among private individuals isn’t dead, because it’s never been alive.

The entertainment industry – particularly Hollywood movie studios and record companies – want to be able to regulate copies on the individual level, at the expense of personal privacy. However, their arguments that piracy is destroying the industry have been neatly shot down by none other than the GAO, who said that it would be “difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the net effect of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy as a whole.” YouTube is a particular thorn in the entertainment industry’s side, even though, mathematically, only a tiny fraction of content on YouTube is potentially copyright-infringing. (To calculate this, Cory multiplied every entry in IMDB by 90 minutes per program (low for movies, high for episodes of TV shows), which comes to only about 28 days’ worth of YouTube uploads.)

When movie studios and record companies attempt to place artificial restrictions on individuals by adding DRM and other kinds of digital locks on their media and media players, they are attempting (unsuccessfully) to protect their content, but “You can’t ‘protect’ devices from their owners unless you can update them without their owners’ knowledge or consent.” This is a dangerous area. As Cory writes, “when technology changes, it’s usually the case that copyright has to change, too.…[but] the purpose of copyright shouldn’t be to ensure that whoever got lucky with last year’s business model gets to stay on top forever.”

Cory argues that we need a new system of copyright, one that “that enables the largest diversity of creators making the largest diversity of works to please the largest diversity of audiences.” The Internet allows the kind of direct connection between creators and audience that hasn’t been possible before, and copyright must adapt so that it continues to protect content, not middlemen.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free is familiar ground for longtime Doctorow readers and those who follow the “copyfight” in general, but it’s also a good introduction for those who haven’t thought much about the issue.

See also: “4 Ways Copyright Law Actually Controls Your Whole Digital Life” by Kate Cox at Consumerist (January 22, 2015)