Still here

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

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

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

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

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



New year, new look (and ALA YMA!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

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

Number of books read in 2017: 240

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

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

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

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

Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy

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

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

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

Five-star ratings: 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Services for library patrons with low vision or hearing loss

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

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

Here are some takeaways from the training:

Navigating the library for blind patrons (physical and online)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrons with hearing loss

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

Assistive devices

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

Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library Services

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

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


A year of read-alikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Early literacy and 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do people do all day?

Cover image of What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry
What Do People Do All Day?

What do librarians do all day?

The scope of library jobs has expanded over the years. In many places, “reference librarians” are now called “adult services” or “information services” librarians to reflect the additional tasks and responsibilities we’ve taken on. Reference services are still a core part of the job, as is collection management (someone has to buy new books…and get rid of old ones). We plan programs, too, and of course, there are always “other duties as assigned.”

At the reference desk: Now that we have the Internet, what kinds of questions do librarians answer?

We still answer the occasional “ready reference” or simple question about a fact (spelling, grammar, geography, phone number lookup). We answer questions about library services: our hours, where the restrooms are located, how to reserve a museum pass or study room, where to find books/music/movies. We answer LOTS of tech questions and do a lot of troubleshooting: we help people use library apps like OverDrive, we help them print and make copies, we help them scan, we help them check out laptops and use library software, we show them library databases.

We answer questions about books and recommend books based on reader’s preferences (those are my favorite questions!). We help people navigate the internet to find information they need, whether it’s looking for an apartment on Craigslist, looking for love on a dating website, or applying for a job online. We help people in languages other than English. We help people doing research for school projects and college classes, and help people make Inter-Library Loan (ILL) requests for books that are not in our library network. We answer local history questions and connect people with unique local history resources.

Collection development: Where do the books come from (and where do they go)?

“Collection management” or “collection development” is the library term for acquiring new materials and deaccessioning (a.k.a. weeding) others, to maintain a collection that is current and interesting to our users. There is more collection development work now than there used to be, because there are more formats – not just fiction and nonfiction books, and magazines and newspapers, but paperbacks, foreign language materials, large print books, graphic novels and manga, audiobooks on CD and Playaway, digital content (e-books and digital audiobooks), movies and documentaries on DVD, music on CD, electronic databases, streaming services, video games, and more.

Library users may not think about where library materials come from, but someone has to select every title in every format. It’s a bigger job than it used to be, and it takes a lot of time: time to read (or skim) reviews in at least one review source (though there are many – Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, to name a few, and VOYA and The Horn Book for teens and children’s books), time to make lists and order the materials, time to keep track of spending so you’re neither under- nor over-budget by the end of the fiscal year.


Making things happen: What’s involved in planning a program?

You may well ask! “Program” is a bland word. A library program can be almost anything: a book group (and we have five of these, three of which are run by librarians, one of which – mine! – is a cookbook club that does a potluck), a lecture or author talk, a crafting project, a music concert, a film screening, a theater performance, a dance lesson, a tech petting zoo. We have offered computer classes, drop-in tech help sessions, resume and cover letter workshops, holiday card writing stations, game nights, and singalongs (not just for kids! Les Miserables and Pitch Perfect were very popular with adults).

For every program, there is a whole checklist of tasks to complete, in many different places (physical and digital):

  • Reserve event space on the library’s internal calendar (Google calendar)
  • Create the event on the library website calendar (WordPress)
  • If there is an outside performer/presenter, set a date and time and agree on payment or travel costs (e-mail or phone)
  • Add the event to our monthly press release (Google docs)
  • Create a flyer to post in the library (Publisher or Canva)
  • Make another version of the flyer to fit our digital sign (Publisher and Paint or Canva) and upload (Dropbox)
  • Make additional promo materials (e.g. bookmarks or half- or quarter-sheet handouts)
  • Write a blog post (WordPress)
  • Promote on social media (Facebook and Twitter via Hootsuite)
  • Set up event registration, if using, and send a reminder to participants (Eventbrite)

And that’s all before the day of the program itself. On that day, there is the time of the program itself, plus setup and cleanup, remembering to take a head count of attendees, and perhaps asking them to fill out a feedback form to help improve future programming.

The work of program planning, collection development, and creating displays largely takes place during our off-desk hours (the time that we are not at the reference desk), because, as they say, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated; the library is busier than ever.

Other duties as assigned

Reference service, collection development, and program planning are three big chunks of the adult services librarian job. What else do we do? This varies from library to library. Here, we create displays (we have three display tables, and we create new displays every month, which means that our team of five full-time librarians creates thirty-six displays each year), write for the library blog, offer a variety of “readers’ advisory” services (from our staff picks shelf to our Goodreads account to handouts on specific topics or genres), contribute to the library’s social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter), attend monthly department meetings and other meetings for various committees and groups, and attend the occasional conference or other professional development activity. And of course, there are little tasks that take up time, such as refilling office supplies, cleaning up messes, watering the office plants, and anything else that arises.

So that’s what librarians do all day. Do you work in a library? What parts of your job do you think would surprise people?