Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) has been on my to-read list – and on my bookshelf – for some time now. My book club chose it for our April meeting, and once I picked it up, I read it quickly; it’s written in a clear, accessible style and makes a great deal of sense. Cain draws on a large body of research and writes about her own experience as well as that of others, and this mix of data and anecdotes makes for a perfect blend.

There are plenty of differences between introverts and extroverts, but one of the main ones has to do with stimulation. How much do you need to stay in your “sweet spot” where you’re neither bored nor overwhelmed? Introverts and extroverts feel comfortable – and do their best learning and work – with different levels of stimulation (noise levels, new environments, crowds of people, etc.).

Cover image of Quiet by Susan CainCain gives a bit of history about how, especially in America, we’ve shifted from a “Culture of Character” (in which “the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable”) to a “Culture of Personality” (a focus on how one is perceived by others). The “Extrovert Ideal” is now pervasive in the workplace as well as in schools, despite the fact that 1/3 to 1/2 the population is introverted and that there are actually disadvantages* to setting up schools and offices to suit only extroverts.

Can introverts fake being extroverts in order to fit in (and get ahead)? Sure, to some extent; but, Cain writes, “We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality….We can stretch our personalities…only up to a point.” While an open floor plan office might provide just the right level of stimulation for extroverts, it’s likely to exhaust and stress an introvert unless s/he has the opportunity to recharge by working in quiet and solitude some of the time. (Open-plan offices have also been found to “reduce productivity and impair memory” – probably not what employers are after.) Likewise, working in large groups or teams in a classroom might be great for some kids, but others will do their best work independently. (Indeed, Stephen Wozniak has said, “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.”)

*I found the following two pieces of information surprising and interesting:

(1) “…excessive stimulation seems to impede learning….the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity. Even multitasking…turns out to be a myth. Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.”

(2) “…group brainstorming doesn’t actually work….Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases. [Online collaboration is an exception.] We fail to realize that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own.”

A more balanced approach in schools and workplaces would benefit everyone, not just the introverts. (Cain’s section on the Wall Street crash is one example.) But if you’re an introvert and your school or workplace is set up to honor the “Extrovert Ideal,” at the very least, Quiet affirms that there’s nothing wrong with you; you just don’t happen to fit “the prevailing model.” Try to carve out “restorative niches” wherever you can, and don’t feel guilty if you’d rather be home with a book than out at a bar.




Designing Interactive Library Spaces and Collections

During the month of March, I took an online workshop called “Designing Interactive Library Spaces and Collections” through the Simmons School of Library and Information Science Continuing Education (SLIS CE) program. The brief course description was:

“Modern library practices and strategies are driving many libraries to rethink and redesign their spaces and their collections. This workshop will focus on how to design and deliver spaces and collections which facilitate and grow user interaction and engagement.”

I was torn between this one and “Graphic Design for Librarians,” but ultimately chose this one in case the other was too basic. (Did anyone take that one, or have any tips or great resources along those lines? Please share in the comments!)

The course requirements included some reading, posting to the discussion board each week, responding to other participants’ posts, and completing a final assignment. In the past, I’ve found that online discussion boards really enhanced a class experience, whether the class was blended or entirely online; in this case, however, only about four of us posted, and by chance our libraries were all different: academic, school, special, and public. Of course, some ideas work just as well in any of these settings, but with such specific cases, there were fewer transferable ideas than I had hoped. I was also disappointed that the workshop instructor did not participate or offer feedback.

She did, however, pull together some interesting reading (and video) and an overwhelming number of food-for-thought questions; the discussion board prompts (below) are only the tip of the iceberg. As usual with online learning, you get out of it what you put into it; anyone who answered every prompt and question would have produced a pretty thorough long-range plan for their library, at least in terms of designing the space and collection to promote interaction.

The first week’s discussion board, Designing for Engagement, asked participants:

Please discuss your current approach to user engagement. Include:

  • An overview of your current user engagement strategy and model, as well as your library’s definition of successful user engagement
  • The strengths and weaknesses of your spaces and physical layout
  • Your vision and goals for the future

The second week’s discussion board, Designing for Participation and Discovery, asked:

Discuss how you develop valuable and compelling opportunities for participation and discovery at your library:

  • What is the desired participatory experience?
  • What are your goals? What do you promote?
  • How would you like people to create, share, connect, etc. around your content?
  • Do you trust your users?
  • Are you comfortable with messy?

The third week’s discussion board, Evolving Services and Interactive Collections, asked:

Consider and discuss your collections and services:

  • Do your collections offer any avenues for fluid experimentation, open exploration, or immediate feedback on new ideas?
  • Do you offer people tools and supports to pursue their interests and passions? Could you expand your offerings?
  • Are you more engaging or more transactional?
  • What are your short and longer term goals for your collections?

Finally, the course project:

Develop a strategy to increase user engagement, participation, or discovery within/with your library. Focus on any aspect of your collections, services, partnerships, programming, and/or spaces at your library or institution which you wish to adapt. This can be a simple, or more complex, strategy according to your needs and time available. Establish a timeline and a schedule for implementation, and determine and state specific and measurable objectives. What are you focusing on? User engagement, participation, discovery? Who are you trying to reach? What outcomes are you trying to achieve? What actions will you be taking?

The “strategy” I developed for this assignment was simple: I would like to install a Welcome Board that all visitors to the library see upon entering the building. We have just one main entrance/exit, so the Welcome Board would be visible to all foot traffic, no matter the visitor’s ultimate destination within the library. The Welcome Board would (a) communicate a welcoming message (ideally in concert with an overhaul of library signage), and (b) promote events and programs happening in the library that day (as well as upcoming programs that week, space permitting). [Note: I’m borrowing this idea from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA.]

Most events and programs at our library take place in one of two rooms: one is up on the fourth floor, and the other is on the basement level, accessible by elevator or by walking through the Children’s Department. Thus, it’s likely that most library visitors may be entirely unaware of what’s happening at the library, even as it’s happening! Of course, there are many other ways to learn about library events – flyers, our e-newsletter, the website calendar – but a Welcome Board is a simple, high-visibility way to promote things that are already happening at the library. Even if visitors don’t have time to attend or aren’t interested in that day’s offerings, the Welcome Board sends the message that the library is more than just a place to get books and movies – it’s a place where things happen and people come together.

An easel whiteboard with CLP events written on it in different colors

Like this! “Today @ the library…”

As for a timeline, this one should be easy to implement. We already have the information about library events on the calendar and the monthly press release, so it’s just a matter of presentation. The fancy, high-tech option would be a screen, either freestanding or wall-mounted, but the simpler, less expensive, and more personal option would be a whiteboard or a chalkboard (again, freestanding, wall-mounted, or easel-style). We could get two, so Tuesday’s events could be prepared on Monday without taking the board down early Monday night or requiring any staff to come in early Tuesday morning. And we could even do a program on chalkboard art and lettering, for staff and patrons alike.

What do you say, boss?

What are your favorite interactive/engaging elements you’ve seen at a library? Please share!


Early literacy: Baby sign language

Recently we attended a baby sign language class at the library, taught by Sheryl White of Baby Kneads. According to Sheryl, the benefits of baby sign language include:

  • reducing frustration for everyone
  • giving babies the ability to express themselves before they can speak
  • accelerating babies’ development of speech
  • enhancing early literacy skills
  • deepening bonding and increasing contentedness

Sheryl taught us several signs and when to use them: when you have the baby’s attention (when s/he is looking at you), before, during, and after the activity or item in question. For example, you might sign “book” before reading, during reading, and after reading. (The exception is “milk”: if the baby is already hungry and fussy, give her milk first, and make the sign for milk during and after she eats.) Always say the word along with the sign, and make your tone of voice interesting and relevant (exciting for “dinosaur,” soothing for “sleep”).

The signs to start with are milk, more, and finished/all done, and the usual recommended time to start is around six months, though Sheryl said starting as early as two months could help some babies start signing earlier. Babies will catch on and may start trying to sign well before their adults realize it, so watch closely if you’re trying this with your baby.

In addition to the four signs mentioned above, we’ve chosen a few others to introduce once she gets the idea: play, music, jump, ball, water, bath, diaper, yes and no, please and thank you (it’s never too early for good manners!), hello and goodbye, and mom and dad. You can tell by our selection what we’re up to these days…

We’re hoping these signs let us communicate with each other sooner than we would be able to otherwise, since she’ll be able to sign before she can speak. Have you used baby sign language? What was your experience with it?

Bye for now!



More to the story

Linda writes, “Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is Ten Songs That I Wish Were Books, and it may be my favorite topic so far. Now these aren’t necessarily my favorite songs….They’re just songs that I think have a good story behind them that could be developed even more.”

As someone who spent a significant percentage of her teenage years squinting at liner notes and mining song lyrics for meaning, I agree that this is a great topic, and it’s a struggle to keep it to ten (you’ll see below that I kind of cheated to include more), but these were some of the first to come to mind. Unlike Linda, I didn’t pair an author with every song (though hats off to her for some awesome, and telling, choices). These songs already have a story-like quality to them, and I’d love to see three minutes expanded to 300 pages.

  1. “Brick” by Ben Folds Five and “Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe: these two songs are linked in my mind, possibly because they were on the radio a lot around the same time, but they also both have to do with abortion.
  2. “Lately” by Helio Sequence: “Lately” is essentially an updated version of “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan, which is already part of the High Fidelity movie soundtrack, so I suppose this book already exists and what I want is for Nick Hornby to write another book about music.
  3. “Crush” by Jimmy Eat World: I would like Sara Zarr, Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Gayle Forman collaborate on this one, please and thank you.
  4. “The Way” by Fastball: for some reason this song has always put me in mind of two books: Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout and Smack by Melvin Burgess. But I’d read a third.
  5. “Bank Job” by Barenaked Ladies is the only heist song I know of; I’d like for Dave Barry (Big Trouble, etc.) to write it. Practically every other BNL song would also make a good book; I’m thinking “The Old Apartment,” “The Flag,” “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” and “Fun & Games” to start.
  6. “Play Crack the Sky” by Brand New: this haunting, tragic song has Audrey Niffenegger’s name on it.
  7. Like BNL, nearly every song by The Weakerthans would make a good novel; I’ll go with “Reconstruction Site,” with “Civil Twilight” a close second.
  8. “Nightswimming” by REM: maybe this is more like one scene in a book than a whole book itself. Let’s give it to Lauren Myracle (The Infinite Moment of Us).
  9. “Cath…” by Death Cab for Cutie: According to Wikipedia, this song is based on Wuthering Heights, so.
  10. “February” by Dar Williams or “As Is” by Ani DiFranco: these top-notch singer/songwriters are probably capable of writing their own books.


Pleasure reading should be pleasurable

Makes sense when you think about it, right? Yet so many of us feel obligated to finish a book once we’ve started it, and feel guilty if we set it aside. We really should read it, because a friend recommended it, or it got a good review, or it’s on a topic we really ought to know more about, or everyone else is reading it, or we put it on our to-read list four years ago (but we can’t remember why), or it’s a classic…fill in the blank however you like.

But unless a book is assigned reading for school or work, then presumably you’re reading for pleasure, and pleasure reading should be pleasurable. Not that you shouldn’t ever explore a new genre or try a book that you find a bit difficult, but if you’re 25 or 50 or 100 pages in and you’re just not that into it, then by all means, put it down and pick up something else instead! You have this librarian’s permission.

This is something I have worked on for years myself. I was inspired partly by Knopf editor Marty Asher, who said something along the lines of “I don’t have time to read anything but great books” (and that was almost a decade ago). Of course, you might well think a book is going to be great and it turns out not to be: you can only judge so much by the cover, title, author, first sentence, first page, flap copy, reviews, etc. Most of us don’t choose books we think we’re going to dislike on purpose.

And yet it can be so hard to put down a book we’ve invested some time in already. It feels like giving up; it feels like failure. And who knows? We’re optimistic; maybe it will get better in another 25, 50, 100 pages. But no: at some point you begin to feel certain that this book is not the one for you, at least not right now. (“Every reader his/her book, every book its reader“).

One side effect of my free time having been somewhat curtailed of late is that I have become much better at putting down a book that doesn’t hook me quickly. This is usually not a reflection on the book’s quality; it’s just not for me, not right now. For example, I have decided to return M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead to the library – despite the fact that it was personally recommended to me by a reader I trust, and that it was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults – because I just can’t get excited about the siege of Leningrad right now.

What can I get excited about? Young adult fiction, apparently: I’ve read nine YA novels so far this year, including some truly stellar books (all right, let’s name names: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Like No Other, Dumplin’, Roller Girl, Echo, A Step Toward Falling, Bone Gap, Rain Reign). I’ve also read (and re-read) some excellent picture books. And, I got to read Gayle Forman’s upcoming adult novel Leave Me, which is just as good as her YA; I read it in just two days, and I have a three-month-old baby, so that should tell you something. (The thing it should tell you is “read Leave Me“!)

So there you have it, from a librarian: if you don’t like what you’re reading, and you don’t have to read it, put it down and read something you love instead. That’s the beauty of the public library: millions of books just there for the borrowing. Don’t do what I did and spend an entire month trying to slog through a book you aren’t that excited about: you’re not being graded, and ticking a box on a checklist you made yourself isn’t nearly as satisfying as spending time reading a book you love. In fact, I think there’s a song about this. Let it go…

[All that said…my library is hosting a 2016 Reading Challenge with some interesting categories, and one book can count toward more than one category. Click through to read more if you’re interested in participating.]

2015 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Number of books read in 2015: 197

Picture books: 84 (actual number is higher but I didn’t add them all to LibraryThing)

Partially-read books: 16

Books read in 2015 minus picture books and partially-read books: 97

YA books read: 45

Average number of books read per month (including YA, excluding picture books and partially-read books): 8.08

Audiobooks: 14

Total page count: 51,949 (This is approximate rather than exact. I used data from LT without filtering out audiobooks, picture books, or partially-read books; however, page count information is missing from LT for any book I read in galley form, or added well in advance of its publication date, so I figure it all evens out, pretty much.)

Author gender breakdown pie chart from LT (48.43% male, 51.57% female)

Female/male authors: Still almost exactly equal for my library overall, though the balance has tipped in favor of the ladies this year.

Five-star ratings: 20, including a few re-reads (Fangirl, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I Capture the Castle, Station Eleven, Bossypants)

Here’s last year’s wrap-up, and here’s the one from 2013. And if you like reading other people’s recaps of their reading years, as I do, here’s Jessamyn West’s “Year in Reading” and Linda’s (ThreeGoodRats) “Year of Reading” and “TBR Pile Challenge 2016.”

I haven’t settled on any reading-related resolutions (say that three times fast), though I’m open to ideas. As usual, I’ll be trying to make my way through the books that I own but haven’t read yet; library books tend to jump the queue, since they have due dates.

Have you made a bookish resolution for the year? Do you have any recommendations? Are there books being published this year that you’re eager to read? I’m looking forward to Maggie Stiefvater’s final book in the Raven Cycle,  Jon Klassen’s next hat-related picture book, We Found A Hat, and I hear there will be a new Ann Patchett novel this year.




Winter re-reading

When I was younger, I re-read books constantly. I re-read less now, partly because working in a public library, I’m hyper-aware of all the new books being published, as well as all the old ones that have a good long shelf life (pun intended). But I’m re-reading three* books right now, so I’ve been thinking: Which books do you return to over and over? Is there a particular time (say, when you’re traveling, or after finishing a very long book, or one you didn’t like much) or time of year that you like to re-read?

Cover image of Greenglass House*The three I’m re-reading/re-listening-to now are Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale; The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, read by a full cast. I read Greenglass House for the first time last year and I think re-reading it may become an annual winter tradition.

Here are a few of my other favorite books to re-read:

  • Cover image of The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass is the first)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
  • Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Boggart by Susan Cooper
  • The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

I think I’ll re-read The Princess Bride this year also. I’ve been meaning to for a while…although I could re-read it every year for the next thirty years and still not catch up to how many times I’ve seen the movie.