Saturday, October 3, 2015

The 180-turn of Banned Books Week

If you're a long-time reader, you may recall that last year, my Banned Books Week attempt to educate my community on the subject was ignored.  Going into this year's recognition of censorship and the freedom to read, I was feeling a bit down.  I wasn't going to make a display or anything.

And then I made a post on my library's Facebook page.

"Psst ... next week is Banned Books Week, when libraries and bookstores across the country celebrate our freedom to read, and our freedom from censorship.
"Will you read something dangerous, such as John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" (challenged and restricted many times for profanity) or the "Harry Potter" series (frequently challenged/banned for featuring the occult)?"

Wouldn't you know it, the local TV station called to set up an interview.

Lesson: Always be careful what you post on Facebook.  You might find yourself scrambling to throw together a book display for a television appearance.

This time, our display case was in use by a private collection, so I made a larger display on the table in one of our meeting rooms, plus a smaller display on a table in the kids' area.

Introductory sign

Information and graphs
More information people could peruse
We own half the books on the 2014 Top Ten list.
And so, with a more prominent display and TV coverage, I actually got people discussing Banned Books Week.  The highlight of discussions may have been when the city police chief came and asked if we had the Anarchist's Cookbook (for the record, not only do we not, but I also couldn't find a library copy in the entire state).

No parents or children commented on the smaller display, but I did see a teen study it.

Did you have a good Banned Books Week?  Read anything special for it?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Service and therapy dogs: an out-of-the-box presentation

Happy summer reading programming, everyone!  Are the librarians out there surviving?  If you're a patron, are you taking advantage of the awesome things happening at your local library?

Having gotten in my first full year at my current library directorship - and a very good year it was - I decided to step up my game a bit.  First, with my advisory board's blessing, I implemented an adult summer reading program.  Similar to other local libraries, I made it a summer reading raffle - people could enter a raffle for books they read or listen to, to win prizes from local businesses.  Overall, the businesses I approached were very generous.  And nearly all of them were in the small city where I work, which is of course an added bonus.  People have mostly been interested in this.  I'll have the first drawing for a prize on Monday.

Second, I mass-distributed flyers about the classic summer reading program at the local elementary school.  The assistant principal is a cousin, so it was easy to get a head count.  There has been a slight uptick in children signing up for the program, which rewards every hour (or fifty pages, for chapter book readers) read with a prize, and program completion with Pizza Hut Book-It! coupons and a free book.

But the best thing so far is what I want to tell you about today: a completely innovative, out-of-the-box idea for a presentation.  Feel free to use it.  It may be a little difficult to pull off, depending on how a particular local demographic may be, but please, if you like the idea, have at.

This year's summer reading theme is, "Every Hero Has a Story."  This is wonderfully broad; it can incorporate superheroes, community heroes such as firefighters and police officers (or teachers and librarians), veterans, and those who help animals.  Some other local libraries have booked the animal welfare shelter, the raptor rehabilitation center, and other really neat venues.

I went a little more personal.  My father has a service dog.  While many people in the community know enough to ask before petting the service dog, I realized that it's important to educate people on what a service dog is and does.  Furthermore, a lot of people confuse service dogs and therapy dogs, since they both go to places you don't typically see animals (schools, libraries, hospitals, etc.).

This is my father's service dog, Anthem. He takes care of my father in many ways.

Getting the resources together was fairly easy.  My dad was cool with it; mind you, he's not your average veteran with a service dog.  A lot of other local people with service dogs would not be comfortable addressing or being in a crowd.  If you want a service dog and his or her handler to come and talk at your library, you may want to find someone who has a service dog for diabetes or seizures, or even a guide dog for visual or aural impairments.

My community is also blessed with a great organization, Superiorland Pet Partners.  They have quite an assortment of teams who do everything from hospital visits to reading programs at schools and libraries.  During exam week at Northern Michigan University, they even go to the university library to offer comfort for the students while they study.  It's an amazing group of handlers and pets.  I emailed them, and quickly found myself with someone to help coordinate my event.

I had a few new nonfiction books on therapy and service dogs in the library collection, which I was prepared to read.  Initially, I was hoping to have the presentation on the lawn outside - my assistant is allergic to furry creatures - but it rained that day, so it was held inside.  A little cramped, but it worked.

I had a turnout of five handlers, six dogs (one service dog and five therapy dogs), and thirty attendees of all ages.  For my library, that's awesome.

After everyone was settled (including the news crew from a local TV station), I made opening statements, then had each handler introduce himself or herself and their dogs.  Some stories were shared.  Then I sat on the rug and read Tuesday Tucks Me In, the children's book by Luis Carlos Montalvan.  The children had the opportunity to pet or cuddle the therapy dogs while I read this wonderful book that illustrated a day in the life of Tuesday, the service dog, and Luis, the disabled veteran he does so much for.  I highly recommend this book for a presentation like this.  Kids and adults alike gleaned a lot of information about service dogs from it, and it was both funny and moving.

I read the story.  Bijou is in the chair behind me, and Roxy is in the foreground.

When the book was finished, I turned the floor back over to the handlers.  They had many stories to share.  We also took questions.  Some community members attended because they were curious about service and therapy dog certification, and what a person needs to be qualified for a service dog.  I believe they went away with a lot of good information.

If you want some key points, here they are:
  • Service dogs take care of one person.
  • Service dogs are highly trained.  Anthem and his litter mates, for example, spent the first 18 months of their lives in training, before being placed.
  • You need a prescription for a service dog, and the dog needs to take care of at least three medical issues that could not be otherwise met.
  • Therapy dogs provide comfort to many people.
  • Therapy dogs need to be certified to enter places such as hospitals and other medical facilities.  Superiorland Pet Partners does regular training, evaluation and certification.
  • To be a certified therapy dog (at least around here; laws and regulations may differ regionally), the dog has to be owned by the handler for at least six months, be at least one year in age, and pass an evaluation.  Dogs are reevaluated every two years.
 Every hero has a story - and not all heroes walk on two feet.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Which library? Rot & Ruin graphic novel

Last month, the trade paperback of the first graphic novel of the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry came out.  I read and enjoyed this story from between books 2 and 3, but was faced with a very tough question: Where on Earth do I put this?

While I do love graphic novels, and they are great for people who don't have much time to read (library directors, high school students) or for reluctant readers, there is an issue that rears its ugly head over them: they have pictures.  Yeah, obvious, I know.  But that fact raises two problems: they are discounted as not being literary enough (baloney; see also my discussion of Maus) or parents debate whether children should have access to them.  To read about violence and other questionable topics is one thing.  To have them visually portrayed is another.

I have installed the complete novel series of Rot & Ruin at both of my libraries.  The question I faced was whether I could put it in the school library, or if it should just go into the public library.  People would get access to it somewhere.  But, where?

There's not a terrible amount of blood or gore, especially considering that it's a zombie novel.  But it is a zombie novel, and what's at stake in the plot is creepy and unnerving.  Would it be appropriate for the school setting?  It's for teens, like its parent novel series, but I do have students that start reading it in sixth grade.

After some ruminating, I decided to loan it to a particular freshman.  He's a great patron, and I knew he'd give me honest answers on whether it was okay to have in school.  Toward the end of last school year, he'd been asking if we could carry A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin; he was reading the first one at the time.  I said no, that it wasn't appropriate for school, and that I like my job.  When I saw him in the fall, he had finished A Game of Thrones, and honestly told me that he now understood why I couldn't have it in the school library.

So, I handed it to him one morning, explained that I wasn't sure which library to put it in, and told him to read it and let me know what he thought.  He loves the series, and was thrilled to have the opportunity.  When I saw him at lunchtime, he was partway through and gushing about how great it was.

Last Wednesday, he returned it, and I asked him about it.  He gushed more about it, and told me how a friend was interested in it, too.  Not too keen on the art style, but he loved the story.

"Do you think I can put it in this library, or is it a bit too mature?" I asked.  He thought about it, then said that he thought it okay.  Not much violence or gore.

"Would you let your little brother read it?" I asked.  His little brother is in fifth grade.

"He's not like other fifth graders," he replied.

I laughed.  "True," I agreed.  "But do you think it would be okay for fifth graders to read it?"

"No, Miss (Librarian), but I think sixth graders could handle it," my student determined.

And thus, I have taken his advice and added it to the school collection.

It's a good idea to find outside sources when considering collection development.  Get the opinions of your most fervent patrons.  I know you consider what they like and what gets the most checkouts, but don't be afraid to hand them something new, or even an advanced reading copy, and find out what they think.  It's worthwhile.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day!

This Saturday, May 2, 2015, is being celebrated across the nation as Independent Bookstore Day!

Four hundred bookstores are getting ready to rock your world with author visits/signings, giveaways, and more.  Go to for more information or to find a participating indie store near you.

Indie bookstores are worth supporting!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Yay for YA: Curses and Smoke

What's this?  Two book reviews within a month?

Let me tell you about Curses and Smoke, by Vicky Alvear Shecter!  (I previously reviewed another of her books, Cleopatra's Moon, in 2011.)

Checkouts: 2
Typical reader: Teens interested in historical fiction and/or Pompeii
Source: The author generously donated this and another of her books to the school library!

Synopsis: Lucia is the daughter of the owner of a gladiatorial school, and is being sold off in marriage to an old man to better her father's status.  Tag is a medical slave owned by her father, and dreams of becoming a gladiator and winning his freedom.  These two childhood friends reconnect and plan to escape Pompeii and Lucia's father, while strange things are happening in nature on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius ...

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

First of all, I would like to thank the author very much for contacting me and offering to donate this and Hades Speaks! to one of my libraries.  I hope I'm not too far behind in writing this honest review.

This is a wonderfully researched novel set at the time of the unexpected, catastrophic eruption in AD 79 that destroyed, yet preserved, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.  I enjoyed the look into the customs and culture of this ancient civilization, as shown through the novel.  The extensive author's note at the end delighted me.  Curses and Smoke taught me a lot about Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, and some aspects of ancient Roman life.  As with Cleopatra's Moon, Ms. Shecter has worked magic with what resources were available.

For the most part, I enjoyed the story.  There were times when I felt that it had too many similarities to James Cameron's Titanic, particularly in some ways the couples' escapes were thwarted.  The situations both dragged on.  Overall, though, it was a pretty good plot, with well-developed characters.

I didn't entirely hate the love polygon.  Yes, it was a polygon, not a triangle; there were a lot of relationships intertwined.  There were a few pleasant twists, however, and for those, I could accept the relationship intrigues at work.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel.  I would recommend it to teens, or middle school students looking for a book for their historical fiction book report assignment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's Elementary: Bamboozled on Beaver Island

Wow, I haven't written a book review since Banned Books Week, back in September.  Color me sheepish - especially since I'd promised a few authors reviews of their books.

It's spring break around here this week, so I'm only working one of my jobs this week.  (Still 40 hours over five days, but I get to sleep in most days and leave early a couple times.)  And I am actually making good on promises.

Today, let me tell you about the first book in the Holly Wild series by Michigan author Lori Taylor.

Checkouts: Just talked a student into it last week!
Typical reader: Michigan middle elementary children
Source: The author, at the Outback Art Fair last summer

Synopsis: Holly Wild wants to do something heroic.  Will she have the opportunity to do so with her friends on a trip to Beaver Island?

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This is an illustrated novel in the vein of the ever-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries, but significantly less "woe am I" than your average contemporary kids' fiction diary.  Sure, Holly is not necessarily popular, but she doesn't wallow in it.  This is a strong female character, with a healthy interest in adventure and science!  Holly likes squishy, icky, gross things, and can use the scientific method to figure things out.  Rejoice.

I am not big on mysteries, and I will say that I winced when I realized that there was a mystery to solve.  However, this won me over with how fun and adventurous the escapades of Holly, her grandmother, and her friends Sierra and Tierra (twins, obviously) are.  It also encourages the reader to get out and explore the natural world.

This is the first book in a series of at least three novels, all set in Michigan.  It's perfect for children in second through fourth grades.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What They Don't Teach You in Library School: Tax Forms

As anyone who has gone through a master's program in library (and information) science knows, the degree focuses a lot on theory rather than practicum.  Don't get me wrong, an MLS or MLIS is highly valuable, especially if you're in cataloging/technical services.  Or, if you're unfamiliar with services and reading materials for a particular age group, I definitely recommend taking a course for that age.  The syllabus for a class on children's or young adult literature will be a treasure trove of modern and classic books.

For everything else, there are real-life experiences.

You'll never have a class on how the IRS provides the general public with free tax forms at libraries, for example.  Or all the problems that come with it.

Every year, starting in January (and somewhat in December, for the over-zealous taxpayers), you'll get questions about where the tax forms are, and why aren't they in yet.  This will be in person and over the phone.  And you'll just have to be sympathetic with vague answers for a while, because the IRS will never keep you informed as to when they're sending out the forms you requested back in July.

If it's like last year, you might hear eventually, either from the IRS or on a library list-serv, that tax forms are delayed because of massive changes to the tax laws.  And then you'll be waiting into February, with patrons and non-patrons alike breathing down the back of your neck on a daily basis, wondering if they'll get tax forms in time to file.

Or you could have a disaster like this year.  The Internal Revenue Service's budget got cut.  So what did the IRS cut out of its budget?  Nearly all those tax forms people are waiting for.  Brilliant.

You'll get the 1040, the 1040A, and the 1040EZ, as well as Publication 17 (the tax guide) and the reproducible package, if you ordered it.

You won't get any of the instruction booklets for the 1040 forms.  You won't get any of the supplemental forms, not even the 8965, for Health Care Exemptions.

You are going to either have to help people find the forms they want online and print them off, or help them make copies once the reproducible sheets arrive.  And that, of course, will cost them money, because most libraries do charge for printing.  No one is going to be happy about the idea of printing off the more than 100-page document for 1040 (regular) instructions.

Prepare for complaints, as you've never had before.

Which brings me to my anecdote on the subject.  (Swearing ahead.)

Last week, none of the tax forms were in yet, though we had heard that the Michigan forms would be on their way be February 6, and the 1040A and 1040EZ should be shipping soon.  I was considering putting up a sign stating this.

A man I hadn't seen before came in.  (You get a lot of unfamiliar faces at tax time.)  He asked for tax forms, grumbling about needing the form for the stupid Obamacare stuff.

I explained that the forms weren't in yet.  A bit of conversation occurred, about when they would be in.

And I made the mistake of saying that many of the forms wouldn't be sent this year, and that people would have to print them off.  I was about to suggest that he contact his legislators, when he reacted.

He didn't just get angry.

"FUCK OBAMA!" he roared, and tore out the door, attempting to slam it behind him.  Thankfully, a wide-eyed young man was right behind him, and he caught the door and eased it shut.  I think the windows above the door might have shattered otherwise.

My coworker in the billing office stared at the man as he stormed out the doors of the city hall building, then looked back at me.  I shrugged helplessly.

The janitor also raced up, mop in hand.  Bless his heart, I think he would have walloped the guy if he'd given me any additional grief about the tax forms.

"So, uh, do you have any tax forms?" the young man asked, after he'd quietly closed the door.

"Ask him," I said with a little laugh, pointing out the door.

I quickly put together a sign about how tax forms were coming soon, and complaints could be directed to our Congressman and Senators (with their phone numbers).

I also wrote to them via their web sites myself, urging them to get the IRS to send libraries before one of us poor librarians gets hurt.  Because seriously, if someone in my nice little town can get that worked up over tax forms, what's going to happen in a big city?