I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Monday, January 31, 2011

RA on the Fly: Egypt Books

To help your patrons who want books on Egypt, here is a link (through The Book Beast) with the best books about Egypt.

Monday Discussion: Blizzard Reading

So here in Chicagoland we are preparing for close to 2ft of snow in the next 48 hours.  I am stocking up at the grocery store today, but we could all be inside for awhile.  In fact we have been swamped this morning with people coming in to stock up on books for the blizzard.  So this got me thinking, what do all of you like to read on the long cold nights of winter, especially during a blizzard?

Some readers like to embrace the chill and concentrate their reading on even colder set stories, while others go to the further extreme and read books set in tropical locales.

So it got me thinking? What do I do?  I went back and looked at the books I read in January and February over the last few years.  I found that without making a conscious effort, I tended to read psychological suspense in greater numbers during these coldest, snowiest months.

Why, I wonder?  Thinking about my own reading habits, I think I tend toward these darker, complicated stories in the winter months because they are so compelling to me personally.  I get wrapped up in the plot twists and the unsettling tone and forget about everything else that is going on around me.  For me, these are stories that beg me to curl up by the fire and read them for hours.  Also, when you I am "snowed in," the creepy atmosphere is enhanced by the isolation of a big winter storm.

Two I read last winter which were particularly enjoyable were The Little Stranger and Await Your Reply.  And this weekend, I just began Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, on audio.  The first story is 100% psychological suspense.

For more psychological suspense options, you can use this link to everything I have tagged psychological suspense.

But that is just me.  Every reader will have their own preference.  For example, Betty, here at the BPL RA desk, already put her two cents into the conversation by creating a 10 title small display, "Murder in Cold Places"  Here are the titles she included in her annotated list.
Now it's your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, let me know what you like to read during the long cold winter.

Remember you can follow past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

eBoook News

The big news throughout the book world late yesterday revolved around this announcement by Amazon that in the 4th Quarter of 2010, eBooks outsold paperbacks.

I have talked about eBooks here in the past.  I have mixed feelings about how and if I would use eBooks personally, but in terms of library usage, we are moving forward full steam at the BPL to integrate eBooks and eReaders.

In the next few months, we will have one of each of the major eReaders available for patrons to use in the library.  We will have them near the RA desk for patrons to touch, play with, and to use to help patrons trouble shoot problems with their personal readers.  We are going to train the staff to use all of them and to help patrons.

The next step will be that we have an undetermined number of Sony eReaders for patrons to check out.  We are unsure whether they will be preloaded with books also, but for sure, patrons will be able to use their library card to download an eBook from OverDrive.  We will even do it for you at the library so that before you leave, your books are loaded and you are shown how to read them.  This will begin in late fall or early summer.

A word about the Kindle though.  We know that the Kindle is the most popular eBook reader, but unfortunately it is also only works with Amazon.  It is incompatible with every other system.  The Sony eReader is the most library friendly device and will work with OverDrive.  As I mentioned above though, we will have a Kindle to help patrons who own them.  We will have it loaded with free eBooks so that patrons can see how it works, but we do not have plans to have any available for check out right now.

So, don't worry, as eBooks are gaining steam, the BPL is ready to help you navigate the growing world of digital books.  And, they will coexist happily right next to the paper ones.

Let me know what your library is doing to prepare for the eReader boon.  If you are a reader, how are you using your eReader.  Is it compatible with your library's eBooks?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What I'm Reading: At Home

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home is the latest book by Bill Bryson.  It came out late in 2010, and I got to it as soon as possible.  Bill Bryson is not only one of my personal go-to authors, but he is also one of my sure bets for any reader who wants a "good read."  Bryson is also a sure bet in audio when he reads his books.  Generally, I avoid authors who read their work, but Bryson is a huge exception to this rule.  The personal tone he adds to his texts translate well when he reads them.  Also, due to his lifetime of traveling and years of living abroad, Bryson has an interesting accent that I find charming.

At Home is a unique work.  Bryson uses the rural English home which his family now lives in as the basis for a sweeping look at "private life."  He uses the home, originally built as a parsonage in 1851, as his literal guide.  The chapters are arranged around rooms and the outdoor space of the home.  Using his personal home as a starting point, he tells the history of how homes were constructed, how rooms were placed, and what life was like during the 19th century (mostly) in these homes.  But in true Bryson fashion, he does not stay within the confines of the home, and the book sprawls into nooks and crannies as far flung as Darwin's family tree, the discovery of bacteria, and English religious history, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Appeal: This is a book for people who like to see how seemingly small things are interconnected.  In this case the personal and intimate home and how it was changed by and changed society.  He throws facts at us at one after the other, leaving little time to recover before the next round comes.  But he is playful and humorous.  The reader is encourage to just hang on and enjoy the ride.  It is the details, Bryson's easy going style, and the shear mass of facts that readers love about Bryson.  All of that is here in At Home.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  history, casual, fun

Readalikes: At Home is very much like the microhistories of Mark Kurlansky and Simon Winchester.  All of these authors take something small and show its influence on the entirety of history. Specifically, At Home reminded me of Kurlansky's The Big Oyster.  Both are grounded in the 19th century, both have a focus on food (Bryson's chapters on the kitchen and the dining room were the most memorable to me), and both sprawl a bit far from their centers at time.  If you do not like gobs and gobs of details that could go off on 5 page tangents, do not read Bryson, Kurlansky, or Winchester. Speaking of those tangents, they work very well in the audio format also.

Bryson's ability to teach without preaching, combined with his ability to wow the reader with tons of interesting facts without seeming like a know-it-all (basically his casual but informative tone) is also reminiscent of Tony Horwitz.  Try A Voyage Long and Strange.

Bryson is also funny.  His sense of humor comes through as he describes how we have chosen to build our homes and live in them.  For example, Bryson tells us how the dining room used to be nowhere near the kitchen.  This is odd, but he raises it to humorous by then describing the great lengths people went through to get their food to table while it was still hot.  Indoor rail cars, anyone?  This ability to be informative, humorous, and, at times, irreverent, can also be seen in the nonfiction of Sarah Vowell(Assassination Vacation) and Mary Roach (Stiff).

Fiction suggestions are tough.  Like much of what Bryson writes, At Home is a book that will appeal to many readers, but for so many different reasons.  In my opinion, fiction writers who have a similar quirky and  humorous tone to Bryson, who like to cram a lot of information about history, time and or place into their novels, and who also tend to appeal to a wide range of readers are Jasper Fforde (fantasy), Connie Willis (science fiction), and Matthew Pearl (mystery).

Finally, I have seen Bryson compared to Mark Twain in a few different places.  I can really see that.  Try A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court for its similar time period and sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BPL Displays: January 2011

I must admit, I forgot to cross-post our displays this month.

On the small display we are featuring "The Best of 2011" and on the tall display we have "Inspirational Fiction."

Click here for the annotated lists which sample the display offerings.

Click here to access the archive of past displays.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Awards: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed....

Three things I wanted to alert people to in the awards world, but I couldn't find anything blue (yet).

First the old.  The National Book Critics Circle, an organization of over 600 professional book reviewers, released the finalists for their prestigious awards.  Click here for the press release listing all of the nominees.  Remember there is fiction and nonfiction here.  Generally they pick very readable winners.

Something new.  I am very excited about this one:
The University of Alabama School of Law and The ABA Journal are requesting entries for the first annual Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. The prize will be awarded annually to a published book-length work of fiction that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society, and their power to effect change. It honors Lee, a former law student at Alabama, and To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch.
Judges will be novelists Linda Fairstein and David Baldacci, journalist Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and The New Yorker, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and former American Bar Association president Robert J. Grey, Jr. The public will be invited to vote for their favorite among the finalists on the ABA Journal website.
The Harper Lee Prize will be presented to the winner in conjunction with the Library of Congress 2011 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Books first published in 2010 are eligible. The deadline for nominations is April 8, 2011, and there is no entry fee.
More information is available at www.HarperLeePrize.org.
Legal fiction is extremely popular, but there is no award for it.  I am happy with the choice of judges too. And, with the award being given out at the National Book Festival, it will be sure to get plenty of attention.  I will keep my eye on this one.

Finally, something borrowed.  For the past 6 years, The Morning News has borrowed the idea of the popular bracket system of the NCAA Baseketball Tourney and have their own March Madness only with books.  A few days ago they released the 7th annual finalists for the 2011 Tournament of Books.  Click here for the press release, the 16 books in the running, the judges, and your chance to take part in the Zombie Round.  The Tournament begins on March 7th.

Anyone with something blue, feel free to comment.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Discussion: What Should I Read Next?

For today's Monday Discussion, I wanted to get more into the nitty gritty of how we help patrons.  Every day we librarians who are providing service to leisure readers are asked to help our patrons find their next good read.  My library has only been open for 1 hour and I have helped 3 different patrons in this manner already!

I know what resources I use to help patrons, but I want to know what you use when trying to match readers' tastes with a book in your vast holdings?

For me, I have a few go-to resources.  I always go to NoveList first.  On NoveList, I can pull up the book, reviews, its subject headings, often some appeal terms, and possible a list of read-alike options (for full disclosure, some of these are ones I have written).  I like how I can go with the read-alikes mentioned in the reviews or those provided by the NoveList content writers.  However, I just as frequently pull out a specific subject heading or appeal term and run a wider search.

My second favorite resource is Amazon.  I treasure the customer comments on Amazon as a vital resource.  Why? Because I see these comments as actual patrons, talking to me about the book.  I can see what real, average readers, not reviewers, felt about the book.  This information is priceless since a non-professional reader is who I am helping. It is also important to note that the most extreme views, both 1 and 5 stars, are the most helpful.  These point out what readers felt passionate about on either side of the debate.

I also often use Fantastic Fiction for its compilation of the books an author has recommended his or her fans read.  This info is at the bottom of most author entries.  I like All Readers for their detailed and frank delineation of sex and violence.  Click here for sex and/or here for violence and scroll down to the boxed descriptors, specifically under the heading of "Style" to see what I mean.

And finally, when my mind has gone blank, I show patrons the aqua browser maps of gnooks.  Here is the entry for Stephen King.  Sometimes, this computer generated list, gets both my brain and the patron's jump started and the ideas start flowing.

I think this last suggestion brings up an important point.  Matching readers with their next good read is a collaborative experience.  I do not use any of these resources in a vacuum.  I am constantly talking about what I find with the patrons, using that information to ask more questions, and then finally using the answers to do more searching.

Of course, there is also experience.  After 10.5 years of providing RA service, it sometimes comes down to the fact that there are books I have suggested to similar readers in the past and know they worked.  But using the resources is also of building that experience.

Now it is your turn.  What are your go-to resources for helping match readers with their next good read?

And remember, you can follow past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Best Books of 2010: The Final Word

Neil Hollands at Blogging for a Good Book at Williamsburg Regional Library just completed his third annual "Megalist" of all the best books lists of the year.  Here is the link to the post about the list, with a link to the list itself.

This list is broken into categories by genre, which makes it a great tool to use with readers.  Many best lists only include literary fiction, or the very top of genre fiction.  With Neil's list, you can help all genre fiction readers find the best in their interest areas.  Well, except for Romance. This year, Neil could not find enough Romance best lists to justify compiling an overall best list.

But if you want to see the top of the top for everything else in 2010 (including some nonfiction) turn to his excellent "Megalist."  It should keep you and your patrons busy for months to come.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: The Fortunate Pilgrim

The Fortunate PilgrimAs I mentioned here, my group kicked off the 2011 BPL Book Discussions with The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo earlier this week.

This meeting also marked the 10th Anniversary of my book club at the BPL.  We started with 2 people and me, and we now fill the room each month (15-20 people), with those 2 original ladies still making most of the discussions.

Originally published in 1965, The Fortunate Pilgrim is the tale of Lucia Angeluzzi-Corbo and her family as she lives in the Italian tenements of NYC from the years just before the Depression into WWII.  It is a immigrant story, but it is also a personal one, as Puzo has noted.  It is the fictionalized story of Puzo's own mother, her strength, and filial love despite great obstacles.  It was also only his second novel, written before any of the Godfather novels which made him a household name.

We had a dynamic discussion of this novel, the highlights of which I will list:
  • About 2/3 of the group absolutely loved this novel while the remaining third felt it was "so-so." 
  • We began talking in depth about this novel as an example of a universal immigrant story.  One participant said she knew from the summary that she would love the book because she enjoys the social history aspect of immigrant stories.  She went on to note how each wave of immigrant goes through the same thing. This led to some great sharing by the group about their family immigrant stories. We talked about the language and customs, the strength in the family, and the sacrifices of the older generations for the success of the younger that all immigrant groups share.
  • I steered the conversation toward today and asked how the immigrant situation is different today. We isolated some big differences.  First, the entire country's standard of living is much higher now than it was in the pre-WWII years.  Immigrants know they are poor and  there is a stigma with this.  In the novel, the space between the rich and the poor is much smaller.  Also we talked about how immigrants do not always stop in the urban centers anymore.  The tenements in The Fortunate Pilgrim served as a support network and community of people from the old country; however, quite often immigrants today go straight to the isolated suburbs.  They cannot create a safe community right away.  Finally, in Lucia's time, the mother stayed home and kept an iron grip on the family, knew everything the children were doing, and was there to control everything; however, now often both mother and father of immigrant families must go to work right away, leaving the kids to flounder in their new land.
  • We moved on to Puzo's writing style.  First, it is important to note that most of the group had not read Puzo before, but all were familiar with The Godfather at least through the movies.  The most striking think about the style of this book is its details.  Puzo spends the vast majority of his time writing about the minutiae of daily life.  We read about the women gathering in the summer evenings, the games the children play, the domestic details, but we get very little detail on the major events: the weddings, deaths, funerals, etc... At the same time the point of view skips around constantly and each chapter reads like a separate vignette.  While some participants did not like the fact that the intense level of details was not uniform, others speculated that since Puzo based this on his own recollections of his childhood that it made sense that he focused on the domestic details, as it would have been what he most remembered.  Another participant said she usually does not like when a book skips around in its point of view, but the intense domestic details created a center that held the entire story together for her.
  • Characters were discussed throughout and at length. Here are some comments I want to share.  One participant talked about how the women of the tenement were a "Greek chorus" to her. Octavia, the eldest daughter was a "truth teller;" she was strong, her mother's right hand; she sacrificed herself but was never upset about it.  We were mixed on whether or not Vinnie committed suicide.  We saw Larry as "making it," in the the legitimate side of the mob.  We also loved his scenes which open the novel, as he rode the horse in front of the train.  It was called "extraordinary" by someone, and all agreed that it drew you into the the world of the story quickly. And finally, Gino who escapes.  We felt he was the "Puzo" character.  We especially liked the scene where he "flies;" it really foreshadowed the freedom he found by joining the army later in the novel.
  • On the other hand, one participant felt the overwhelming level of detail overshadowed the characters.  She wanted less detail about life and more about how Lucia kept going.  Others chimed in that at the time of the novel's writing (1965) people did not talk about their feelings as much.  You just did what you needed to survive and took each thing as it came at you.
  • We discussed the title and how Lucia, despite her hardships and losses, ends the book quite "fortunate."  The family's goal from the start was to leave the tenements and buy a home on Long Island and as the book ends, they are moving into that house.  This is not a story without great loss, troubles, and obstacles, but overall, Puzo knows his family was among the most fortunate of the time and he carries this tone into the title of his novel.
  • I just mentioned the ending.  The feelings about this ending were mixed among the group.  People were happy that the family (what was left of it) made it to Long Island, but many wished there was more about what happened when they moved.  We talked about how Lucia became a pilgrim again by leaving her close knit community and beginning a new journey in Long Island.
  • We ended by talking about the overall tone of the novel.  Phrases that were thrown out were as varied as hopeful, depressing, struggles of a family, survival, and family obligation.
  • A participant had the last word with the following statement which I feel sums up the book well, "none of us would be here if someone did not have the courage to go at it alone."
Readalikes:  We compared The Fortunate Pilgrim with our discussions of 2 other stories of immigrants in NYC, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and North River by Pete Hamill.  The later also deals directly with issues of Italian immigrants.  Check their respective posts for more readalikes too.

Obviously their are thousands of American immigrant experience novels out there, but a few others that I would suggest for book clubs are The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.  While Brooklyn and North River are very similar to The Fortunate Pilgrim in time frame and both deal with European immigrants, these three titles hit at a more varied immigrant experience.  However, together, these 5 suggestions show how despite their difference of origin, their immigrant stories are more similar than different.

With this novel's focus on food and its tenement setting, I would also suggest the nonfiction title 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman.  Here, Ziegelman looks at a similar setting and time frame of 5 different nationalities of immigrants.  It would be a great choice for readers of Puzo's novel who are looking for a completely true account.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Staff Meetings Part 2

In response to this post last week, a few people-- via comments, email, and in person-- have asked me for more information on what training exercises I have used with our staff.

These requests are well timed as I will begin teaching again tonight and will be working on many of these exercises with the students.  I will begin talking about training and posting some concrete exercises in the coming weeks as it comes up with the students.

So stay tuned.  In the meantime, you can contact me for more training and information tailored to your library's needs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Playing Hooky, But Learning About Marketing Ourselves

Well, almost playing hooky, since I will still get his post in under the wire of "today."  Today was a rare day where I could ignore the world.  My kids' school district lets them out early every Wednesday for staff training, so they only get 1 in-service day a year;.  It was today.  Since I work on most of their school holidays (like yesterday), this is our one day for the three of us to do something just for fun.  Thankfully they are still young enough to be excited to spend the day with me.

Stay with me here, this has an RA connection coming.

Today we spent the entire day at The Field Museum in Chicago.  It was quiet, and we had no time frame, no extra curriculars for them, and no meetings for me.  It was a rare "day off."

I had put my work brain on hold and was utterly enjoying my day with the kids, and then, on our way out, we saw a small, hidden gem of an exhibit which made me rethink how we librarians market the work we do to our patrons.  Entitled, "The Romance of Ants," this one room exhibit uses a graphic novel style to tell the story of the life and research of Dr. Moreau, a scientist at the Field.  It is both an intimate look at how a young girl with an interest in ants overcomes stereotypes to pursue her passion, and a look at some of the newest research about ants.

I realize that I might be losing many of you right now, but continue to bear with me.  This exhibit was educational (both in what we learned about ants and as a role model for my 8 year old daughter who is currently dreaming of becoming a chemist), but it was also an advertisement for what the Field does.  Much of the exhibit gives concrete examples of what the Field provides to its visitors and to the community at large.

Why can't libraries do this too?  Maybe this should be an example to libraries for our next step in marketing our services, especially in these trying economic times where tax payers are demanding the most for their money.

So how could the library use displays to both promote ourselves and educate and entertain while doing it?  I have to think about this some more, but off the top of my head, what about a display that shows how we make displays?  People don't realize how much work goes into our fiction displays.  Take it further.  Like the Field, why can't the library use the personal experiences of one employee to show how the work of the library's employees is at the heart of the library's overall services.  I envision a display or exhibit that shows the steps on how a book goes from being published to put on the libraries shelves.  It could include pictures of the steps it takes from being read in a review, to being ordered, processed, cataloged, put on the shelf, and then written up for a display, with information about the staff members involved in the process, and how their input is invaluable.

These are all just some of the ideas that ran through my head as we drove home in rush hour traffic.  I am not sold on any of these ideas, but the point here is that the museum made a conscious effort to market their staff in this exhibit.  It made me appreciate the behind the scenes work that goes into a world class museum; it made me proud to support this museum with my membership; and it made me wonder why a library could not do the same.

We are also a cultural institution, and we rely almost solely on public funds.  Although our patrons appreciate the services we provide for them with their nominal tax dollars, we need to promote the role our staff plays in making these services possible.  Without us, they have no books, no programs, no movies, etc...

So the moral is, let's start hyping ourselves more.  Oh, that and even when I think I am taking a day off, I am not.  Please let me know what you think, especially if you are already doing something like this already.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Discussion Questions: The Fortunate Pilgrim

The Fortunate PilgrimI will be hosting my monthly BPL Book Discussion later today.  We are discussing The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo.  There are no prepared questions available for this novel, but using my trusty Fiction-L archived list of questions for when you have no questions as a guide, I created a nice list of 13 questions to lead our discussion.

I am posting them here so that other groups can use them to lead a discussion on this novel.  Please feel free to use them as you wish, just include the url to this post to credit me.  Also, discussion leaders may be interested in this great list of the novel's many characters and their relationships. More on the actual discussion later in the week.
Discussion Questions for Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo

1. Although the novel is in chronological order, the point of view skips around frequently and each chapter reads like a vignette, with a skip in time between chapters.  Did you like this writing style? Did it add or take away from the overall themes and tone of the novel?
2. In Fortunate Pilgrim, there are some passages which go into great domestic detail, about the gathering on the street, the food, etc…, while there are other larger issues like funerals, moving to Long Island, and Larry wedding which are completely glossed over.  How did you feel about the level of detail in this novel?
3. Did you find this book uplifting and/or depressing?  What is the overall tone of this immigrant story?
4. This was Puzo’s second novel, and as he put it in the introduction to the paperback, his most personal.  Have you read other novels by Puzo?  Did you enjoy this as much?  What are the book's strengths and weaknesses?
5. What was your favorite part of the novel?  What scenes stayed with you after you closed the book upon completion?  Which were the most revealing as you read?
6. This novel is deeply grounded in its NYC, Italian tenements setting.  Did you get a sense of the place and the time?  How different would this story be in Chicago?  How would this story of immigrants be different now?  How would it be the same?
7. What do you see as the major themes of this novel? Ideas for discussion: bonds of family, immigrant experience, “American Dream,” women’s lives and relationships.
8. This is a character driven story; the plot is secondary to the characters interactions, feelings, choices, etc…  Were the characters well developed?  Were they believable to you?  Was their growth or lack of growth appropriate to the story?  Are the male or female characters more vividly drawn? Who did you most relate to? Why?  Who was your least favorite?
9. Was the book believable to you? Why?  How does it compare to other immigrant books we have read and discussed?  Most recently, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.
10.  What do you think will happen to the Corbo-Angeluzzi family in Long Island?  What will happen to Larry?  Gino?  Octavia?
11.  How did you feel about the ending of this novel?  It was a resolved ending, but still completely open.What will happen to the characters as they move into a post-WWII life in the suburbs?
12.  What is the significance of the title, “Fortunate Pilgrim?”
13.  I took this comment from Wikipedia and it is also reflected in the preface some of us had in the paperback:  “Until his dying day, Mario Puzo considered The Fortunate Pilgrim his finest, most poetic and literary work. In one of his last interviews he stated that he was saddened by the fact that The Godfather, a fiction he never lived, outshone the novel of his mother's honest immigrant struggle for respectability in America and her courage and filial love, as portrayed in The Fortunate Pilgrim, 1965.”  Does this comment color your reading of The Fortunate Pilgrim?  Does it make you feel differently about Puzo’s larger body of work?

Monday Discussion: Civil Rights Inspired Books

Eyes on The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1954-1965It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and our library is open.  In honor of what Dr. King stood for, I would like to ask people to share their favorite Civil Rights Era books and films.

I will begin.  I was exposed to the wonderful PBS documentary series, Eyes on the Prize as a high school student.  I watched in again in college and it inspired me to write an undergraduate thesis on the documentaries of Ken Burns, who was extremely influenced by this film and its message.

I cannot stress enough how much this film affected me.  As a teenager, I was aware of the struggle of African Americans for equality in the decades before I was born, but this documentary series, with its clear chronological progression, striking images (both still and moving), and expert commentary, literally opened my eyes to the recent history of my country.  I understood history and its after-effects in a new way.  Eyes on the Prize not only inspired me to become an American Studies major and spend a year of my life studying documentary film, but it also led me to care about current events in a whole new way.  I needed to know what was happening "now" because it would become tomorrow's history.

In books, like many people, I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett (use the link to see details), and the Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  But I also want to remind people to read To Kill a Mockingbird.  Although Harper Lee's novel takes place before the Civil Rights Movement, it is really a product of that era.  Lee published the novel in 1960.  This novel, a reflection on the racial issues of her own childhood in the South, could not help but to also be influenced by her personal experiences in her adulthood as the Civil Right Movement heated up.

So that's my opinion.  Now share yours.  For today's Monday Discussion, what books or films come to mind when you reflect on the Civil Right Movement?

To follow past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

RA Class Begins January 19

After taking the Fall semester off to hammer out the new book, I will be back to corrupting the minds of librarians in training on WednesdayJoyce Saricks and I are co-teaching this semester, and we have fully revamped the course.

But before we begin, I wanted to remind readers of this blog, new and old, that one of my main reasons for starting RA for All was to share the work my students were doing with the wider library community.  It was very frustrating to spend the semester watching them grow and to see some phenomenal work come out of the class, and then to simply lose it all once the students moved on. I wanted to capture their work to let it helps readers and librarians near and far. Since those early days, I have also set up a class blog specifically to archive the 5 annotations which each student is required to write in five different genres.  Click here to access the blog.

Throughout the semester, I will be pointing you to their blog and commenting on each week's topics, issues, and resources.  Teaching has been a great continuing education resource for me.  The students expect me to be an expert, and their questions keep me on my toes.  As a result, each week's class leads to a host of new information which I will then turn around and share here.  Each of these posts will be labeled GSLIS 763 (the class code) to ease your searching.

So, look for a lot of activity here as it pertains to GSLIS 763 from now until the beginning of May. Between that and book revisions, I am going to be a busy lady.  And if at any time you have questions or comments about what we are teaching, please let me know.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

RA Staff Meeting

I have a day of meetings scheduled throughout the day today (first one in 20 minutes), so I thought this was a good time to talk about staff meetings.

Our fearless leader Kathy, schedules about 6 RA staff meetings per year (we try for every other month).  She gets an agenda together ahead of time, asks us to prepare for the discussion, and also selects a topic so that we all book talk at least one title.  Some times, I also provide a quick training exercise for the group to do.

Today we are meeting to hammer out the details of the 2011 Summer Reading Program.  Yes, we are talking about it now, in January.  If you run an Adult Summer Reading Program, I suggest you gather your staff by February to start planning.  Today we will hammer out the details of displays, give-aways, prizes, and the overall look of the program.  Our theme is "Novel Destinations."

We are also going to have a chance to ask Kathy questions about the goals for 2011.  I should note here that in the early Fall we all met with Kathy separately to discuss our personal and department goals with her.  Then, later in the Fall we got together as a group and talked about who would be responsible for what in 2011.  Now today, we have had time to think about it, and can work out any kinks early in 2011, so that we are all moving in the same direction as a team.

Finally, we will be book talking one of our favorites from 2010.  I am doing this one.

"So," you may be asking, "why should we care what you are doing at your meeting today?" Well, I am using it as an example of good RA staff training.  Like many libraries, our department is made up of both full time and part-time people.  These meetings, at the very least, serve as a chance for us to get together for 60-90 minutes as a unit and talk about how things are going.  Yes, the planning and training is important, but it is this chance to have someone else cover our desk, allowing us to be all together, that allows us to improve our service to our patrons.

We also all get a chance to have a say in larger programs such as Summer Reading.  While, for example, John is responsible for getting the displays physically up, we are all responsible for coming up with the ideas, making the lists, and writing the annotations.  Even if we are not in charge of a specific display, we are all aware of what is going on.  This is important.  When a display is up in your department, each staff member needs to be aware of the details behind its creation.  Otherwise, how can we help our patrons use it to find their next good read.

It is easy to get stuck in the day-to-day details of serving patrons and keeping ahead of the most immediate projects, but it is only when your staff can come together as a team and look at the larger picture that your patron service goes from average to great.

Not to mention how much I love hearing what books everyone has been reading.

The point of this post is simply to remind you that no matter how busy you are, taking the time for staff meetings is never a waste of your time.  If you haven't been good about holding staff meetings and training, why not use the new year as a chance to start having them?

Also, let me know what your library does, and whether or not it helps or hinders your service to patrons.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Case of the First Mystery Novelist

Like most people who care about the history of popular fiction, I thought that Wilkie Collins was the first true mystery writer, and I was not alone.

However, this week in the New York Times, Paul Collins had this essay where he talks about an earlier mystery title and his personal search to find out the identity of the author.

The essay will appeal to mystery fans, as Collins goes through his own detective process.  Collins himself also has a historical true crime book coming out in June 2011.

Horror Backlist Not to Miss

For those of you who do not follow my sister blog, RA for All: Horror, I wanted to let you know that I have begun a new series over there entitled, Backlist Not to Miss, where I will be highlighting older horror titles and authors that you should be aware of.

The first author I wrote about was Tananarive Due.  You can read about her and my suggested start with title by using this link.

If you want to follow what is going on at RA for All: Horror in general, there is a link for the RSS feed set up.  Postings are still irregular, but once the revisions on the new book are finished, I will be devoting a lot of time to the site.  So get in on the action now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Historical Fiction Essay

As I mentioned here, I will be spending a big chunk of 2011 focusing on Historical Fiction.

First, I will be a part of the 2 year Historical Fiction genre study being run by ARRT.  Also in mid-April, I will be presenting a 3 hour overview of the current state of Historical Fiction somewhere in the Northern Suburbs (date and place still not finalized, but it will be from 1-4pm).

As a result, I have Historical Fiction on the brain these days.  So, when I checked my RSS feeds this morning, this essay by Snowden Wright in The Millions really caught my attention.

Entitled, "Exiles of Historical Fiction," this essay is both a review of the new historical novel Exiles by Ron Hansen and a critical look at the genre of Historical Fiction in general.  I would highly suggest reading this article if you are interested in historical fiction or have any patrons who are.  It talks at length about common trends in the genre.  This also speaks to appeal issues, as certain readers may enjoy the books Wright is discussing for their construction and style as much as for their plot.

Also of note in the world of Historical Fiction is this rundown by Sarah Johnson of all of the historical books which won awards (in all reading levels) yesterday at ALA Midwinter.  The post includes links to her reviews of some of the winners.  In an interesting side note, we will be using Sarah's 2 books to help guide the ARRT genre study.

If you want to know more about ARRT and the Historical Fiction genre study, you can leave me a comment or go here.  You must be an ARRT member to participate in the genre study, but it only takes $10 to join.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Discussion: What to Read When You Are Relaxing?

I was at the spa with my sister-in-law on Friday, and before I went, one of my most difficult decisions was what book to bring with me.  I know, tough life, but bare with me a minute.

This is a question that happens to come up at the RA desk quite a lot this time of year. No, not what to read at the spa, but rather, now that the holiday rush is over, patrons want help switching to a book they can spend more time with.

People are ready to relax after the holidays and they have more time to get lost in a book.  I see my requests for quick, light reads going down, and the questions about meatier, more methodically paced title going up.

For me, I turned to Brookland by Emily Barton, a sweeping historical novel that has been on my to-read list for a few years, but I never quite had enough time to get to.  A day at the spa, was the perfect time to sink my teeth into it.  I also think this would be a good chance to start the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy if you haven't read it yet, since the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, takes about 100 pages to really get going, but after that, you will be read to engulf all 3 titles.

But that is just me.  For today's Monday Discussion what book would suggest to someone who has some well deserved relaxation time coming and wants a good book to read?  Forget the specific opinions of the hypothetical reader here and just share your opinions about what you would choose for yourself.

To follow past Monday Discussions, click here.