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, February 29, 2016

RUSA CODES Diversity in RA Convo Announcement

The RUSA CODES Readers' Advisory and Trends Committee considers issues, concerns, and trends relative to the development of readers' advisory services in all types of libraries. Our Spring 2016 CODES CONVO, happening online March 15/16, from 9 am ET - 8 pm ET, will be addressing the topic of Diversity in Reader's Advisory.

When #WeNeedDiverseBooks came on the scene in May 2014, publishers and librarians were asked to carefully consider the policies and decisions about the books and authors they choose to publish, and those which are chosen for purchase and library circulation. Publisher Lee and Low recently published the results of The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, revealing that diversity is not only needed in books, it is needed in staff across the publishing industry.

New Twists to the CONVO

The Spring CODES CONVO will be offering two new twists. In the week prior to the online conversation, RUSA CODES RATC will be hosting a podcast by YA and adult fiction author, Daniel Jose Older, on the topic of diversity in fiction, the cause of #WNDB, and the need for multicultural reading experiences. This will serve as a launch pad for our discussions on March 15 and 16.

In addition, we are excited to have a guest poster joining us online on March 15, from 2-4 pm ET. Robin Bradford has worked in academic and public libraries, as a page, library assistant and librarian, in circ, and reference, and tech services, in big cities and small towns. Since 2001, she has done fiction collection development, in a variety of formats. Other areas have come and gone, but fiction has always remained. Currently, she is working in the state of Washington for the Timberland Regional Library system, and is active in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.

This two day conversation will examine Diversity in Readers' Advisory from every angle, from how to provide RA service to a patron from an unfamiliar culture to how we can encourage greater diversity in library and publishing professions.

To subscribe to the conversation, click here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What I'm Reading: The Fireman

 The Fireman.

Hill, Joe (author).
May 2016. 608p. Morrow, hardcover, $28.99 (9780062200631)
REVIEW First published March 1, 2016 (Booklist).

Today I am so excited that I can finally post the review I wrote for the forthcoming Joe Hill novel. I read the book back over the holidays and turned the review in promptly, but in order to best feature this FANTASTIC novel, the review was held until now. Here it is...
Joe Hill, is back with his original take on the apocalypse. Harper is a school nurse who fancies herself an American Mary Poppins, but when a deadly fungus starts infecting humanity, causing people to spontaneously combust, life as we know it ends and a fight to survive begins. Harper, now sick and pregnant, is just trying to make it until she can deliver, but when her husband tries to kill her, Harper is saved by the unlikely and mysterious superhero of this new age-- The Fireman-- who brings her to a community where the sick have learned to live symbiotically with the fungus. But is it really the safe haven it appears to be? Like NOS4A2, this is a long book, but with a curiously ominous tone set from the very first line, a brisk pace throughout, and dozens of detailed action scenes, readers will be hard pressed to stop turning the pages; add in the well developed cast of characters [both good and evil], fun pop culture references, and a satisfying but open ended conclusion, and this is a story that will infect you. Channelling Michael Crichton, Hill presents a strong scientific explanation for most of the dread, but also includes a healthy dose of the fantastic, arming the heroes with a dangerous power much like he did in Horns. Take the ideas, characters, and tone of Station Eleven and add a large helping of the action, villains, and unrelenting menace from Doctor Sleep and you have The Fireman, an excellent example of the very best that genre fiction has to offer all readers today.
Also, while I couldn't fit it into the review, if you have a fondness for the early days of MTV and/or Martha Quinn, this book is for you.

Put this book on hold now!!!! No seriously, stop reading my review and go place your hold. I'll wait.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unrelenting menace, nuanced characters, fun
--Note: yes I said "fun" and "unrelenting menace" are both key words to describe this book. There is a balance between terror and playfulness here that most horror authors cannot pull off without dropping the ball on one or the other. Putting together, those "two" words [I know it is 3 but work with me here] summarizes much of why someone would or would not enjoy this book.

Readadlikes: In the review I provided links to a few options. Please note that many of those links are to reviews by me which also contain more readalikes. You can have fun clicking your way down the suggestion wormhole.

The Fireman also reminded me of Zone One by Colson Whitehead and Flashback by Dan Simmons. All three are some of the most original and interesting post-apocalyptic novels novels I have read. All three are firmly "genre" in that the fear and terror sit center stage and they also have fantastic endings. Fantastic in the horror sense, by the way, which means the current conflict is satisfactorily resolved but the overall anxiety is still left open.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

RA for All Roadshow: RA for All-- The First Ever Webinar Version

Today my flagship program which is based off of my Ten Basic Rules of RA Service will enter new territory-- the webinar.

I have only ever done this program  in-person or via an interactive virtual medium like Skype, but in creating a series of webinars for Wisconsin libraries under the guidance of Indianhead Federated Library System, I was convinced to give adapting this program for a webinar a try.

The good news for the WI librarians who get to view the webinar AND all of the rest of you is that I have not only updated my "Rules" page for the first time a a few months in preparation for this opportunity, but I have also completely rethought how to best deliver this content in a different format.

After a few practice runs, I have to say, it is good. I am excited to have a new medium to reach people with this signature training.

For those of you reading this who are not joining the webinar, refresh yourself here or contact me to bring RA for All to your library either in person or virtually.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 5-- Echo Pages 191-299

Part 5 of my fifth grade book club tackled The first half of Part 2 of the novel. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of ECHO.

Before we started the discussion, we showed the kids a picture of the real life Hoxie-- the man who led the famous boys harmonica band which comes up in the novel. We also played the songs (from Freegal via the public library) which were referenced in this section of the book. These activities helped to put us all in the right frame of mind for the discussion to begin...

  • Since we had a week off AND we were staring a new section of the novel, we asked the kids to remind us all of the first 190 pages of the book.
    • The kids went around, taking turns.
    • We started with Otto’s story and kept the harmonica as the focus.
    • Moved into Friedrich. They really wanted to go into detail here. After reading about Mike, they had missed Friedrich a little. I am not even sure they realized how much they missed Friedrich until we asked them to rehash it all.
    • We ended with packing the harmonica up to be sent to America.
  • The way this novel is structured, starting Part 2 means an entirely new time, place, and main character. But at least we all knew Mike, our new protagonist, was going to find the harmonica. Everyone was waiting to find out where, when, and how.
  • The kids were bursting to talk about everything so they directed most of the discussion this week.
  • Mrs. Sturbridge was a hot topic at that start:
    • I did not like Mike and Frankie’s new mom. 
    • As an adult observer, I reminded the kids that we didn’t like Elizabeth in Part 1 at first either, but then we learned more about why she made the choices she did and we changed our minds a bit. Only seeing things from the kid point of view is limiting.
    • The new mom is like the reverse of the King in Otto’s part of the story. She wants a girl child while he only wanted a boy.
    • Mr and Mrs Potter are more like the boys’ real parents. They are loving and caring.
  • Another parent asked the kids to talk about the type music Mr. Potter was teaching Mike on his harmonica. They answered, “the blues.” She told them they were correct, but what does that mean? 
    • Making sad music to make you feel better
    • Blues music is a good metaphor [kid used that word] for Mike’s life up to that point. It makes sense he was drawn to it.
    • As an adult, I interjected that we need to understand that a white kid playing blues in 1935 could cause problems later in the story. The kids were shocked at this notion.
    • Then a kid who had just seen the play Hairspray chimed in and explained how this racism in regards to music was a theme in that play. The issue started to become clearer to the kids after that.
    • Then a parent asked if they even knew the Potter’s were supposed to be African American. They did. One kid said he pictured Mr. Potter as Morgan Freeman with a garden hat on. Ryan definitely gives a few clues beyond the blues music, mentioning their darker skin, but I appreciated that she was subtle about it, but clear enough that the kids got it.
  • The kids wanted to talk about the orphanage and Mrs Pennyweather. Of course they complained about how evil she is. We talked about how she is cheating the orphans out of food and money. But one kid pointed out that when she locked Mike and Frankie in the cellar, that was an important scene for the book because it was the only long time that the two brothers were together at the orphanage and could talk to each other about their history and their dreams.
    • One kid predicted that Mike will make it to Carnegie Hall to play piano on stage, just like he dreams he will. 
    • On a side note, I like keeping track of predictions each week. I can’t wait to see if any of them are correct at the end.
  • That mention of the piano brought us back to Mrs. S and her fancy piano.
    • Why is there an amazing piano that no one can play?
    • Mr. Howard said she wanted kids with musical talent but she won’t let them play.
    • Why would she do that?
    • Maybe the Dad played and she is still very sad that he died. She is not thinking rationally and can’t handle hearing the music.
    • It’s like The Sound of Music. Cpt. VonTrapp bans music because he is sad, but when the music came back, so did his happiness.  Prediction?
    • Mr Howard might have picked the boys hoping they would use music to bring her back.
    • There is also a lot of talk about a deadline. Why did the boys need to be adopted on a deadline?
    • As one of the grownups, I told the kids I predicted that since it was 1935 and Mrs. S is a woman, she might need a male heir so as not to lose all her money. Again, this was something these kids could not understand until a grownup pointed it out. But I also reminded them that in Otto’s story, the King needed a male heir. The kids agreed that things do tend to repeat (or as one girl said, Echo) in this story.
  • This led to a discussion about connections in the story in general. The kids like how everything in the book is connected in some way. They even noted that it was “a good job” by the author.
  • We talked about the scene when Frankie and Mike get their harmonicas
    • Frankie got whatever was up by the register, but Mike had to go in the back, open a new box and pick whichever one he wanted.
    • One of the parents asked if the kids thought the scene was similar to when Harry Potter got his wand.
    • The music shop owner said that the instrument picks the musician. That’s like the wand picking the wizard.
    • Everyone was excited to see the return of the harmonica.  Even though we knew it was coming, it was still fun to see it return.
    • But also a bit sad, noted someone. Sad because at some point in the story we know Mike will have to give up the harmonica so that the next kid can get it. Will things be okay for Mike at that point? They weren’t for Friedrich.
    • How is it going to get to California to our next kid-- Ivy?
  • One kid said about the selection in general, “I want to feel good here but I don’t. I don’t know why but I am worried.”
I reminded the kids that for the next time not only will they have finished Mike’s story-- so we can talk about his entire tale, but also we will have read a few chapters of the next story, so we will have a taste of what is to come.

They are doing a fantastic job with very little effort from us adults.

Professionally, I am learning so much about what lies at the heart of why we do book discussions.  Having to discuss a book in 100 page chunks was scary to me at first. Would there be enough to give them a valuable experience for 60 minutes? But these kids are just dying to talk about what they read, speculate, and vent their emotions about the characters. They are bursting with desire to participate and add to the conversation. It is so refreshing and inspiring to see. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

ARRT Book Discussion Report: Lexicon

Last week was the most recent meeting of the ARRT Literary Book Discussion and Leadership Training where we discussed Lexicon by Max Barry.

You can click here to see the notes of our discussion of the book and here for our leadership discussion on the topic of using genre titles in book discussions.

The notes contain many readalikes too. Including linking this book to some very popular TV shows.

[Now you have to click....]

Our next discussion is in April. Details are here.

Sorry for being so brief today, but if you click through the links you will see I did A LOT of typing today. No need to repeat myself.

We had a great discussion. I appreciated it even more as I typed up the notes-- which in my experience is a good sign.

Tomorrow, I plan to have the summary for my fifth grade weekly book club.

Until then...

Monday, February 22, 2016

New Issue of Corner Shelf

There is a new issue of the free Booklist newsletter that is all about collection development and RA available now.  Click here to read it all.

But I specifically wanted to highlight Rebecca’s interview with a colleague I like both as a person and admire as a professional-- Stephen Sposato who manages Content Curation for the Chicago Public Library System.  What does that mean?

From Stephen’s interview:
I’m the manager of the Content Curation department at Chicago Public Library, where we oversee the centralized selection of materials for the nearly 80 branches of our system. We also head up readers’ advisory, leading internal training and focusing on features for our website (staff picks, blogs, lists, etc.). In a nutshell, our department is all about selecting and promoting engaging and relevant content for a diverse and sophisticated city...
Click here for the rest of the interview. You need to read it because Stephen lives and breathes the life which is the point of Rebecca’s newsletter-- he really understand that Collection Development and RA are completely intertwined and he gets it for the right reasons.

Sometimes when I read these interviews with or articles by people from giant library systems I think, “those ides are great but only valuable to super huge libraries.” Not with Stephen. He is at a huge library system, one of the biggest in the country, but he expresses ideas and issues that even the smallest of small town librarians can use to succeed.  He just gets it for all libraries. I admire that a lot.

So go and learn from Stephen today. Besides the fact that he is interesting and smart, I like to keep the blog fresh with other people’s idea and comments.  Too much of only me is not good for any of us.

Finally, thanks to Stephen for the plug for ARRT. We are just as proud to have you as a member as you are to be one.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How Keeping Track of What You Are Reading Can Help You Be Better At Your Job

Sometimes a backlist title comes back to you for the weirdest reasons. That is the impetus behind today's post.

I was looking back through the archives of this blog as research for an article I am currently writing, when I came upon my 2014 review of The Bees by Laline Paull.  Reading the review again, a few things hit me.

First, that book is still so vivid to me. I was shocked to see that I read it 2 years ago!

Second, after coming upon it a few days ago, I found myself with an opportunity to book talk it to a potential reader just yesterday. If I hadn't been reminded of it so recently, by seeing my own review, I never would have remembered the book at that exact moment.

Third, after the situation where I was hand selling The Bees because I came upon my review serendipitously, I went back and started looking through ALL of my What I'm Reading older posts. I was then shocked again by the number of books I had read AND reviewed yet barely have any memory of. Without those reviews these titles would have been lost to me forever, and that would have been a shame because there were some gems hiding in there.

Which led to this final thought-- I spent just a little bit of time documenting what I had read and some key appeal issues about those titles right after reading these books and now I have hundreds of titles saved in an easy to search database. I can pull the reviews up and use them to help connect a reader with their next great read. And it wasn't hard to do. I was simply conscientious about writing down something about the books I read, just like it says to do in Rule 4 of my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service.

Imagine what you could do with the compound interest of RA knowledge you could create all on your own if you started writing down a few key adjectives about what you have read. Look at me. I am living by example and even I cannot believe the wealth of information I have created all by myself.

And now, armed with these pre-made book talks, I can go conquer the world....or at least anyone looking for a good read.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tackling Library Sacred Cows

Back in December, I was contacted by Kimberly Knight, a branch manager with DC Public Library for an article she was writing for Public Libraries Online about addressing change in libraries, especially around the issue of "sacred cow" services like book clubs.

At first, she was very nervous that I would not be willing to talk to her since I am a vocal supporter of the importance of book clubs in libraries.

Sadly, Kimberly was right to worry about me being resistant and even angry about her wanting to honestly discuss when book clubs should be terminated because in our profession, that is often the response to change-- one of anger. But, thankfully for her, and me, I am not typical in this regard.

Anyone who has spent anytime with me or even only interacted with me through what I post here knows that I thrive off of constantly reevaluating how we do things and advocating for new ways of thinking.  This constant vigilance on my part of always looking to improve and never settling to keep things the way they are just because they seem to be working okay makes me great at my current job as a library staff trainer and educator. But for the record, it made me a bad library employee in many of my former coworkers' eyes-- hence job change. All of my "energy" spent striving to always look for improvement has often been seen as troublemaking by other librarians. I have even been told that I am trying to make others look bad.

Kimberly expressed some of this same response to her desire for change when we spoke. So, lucky for Kimberly, she picked right by contacting me. We had a fantastic 30 minute conversation about why libraries should have book clubs, but also when libraries should consider scrapping the clubs too. We talked about change in libraries and how open and honest discussions of meaningful change can happen in our profession.

My conversation with Kimberly was part of a much larger issue. In fact, here is the link to the article that came out of our talk entitled, "Tackling Library Sacred Cows With Structured Debate."

In the article, Kimberly gives very good AND very necessary advice on a plan for libraries who are serious about change. All of you need to read this right now. I will still be here when you come back.

As I have seen in my years both working in a library and going into many of your libraries to help be a vehicle for change, we have a long way to go in this profession when it comes to making meaningful changes to our services and processes. Over the last 15 years, I have had far too many conversations with Directors who have not been happy with the advice I gave their employees in a training. But thankfully, those conversations are starting to be outnumbered by the wonderful and encouraging administrators who want me to bring my "radical ideas" of putting patron service ahead of library workers directly to their employees.

I applaud Kimberly for providing a valuable tool for those of us who care more about patron service than the "sacred cows." I am happy to have gotten the chance to talk to her.  She has inspired me to believe that more systemic change may be closer than I thought.

Join me in putting the patrons first by reading Kimberly's article and/or talking to me about how you can put serving your patrons in a way that is the best for THEM [not you] at the top of your goals.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Updated Ten Rules of Basic RA- Now Including Practice Tips

I love getting into libraries and delivering my trademark RA for All talk. It is the first training I ever created, and while I still use some of the same exercises I used on day 1, the talk itself is always different, but not just because each library has specific needs that I make sure to address. My training has also evolved over time, keeping pace with trends and shifts in practice.

At it’s core, the program is a pep talk aimed at any and all library staff who would ever engage a patron in conversation about a leisure “reading” option.  

[By the way by reading I always mean any content they would check out of the library in any format for “fun”-- not for an assignment. It is much easier to say reading here rather than “reading, watching, listening, etc...”]

I provide the basic tools one would need to provide RA service as well as inspire staff to take some risks and start engaging each other [at first] and patrons [later] in conversations about leisure reading.

I base the entire training off of my publicly proclaimed Ten Rules of Basic RA Service. But those ten rules are not static. In fact, earlier this month, in preparation for a new round of upcoming presentations, I gave the list a major overhaul. 

One of the biggest changes I incorporated was a brand new Rule 10: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

Last summer, I started leaving every appearance by giving the staff a reader profile exercise to keep the training going after I leave.  You can click here to read more about that specific exercise.

But in the months since, I have heard back from staff who are now looking to take their skills up from level 101 to 201. The staff reader profile exercise is a great introduction because you have lots of time and unlimited access to the “patron” you are assisting [since they are your coworker], but in the real world of helping leisure reading patrons, you often only have the chance to get a few soundbites of information out of them before you are expected to turn around and immediately offer reading suggestions.

I know that last sentence made on-the-fly RA service sound a bit stressful. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge this. But like anything, with practice, you get better. But how can you recreate this more realistic experience in a practice mode? Easy. There is a perfect tool just waiting for you over at Book Riot.

The Get Booked podcast is your perfect RA practice tool. Get Booked is a weekly show of customized book recommendations. People write in, tell the hosts what kind of books they like and/or what they are looking to read next, and then the hosts suggest titles. You can listen to any episode by visiting this link, although I am partial to the one where I was a guest host.

Listening to Get Booked is a great way to see the rage of reading tastes that are out there, and simply passively listening to the hosts come up with suggestions and hear their “why” statements is useful. But you can also use Get Booked as an active training tool.

Here’s how you do it:
  1. Play the podcast and listen to the first query.
  2. Write down what the reader is looking for.
  3. Hit pause BEFORE the hosts give suggestions.
  4. Use your favorite RA tools to identify some suggestions and include notes as to why you chose the titles you did,
  5. Listen to what the hosts suggested.
  6. Compare not only the titles, but the “whys.”
  7. Repeat for the rest of the episode
In this active practice mode, you are not only providing RA in a simulated real time atmosphere, but you are also able to compare your ideas and suggestion with 2 other people, immediately.  Yes, this practice technique does not provide a way for you to speak to the “patron” after the fact to find out if your suggestions were okay, but it does simulate the “ask and answer” time frame that you would experience at the service desk and provides you with two other perspectives to compare your notes with. 

I plan on adding even more practice exercises to Rule 10, so you should continue to check back frequently. If you haven’t checked the Ten Rules page recently, head on over and see for yourself. I will be debuting the newest version of my RA for All talk for a coalition of WI libraries on February 25th. Contact me if you are interested in bringing me to your library.

In the meantime, start practicing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

United for Libraries Wants to Help You to Bring an Author to Your Library

Because I have been a part of author programs in the past [both as the organizer and as the hired interviewer], I often get questions about how to bring an author to your library.

There is no correct answer on exactly how to plan an event like this, but there is plenty of advice and help for libraries of all sizes courtesy of United for Libraries. They have an entire website called Authors for Libraries that includes a searchable database of authors who have made it known that they are willing to come to libraries.

Click here to access the page with tips for libraries and Friends groups. It is the best place to get started.

But the reason you should start any author event planning with United for Libraries is because they actively solicit and educate the authors too.  This is very important because often authors are not aware that these visits are an option. And many definitely don’t know that they can sell books at these events too.

In fact, it is from the author side of the equation NOT the library side that I first became aware of this database.  As a member of the Horror Writers Association, I received a press release letting me know that the HWA and United for Libraries had teamed up to promote horror authors in libraries. [For the record, I am also a dues paying member of United for Libraries because I am a Trustee, but I learned about the website from them after finding out from the HWA.]

The Authors for Libraries website also has a tips for authors page. If you want to book an author at your library, I would recommend looking at both the library AND author tip pages so that you get the full picture of what's involved in booking these events.

In a similar vein, I have also had very good luck contacting writers' associations in general and asking them to identify authors in my area who might be interested in speaking at a library.  This is how ARRT booked 3 mystery writers for a panel discussion last year. We contacted the library liaison for Sisters in Crime and then she contacted authors in the Chicagoland area who she knew were good speakers. We let the library liaison do the leg work, and she was able to get us 3 fantastic authors AND the writers association and ARRT were able to split the fees. The program was informative, fun and affordable.

So don’t just think you have to be a huge library with big time name recognition or a massive budget to have an event. Try a few of the tactics I mentioned today, spend some time looking through the pages I have linked to, and start planning an author event at your library today!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy Presidents' Day: A RA for All Reading List

Since I hold a BA in American Studies, this is a topic I greatly enjoy. I even took a class in college called, "The American Presidency" during a Presidential election year which was also the first year I could vote ['96].

But I am not alone in enjoying books on Presidents. As the current Presidential race moves forward, you will have many patrons looking for Presidential reading options. So while we shine a spotlight on past American Presidents today, keep this link saved for the several months, as it will make for a good suggestion list for the foreseeable future.

Here are some of my favorite books about American Presidents.  Most of the links go to reviews or book discussion reports here on RA for All. And each post has plenty of readalike options too. But please note, these are not your typical Presidential biography suggestions; those you can find pretty easily using traditional reference techniques. RA for All is about taking the leisure reading suggestions beyond the most basic steps.

  • Candice Millard is THE BEST. I wish she could write faster.  Here is a link to the book discussion I led on River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. And here is the link to the book discussion report for Destiny of the Republic which also includes a link to the review I wrote the first time I read this book.  Her new book is coming out in September, but she is moving her focus across the Atlantic as it will be about Winston Churchill.
  • Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell may have a witty tone, but it takes a very serious look at the factors and events that led up to the first three American Presidential Assassinations.
  • James Swanson's Manhunt: the 12-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer was my book club's all time favorite book. They even proclaimed their love for it publicly when they were featured in the Chicago Tribune.
  • Stephen King's 11/22/63 is one of my all time favorite books.  Plus, it is a TV miniseries now, so there is interest.  It is especially great on audio.
  • Erik Larson's Dead Wake from last year had a very interesting side plot about President Wilson. I learned quite a bit more about him than I was anticipating [in a good way].
  • One of my favorite novels about the life of an American President, one that I read pre-blog and still hand out regularly is Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Riboud. It is an older title, and most strikingly, it was written before it was an accepted fact that Thomas Jefferson had children with Hemmings. Chase-Riboud took a lot of flack for writing this book. It is historically accurate AND a moving read. Here is an annotation I wrote back in 2007 promoting this book during Women's History Month:
    • Sally Hemings was Martha Jefferson’s half sister and eventually the mistress of Martha’s husband, Thomas Jefferson.  This novel recreates life in 19th century Virginia and depicts its slavery, miscegenation, denial, and hypocrisy, by recreating the life of Hemings and her children by Jefferson.  Chase-Ribould’s narrative shows Hemings as a complicated woman in a loving relationship, at a tumultuous time in America.

Friday, February 12, 2016

You Want To Be The Best Librarian You Can Be? Listen to Circulating Ideas!

One thing I have learned in my 15 years as a librarian is that we are a fragmented bunch.  Much of that is out of necessity. For example, in order to be a great Youth Services librarian you have to focus on serving youth which leaves little time to think about what, for instance, special libraries are doing.

I take myself as an example. Now that I am not in a public library on a daily basis any more it has become even easier for me to have too narrow focus. Sure in my career I have been a law librarian, an adult reference librarian, a public library trustee, a teen librarian, a school library volunteer, and, of course, a RA librarian.

I know that is a broader range than most, but still, for the last 13 years, most of my days have been spent either helping leisure readers OR training library workers to help leisure readers.

We all have this problem. But who has the time to pull back and take a broader view? Thankfully, Steve Thomas does.  Steve is a branch manager for a GA public library. He has a busy career being a librarian and manager. He is good at his job, but five years ago, he was grasping for ways to pull back and see the big picture. He wanted to connect with others in his profession on a more regular basis. Going to conferences is one way to do that, but those opportunities are few and far between.

So instead of just bemoaning the situation, Steve set out to create  a solution [much like I did when I created this blog]-- The Circulating Ideas Podcast.

Below is a statement from Steve Thomas directly. I asked him to write something because listening to his podcast has made me a better librarian...period. Yes, as you will see below, I shared my thoughts on readers’ advisory on the podcast, but that was to add my expertise to the mix to help others. The reason I actively support and promote the podcast is because of how much Circulating Ideas has helped me.

Each episode connects me to a library worker whose professional expertise and experiences are different from mine. Each episode allows me to grow as a librarian opening me to new ideas and trends. Each episode is a teaching moment, a chance for me to sit back, reflect upon the entirety of this wonderful profession, and appreciate what each library worker out there, trying to make a difference, brings to The Library.

So all I ask is that you listen and open yourself up to the full range of what librarians do. It will make you better at your own library job, no matter what your specific focus is.

When I started the Circulating Ideas podcast in 2011, I wanted to expand my own personal learning network and share the great work that librarians were doing for their communities to keep libraries vibrant in the 21st century. The drawback to the audio medium, however, is that it is less accessible than words on a page, not to mention that a large portion of the populace simply has no interest in audio as a learning medium. So in 2015, I ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to have the archives of the podcast so that I could post them on the website, making the content more findable, searchable, and most importantly, more accessible (if you would like to help keep the transcripts coming, you can find out how to support the show here).

Becky Spratford, the owner of the fine site you're currently reading, was on the show in the fall of 2014, after she had invited me to speak at the Illinois Library Association conference, and you can find the transcript of her interview here. Becky is a longtime supporter of the show and if you're reading this site, you know about her expertise in all things readers' advisory. I appreciate all that Becky has done to bring the show to the attention of more librarians, because sharing the knowledge in these interviews is what it's all about. I certainly enjoy the conversations and learn myself, but I feel a responsibility to let that information free into the world. You might say that I want to circulate the ideas.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Library Reads: March 2016

It’s the March 2016 Library Reads list.  This is also your monthly reminder that the long backlist of previous months lists make for perfect SURE BET recommendations. Simply click here to pull them all up and start suggesting a great read to your patrons.

Hint: the further back you go the better chance the book will be on the shelf. 

While I love getting excited about the new books as much as anyone, it is in using this resource’s backlist that I have had some of my best RA interactions. The titles are pre-screened and each book comes with its own little book talk. Because of Library Reads I have not only found people their next good read but I have also made lasting connections between patrons and their library.

Ahhh the power of RA.

March 2016 LibraryReads List


The Summer Before the War:
A Novel

by Helen Simonson

Published:3/22/2016 by Random House
ISBN: 9780812993103
“Fans of Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand have reason to rejoice. She has created another engaging novel full of winsome characters, this time set during the summer before the outbreak of World War I. Follow the story of headstrong, independent Beatrice Nash and kind but stuffy surgeon-in-training Hugh Grange along with his formidable Aunt Agatha. Make a cup of tea and prepare to savor every page!”
Paulette Brooks, Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, WI

Jane Steele

by Lyndsay Faye

Published: 3/22/2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 9780399169496
Jane Steele is a great read for lovers of Victorian literature who especially love their characters to have a lot of pluck! Jane Steele is the adventurous, irreverent, foul-mouthed broad that I so often loved about Jane Eyre, but in more wily circumstances. Remember that fabulous scene in Jane Eyre when she stands up to her aunt for the first time, and how you wanted to stand up from your comfy reading chair and cheer for her? Imagine an entire book just of those sorts of scenes. Absolutely fabulous fun!”
Abbey Stroop, Herrick District Library, Holland, MI 

the-passenger blog

The Passenger: A Novel

by Lisa Lutz

Published: 3/1/2016 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781451686630
“This is a compulsively readable story of a young woman who has to keep switching identities and stay on the run. Is she a reliable narrator or not? What was the original event that sent her on the run? There is a lot of action and suspense as she tries to survive and evade the law while trying to keep her moral center intact. Unlike Lutz’s Spellman books, this reads more like a Charles Portis road novel, though considerably more serious and dangerous. Highly recommended.”
Beth DeGeer, Bartlesville Public Library, Bartlesville, OK

MarkedinFlesh blog

Marked in Flesh: A Novel of the Others

by Anne Bishop

Published: 3/8/2016 by Roc
ISBN: 9780451474476
“In this thrilling installment, Bishop continues to explore the relationships of The Others and the humans who live at the Lakeside compound. Meanwhile, Humans First and Last organization has been making themselves known, after the attacks in the previous book that killed numerous Others along with their “Wolf Lover” friends, they are not backing down. Little do they know it’s not the Others humans need to be wary of but the Elders for which the Others act as a buffer. This is an excellent installment in the novels of the Others, exciting, heart-wrenching and suspenseful.”
Emily Peros, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO 

TheNest blog

The Nest

by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Published: 3/22/2016 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062414212
“If you think your family is dysfunctional, move over, because here come the Plumbs. Suddenly faced with the dismantling of the nest egg they’ve counted on to solve their financial woes, the four Plumb siblings have to grow up, and fast. But though they all do some terrible things in the name of ambition, there’s something lovable about the Plumbs. You can’t fail to be moved by the beating heart of this novel, which seems to say that family, for good or ill, unites us all.”
Mary Kinser, Whatcom County Library System, Bellingham, WA 

FoolMeOnce blog

Fool Me Once

by Harlan Coben

Published: 3/22/2016 by Dutton
ISBN: 9780525955092
“Coben has made me lose more sleep over the years than all my other favorite authors combined. Joe Burkett has been murdered in front of his wife Maya. They have a two year old daughter who has a nanny. After the funeral, a friend gives her a picture frame that hides a camera so she can check on the care the nanny is providing her daughter. She watches the recording. Can she believe what she saw? Is she going crazy? Both? Buy a ticket for the coaster and find out for yourself. Keep your hands inside the car; it’s going to be a wild ride.”
Lisa Sprague, Public Services Librarian, Enfield Public Library, Enfield, CT

the-madwoman-upstairs blog

The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel

by Catherine Lowell

Published: 3/1/2016 by Touchstone
ISBN: 9781501124211
“Meet Samantha Whipple, a descendant of the Bronte family, who arrives at Oxford to study literature, as her father did before her. She receives a copy of Jane Eyre – a volume that she thought was destroyed in the fire that took her father’s life. When a second Bronte novel belonging to her father turns up, she is convinced he has staged an elaborate treasure hunt for her promised inheritance. Enlisting the help of her sexy, young professor,Samantha sets out on a quest to find buried treasure and learns the value of friendship and courage along the way.”
Kristen McCallum, Algonquin Area Public Library, Algonquin, IL

Because blog

Because of Miss Bridgerton

by Julia Quinn
Published: 3/29/2016 by Avon
ISBN: 9780062388148 

“This is the first in a prequel series to Quinn’s popular Bridgerton series, set a generation earlier.
Billie Bridgerton spent her childhood running wild with the neighboring Rokesbys, Andrew, Edward, and Mary. Now she runs the family estate for her father and still runs as wild as she can. The eldest Rokesby, George, never really approved of Billie, but when he rescues her from a roof they begin to come to a new understanding.”
Mary Aileen Buss, Long Beach Public Library, NY 


Dimestore: A Writer’s Life

by Lee Smith

Published: 3/22/2016 by Algonquin Books
ISBN: 9781616205027
“Evenly divided between a book about Smith’s process and her life, first as a Southern mountain child and, later, as the parent of a schizophrenic child, this book is interesting and compelling. Despite being surrounded by loving family and being blessed with an active imagination, Lee copes with a mentally ill mother. Later, her son’s mental illness and early death brings her to the breaking point but she is saved by her writing. This is a read-alike for Karr’s The Liars Club. It desperately needs a cinematic translation for it’s elegant and evocative writing.”
Lois Gross, Hoboken Public Library, Hoboken, NJ 


All Things Cease to Appear: A Novel

by Elizabeth Brundage

Published: 3/8/2016 by Knopf
ISBN: 9781101875599
“When the Clare family purchases a ramshackle farmhouse at a foreclosure auction, it appears that all is well in their world, until George comes home one evening from his job as an Art History Professor at the local private college and finds his wife murdered and their three-year-old untended yet unharmed. Told through the eyes of the townspeople and the families involved, this is a gorgeously unsettling look at a marriage and what happens to a community in the process of change.”
Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 4-- Echo Pages 105-190

Part 4 of my fifth grade book club tackled the second half of Part 1 of the book. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of the novel.

Let get right to it:

  • While the children were getting settled in and beginning to eat their lunch, one of the other parent volunteers had used her public library card to search for and download a recording of Yo Yo Ma playing Brahm's Lullaby so that we could play it for the kids. The song, performed by the father, on the cello has a central role in this narrative. This parent will continue to do that for each musical piece in the novel.
  • I began the discussion with props to the kid who made the prediction last time that he thought Part 1 would end sad but that the entire book would end happily. While we don't know what will happen at the end of the novel, we do know that our hero Friedrich is in a difficult and probably dangerous predicament as we left his story behind.
  • Since this was the end of an entire section of the book, we had the kids go around the room to share their words to describe how they felt. Since the ending was a bit harrowing, I think this worked very well. It eased the kids' fears about Friedrich AND prepared them to move on to the next section. We are going to leave Friedrich's story hanging for awhile. Here are some of their words summing up Part 1:
    • "terrifying": His sister is away, his dad is in Dachau, his uncle is trying to escape, he was forced to take control of the situation and now he is being arrested.
    • "scary": I understood that Hitler hated the Jews before reading this book, but after the scene with the father and his musician "friends" I learned how much regular people did too. It was scary to watch friends turn on each other because 1 is a Jew. It led to the father being arrested for defending a Jewish colleague. 
    • "unknown": the question of what is going to happen next is all I can think about
    • "mad": Mad at Hitler and how he changed everyone's lives. Mad at how no one could have friends anymore because you didn't know what side they would take. Mad that no one trusted each other. Mad at all the secrets.
    • "emotional": too many emotions. 
    • "dumbfounded": The Storm Troopers wrecking Friedrich's house was a good example of how I felt about the section.
    • "tears"
  • One of the parent volunteers wanted to share her word after the kids-- "shocked." She was shocked that Friedrich got caught escaping. She was shocked he gave up the harmonica-- packed it to be shipped with others to America. I was starting to believe that it had magic to protect him. But now it is going across the ocean, away from him. Will he be okay?
    • We talked about that a bit more. We talked about how Friedrich had grown during the days leading up to his attempted escape. How he got more brave and stopped being afraid of being picked on. He packed up the harmonica because he didn't need it anymore. He felt he could protect himself now.
    • Someone else across the ocean will need it more.
    • The kids were scared for Friedrich, but they all felt like he would be okay in the end.
  • We moved on to talking more about Elizabeth:
    • Everyone was so happy that she came through when it really mattered. 
    • It was a relief to not be mad at her anymore.
    • One parent mentioned how she changed her clothes before she left home and asked the kids why they thought she did that. We talked about how she was going on to a different and new life and she needed a new "costume." 
    • She went to this new Hitlerite world to keep her family safe and give herself a better life but as soon as Hitler's rules meant endangering her family, she found a way to help her family despite the risk.
    • We talked about how hard it was for Elizabeth to get the money to her brother in secret-- hidden under cookies with a clue about how her uncle should hide some so Friedrich didn't eat them all at once.  She even had to trust a neighbor to deliver them. She risked everything to get the money to them.
  • We were trying to get the kids to speculate as to why Elizabeth and others made the choice to support Hitler even when it seemed like it was against their true beliefs.  We talk about the pressure to conform. Like last week, two kids rushed to the dictionary to look up conform. We were all surprised by how many definitions it had. 
    • We then talked about books that also use this theme-- the pressure to conform and how hard it is for those who do not conform.  One student mentioned Divergent, but I tried to show them how it is even a theme in picture books like The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed.  It got them giggling, talking about a Mo Willems book, but it also made the theme and its serious implications about human behavior clear to them.
  • This being election season, we also talked about staying aware of what is going on in politics and voting to stop leaders like Hitler from taking over. 
    • The kids mentioned how being secretive made everything worse. 
    • The people who were open and wanted to seriously discuss the problems with Hitler's laws were the ones getting in trouble.
  • I then asked the kids if there were final things about Friedrich's story that they wanted to share since we would be leaving him behind for awhile.
    • One student talked about how in the new Star Wars movie the scene with all the Storm Troopers (same name as Nazi's police) makes them all look like Nazi's. They even raise their hands. We know this means they are VERY bad, but Friedrich doesn't yet. 
    • This book reminded a few kids of Number the Stars and Anne Frank.
    • One last comment came from someone who wanted to say that "very brave" describes all of the main characters in this story.
  • We didn't want to make predictions because a new character is going to take up the harmonica in our next section. But, one student did think that maybe Friedrich's melody will be in the harmonica now-- it will sound like 4 instead of 3.

For those of you following along at home, no book club next week because there is no school due to the President's Day holiday. Discussion of the beginning of part 2 will happen the week of 2/22.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Great Nonfiction Book Discussion Book With An Offer From the Author To Skype With Your Book Club!

One of the biggest trends in history books-- both fiction and nonfiction-- is telling the story from a different perspective.  The most popular of these perspectives, especially with book discussion groups, is from the female point of view.

Theresa Kaminski is a Professor in the Department of History and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.  Her writing and scholarship is focused on American Women’s History. She is the author of three well received books on American Women in WWII. In fact, on January 29th, she was featured on the back page of the Wall Street Journal’s book section in their “Five Best” series where she gave her best books on Americans under Japanese occupation.  Here is the link to the online version, but you need digital access to read it. [I get the paper so I have a print copy, but you could also get one from your local library.]

Ms Kaminski also happens to have some deep roots in Berwyn, IL, the town where I was a librarian for 15 years. She is also a college friend of one of my friends who still works there. He mentioned Ms. Kaminski and her books to me. I was intrigued and contacted her. Turns out she loves talking to librarians and library patrons.

So I asked her to write up a little something about herself and her books. I think they would be great book discussion titles. In fact, Ms. Kaminski has even offered to Skype with any library book groups that are interested in reading her books.  

Click here to contact Ms. Kaminski about having her Skype with your book group. 

And read below to learn more about Ms. Kaminski and her fascinating books and research. 
Writing the History of American Women in World War II 
by Theresa Kaminski 

I hadn’t planned on writing three books about women and war. I hadn’t even planned on writing one. That changed after I watched the Masterpiece Theatre series, A Town Like Alice. It depicted an aspect of the Second World War I wasn’t familiar with-- British women captured in Malaya by the Japanese. I tracked down and read Nevil Shute's 1950 novel on which the series was based, then started researching the history behind Shute’s story. 

It was fascinating, but since my academic specialty is American women’s history and since at the time I was in the process of writing about postwar feminism, I couldn’t see that it had anything to do with my research agenda. Besides, the most recent works about women and World War II by American historians like Karen Anderson and Susan Hartmann focused on issues of work and family on the homefront. Other scholars addressed the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during the war. But that was about it in terms of American women’s connection with the war. 
Then I found a copy of a 1947 memoir published by Agnes Newton Keith. She was an American woman living in Borneo with her British husband when the Japanese invaded and interned the Allied civilians there. This was my first piece of evidence that American women had experienced something similar to the fictional Jean Paget in Nevil Shute’s novel. Finding more real-life women like Agnes Keith took time and patience. It’s been so many years since that initial research that I don’t remember exactly what led me to the Philippines, but that must have been the next piece of the puzzle. 

The United States colonized the Philippine Islands in the early 20th century, after the Spanish-American War. Thousands of American men and women settled there, working for the U.S. military or government, setting up their own businesses, or taking employment with a variety of Filipino concerns. Japan, eager to find additional living space and resources for its citizens, coveted the Philippines. American and Japanese imperialism were on a decades-long collision course in the Pacific. A few hours after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they turned on the Philippines. 

The bombings were a prelude to invasion and occupation. On January 2, 1942, Japanese troops moved in to the capital city of Manila. A few days later American citizens were compelled to surrender for registration, a sham process that turned into enforced internment for thousands of men, women, and children. 

I started on the research. For this project, I decided to work with text sources rather than conduct one-on-one interviews. The major reason for this was the passage of time. By the mid-1990s, World War II was fifty years in the past. Many of the women who had been living in the Philippines during the war had already died. For the ones still alive, I had concerns about issues of memory.  

So I looked for printed sources. This went rather smoothly. By the mid-1990s, many library and archives catalogs were online and linked to interlibrary loan systems. I started searching under “memoir” and “personal narratives” to find published firsthand accounts of the American women interned in the Philippines by the Japanese. Most of these had been put out by small regional presses or were privately published. Very few archives had any relevant collections.  

I found enough personal narratives to form the core of my first book, Prisoners in Paradise: American Women in the Wartime South Pacific. Most of it centers on how women, many of whom had children with them, experienced detention in internment camps in the Philippines and elsewhere in the Pacific theater. A couple of chapters focus on how and why some of them managed to evade internment. 
The book’s cover photo shows a deceptively domestic scene: a group of neatly dressed women and children, most of them smiling and looking relaxed. The picture had been taken in one of the smaller internment camps in the Philippines, in the lovely mountain city of Baguio on the main island of Luzon. The first time I saw that picture, I was also the mother of a young son. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to be removed from my home, separated from my husband (many American men in the Philippines had joined the military and ended up as POWs; the remaining civilians were interned in quarters away from the women and children), never knowing what the occupying Japanese troops would do next. 

Researching and writing that book piqued my interest in additional projects on ordinary women. After the publication of Prisoners in Paradise, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ethel Thomas Herold, one of the women who’d been interned in Baguio. A photograph taken of Ethel and her husband Elmer in early 1945, the two of them standing in the ruins of a Manila street, gaunt, in ragged clothes, but alive, posed a nagging question. What was this white, middle-class, college-educated woman from Wisconsin doing in the middle of one of the fiercest battles of World War II? 

I wrote my second book, Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, an American in the Philippines, to answer that question. Here was an ordinary woman who lived through nearly a century of extraordinary events. Born and raised in a farming community in southwestern Wisconsin in 1896, Ethel Thomas traveled across the state in 1913 to attend Lawrence College. There she majored in history (unusual for a woman), took voice lessons, became involved in the suffrage movement, and met her future husband, Elmer Herold. When Elmer signed up to fight in the First World War, Ethel, now a college graduate, taught high school history, rolled bandages for the Red Cross, and volunteered for the state division of the Food Administration. 

After she and Elmer married in 1920, they decided to do something to express their patriotism and their faith in the new world order forged by the Allied victory in 1918. The Herolds applied and were accepted for teaching positions in the public school system in the Philippine Islands. After they left teaching and Elmer took a job with a local lumber company, the couple made Baguio their home, raising two children in a colonial idyll that lasted until the Japanese attack in December 1941. Just after Christmas, the family was interned in a civilian camp, where they remained until late 1944 when all of the internees were transferred to Manila. The Herolds survived the war and after a brief period of recuperation, Ethel and Elmer returned to Baguio. Over the next dozen years, they helped rebuild the city and witnessed the Philippines transition from a colony to an independent nation.  

When I finished writing Citizen of Empire and found a publisher for it, I thought I was done writing about the Philippines. A literary agent, Jacqueline Flynn, contacted me after she had seen the movie The Great Raid. She was intrigued by the portrayal of Margaret (Peggy) Utinsky, an American woman who risked her life to help POWs in the Philippines. I’d included Peggy’s experiences in one of the chapters in Prisoners in Paradise, and Jacquie wanted to know if I was interested in writing a book about Peggy. That idea, after a few years, resulted in Angels of the Underground.  

As in the previous books, it was the personalities of the women that drew me to this story: Peggy Utinsky, a nurse, bold and brash, with a love for good conversation and a glass of beer. Claire Phillips, the garrulous, glamorous nightclub singer with a flair for the dramatic. Gladys Savary, a cocktail-loving restaurant owner and entrepreneur. Yay Panlilio, daring reporter turned guerrilla. These four women were determined to survive a brutal enemy occupation and to undermine the Japanese at every opportunity. 

Together, these three books introduce readers to fascinating women, while informing them about equally fascinating aspects of American history. They can generate wonderful conversations about why these women chose to do what they did as well as that great “what if” question: What would I have done under the same circumstances?

I would be happy to Skype in with any interested book clubs and am willing to provide discussion questions and/or lists of related readings.