Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Evolution

My earliest memories of books are from age 5 when I carried my favorite book with me to Mrs. Patrones' house after morning kindergarten.  I remember sharing it with my friend, Frankie.  I had many favorites through the years, but most of the early ones caught my attention with their beautiful colors and pictures.  I can see the turtles in the tuttle tuttle tree, and the melting tiger as he turned into buttery syrupy pancakes and the especially perfect colors of the Popples, which looked like they'd be soft when I touched the page but never where (that mismatch totally mesmerized me).  Other than the Dr. Seuss one, I can't remember the stories very well, but I can see some of the pictures and feel the magic still.

As I got older, the books got fewer pictures, of course, but richer detail that made pictures in my own mind.  I can "see" Louis the trumpeter swan and his chalkboard, Charlotte in her web, princess Sara Crewe in her dreary attic with Becky, and Rose and all of her rowdy cousins.  The stories grew in imagery, but the pictures were drawn with words.  They morphed from small, thin hardcovers or board books to paperback chapter books and thick hardcovers that made me feel so grown up.

Now my books are thin again.  In fact, they mostly have no physical substance at all!  They exist on my kindle.  Of course, I still read a lot of print books, but if I can get them on my kindle I do so.  I read a lot more nonfiction than I did as a child - some because I need the information and some just because I connect with them more now as I think about more esoteric ideas and enjoy making connections.

What will my books look like 20 years from now?  Will we still have any print books?  Will storytelling take an entirely new form?

It would be easy to go along with the crowds and talk about the rise of digital media and how all books will be on the computer.  Or how nobody reads anymore and there will be hardly any new books by then.  Or how we've been slowly dumbing down and in 20 years all the new books will be inane and empty.  I agree with Ursula Le Guin that TV shows and movies have become "brain-numbing... remakes of remakes". (Staying Awake, 2008)  Those writers are obviously out of ideas and originality. But - and this is a big but - I think humanity is just as intelligent and creati
ve as ever.  The problem is one of overload.  We have so many stories, so much access, so easily, that we can't find anything of value among the fluff.  In addition, I believe that our educational system is part of the problem, rather than the solution.  That's a different topic, but one I encourage you to explore.

In my humble opinion, I think the recent interest in all things retro will include reading as a pastime.  I think people are tired of emptiness and are looking for depth and meaning.  Memoirs are on the rise, everyone can publish, and people want connection.  I predict those things will coalesce into the greatest boom in book publishing that the world has ever seen.  They'll need librarians even more to separate the grain from the chaff and help people find the stories that inspire their lives.  I look forward to reading them whether they're on an ereader or paper!

Let Me Tell Ya...

...'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees...

Nah, you know all about that.  I want to tell ya 'bout the thrillers and the horror and the romance and the sci fi...

Ok, it doesn't rhyme but I still want to tell you about all the awesome books we have for you at the library.  But how?

Here are a few ideas that have worked for me and my heroic librarian friends and I hope you'll share some fabulous ideas with me, so together we'll be like Library SuperTwins:

  • Displays (kind of useful, but not super duper)
  • Bundling with the Movie (lots of checkouts, but I think people only watch the movie)
  • Displayed during a Program (pretty effective since people are already excited)
  • BookTalks (Best. Thing. Ever. Like a superpower for librarians)

So, seriously, what kinds of activities can we do at the library to help people find books that they want to read?  There are many ideas that've been promulgated by various libraries, groups, authors, and "experts", but the absolute best, most effective method I've seen is personal recommendation.  This can come in the form of booktalks or readers' advisory.

For those of you who don't know, booktalks are exactly like what you do when you're telling your best friend about the great book you just finished:

"it was so..."                "and then..."               "and you just want to..."           "You HAVE to read this!"

The only difference is that you're talking to a group instead of one friend.  One major rule:  READ THE BOOK.  This seems like a no-brainer, and yet I know people who think they can just tell you what the reviews say and not give a personal reaction or insight.  NO!  Just like in this class, you have to read, or at least skim, the book yourself in order to have a truly good grasp on the appeal factors of the story and be able to share it in an authentic and genuine way.  If you don't read it, please be honest about that to people.  You can still do readers' advisory with it, but you can't effectively booktalk it.

BTW, don't just booktalk in the library.  GO OUT! Booktalk at events, schools, clubs, everywhere.

Turn your mouth into a mouse and booktalk online - Facebook, Twitter, and the library blog are all great places to booktalk.  The reviews we've been doing in this class are formal - take them to a more informal, casual, personal level and BLAM, you've got a booktalk!  Post it!

Book displays can be creative, imaginative, eye-catching, and fun.  You can do a Pinterest search and find a tremendous amount of wonderful ideas like these:

Some displays are more effective than others, and I've personally found that many people are hesitant to take a book that's part of a display because they don't want to mess up the great tableau.  I think complicated book displays are best as part of a library marketing tool to show how fun the library is, but I'm not convinced that they lead to those featured books being checked out more.  The types of displays that work the best, in my opinion, are those that are simple and highlight the books rather than the creativity of the librarians.

Bundling the books with the movies has been extremely popular in my library.  We created a READ BOX and put it right next to the checkout desk.

Ours is similar to this one, and it gets a lot of attention, but in chatting with the patrons we're pretty sure they just watch the movie and don't read the book.  Sad, but true.  The movie is the pretty, popular kid while the book is the poor, ugly, neglected stepchild.

Books promoted during garden program.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS gather books that are related to your program or event and display them near the entrance during the program.  People coming to a library program are already interested in that topic and are much more likely to be interested in those books.  It's kind of like passive RA - you know something about what they like and you're offering suggestions.  Also, part of the reason for holding programs, workshops, classes, and events at the library is to offer avenues to information, so keep going and show people the resources we have that they can checkout and take home - duh!  It's a no-brainer, but it's surprising how often it doesn't happen.

These are my "best practices" for sharing and promoting books.  What are yours?  I really, really want to know so share in the comments!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Where'd They Go?

So... where'd the gay and black folks books go?

The question is whether LGBT and/or African American books should be shelved separately from other library materials or not.

First off, what IS an LGTB book or an African American book?  Is it a book about being gay or black? Is it a book by a gay person or black person?  Is it history, contemporary? And if we shelve them separately, is that "celebrating" or "segregating"?  Is it helping folks find stuff, or just another way of pointing out someone's "different-ness"?

"...and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings."  (ALA, 2017)

I decided to look at this through the LGBT experience and interviewed two people about their viewpoint.  Z explained that she had been to bookstores many years ago that had a separate LGBT section, and she felt very exposed and uncomfortable just browsing there.  Both X and Z said they appreciated being able to find gay books easily, and that having access to books which feature gay people or address gay concerns is important to them, but they would prefer to not feel singled out.  Z suggested that libraries should try using metadata tags, which made me go "aarrgh!", and I explained that we DO.  They both said that with the availability of searchable catalogs that include LGBT metadata tags and subject headings, they can find materials without having to go to the "gay" shelf.  X said that a book about gay parenting should be in the parenting section so that she can browse all kinds of parenting books.  "We're interested in the same things as everyone else, so the books should be integrated".

Does this mean that if we segregate these books (make them "special") we somehow abridge the ability of both gay and straight patrons to choose from a variety?  My friends suggest that this is so, and causes pigeonholing.  Pigeonholing = bad.

 They suggested that having a display during pride month (June) if a library wants to showcase its LGBT collection and show support for that group of minority people.
X disagreed with marking or labeling books in any way.  At first it seemed like a good idea for browsing, but then they both said people might feel uncomfortable bringing a marked book to the checkout counter or having it visible in their home if they're not "out" yet, so they decided that they really feel that for most gay people the best solution is to use the catalog search filters.  This provides accessibility, while still protecting privacy.  The American Library Association (ALA) states:  It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept with any book the prejudgment of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive or dangerous.  Would a label denoting a book as LGBT be perceived by that community as helpful or judgemental?  According to my friends, it could be the latter, and that would against the ethical and professional standards of the ALA.  

I think these ideas apply to African American books as well.  If I go to the "black" section, I feel very conspicuous, like I shouldn't be there, or I'm only there to prove how non-racist I am.  Makes me feel like a poser.  On the other hand, if I'm browsing the fiction and run across The Help, I just feel like I found a great book - not a black book.  Yes, it certainly sheds light on a black issue, but those issues are important for all of humanity.  And for crying out loud, I'm guessing that black people have had enough of being separated.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to special centers or museums dedicated to preserving a unique history or voice, or an academic library supporting specialized research. 

Let's just stick together, people!

African American Genre Annotation

Hidden Figures

by Margot Lee Shetterley

William Morrow Pub. (2016)
ISBN: 978-0062363596
Available formats:  HardcoverPaperback


"Just as islands...have relevance for the ecosystems everywhere, so does studying...overlooked people and events from the past turn up unexpected connections and insights to modern life.  The idea that black women had been recruited to work as mathematicians at the NASA installation in the South during the days of segregation defies our expectations and challenges much of what we think we know about American history.  It's a great story, and that alone makes it worth telling." (p. xv)

This is an account of an extraordinary moment in history when a door opened and African American women walked through it to join white men at the forefront of the Space Race.  It revolves around 4 particular women, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden, describing their lives, their families, their hopes, and their greatest challenges.  It's almost like a 4-part biography wrapped in a historical event.  Each woman is introduced, along with her family and educational background and her own personal dreams and needs.  She's then woven into the narrative of the Langley Laboratory and the amazing story of how this group of black women became a force for positive social change in one of the most prestigious and leading industry's in the country at that time.  The story is about this change and the tremendous impact it had on the women (of all colors, though especially black) who followed.  

Characteristics of this Book

Story:  Historical documentary.  If you like history, particularly history regarding race relations and how they've evolved, then you'll like this book.  It's not like a novel, but more like a treatise or exposition; we learn about the characters and the things that happened to them, or that they did, but we don't get into their minds very much.  

Pacing:  Very slow and studious, densely written.

Setting:  The story is set in Hampton, Virginia from the early '40s to the late '60s, mostly in the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory.  It's a setting that combines the racial issues of a smallish, southern college town with a highly educated and technological government research facility.  

Tone:  Thoughtful and insightful, explanations and facts are presented without being overly emotional, but with a sense of strength and admiration.  There's a sense of optimism and pragmatism laced throughout the book.  

Style:  Informative. Understated and elegant writing.  You get a real sense of the time and place with the use of common local terminology such as calling the women "computers" and referring to the Langley facility as "Mother Langley".  

Characterization:  The women in the book are described as real people with varying attributes, standards, goals, ethics, and personalities.  Although we don't enter their heads like we do with most fiction, we do get a very full sense of who they are based on personal and family interviews, letters, and other memorabilia.  It makes you want to meet them in person!  

Appeal terms:  Insightful, uplifting, encouraging, informative, studious, complex, very real 

Personal Note

If you pick up this book expecting it to be similar in feel or scope to the movie, as I did (although I haven't seen the movie, only the trailers), you'll be in for a big surprise.  This is a historical documentary.  Although it's centered loosely around the 4 women, it's really a very thorough treatise of the cultural and racial issues faced by black American working women of the time.

It's a little confusing and hard to follow since the author jumps around frequently; one paragraph she's describing Dorothy's marital difficulties because of her new job, and then suddenly we're into an anecdote about peeking at German POWs, then the neighbor's daughter and her education and marriage, and then we're on the bus with Dorothy on the way to begin the job that would later cause the marital difficulties we started the chapter with.  The book doesn't flow well, making it hard to really get "into", but close reading reveals wonderfully insightful gems such as "Who would have thought that such a mélange of black and white, male and female, blue-collar and white-collar workers, those who worked with their hands and those who worked with numbers, was actually possible?  And who would guess that the southern city of Hampton, Virginia, was the place to find it?"  Unfortunately, you  have to be willing to slog through a lot of other minutiae to get to the good stuff.  It worth it, though, because most other African American works I've seen are either about slavery prior to the Civil War, black experience during Reconstruction, black soldiers, or the 60's Civil Rights Movement.  The book fills in a gap in both time period and gender stories, on the brink of what the author justly calls America's "great transformations".

I ultimately found it ok, but couldn't get into it - too jumpy.


Movie!  Yay!  Of course this book has been made into a movie which just came out this year in January.  I haven't seen it yet since I had wanted to read the book first.  There's a great interview with the author here, where she talks about the differences between the book and the movie, saying that the movie only focuses on one particular event, where the book gives a much deeper and broader account (she still likes the movie, though).  

Official Book Trailer

Friday, April 7, 2017

Yours, Mine, and Ours

This is an interesting issue, and one which, although it's not a problem for my library now, will be next year.  Right now the Teen Area at both our branches is open to the rest of the library.  The items are shelved separately from the Adult sections, but nearby.  Anyone can come and go easily.  But...

We're in the process of adding on to our Main Branch and the plans call for a new Teen Room (yay!).  Until now, I hadn't thought about the impact this will have on adults who like to read YA books.  This new room will be on a completely different floor than the adult area and will be closed with a glass wall and doors - great for teens hanging out and for doing loud programs, but not so great for adults who want to browse the YA shelves.  I'm not comfortable with adults hanging out in the teen room, but they should be able to come in and get books if they want.  Ergh, now I'm feeling a little concerned...

An article on WebJunction reflects most YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) advice:
Teen Space is For the Teens.
You need to establish this basic rule early on, and have support at all levels. No policy exists in a vacuum, and your administration must back you up. No teen will feel welcome in the space if the area is filled with adults, nor will a shy 13- year-old ask an adult to please leave the teen area. While teens seem invincible in groups, they are in fact quite vulnerable. Just like a patron of any other age, library policy must reflect a teen’s right to use the library free of impediments, including aggressive adults. (Mary McCarthy, Boulder Public Library, 2004)
I think this is good advice, but I think we can brainstorm some ways that materials can still feel accessible to adults.  Perhaps we can have "open door" times, or start an "Adults Who Love YA" book club?  Maybe we could place a shelf outside the door for popular titles?  Or find some kind of fun, funky signs to invite adults to choose their items quickly and GET OUT BEFORE THE TEEN ZOMBIES GET YOU!...  Or some other idea...   I have 1 year to come up with a plan.  Yikes.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Adult Annotation

A Court of Thorns and Roses 

Court of Thorns & Roses series

Bloomsbury USA Childrens (May 5, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-1619634442
Available formats:  HardcoverPaperback


A modern day spin-off of The Beauty and The Beast...
The father's 3 ships were sunk, consigning him and his 3 daughters to poverity.  The youngest daughter is compelled to live with a monstrous beast, but discovers the humanity within, falls in love, and must find a way to release him from the horrible curse. 

Feyre (fay-ruh) is a cynical girl who spends her days hunting and striving to provide for her crippled father and her spoiled sisters and keep them all from starving to death.  While hunting in the forest, she kills a wolf, though she suspects that he's actually a dangerous faerie in disguise.  The Treaty between humans and fae demands a life for a life, but the beastly faerie who shows up at her hovel offers a deal:  she can live out the rest of her life in Prythian (faerie land) rather than die.  Feyre has no hope of a future, she only wants to protect her family, so she agrees to go with the beast.  Once there, she finds that the beast and all his court are under a curse, and the entire country, including the human lands, are endangered by a mysterious High Fae woman.  Feyre has to navigate this strange and frightening world, and re-think her own prior perceptions of herself and others, to figure out what to do.  

New Adult Appeal Characteristics in this Book

Story:  Novelist calls it action-packed.  It drags a little bit in the middle as Feyre is settling into her new life in Tamlin's mansion and becoming attracted to him, but picks up again with lots of tension and action near the end.  There's a lot of romance in the story and some parts are pretty harlequin-esque and explicit. 

Pacing:  Moderate.  There's a fair amount going on in the story, and it keeps the pages turning fairly well, other than a little bit of slow down in the middle with dreamy, lush descriptions of the manor grounds and the fae.

Setting:  The story is set in a fantasy world split into human territory and fae territory.  The world-building is fair, but not extensive since the focus is on the romance between Feyre and Tamlin. The fun part of the setting is "Beauty and the Beast" framework which is the basis of the story.  There are frequent references which bring the original story to mind, adding to the sense of "otherness" that pervades the fantasy world.

Tone:  The tone is an interesting mashup of dark fairy tale and sexy romance, ending up with what Novelist calls "steamy". “We moved together, unending and wild and burning, and when I went over the edge the next time, he roared and went with me.” (quote) Definitely steamy! “I love you," I said, and stabbed him. (quote) Definitely dark!

Style:  The writing is complex and descriptive, and sometime poetic:  “I was as unburdened as a piece of dandelion fluff, and he was the wind that stirred me about the world.” (quote) Many parts are reminiscent of a cheesy romance novel, but still vivid and lush and dreamy.

Characterization:  Feyre starts out like another Katniss:  angry, desperately poor, anxious to save her family, and unrealistically skilled at hunting.  She then morphs into a romantic artist.  Then, finally, she comes to some deep realizations, and comes together as a complex and interesting person.  She has the fortitude to do hard things and make hard choices with clear eyes.  Rhysand turns into a complex and mysterious character, but the rest stay within their narrow caricatures, but this works perfectly for the fairy tale.  

Appeal terms: fantasy, dark, sexy, adventurous, fairy tale retelling

Young Adult or New Adult?  That is the question...

It can sometimes be tricky to tell whether a book should be categorized as YA/teen or New Adult.  Common criteria according to New Adult Alley ( is:

  • protagonist is between 18 - 26 yrs old, has left home for the first time, and has his/her first serious relationship
  • more explicit sex scenes

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Feyre is 19 yrs. old and must leave home to make a new life in a strange land.  She's had a casual boyfriend before, but now falls in love for the first time.  The book contains a number of references to casual sex, and includes some very hot, steamy episodes:  "...his kiss deepened as his fingers slid between my legs, coaxing and teasing. I ground against his hand, yielding completely to the writhing wildness that had roared alive inside me..." (quote).  
This is not the kind of writing that is normal in YA!  Whew!  

Other reviewers have said:

Though A Court of Thorns and Roses is a young adult novel, the book was written with a slightly older reader in mind (my note: this indicates readers older than teens) compared to Maas's Throne of Glass series. "When I write, I usually just let the story take me where it needs to go," she says. "In this case that was into a dark, sensual, often violent world, with characters that were a direct product of it."    (Valerie Tejeda, 12/9/2014, )

A Court of Thorns and Roses is not a YA novel. This New Adult fantasy is passionate, violent, sexy and daring with brief love scenes that, while compelling and tastefully constructed for mature audiences, contain sexual content that should be considered inappropriate for younger readers.                                                                                       (Serena Chase, 4/14/2015

Personal Note

I started this book prepared to dislike it, and in fact, didn't care for it much until near the end.  Then it got interesting....  Feyre turned into a character with depth and substance, facing hard choices and being willing to admit her mistaken ideas about family, love, and her own nature.

Parts of the earlier story that I liked were the parallels to the original Beauty and the Beast story (not the Disney one) and the descriptive writing.  What I disliked were the cheesy romance-novel bits; "He flexed his bandaged hand, studying the white bindings, stark and clean against his sun-kissed skin."   "But he shook his head, and his golden hair caught and held the morning light as if it were spun from the sun itself."  Barf.

Once Feyre and Tamlin got together, a little over midway, the story became less romance and more fantasy/adventure, which is much more my thing.  There is nice little plot twist near the end, nothing terribly dramatic, but enough to perk things up a little and be entertaining.  In the end...  I liked it, and yes, I would recommend it to a friend looking for a light fantasy/sexy


  Coloring book available here.

Official Fan-made Book Trailer


Enter the Matrix... the RA Matrix!

Jared Diamond's "matrix" of the spread (or not) of inventions.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies 

by Jared Diamond
Published July 17, 2005
528 pages

Setting:  World          
Time Period:  Human origins to modern, concentrated from 13,000 B.C. to 1900 A.D.
Subject Headings:  Social evolution, Civilization – History, Ethnology
Type:  Science

Series notes:  n/a
Book summary:  The author dismantles racially based theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors he feels are responsible for history's broadest patterns.  (Worldcat, 2017)
Reading elements:  Thought-provoking, informative, detailed, sweeping scope, well-researched and documented, documentary-like
Annotation:  A thought-provoking look at the ultimate (not proximal, he really harps on this distinction) causes of human civilization patterns throughout history, arguing that more highly developed societies resulted from geographic, environmental, and political factors rather than genetic or racial factors. 
Similar works:  Salt by Mark Kurlansky; 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
by Charles C. Mann

1.       Where is the book on the narrative continuum?  Highly fact-based
2.       What is the subject of the book?  Exploring the reasons why some cultures/societies have developed and/or been more dominant than others
3.       What type of book is it?  Anthropological exposition - Science
4.       Articulate appeal. 
a.       Pacing:  Highly detailed, slow reading as explanations build to conclusions, in-depth thinking    
b.       Describe the characters of the book:  No particular characters, this book is idea-based
c.       How does the story feel?  Philosophical, like an exploration of ideas, documentary   
d.       What is the intent of the author?  To persuade the reader of the validity of his hypothesis    
e.       What is the focus of the story?  To explain ultimate causes of why particular societies have thrived more than others      
f.        Does the language matter?  Yes               
g.       Is the setting important and well-described?  Yes.  Geographical considerations play a very large role in this essay and these factors are described in detail         
h.       Are there details, and if so, what?  Yes, lots.  About geographic, political, and other factors that either contributed or hindered human development      
i.         Are there sufficient charts and other graphic materials?  Are they useful and clear?  Not many, but they are clear
j.         Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience?   Yes, understanding is stressed throughout the book. 
5.       Why would a reader enjoy this book?
a.       Explores big ideas
b.       Thought-provoking about the haves and have-nots
c.       Clear, in-depth explanations which are well-supported and well-argued