Monday, January 27, 2014

Free to Read

Cover for DU Magazin, Switzerland. Olaf Hajek. Copyright © 2010.


Most elementary schools have daily assigned reading homework ranging from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the grade level. It’s a good idea to require beginning readers practice time.To become a proficient reader takes practice. There’s no way around that. The goal to all this practice is to become proficient enough to reap the reward of reading as a pleasure, a hard concept to convey to students when they are struggling with their reading homework.

Picking out a book that will transport a reader is the key to the secret pleasure garden that awaits a reader that has put in the practice.The Harry Potter series unlocked the door for many readers, taking them from a short book at the start of the series and advancing in length and complexity as Harry, the boy wizard aged and met more mature challenges. Even the Twilight series, that much maligned, high romance, low literary, paranormal series did much to convert non-readers into reading fans.

Many adults have opened the door to their own pleasure reading with the Harry Potter or Twilight series. I’d like to see all adults giving themselves this gift of free choice pleasure reading, even if it takes instituting an artificial, "minutes read" goal at first. Don’t forget to allow yourself the freedom to choose a book meant for a child or teen.There are still some adults that dismiss these books as being beneath the dignity of a serious adult reader, but they may be closet readers of these series as well. You don't have to tell them your book titles, but if you do, you may be surprised to discover a like-minded reading buddy.


2002, David Fichter. School Mural, "Joy of Reading"
In an ironic shift, I have given myself “free choice” permission to read books meant for adults. I feel as guilty for doing it as some adult readers feel when they check out the Twilight series, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. I am finding that the lines have been blurred between a book meant for a child and one meant for an adult. Writing quality is both good and bad, no matter the intended audience. It has been an interesting couple of months. Meet me in the secret reading garden. Bring your book of choice because I am looking for more reading buddies of my own.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Go Outside and Play

Today I spent one hour, (that’s 60 precious minutes of my life) looking for an interesting tidbit to post about for my library blog, The Joyful Librarian. This activity did not make me feel any more joyful, but it did make me think about library services and how libraries still scramble to feel relevant in the face of ever changing technology.

Libraries still feel inadequate when competing for importance in the greater wide world. Library visitors still don’t realize that libraries provide more than books to their customers, and that bugs libraries an awful lot. It seems like that is the primary focus for public libraries right now: telling people how much technology they provide. In focusing on this one key service point, libraries begin to sound a little pathetic. It is not a bold thing to say, “We’ve got electronic books too! And we’re on twitter and facebook and tumbler and…” It sounds a bit sad, really and that’s not a strong marketing position.


For 2014, I’d like to see a library marketing department stand up boldly and say, “Yeah, we’re a library! What about it?” Of course they’d translate it into more appropriate terms, but the focus should be on how great it is to be a library, not on how the library runs after the latest technology. Save your breath libraries, and give yourself a pat on the back. And while you’re at it, go outside and play in the snow! I will stop now and do the same.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fight Crime: Read Books!

The St. Louis police department has made its own "take a book," "leave a book" book stand and has stocked it with books for children. Modeled after the "Little Free Library" concept that Todd Bol started to honor his mother, the department hopes that kids will take a book and keep a book, their twist on the concept. Just goes to show that literacy, so intrinsically important, can have unforeseen benefits beyond personal happiness. Who would have thought? (Librarians, that's who!)

Monday, December 16, 2013

When it Comes to Choosing Books, Look Before You Leap



I get Publisher’s Weekly online. It’s my favorite review journal because it is more reflective of what’s going on in the outside world, not just in library land. But even a favorite review journal needs to be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism. Those reviews with the five star ratings may end up being only two stars or even less when you read the book yourself. That’s especially true with picture books where seeing is believing.

Tomi Ungerer’s Fog Island is a case in point. It was on Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books for 2013. I picked it up at my local library through inter-library loan and I was interested to see that not too many libraries owned a copy. It’s a strange little book that ends: Weeks later… Cara found a hair in her soup, and pulled and pulled. The hair was supposed to be from the mythical “Fog Man” who rescued a brother and sister when their boat was caught in a storm. The two siblings giggle when they find the extremely long hair that is pictured coming out of the soup bowl. Yikes! I’m pretty sure this will not make it to my personal 2013 Best Books list.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lockdown Drill



Today at the school where I volunteer, I experienced my first lockdown drill. For us at the school media center it was a simple matter of shutting the blinds, turning off the lights and finding a place in the room to hide. We didn’t have a class visiting at that time, so we didn’t have to explain, soothe, or organize children. We waited for 15 minutes until our doors where checked and then after the principal announced the drill was over, we turned the lights back on, lifted the shades and went about our business. It seemed like such a superficial drill. I didn’t at all feel that I would be ready in a real emergency.

When I was a child the only emergency event we prepared for was a tornado, but whether it’s an act of nature or an act of aggression by a human being, schools have always tried to prepare their students for catastrophe. I think that the human kind is more frightening, because there are no warning signs. We can’t get advance readings from Doppler radar to tell us that an attacker is on the way, and hiding away from windows, getting down low to the ground and shutting off lights will not necessarily be something that helps in the event that an attacker got into the school.

Schools are left with having to attempt to prepare their students for an unpredictable and unknowable possibility. They must do something and something is better than nothing, but it is a sad truth that should something this horrific happen, there is no certainty that a lockdown drill will be enough to keep kids safe.

When I think of a library I think of a safe place where readers go to feel cozy and protected and have the freedom to get lost in a good book. It is an unwanted thought that this sacred place would also be a place where its readers would be in harm's way.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting to the Heart of a Book Display



Bullying is a huge topic currently. The uptick in articles in newspapers, online parenting blogs and other internet places on the subject tells the tale of the growing public concern over this complex problem. Practically all publishing houses have at least one, and typically more books on their new lists that deal with bullying. According to a recent article in The New York Times, publishers are flooding the market with these types of books. Some publishers are taking it as step further by joining anti-bullying campaigns or starting ones of their own. Of course this makes a certain amount of business sense for them, since there is a growing market for these books, but I like to think that it goes beyond the desire to sell a product.

We at the library are also “selling” a product and there’s nothing wrong with that. We are selling the product of information and we need to understand what information our patrons want and need. That is our raison d’etre. This year, as in years past, I put up a book display with materials about bullying. Unlike those displays in the past, I collaborated with our Adult Patron Services department. We set up the display next to their department which happens to be the first department patrons walk through on their way to visit the Children and Youth Services department. We included both fiction and nonfiction books both for children and adults. The bright colors of the books meant for children caught the eyes of the adults, who picked up the books and showed them to their children. Books flew off this display which I kept checking and refilling. In addition to books, I set out a coordinating sign (the “What, more?” sign) which promoted our ebooks and databases.

Besides being a successful display that promoted our information resources, it was successful on a personal level for me because I know that it helped people. How do I know this? When I was setting out more books, an adult patron told me, “Thank-you for doing this. My child read a few of these books and felt better.” Hearing that made me feel better too!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Makerspace: it’s all in the doing

This past week I attended a webinar entitled, “Creating a Makerspace Culture,” sponsored by Booklist and Cherry Lake Publishing.  Before you groan and say, “Not another webinar!” I will tell you that this one was really great. Yes, the authors from the sponsoring publisher focused on their books, but their books covered the multi-faceted aspects of this current hot trend.

Makerspace is a movement that is similar to DIY, but the focus is on the process, not the product. This is not a new concept, for sure. In education, embracement of process over product has gone in and out of fashion. The difference here is that the movement, by its very nature has to be about the process.

Here’s the concept: Give kids a bunch of materials, a place to work, and then let them create. If they need a bit of direction, it is gently given, but no step-by-step instructions are involved. Even kids with a very keen attachment to procedures can be coaxed into allowing themselves the freedom to pursue their own design. Materials can be from any discipline: Digital technology, sculpture, handy-crafts, writing, pretty much anything that you have an interest in is ideal for a Makerspace.

Makerspace Culture is all about giving kids permission to be self-directed, something I’ve encouraged in my arts and crafts programming for years, and I am excited about it. Our own maiden voyage into offering Makerspace sessions is happening soon. From the beginning it has been a collaborative process and that is another wonderful thing about this movement: it can inspire collaboration even among grown-up colleagues.


So let’s get out there and make stuff, and as a wise fictitious teacher has often said, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” What a good suggestion Miss Frizzle!