Recently, Vishma Bhattarai submitted the following question to Librarian to Librarian:
“How do you think about the significance/value/importance or anything else of SR Ranganathan’s five laws of library science during these days?”
Brodart’s Scott Piepenburg, who wrote an article about the five laws, responded: “As a cataloger, I still use these principles when I teach. As of late, there have been many efforts to ‘update’ the five laws to say ‘resource’ rather than ‘book’ and reflect other more modern trends, but when it comes to access and the philosophy of collection development, they are still good, solid, valid, relevant rules. They speak to the very basic, important things that we do as librarians; the technology and resources may have changed, but the goals are the same.”
As for whether the pandemic and extended library closures have impacted his view of Ranganathan’s laws, Scott said, “In my opinion, no. In fact, I think the laws have become more relevant and even more notable in the light of the pandemic. The library still strives to get every reader their book and every book their reader, but more important, libraries have had to change their delivery and resource model, highlighting the fact that ‘the library is a growing organism’ so it can adapt and change with the needs of its users.”
Brodart Selector Suzanne Hawley added, “Isn’t it fascinating and remarkable that the five laws were formulated in 1924 — almost 100 years ago — and they are still invaluable for the library of today? I think the creative ways librarians have been able to serve their patrons and care for their resources during the pandemic shows that, indeed, the library has proven to be a growing organism.”
Brodart Selector Stephanie Campbell concurs that while the laws are still valid, changing circumstances, such as demographics and the rise of social media, are forcing libraries to adapt and develop creative strategies to serve patrons. She says:
“Top of mind thoughts for me regarding the first three laws (Books are for use; Every reader his or her book; Every book its reader) revolve around diversity in collections. Yes, books are for use and we hope that people will read them, but materials are often acquired simply because of their value as works of literature or their importance to society. Now more than ever, you can’t let demographics dictate what you select and you can’t take circulation figures at face value. Marginalized populations NEED to be represented. In a more frivolous example, I’ve often heard, ‘nobody here reads science fiction.’ OK, is that because there aren’t any people here who like that genre or because our collection is awful? Sometimes it’s not obvious who the audience will be or if there will be an audience at all, but you need those materials, anyway.
Laws four and five (Save the time of the reader; A library is a growing organism) make me think about how crucial convenience services are now, how much more our mission has transcended physical walls. This is all wonderful, but will create even more marketing challenges as people have gotten out of the habit of spending time in our buildings. We often relied on ‘preaching to the choir,’ with flyers and posters that catered to in-house customers, or we hoped that regular DVD borrowers might someday venture into the book section. Websites and social media presence are going to be more important than ever to maintain existing users and attract new ones.”
Thank you, Vishma, for submitting your question! We’d love to hear from other readers who have additional questions or comments related to libraries or librarianship.
The word “resiliency” can refer to emotional resilience, mental resilience, or physical resilience. A school counselor at my local school district said that students who have good resilience are better able to handle emotional stresses, environmental stresses (in our area, we suffered from a Category 5 hurricane in October 2018), and all the problems so many have faced with COVID-19—not to mention poverty, food insecurity, racism, and many other problems.
When I was young, I dealt a lot with feelings of being an outsider. I’m mixed Japanese/White, and I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere, even though my parents loved my siblings and me. When we lived in Japan, my Japanese grandparents’ neighbors would stare at me, because I didn’t look very much like them. Back in the United States, in the town where we lived, we kids were double outsiders: mixed race and not locals. My classmates didn’t like the fact that I “passed” as White, and at least one older student in our small school called my mother horrible names.
To cope, I basically escaped into books, mostly adventures, mysteries, and science fiction. A lot of the books I enjoyed featured outsider characters who overcame their circumstances and saved themselves, their friends, their town—sometimes even a whole world. Andre Norton, in particular, created fascinating worlds and portrayed strong female characters who took action and did cool things. I know that these books, and certain television series, especially “Star Trek” (the original 1960s series), helped me see more of myself in the characters and recognize that I wasn’t just some weirdo kid.
A colleague and I, both librarians at Bay County Public Library in Panama City, Florida, were guests on a podcast done by Alignment Bay County, a nonprofit agency focusing on helping youth with stress and mental health issues. For our podcast recorded on May 4, 2021, we chose a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I, of course, selected graphic novels and graphic memoirs. We provided our lists to the podcast host and her co-host for this particular episode, a school counselor. They researched the books so they could discuss how the books demonstrated certain types of resilient behavior.
I brought Jarrett Krosoczka’s “Hey, Kiddo”—his memoir of growing up raised mostly by his grandparents because his drug-abusing mother couldn’t take care of him. Teens who read his book know that Krosoczka managed to grow up and enjoy a happy life, simply by virtue of the fact that he created it. His graphic memoir takes readers through his youth to witness how his imperfect but loving grandparents gave him some stability.
Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” tells the story of Jordan Banks, a Black 12-year-old whose parents send him to a private school where he’s one of the few non-White kids; he also doesn’t fit most people’s idea of a Black boy, because he’d much prefer to draw comics. Anyone who feels alone and out of place can relate to Jordan. If this book had been published when I was that age, I would have loved it at least as much I love it now.
Raina Telgemeier, in my opinion, started something special with her book, “Smile.” When this book first came out in 2010, it grabbed the attention of many kids. I was working in a school library at the time. Scholastic sent me a review copy of the book, and I shared it with my lunch time book club students. That copy made the rounds at the school, and some of the students even wrote fan letters to Raina, which I sent to her via Scholastic. Her account of the dental trauma she suffered in sixth grade, plus dealing with friends who weren’t really great friends, and a massive earthquake, grabbed the kids’ attention. They’d never seen anything like this in comic book format before, and they loved it. When they saw that our Spring Scholastic Book Fair included “Smile,” lots of them bought it. This book sold out THREE times, something that had never happened before. Each student who talked to me about the book said they felt a deep connection to Raina, that they loved how she portrayed her feelings.
Each of Raina’s original books, including “Drama,” “Sisters,” “Ghosts,” and “Guts,” depict characters (sometimes Raina and her family, sometimes fictional characters) experiencing all kinds of challenging situations. These include family relationship troubles, dealing with school, and trying to find one’s place in the social order, while dealing with long-term health issues. Raina’s art makes the stories approachable, understandable, and young readers love them. I think it’s fantastic that so many other creators have published their own comics over the past 11 years, comics that also help young readers see how kids like them are learning to overcome difficulties that make them stronger.
When I was young, I didn’t want to read self-help kinds of books. I didn’t want didactic books that just told me what was wrong and how to fix myself. I wanted mostly to escape, but I ended up finding help by reading stories that helped me experience struggle and adventure vicariously through characters I liked. I have loved superhero stories since I could read, and many of those heroes also dealt with problems. Gene Luen Yang’s “Superman Smashes the Klan” is adapted from a 1940s radio drama. Yes, Superman is a superhero, but Yang portrays his struggle with his identity as an alien: an immigrant to Earth. This story focuses on a Chinese immigrant family facing racism in Metropolis, but also shows the reader how a young White boy starts coming to terms with his racist relatives. This book is also highly relevant to current racism and the attacks so many people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have suffered for the past year or so (and for over a century). Yang’s young Superman doesn’t fully come into his powers until he accepts his alien nature. Tommy and Roberta Lee have to learn who they can trust to treat them with respect and friendship, while Chuck has to decide who and what he really wants to be.
I think that almost any book can be a source of inspiration that touches a young reader and helps them feel more a part of their world. It might be the main character, or the society depicted in the story, or the family relationships—anything could be the critical factor that helps readers build more resilience in whatever form they need to feel stronger and better about themselves. And we at Brodart help librarians find more of those books to put onto their shelves for their patrons.
If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.
I sighed sadly when I read of Beverly Cleary’s death on March 25. Those of us who work with children’s books revered her as an iconic figure in our field. She lived a long and full life, but I guess I thought she would always be with us. Still, 104 years isn’t bad!
Cleary often spoke about the original inspiration for her first novel, “Henry Huggins,” which was published in 1950. After college at UC Berkeley, she returned to her childhood home of Oregon to work as a librarian in Yakima. Tired of hearing her young patrons asking for “books about us,” and remembering she had experienced the same frustrations as a youngster, she set to work. To all of our enduring delight, she succeeded in developing the magical recipe for funny, smart stories about engaging characters…just like the kids in her own neighborhood.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Cleary at an ALA Conference. She was an absolute delight. She was charming, funny, and perhaps a little shy. She talked about her life and career and included several stories about how her books came to life. Someone asked about the inspiration for “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”
In the story, when Keith, the young hotel guest, leaves his room, Ralph S. Mouse scurries out from his piney knot, runs up a telephone wire, and jumps on the toy motorcycle that Keith has left behind. Ralph’s joyride ends when he and the motorcycle land in a trash can! Cleary created such a wonderful word picture of this escapade that I still laugh every time I read it.
So how did she come up with the idea for this book? Here’s the backstory. On one occasion, Cleary and her young son and daughter accompanied her husband on a business trip to England. During the trip, her son became ill and Mr. Cleary went shopping for something to take the boy’s mind off his ailment. A Hot Wheels motorcycle was the perfect answer. Needless to say, the toy was a hit, and her son had endless fun running it up and down the ridged lines on his bedspread: perfect roads for a small motorcycle.
Sometime later, when back at home, Ms. Cleary was working in her garden. She was sitting on the ground in front of a bench planting flowers when she heard scrambling behind her, followed by a loud noise. She looked up to where a large metal can sat at the end of the bench. Upon investigation, Cleary discovered that a mouse had run down the bench behind her, and instead of hopping to the ground, fell into the trash can. Add those two episodes together and voila! You have the ingredients for a delightful and enduring children’s story—at least at the hands of Beverly Cleary.
I told this account many times to groups of kids in my libraries and they reacted as I did: completely enthralled! Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for providing such wonderful stories for so many generations.
In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.
As librarians, we all know on a base level that we’re making a difference, that our work is important. But too often, we lose sight of the key moments that fill us with joy, each true connection quickly overshadowed by the next project on our list.
Our librarians are excited to share the personal memories they turn to for that extra boost of inspiration.
Julie O’Connor: “Cutting the Ribbon”
It’s difficult to pinpoint the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a librarian since my job is to help libraries with their collection development needs on a daily basis. It’s gratifying to help solve collection development conundrums, whether they be large or small. But if pressed, I think back to one of my first experiences as a project librarian. It was 2005 and Camden County, New Jersey, received funding to build a much-needed library. Their excitement was contagious because the residents and leaders had waited so long for this building. I know everyone is over the moon when a new library opens or is renovated, but experiencing that for the first time was something that will always stay with me.
Fern Hallman: “Seeing is Believing”
I was doing an ongoing vendor selection project and the librarians in that system were not thrilled that I was selecting their books. The library administrators who had decided to hire Brodart to do it that way held a meeting where the local library staff could ask me questions about my process. One of the librarians said she decided to put all of my recent selections on a book cart to really take a hard look at them and discovered that they were all checked out.
Scott Piepenburg: “Blazing a Trail”
My most rewarding experience as a librarian was when I was put in charge of the district automation program for Dallas Independent School District, then the eighth largest school district in the nation. We took 225 schools from only five with any type of automation to full automation in 18 months. This included purchasing and installing computers, creating a district-wide network (none existed at the time), and undertaking a complete retrospective conversion of the shelf lists.
At the time, it was the most extensive automation project in the nation and resulted in the largest school automation project in the United States; we did this while also creating and implementing centralized receiving and cataloging, doing almost 5,000 titles per week. Having no model to follow, as the system administrator, I was quite excited with the project, and pleased how well it turned out.
Stephanie Campbell: “The Stay-Behind”
When I was just starting out as a librarian, I worked in older adult outreach services and was charged with creating engaging programs for residents at nursing homes and assisted living apartments. The divergent mental and physical health issues found in institutional settings, coupled with different backgrounds and experiences, make these seniors a particularly challenging group to entertain. Playful activities such as bingo, crafts, and sing-alongs were the most prevalent among the in-house recreational offerings at that time.
I took a more educational approach, with book talks and brief documentaries on particular topics to encourage conversation. Residents often dozed off during my programs. Others left the room when they got bored. Some stayed just to be polite, then thanked me, and bolted out the door the minute it was over. I performed these programs monthly at multiple facilities and it was wonderful when the topic and the audience were a good match. But even if I could reach just one person, it made it all worthwhile.
I remember one female resident in particular who attended every program I did at that nursing home. One day, as she lingered after the presentation, she told me how much she valued my visits and the material I chose to present, because it made her feel like an adult again, not treated as a child. It was both heartbreaking and gratifying to hear that. I ended up personally delivering books to her outside of work for a while. The power of human connection really hit me, and I began to realize how much I could make a difference in someone’s life.
Suzanne Hawley: “Nothing Beats a ‘Black Tie’ Auction with a Vanna White Lookalike”
In order to get my fifth-graders to read more and write about what they read, I decided to hold a dress-up auction near the end of the school year. The kids read like crazy and wrote about what they’d read. The biggest hurdle for me was to read all the letters…there were at least 90 students writing letters most years! I gave them points, which would be used as dollars to bid with. On the day of the “black tie” auction, we gave each student a paper black bow tie with the number of dollars they had earned. We had an auctioneer and a Vanna White lookalike. Everyone—teachers, students, parents, administrators—were dressed to the nines. I used a book called “Celebrity Addresses” and sent letters to everyone in there I thought the kids would like an autograph or trinket from. It was exciting to watch the items roll in. We received, among other things, an autographed picture from Michael Jordan, a pound (!) of Wrigley bubblegum, an FBI cap, many gift certificates, tapes from popular singers, many coupons for restaurants, and so much more.
Parents manned tables where the kids would go with their ties when they won an item. They’d receive their winnings and the parent would subtract the amount it cost from their balance. I held these auctions in three schools for 20 years. Once a community realized how much fun it was, they began contributing items. We even got bicycles and TVs. Fifth grade was the highest grade in all these schools. Teachers from other grades were invited to bring their classes in to watch for half an hour and in the last schools we could stream it on the TV. The end result was a huge increase enthusiasm for reading in every grade. The kids couldn’t wait to get to fifth grade so they could participate in the auction.
Kat Kan: “A Zoom Surprise and a Virtual Hug”
There have been so many over the several decades that I’ve worked as a librarian. Here is one of the most recent.
A couple of weeks before this writing, as we were leaving our church after the service, I heard someone shouting, “Mrs. Kan! Mrs. Kan!” I turned, and a tall boy came running down the path from the building. He was one of my former students when I was a school librarian. I hadn’t seen him since May 2019. He was one of the quiet ones, always drawing, borrowing books, not saying much. I always looked out for him, to make sure he was feeling comfortable and that he was always welcome in the library. That Sunday he told me how much he missed me, and the library. Then he proudly told me, “I can drive now!”
He has a younger brother, who was not the best student, but did enjoy coming to the school library and always borrowed books to read for fun. This past Sunday, I spoke to their mother; she’s been attending services at our church for about a month now. She told me that her younger son has connected with some of his classmates and former classmates, and they have their own Zoom book club! She told me “It’s all because of you. You helped them to love reading.” She’s clearly proud of her sons, but gave me credit for them becoming readers. I nearly cried.
I work in a public library now, and my department answers our county’s Citizen Information Line to help people with questions about getting tested for COVID-19, registering for vaccinations, and so on. Here, people must register and make appointments for the free COVID-19 tests at the county’s contracted clinic; the website is clunky and rather difficult for most people to navigate. There is no direct way to contact the clinic or the company that designed the website, so we get those calls. Sometimes callers reach us after trying for hours to find information. When I answer the line, I try to be as helpful and comforting as I can be.
Today, I helped a woman who called our line three times (I helped her twice). I stayed on the line with her as she negotiated the website and finally succeeded in setting up appointments for herself and her husband. At the end of the third call, she said, “I don’t know your name, but if I could, I’d give you the biggest hug! You people (meaning my department) are the only ones giving us good information and help! Thank you, we appreciate you so much!” So, helping connect people to books, and helping people get the information they need to help themselves in this pandemic are two aspects of being a librarian. In both cases, just knowing I helped in any small way makes me feel as though I’m doing my part to help the world be a better place.
Gwen Vanderhage: “Cultural Exchange”
One of my most rewarding experiences as a public librarian was helping a population of Eritrean refugees who frequented my branch. The children were voracious readers and consumers of American pop culture. It was fun to help them find books and videos — they always had very specific opinions about what icons they were searching for and authors they were reading, but not always the ones we had on the shelf that day. The parents wanted help navigating and printing forms from government websites and getting matched up with computer tutors. They helped us keep our foreign film collection up to date. These families truly emulated why the library is a hub in every community and we were happy to get to know them each evening.
Everyone needs encouragement. Hopefully our librarians have helped you feel better about your own work on the frontlines. If we’ve inspired you in any way, we encourage you to share your story.
What’s one of your most-affirming experiences as a librarian? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Meghan Herman graduated in 2018 from Penn College of Technology with a B.S. degree in Industrial Design. However, being the daughter of a Brodart executive (Gretchen Herman is Brodart’s Vice President of Sales & Product Development), she grew up having a close familiarity with the library industry. It was no great surprise, then, that Meghan decided to pursue her Master of Science in Information and Library Science (MSLS) degree from Clarion University.
Not only is she currently studying diligently to become a librarian, she also works full time in Brodart’s Collection Development department. This is Part 2 of our looks at one person’s MSLS journey. Click HERE for Part 1. Feel free to share your own perspective after reading about Meghan’s experiences.
L2L: Has the pandemic altered your degree program, either in terms of how you’re attending classes and submitting assignments or in terms of the curriculum itself?
MH: Absolutely, there have been many changes that are happening in general for Clarion as well as in my classes. My last semester start time was moved up a week so that our fall break was right before our finals. This changed all the finals to be online only, and everyone that was going home for the fall break had to be moved out of their dorms; finals were taken primarily off-campus. This upcoming semester was shifted back several weeks in order to shorten the time on campus as well as remove our spring break entirely. A lot of individual classes were shifted to online, and the professors did more Zoom classes… having no face-to-face communications at first, and then very limited interactions.
Some of my projects had to be shifted and changed to address the new restrictions. I had several assignments in my Marketing class that dealt with creating programs or social events to bring people into the library or interact in some way. As part of those assignments, we had to specify whether we were taking pandemic restrictions into consideration, and, if so, how those restrictions would impact the outcomes of our proposed programs.
L2L: Can you see any indication through your coursework that the field of librarianship may be evolving due to the pandemic?
MH: One of the main changes I’ve been seeing for libraries and my classes is that there is a larger shift to virtual events and creating an online presence or online activities. I feel like libraries are trying to make things work with the pandemic and bring libraries to the patrons. In doing so, I think being able to work with a variety of digital platforms and create digital content might be something that will be incorporated in future courses.
L2L: Have you chosen a specialty yet?
MH: No, because at this point I am too close to the end of my degree (it went by so fast) and I don’t have enough classes left to really commit to a specialty. I already have next semester’s classes picked out and I’m pretty sure I only have one more class that I can choose as an elective and the other three are requirements, two of which will be for my Capstone.
L2L: That said, are you considering a specific area of focus for your career?
MH: If I look into anything, there are two areas that I have enjoyed so far in my program, which are collection development and YA literature and programs. I like what I do at Brodart a lot, and I love YA literature and the idea of engaging with YA audiences.
L2L: Are you experiencing more crossover between your studies and your day job?
MH: Yes, I had been experiencing more crossover with my last two classes. It will be interesting to see if my next two classes will have crossover or not.
L2L: Can you elaborate? What aspects of your studies have you encountered at work? Also, what have you learned in the classroom that you found applicable to your work life?
MH: With my collection development class, we talked about libraries rebuilding their collections and how they go about doing that as well as weeding collections. This was one of the first things that I learned at Brodart. The things that I learned in the classroom was more background information and smaller nuggets of information that either reinforced information I learned on the job or information that just gave me a better understanding of the library world. I can’t think of anything specific at the moment, though.
L2L: Finally, what’s been your favorite part of your MSLS journey so far?
MH: The thought of graduating!
In the summer of 2019, Meghan decided to pursue her MSLS while starting a new professional job at Brodart. Outside of work and school, Meghan has what she describes as a pretty chill life.
Before 2020, many of us may have daydreamed about working from home: no alarm clock, no commute, flexible schedule. The reality, however, isn’t always rosy and presents its own challenges. Those of us who were new to remote work (and remote learning) agreed that it was fine (at first) to be house-bound when schools and non-essential businesses closed in mid-March. But then two weeks became two months.
And we wondered, “Where do work and school begin and end?” We struggled with our sense of time and place, sleep and wakefulness routines were thrown out the window, and then there was the “COVID 15” weight gain from those comfy clothes combined with too-easy access to the kitchen.
As an introvert and homebody, I definitely enjoy my solitude, but quickly found that I needed a bit more stimulation and structure….and a decent chair. Though I was quite pleased with all I could accomplish on a 10-year-old laptop with a hotspot for Internet, I was elated when I eventually went back to work on-site.
This year, reinvention has been key. We have all had to figure out how we can still do business with as little human contact as possible. In libraries, there are striking similarities to obstacles we have long faced, and worked to overcome as individuals. Libraries constantly battle barriers to access: inclement weather, building issues, and outages to power or telecommunications. In the face of those challenges, we do everything in our power to stay open. When plan A fails, we run through plans B, C, and D before finally making the determination we can’t open the doors of our buildings at all. So it has been this year with the pandemic, and we have been forced to find new ways to adapt and serve our patrons in the absence of in-person visitation.
Before 2020, virtual library resources were more of a companion—an enhancement to what we offered in person. Suddenly, our online presence went from the backup plan to the spotlight and became absolutely essential to maintaining a connection with the community.
Libraries have long championed their abilities to transcend physical walls and this year we have taken that to whole new levels. From virtual storytimes and book clubs to YouTube channels and Instagram accounts, the speed with which libraries adapted to virtual programming is astounding. Most of us saw stay-at-home orders start in March. WebJunction compiled this list of programming activities in April!
Hopefully you’ve been encouraged as patrons have embraced their online accounts, placed holds, taken advantage of e-books and other e-resources, used curbside pickup, and tried make-and-take craft projects. These are great ways to connect with those who may have difficulty visiting us in person, for any number of non-COVID-19 reasons: mobility issues, lack of transportation, parking woes, conflicting work schedules.
Convenience services such as these will likely be the new normal. Dedicated areas /entrances for specific things such as holds pickup may continue to be a good idea in the post-pandemic world, just to help people navigate their busy lives.
Virtual conferences and professional development have taken the place of far-flung conventions and centralized meetings. We can now connect with our colleagues and vendors in new and exciting ways. Without the travel constraints and caps on attendance, more of us are able to take advantage of more opportunities than before. Even within our organizations, the use of meeting software has become commonplace. And have you noticed, these virtual meetings seem to be much shorter and to-the-point? Look for the silver lining!
Technology is great, when it works. This year has revealed the skills gap and infrastructure gap. What is meant to be the great equalizer has divided the haves from the have-nots, whether it be know-how, hardware, or bandwidth.
Nine months into the pandemic, we are all struggling. Any semblance of normalcy is gone, and this has wreaked havoc on all aspects of life. Fear, depression, and isolation are running rampant. And the catastrophic effects on the economy, small business, and jobs will be with us long after the darkest days are in the rearview mirror. Not to mention the loss of loved ones to the virus.
However, libraries are uniquely positioned to come out of this stronger, and with a lasting reach, as we have historically been there for individuals in crisis. As Fred Rogers was quoted as saying, in times of disaster, “look for the helpers.” Libraries help.
Who doesn’t love Judy Blume? In this 50th anniversary year of “Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret.” the beloved author was apparently living her best life in Key West before the pandemic, tap dancing in bars and pedaling her bike to the bookstore that she operates. And how about since COVID? “The New York Times” has put together a clever piece that reimagines the works of famous authors during the lockdown. This one could be Blume’s new pandemic-related title.
Source: “The New York Times”
It’s said, right here in “The New York Times,” that Judy Blume knows all your secrets. She certainly knew mine, especially my personal conflicts concerning religion. I was confused about what I learned at the super-religious Jewish Day School I attended and more confused when my mom took us to McDonald’s for super un-kosher cheeseburgers and milkshakes on the way to Brownies at the First Presbyterian Church. But even weirder, how did Blume know about my mother’s inability to choose furniture for the living room? And how could she so aptly describe the overwhelming combination of embarrassment, apprehension, and excitement girls experienced when we were shown “the movie” about becoming a woman?
Rereading ”Are You There, God?” all these years later, I give it five stars for nostalgia, and two to three stars for relevance. But what do I know? Turns out there may be a movie adaptation on the way, produced by nostalgic director James Brooks.
By the time my niece and cousin were young teens, waiting to wear a bra or worrying if the straps were showing was no longer a thing. The books that spoke to them at that age were more in the realm of “The Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter.” Today’s teens are more likely to relate to grittier books, such as “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas. This book tells the story of a girl who sees her best friend being shot and killed by police. It doesn’t reflect my experience, but it’s relatable for many who are experiencing this kind of thing now.
Many recent YA titles attempt to address the spectrum of modern teenage issues such as mental health, body issues, racial disparity, sexuality, and the immigrant experience. There have been many attempts to ban titles that portray realistic issues such as drug use, profanity, and rape. Judy Blume’s “Forever” was questioned for mentioning masturbation and birth control. Despite the concern they may cause, these books are critical to helping teens see themselves through fiction and make sense of difficult experiences.
In this day and age of “cancel culture,” some books and series that were once beloved are being examined in a new way. A few years ago, after long and agonizing debate, the American Library Association changed the name of a prestigious award due to new thinking about beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder. And one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie, is no longer considered a role model by many.
There have been several recent nonfiction books that examine our relationship with and nostalgia for certain well-known books and authors. These books (and hundreds of articles) illuminate the idea that context is important, and that values and our feelings about issues evolve over time. Seemingly innocuous Junie B. Jones has been challenged for encouraging disrespectful behavior, poor grammar, and the inclusion of a same-sex couple. Was she a nightmare child or a feminist icon? Dr. Seuss was probably insensitive to other races and cultures. Does that make some of the most popular children’s books in history inappropriate? Was Huckleberry Finn a racist, or was the author one? These are all good questions. Does exposure to stereotypes in literature perpetuate prejudice? Many say that’s true, and others say it’s just political correctness. Here’s a list of titles from New York Public Library that addresses adult books critical of children’s favorites.
OK class, here are your assignments:
Reread your old favorites in a new light and decide for yourself whether they still speak to you. Maybe reading them again will reveal new aspects that you didn’t notice before.
When recommending books to patrons, it’s still OK to suggest oldies that stand the test of time and deal with universal themes. The books that were most important to you years ago remain valuable and relatable for current and future generations, but they will likely be interpreted and enjoyed in ways that never occurred to you.
Finally, a good librarian remains a great resource who can steer readers to past, present, and future books that will make them think, laugh, or cry. Maybe all three.
Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.
Jim McKenna is a retired speech therapist who has devoted his life to helping children improve their language skills. His goal is to make children want to read for themselves, and he does it by combining many years of teaching experience with a lifetime of work in community theater. Now he’s devoting his time to helping teachers and parents do the same.
I wish I had your job! I hear that line, usually from teachers, whenever I give school presentations. My response is always, “Take my job please!” I just want all teachers to have the same fulfillment I have every day. I have been enjoying this job for over 40 years, and I know there are not enough story readers. We all should be story readers, to help make books come alive for children.
My goal as a speech therapist was to help kids with their speech and language. I thought the way to do this was to let them hear speech and language daily, so I started to read to them. I soon realized I did not have any good books, so I went to my school librarian and explained what I wanted to do. She introduced me to some new children’s picture books. Eventually she told me about some great chapter books that had just arrived. I took a lot of them home and started reading. I fell in love immediately with children’s books.
Everyone can make books come alive. When you pick up a good book and read it silently, and suddenly realize that the writing is special, you then concentrate on the mood or emotion the author is trying to convey. You then discover that the way you read changes. You realize the author is talking through you. That is when the book starts to come alive. You are telling the story. You are the voice in the book. We all can make books come alive. It just takes practice.
So take my job. Teachers, find some great books that you love, and practice, by reading it aloud to your class. Pile your favorites into a big bag and ask your librarian if you could read to a class. I think every teacher should be a daily story reader. Think of one of your favorite teachers who read to you and how inspired you were with the story and the way the teacher read it—how they made it come alive for you.
There is a right way and a wrong way to read to a child.
Take your time when reading to children. Read with expression. Try to capture the emotions of the story. The author uses certain words, and we should honor the fact that a great deal of thought went into the creation of the story. The reader must be the voice of the author as well as the characters in the story. I always try to envision how the author wants it read. Make sure that your diction and articulation are precise and clear. Pauses are particularly important when used to set up a great moment or surprise. If we read slowly, pauses come quite naturally in conversations.
When I started to read to kids in my speech classes, I thought of my mother and how proud she would have been. I even wrote a poem, “When my mother reads to me,” and used it when talking to parent-teacher groups. When I started to read the books that I loved, I found myself reading better, and the children were responding with laughter and applause. The librarian told me that there was always a demand for the books that I was reading! I was not only helping them with speech and language; I was inspiring them to want to read.
As parents and educators, our goal should be to inspire kids to want to read. Unfortunately, many children have just not found the right book for them. When they do find that special book, it becomes the book they cannot put down. On one occasion after I had begun reading to children in schools, I read a chapter or two of “Saving Winslow” by Sharon Creech to a third-grade class, and at the end of the day the teacher came into the media center where I was presenting. She said there was a boy in her class who never finished any book that he brought home from the library. She said that after my presentation the boy had “Saving Winslow” on his desk, and the bookmark was in the middle of the book! He had discovered a book that he could not put down. That is a life-changing moment in a young person’s life! That also shows the power of reading aloud.
My reading changed after hearing different authors talk about the art of writing, and the time and passionate approach that all these authors put into their writings impressed me. I saw them and heard them and respected them differently. I realized these artists cared about children and the art of reading. The way a certain word sounded on a page was not only important, but crucial to the story. I honestly think the children’s authors of today are writing better books and challenging all of us to become better.
When choosing a book to read to a group of kids, make sure that you like the book. I tell kids I like books that make me feel something. I think readers should read the book they are planning to use a number of times before actually reading it aloud to a group. They must know the story almost as if they had memorized it. They should know where the story is going. They know they must save the best part for last and build the story toward that point. That is where pacing is important.
When you find your book, read it slowly and thoroughly. Now read it again with the thoughts of how to read this aloud. Who is talking? What does the voice sound like? What does the author want this voice to sound like? Are there other voices? And what can I do to make them real? What emotions are there in this chapter, and what can I do as a reader to make it more real? The more times you reread, the more you learn about the book and that will help you do a better job of reading it aloud. Feel comfortable that you have read enough to know how you’re going to read it.
Find a comfortable stool that is high enough, so your audience can see the illustrations. If it’s a picture book, hold the book in one hand and even switch hands when the picture is on the opposite side of the book. If you are reading a selection from a chapter book, the children should be able to see your facial expressions or body language as you “act out” the scene. Read slowly and keep in mind this will be their first time hearing these words. Slow down!! Wait for laughs; wait for dramatic moments. Enjoy the book the way you did when you first read it. Now watch their faces as they become mesmerized by the words and phrases that tell the story. Enjoy that. It will help you read slower. Hold the book as if you are holding a treasure that you cannot give up. That is exactly what it is. They will notice this. That is what a really good book does to a reader, and that is what it also does for the listener.
Many people are going stir-crazy these days, so I thought now was a good time to share a few of my origami videos. Feel free to share these tutorials far and wide—and don’t forget to try some origami, yourself!
I have been folding origami since I was like eight years old. I started with origami paper, and when we moved back from Japan to the United States, I actually started using notebook paper from school. You can easily adapt notebook paper, wrapping paper, and others to make origami paper squares, even if you don’t have any at home.
No scissors? No problem! Just fold a piece of paper back and forth along the same edge until the paper weakens. Then, carefully tear in a straight line (It’s easier than it sounds!).
In the first video, I’ll show you how to build three things out of the same piece of paper: a house, a piano, and a fox. Let’s get started.
The traditional paper crane is called the orizuru. This was the very first thing I ever folded. I’m amazed that I did it! But I loved it so much that, of all the different origami that my grandmother taught me, this is still my favorite one. We’ll also be making a flapping bird toy.
In Japan, in the Shinto religion, each time you fold a paper crane, you’re praying. The idea is that if you can succeed in folding 1,000 cranes, your prayer will come true. I also share the true story of a little girl named Sadako Sasaki and the legacy she inspired. Do you have your paper ready?
“Trash Origami” is a really fun book with a lot of different kinds of ideas. We’re going to look at how to make two things from this book: a Jumping Frog and the Crown & Towers Game. That way once you’ve made your frog and your crowns, you can play a fun game with them.
Videos originally posted by Northwest Regional Library System, Florida.
If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.
I identify as Anglo-American, but have always enjoyed working with Spanish-speaking librarians. I’ve always been fascinated by celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month at the public libraries where I’ve helped with collection development, searching out titles appropriate for their patrons—especially at the annual book fairs in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of people living in the U.S. whose ancestry can be traced back to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
The observation began in Sept 1968 when Congress authorized President Lyndon Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week, an observance that included the dates of Sept 15 and 16 (the anniversaries of independence for several Latin American countries). In 1988, Congress expanded the observance to a month-long (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) celebration. The year 2020 marks the 52nd anniversary of this recognition of Hispanic culture and traditions, innovations, achievements, leaders, and artists.
As the World Public Library says, “National Hispanic Heritage Month is the period from September 15 to October 15 in the United States when people recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino American to the United State and celebrate the group’s heritage and culture.” Read more about it on the official site.
Celebrations can look different in diverse parts of the country, from Miami and New York—which have large Cuban-American and Puerto Rican populations—to Fresno or San Jose in California and Maricopa County in Arizona—home to many first-, second-, and third-generation Mexican-Americans.
On the west coast, where I’ve spent most of my time, San Francisco Public Library introduced VIVA! last year, a city-wide celebration of Latino/Hispanic cultures. Celebrations took place in all 28 branches, with papel picado (paper streamers), flores de papel (paper flowers), and ofrendas (altars) setting the scene for more than 100 events with music, food, film, dance, crafts, and author talks representing Latino Hispanic cultures.
The highlights for me were story book readings and Mexican mask-making. Children’s author Mitali Perkins read “Between Us and Abuela” with the kids at Bernal Branch. West Portal Branch hosted children’s author Aida Salazar (“The Moon Within”). Skeleton craft was demonstrated for Dia de los Muertos. And the mask-making workshops, which the library did in conjunction with the Mexican Museum, were a hit at various branches.
Many librarians find it important to participate in this celebration because it helps them reach more people in their communities. According to the Pew Research Center, almost a fifth of the total U.S. population is Hispanic—over 57 million people—and they are the second-fastest growing racial or ethnic group behind Asians. The Hispanic/Latino population was once concentrated most heavily in certain regions, like the Southwest, or certain cities, like Miami, San Francisco, and New York. Now, however, this population is distributed throughout the U.S. Besides reaching more people with library events and bringing more people into the library environment, this kind of outreach helps people cultivate an understanding of and appreciation for each other’s cultures.
This year, with Covid-19 infiltrating our communities, we probably won’t have many opportunities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month via displays and in-person gatherings. There is still a great selection of books available, though. San Francisco, for example, has curbside pickup at the Excelsior and main branches, where you can check out books by wonderful YA authors like Newberry Award-winner Matt de la Pena. Other Hispanic American authors of note include Sandra Cisneros, Stephanie Diaz, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Margarita Engle, Kiera Cass, and Benjamin Alire Saenz, among others.
LA Public’s Central Library will host a live stream of Peruvian music this year on Sept 17 at 4 p.m. PT, featuring songs and rhythms from Inca, Criollo, and Afro-Peruvian extraction on ethnic woodwinds, strings, and percussion instruments. The downside is that there are no gatherings inside the library. The upside is that public libraries are still making celebrations like this one available to all!
My most fervent hope for the moment is that we can resume in-person programs inside libraries soon, to experience Hispanic Heritage Month and Day of the Dead celebrations. I look forward to the return of not just the displays and social functions on special occasions, but also the myriad interpersonal exchanges associated with library services that are so important for adults and children alike. How are you celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
Nerissa’s passion for all things literary was evident from a young age, when she corralled a younger brother to play Horton in her “production” of Horton Hatches an Egg. Nerissa now enjoys the privilege of working remotely and starting each day practicing yoga on the deck at home in the redwoods. Read more here.