Category Archives: Librarianship

T minus six days

The elementary school class visits begin next Monday – always an exciting time of year!  I’m working on my final preparations for the visits, which include narrowing down the book choices for the books that I’ll read to the Kindergarteners and the first graders (I’ve pulled at least thirty of my favorites…so so hard to pick only a couple); streamlining my tour of the building to make it history-rich (the building is historic and very cool) but still engaging for a large group of kids; and creating a new feltboard story to use with the younger kids.

I’m really looking forward to next week’s class visits, since it’s such a great way to meet and make meaningful contact with every child in town who attends the public elementary school.  And, of course, to promote the library’s ever-popular summer reading program.

And now it’s just up to the Bruins to establish whether I wear my Bruins shirts for the class visits…if they’re still winning, I’ll be wearing the shirts, since the Bruins are statewide co-sponsors of the summer reading program.  If they’ve lost and are out of the running for the Stanley Cup, it may be a bit too fresh and painful for the kids.  (But wearing a Bruins shirt does catch the attention of sports-minded kids, which is always great.)  Stay tuned to find out what I’ll be wearing next week…

Coming on Tuesday

I’m trying something new in programming this month at the library: a paid performer on a weekday morning.  This month is rare in the town in which I work – there is no early release day from the public schools in May.  Normally, I schedule most of our paid performers to come on early release days, since after experimenting with Thursday evening shows and Saturday shows I have found that the best attendance for events is on early release day shows.  (And, of course, magic shows always get the best attendance of all, much to my sadness, but that’s a post for another day.)

When the May early release day was cancelled back in December, I was first very glad that I had not yet scheduled a performer, and then I had to decide what to do for May programming.  I toyed with the idea of having no performer at all, but that didn’t feel right to me.  Then I thought about scheduling a Saturday show, but quickly decided against that given the weak attendance at the very cool Saturday program we hosted in January.  January is an indoor month in town, where May is full of outdoor sports programs and the Apple Blossom Festival and the Garden Club Plant Sale and all kinds of other things.  Not worth me bringing a performer to the library on a May Saturday.

Then I decided to try a weekday morning performer who specializes in working with preschoolers and infants.  We do not have storytimes on Tuesday mornings, so that seemed the natural time to run a show.  And, even better, the Memorial Day holiday means that my Monday morning storytime regulars would be happy to have a Tuesday morning program to make up for their missed regular storytime.  And I’ve been wanting to bring Hugh Hanley back to the library, since I love the gentle way that he encourages  parents and children to sing and do fingerplays.  And I always learn from him: watching Hugh is like attending a master class in working with preschoolers.

Happily, we have a large group signed up to attend on Tuesday, and I suspect that even more attendees will drop in, which is just fine by me.  The more the merrier!  After all the mental machinations (and agony) that it took to get me to this decision of having a morning program, I’m thrilled that it turns out there is a demand.  This may be the beginning of a new programming trend at the library, budget allowing, of course.  How awesome would it be to have an early release day program each month for the older kids and a Tuesday morning program each month for the younger ones?

4:30 Panic

Ok, it’s that time of year.  I woke up at 4:30 this morning, and started to panic about all that I have to get done.  The elementary school visits begin on June 3, which is the unofficial start to summer reading (even though the “real” summer reading doesn’t start until June 25, the day of the Ice Cream Social).

It’s lovely that there is a movie night tonight, and equally lovely that this is a three-day holiday weekend, but in reality all that means is that I lose four hours today and eight hours on Monday when I could be getting a lot of work done.  So I gave up on sleep at 5:15, and hauled myself into work very very early.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get enough done this morning before we open so that I can enjoy my holiday weekend.

And this is one of those days when I want to point out to anyone who thinks my job is “cute” and easy – it ain’t.  It’s a lot of never-ending, hard hard work.  Rewarding work, but hard hard work.  And did I mention never-ending?  🙂

Still here…

Yes, I’m still here – but I’m finding that my still-healing broken foot is limiting my evening creativity.  While at work, I think of things that would be awesome blog post topics: a very young child who says or does something charming, a book group that takes the book discussion to a new level, an idea for a new program.  But I can’t write blog posts at work, and by the time I get home I’m a bit cooked, mentally and physically, after stumping around at the library all day with the walking boot on my foot.

So here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks:

  • Lots of storytimes, which have been especially crowded now that the gloom of winter and cabin fever has set in for everyone.  Last week there were forty-one adults and kids at the Thursday storytime, which is about the limit of what we can fit into the story room.  But it’s such a nice group of attendees, all of whom participate enthusiastically.  There was a wonderful moment at one recent storytime where every single adult in the room was belting out (in harmony, of course!) “Where is Thumbkin?”.  Very very cool.
  • Lots of great book groups.  Of course I’ve waited too long to write up coherent retellings of each book group discussion, so I’ll just sum up each one quickly.  The 5th grade group read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and eleven out of twelve kids disliked the book because it was “too slow.”  The teen book group read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, and while talking about what kind of book it is I discovered that most of the group had never heard of caviar, creme brulee, or Agatha Christie.  The 4th grade group discussed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and they unanimously loved it.  (They were also happy to hear that a book they read earlier this year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, was the winner of this year’s Newbery award.)  And the 6th grade group discussed Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, which they mostly loved; it interested me that they were all surprised to find out that Brian Selznick both wrote and illustrated the book – the group members thought that he was only the author.
  • And then there are the random things: sweet moments at the art portion of the storytime for 4’s & 5’s (a five year old discovering that he can “erase” his painting and start fresh, thus prolonging the creative experience); an eighteen month old finding his dancing legs and grinning ecstatically while bobbing up and down to some Zydeco; two sweet girls at the Create a Valentine program surprising me with Valentine cards (one said “Feel Better!” and the other – launched at my back – was emblazoned with “Guess Who???”…the artist finally came over and told me she had made it, since I was clearly confused); and the daily niceties of working in a small town filled with caring people.

Hopefully my foot will be fully healed soon (eight weeks and counting right now, this is a loooooooong process), but until then please forgive me if I have lapses of blog entries.  I’m still here!

End of Summer Exhaustion and Vacation

Between finishing up the summer reading program and Ophy’s ongoing health issues, this has been a loooooong two weeks.  I went in to the library yesterday to inventory and put away all of the summer reading prizes, and when I got home I sat on the couch to watch the news (Jim had band practice last night).  Next thing I knew, I was wakened by the phone ringing an hour and a half later.  It’s not my style to fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the afternoon or early evening (or ever, really), so I think it’s safe to assume that I was absolutely tuckered out.  Exhausted.  Worn down.  However you want to put it, I was tired.

I worked today, and managed to finish up everything that might potentially haunt me during my vacation week; this included submitting my statistics to the state for the summer reading program.  And even though I planned the summer and knew full well what was going on all summer, I was blown away by our statistics:  we ran 58 programs (including hired performers, storytimes, book groups, and other library-run programs) and our attendance at those 58 programs was just shy of 1,900 adults and kids.  Wow.  Wow.  No wonder I fell asleep yesterday!

So goodbye to summer reading 2012 – it was a good summer, and we all enjoyed it and got lots of reading done.  (The kids read for over 5,200 hours this summer!)  And hello to Abby’s vacation 2012 – a stay-cation, of course.  I’m looking forward to sleeping in and making a full pot of tea every morning (and drinking the whole pot, too) and reading lots of books and going on adventures with Jim and repainting the exterior of our house and helping Ophy to recover.   Woo-hoo!

Study break

I’ve been working hard all day at more book ordering, this time making my way through issues of School Library Journal.  It’s fantastically fun, really, though maybe not my first choice of a way to spend my Sunday [yes, yes, yes, it’s off the clock…I do that a lot!].  Fun because I love seeing which series have a new title – sometimes it will be several years from one entry in a book series to the publication of the next, sometimes it will only be months – and which of my favorite authors have come out with a new book.  And I also love seeing what unusual nonfiction topics have now been addressed in a children’s book.  Sometimes those nonfiction books aren’t worth buying, but lately there have been a ton of great nonfiction children’s books on cool topics.

And I’ve enjoyed ordering today because it’s given me a chance to spend some quality time with Ophy as she (hopefully) recovers.  I’m sitting in the middle of the couch with my laptop and the review journals, and Ophy alternates between napping curled up to my left leg and then my right leg – with water drinking breaks in between.

Study break is over, though – I still have more ordering to do, and I suppose it might be wise to eat some dinner, too.  My goal is to go on my vacation next week having absolutely no loose ends at work, and I think I can achieve the tying of those loose ends this evening.  Yahoo!!!

New Books

Since Jim works every Saturday, and since he had a gig last Saturday night, I spent this past Saturday doing a LOT of book ordering at home.  Hours and hours and hours of book ordering, interrupted only by moving the laundry along and occasional chocolate breaks.  (Nipping the perpetual question in the bud – this was on my own time, not on the clock…)

At this point in my career, I am looking at what I spend most of my working hours doing, and comparing it to the reasons for choosing this career.  I love the library’s patrons, young and old, I love running storytimes, and I love things like the summer reading program.  They’re all good things, and happy things.  But the reason that I took this job, the reason that this career makes me HAPPY, is what librarians call “collection development.”  Not being one for buzz words, I prefer to call this part of that process simply “ordering books” (and I do also love the other parts of the process, including weeding).

There’s a reason that I got my master’s degree in children’s literature, and that reason is that I am and always have been a passionate fan of children’s books.  And there is nothing more exciting than reading reviews of newly published children’s books (and, sometimes, republished older books), ordering the best of the best which fit into my budget, and then seeing those books come in on the UPS truck a day or two later.  This afternoon I went down to tech services and gathered up a very full book cart of gorgeous brand new books to bring back to my office for sorting tomorrow.  (Sorting, for those of you who are interested, involves labelling the fiction books as JJ, JE, J, AR, and YA – and putting genre stickers on the spine where appropriate, and also labelling the nonfiction books as J+correct call number or JJ+correct call number.)

Without a doubt, picking up that cartful of brand new books was the highlight of my week.  All that lovely new book smell, all those crisp pages, all those enticing covers.  One book in particular got my attention, probably because it looks like a great summer read, is Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst; definitely one I’ll be indulging in soon – a little guiltily, but that’s ok.  Also exciting for me to see is a book from one of my Simmons College gal pals, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby.  It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Hannah (twelve years since we all graduated from the children’s lit program!), and it will be so cool to read her book.  Maybe it will be even appropriate for one of my book groups to read…hmmmmmm…

So tomorrow at work will be heaven for me, handling all those lovely new books and getting them ready to go down to tech services for their final processing before they get into the hands of some eager young readers.  Books, really, are what it’s all about.

A road not taken

All of us have things that we could have pursued in life, but haven’t – those roads not taken.  Yesterday I was reminded of one of mine…

Quite unexpectedly, I ran into the mother of one of my former students yesterday, and our conversation made my week (perhaps even month).  I recognized her immediately – especially since I had the advantage of context, as she was working the job where I met her – but it took her a few seconds to realize who I was.  Her face literally lit up as she figured out that it was me, and she said, “Abby!!!!!!” with a huge smile.  And then she started talking about how key I was to her son’s success in life, and that they frequently think of me and are thankful for what I did for him, for, as she put it, I started the ball rolling for her son’s education.

I tutored her son when he was in kindergarten and first grade, and he was the most dyslexic student I ever worked with.  Very sweet, and very, very smart, but very dyslexic, and his school system was not providing anything close to what he needed.  I suspect that that school system had never had a child quite like him, and simply didn’t know how to help him.  My role in working with this student was primarily to get his confidence back, help him with sound recognition, and, when his mother asked me in desperation if her son should attend a school that specializes in dyslexia, to give his parents the name and number of an advocate.  That advocate managed to get this boy into the Landmark School, with the town paying the bill, and the difference in the boy was almost immediate.  He had reached the point where school was unbearable for him, but after he started at Landmark I remember his mother telling me that suddenly he was the first one in the family to wake up in the morning, and that he would get dressed and ready for school and wait impatiently for his family to drive him there.

And I found out yesterday that now he is finishing his junior year in highschool; he owns and operates his own landscaping business; he can read fluently; he plans on attending a two year college; and that he wants to have a career as a tugboat captain.  He is thriving, and his mother very kindly gave me a lot of credit for his success, since I was the first one to recognize the extent of his needs and I helped her find the experts to get him where he needed to be.

This isn’t the first time a parent (or child) has credited me with such grand things, and yesterday I once again worried whether I made the right decision seven or so years ago when I decided to lose my $100 deposit at Simmons and not enroll as a student in the two degree programs in which I had been accepted:  to get my master’s in special education and my education specialist degree in language and literacy.  Everything had been signed and sealed for me to get those degrees and then pursue a career as a reading specialist, but each morning as I got ready for work I’d cry my eyes out and say to myself, “But I want to be a children’s librarian!!!”  And so that’s what I did – I went with the career path that felt right to me.

But was it the right path?  Do I as a children’s librarian have as much potential to positively and profoundly affect kids’ lives as I would as a reading specialist?  I’m not sure.  In going down the path that I knew would make me happy, did I lessen the positive impact that I could make on the world?  Or, as I’ve often told myself, would the fact that being a reading specialist wouldn’t make me happy mean that I ultimately wouldn’t be as good at that job and thus not as effective?  I’ll never definitively know the answers to those questions.  But I do know that it was lovely to see that mother yesterday and to hear how well her almost-grown son is doing, all these years after I knew him.

Happy Cookies

Two days ago we got invited to a party with the Stanley Cup at the Garden (the photo of Jim and me with the Cup is here), which was very, very cool.  While we were sitting at a table at the party, I noticed that the kids in attendance were totally jazzed about the special Bruins cookies that party guests could pick up after getting their photo taken.  “Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “I know Jim and Bill and Judy and I aren’t going to eat our Bruins cookies…what if I brought them to the library and raffled them off to the library kids who come every day after school?  Hmmmmm…”  Especially perfect for a library, since the Bruins were the official sponsors of the Massachusetts summer reading program for the last three summers.

So I carefully carried home three of the cookies, making sure not to crack them or melt the frosting, and first thing yesterday morning I put them on display at the children’s desk with raffle tickets and a bucket (and the photo of me and Jim with the Cup), asking that only kids enter and that each kid only enter once.

And, boy, was that raffle a hit.  I had planned to draw the three winning names at 4:00 this afternoon, but one of my favorite fifth graders came up to me at 3:30 and said, “Abby.  When are you drawing the names for the cookies.”  Not a question, mind you, but a statement.  I told  her I was planning on 4:00, and she looked me in the eye and didn’t say anything.  “Are you leaving before 4?” I asked.  Yes was the answer, so I told her that I would just ask the other kids in the room if they had entered the raffle – to give everyone a fair shot – and that I would then draw the names.

A few minutes of happy chaos ensued, as the dozen or so afterschool kids swarmed the desk so that they could each fill out a raffle ticket.  I had thought that maybe I would duck into my office to quietly pull the winning names, but as I looked around it was obvious that was NOT an option: the crowd wanted to witness the drawing to be sure it was fair.  So I took a deep breath and pulled the name…of a child who wasn’t in attendance.  Time to move fast – the crowd looked ready to turn on me.  I drew the second name – of a fifth grade boy who clearly is a huge Bruins fan.  He chose his cookie (the Stanley Cup cookie) with triumph, and I drew the last name.  This time a sweet third grader won, and grinned from ear to ear as he chose his cookie (the Bruins banner).

Luckily, the non-winners were mostly older kids and all excellent sports, bearing their cookie loss with aplomb.  And joy, too, because it was such a fun spontaneous moment that none of us had expected on a rainy afternoon.  The fifth grade winner let his friends look at his cookie before leaving happily, and the third grader spent a good half hour looking at books on the shelves while holding tightly on to his cookie.

And then an hour or so later, the little girl whose name I drew first came in, and I asked her if she had gotten my phone message.  No, she said, looking puzzled, so I held up her cookie and told her that she had won.  She was so happy that she couldn’t speak – she went over to her mom with the cookie, all smiles and shining eyes.  The family stayed looking at books for a while, and the little girl held her cookie the whole time, cracking it a bit in the plastic bag while she thought out loud about how she would eat it: a little bit each night, with some ice cream.  Kind of reminded me of Frances holding the Chompo bar on her way home from the store…

All in all, it was much, much more fun than if we grownups had eaten the cookies Tuesday night! 

E-book webinar

Today several of us on the library staff were able to attend parts of the Library Journal/School Library Journal webinar on e-books and libraries.  There were a lot of good statistics about current e-book usage in libraries, and lots of good ideas and lots of questions.  But not many answers.

Many of the questions were questions that I’ve been thinking of myself:  with the rise of e-books, what happens to people who can’t afford e-readers?  What about the different formats of e-readers that don’t talk to each other?  How can libraries incorporate e-books into their budgets and their collections?  How is the advent of e-books going to affect the structure and existence of libraries?  What about the long waiting lists for popular e-books at libraries, when the e-book medium is perceived by the public as being an instant one – instant gratification?  How can libraries explain the need to wait on a list for a certain e-book title, even though that is the way it works for a popular, recently published print version of a book?  And, more specifically for library staff, how to decide which titles to spend limited available funds on?  And which e-book formats are worth investing in?

I had two favorite parts of this e-book summit: several speakers mentioned that libraries will need to change their focus from being solely book-based, and these speakers mentioned that libraries can pump up their programming (storytimes, book groups, etc.) in order to retain a wholly relevant place in the community.  As a programming-ambitious children’s librarian, that’s a lot of what I do.

And the other favorite part for me of the webinar was M.T. Anderson’s closing address.  It was very similar to the closing address that I heard him present at the children’s literature summer institute at Simmons this summer, but I was glad to hear it again.  Anderson is an intelligent, wise speaker, and his talk on e-books is dense and packed with information and meaty thoughts to digest; a second hearing only helped my understanding.  I won’t attempt to summarize his nearly one hour talk in a few sentences here, but I will say that I left both hearings of Anderson’s address feeling hopeful about the future for books and libraries and authors and literature.  Change is nothing new, and change could bring great things to our culture.  It could also bring unpleasantness, but despite Anderson’s balanced presentation (both hopeful and pessimistic), I came away feeling good about my career and my passion for books.  A good way to end an enlightening day.