Category Archives: Librarianship


Last year was my first summer reading program, and I was very, very stressed out in the weeks leading up to the start of summer reading.  I had thought that this year would be completely easy, since my worries of changing the prize structure and adding a charitable donation would be gone (everyone loved those two elements last summer), and the scheduling of events would be much smoother.

In truth, though, I’m still quite stressed out this year.  All of the performers were booked in January, all of the prizes were ordered & delivered & are sitting in boxes in my office, the calendar is complete and in the process of being printed (only 100 copies at a time so the copier doesn’t overheat); but I’m still stressed.  Moving into the new building threw me off schedule in some ways, and I haven’t been able to jump back on that schedule track yet because of the increased business at the new library.  A happy problem, to be sure, but for an organized person like me it’s a bit torturous to know that I’m not completely up to date with my work tasks.  And then we throw summer reading into the mix: the flurry of activity necessary before the summer starts would have thrown me off schedule for other things anyway, and in this case it’s just throwing me further off schedule.

Ack, I’m getting stressed out just writing about it.  Hopefully it will be quiet at work today so that I can check many, many things off of my “ongoing list extraordinaire.”  Or else there won’t be much sleeping tonight for me…

What to do?

When I was a kid, the after school hours worked a bit differently than they do now.  My mom didn’t work outside the home (except for a part-time gig for a few years teaching at a preschool), so most afternoons she was home when I got off the bus.  We had a big back yard bordering on woodlands, so I could go outside after grabbing a snack and run around and play with the neighborhood kids (or by myself) while Mom did her thing inside.  On the days that Mom wasn’t home when I got off the bus, I’d sit on the front steps and wait for her.

Things are a bit different now, obviously.  A lot more moms work full-time and can’t be home to greet the school bus when it arrives.  And every day there are scary stories about kids being abducted from their driveways or streets or yards – those woodlands of my childhood home would look a lot more sinister to a parent today than they did to my mom, and sitting alone on the front steps just wouldn’t be safe anymore.

Because times have changed, there are kids who can’t go home after school, and end up spending their afternoons in the local library waiting for their parents to finish work.  These are great kids; I’ve gotten to know a lot of them in the town where I work, and they are smart and interesting and creative.  But they’re also kids, who have been sitting in school all day and who are itching to do something beside SIT and be QUIET all afternoon.  I don’t blame these kids one bit – when I was a kid, I needed to run and be active after a long day of education.  And I don’t blame their parents, either – Jim and I keep delaying parenthood because we can’t imagine how we could afford it, even with both of us working full time.  But the fact is that the library needs to be a quiet place for the people who go there to study and research.  So what to do?

We’ve been running a Thursday afternoon game hour, run by teen volunteers, that has become pretty popular.  It’s a good outlet to be kind of loud and have fun playing games in a safe atmosphere.  So there’s an hour on Thursday taken care of.  On most Tuesdays I run book groups, but those are grade specific (the fifth grade group meets only once a month, and so on), and let’s face it, book groups are still a bit like school.  But at least they’re fairly popular.  So there’s Tuesday afternoons taken care of, as best I can.

But what of Wednesday and Friday afternoons?  The library closes at five on both days, so any activity I add would have to be finished up by 4:30 or 4:45.  Mondays I have a bit more leeway, since we’re open until nine.  And there’s also the issue of staffing, since I really do have other tasks that I need to be accomplishing besides running programs: I need to order books, I need to assist patrons who need help finding books, I need to plan storytimes and coordinate volunteers, and any number of other tasks.  Mary tells me that we have been gifted a soccer ball, which we could “check out” for kids to use on the front lawn; maybe we need to invest in a few other basic pieces of sports equipment, like a frisbee and a football, that could also be loaned out.  I’m not really sure what the solution is, but would like to spend less of my time “speaking to” kids who are really good people, just in need of some structuring of their free time.

Curiously fabulous

Most of us at the library keep a tin of Altoids in our desk drawer.  It’s a functional thing: if you have garlic for lunch, you need a remedy.  After all, you are breathing on the public all day; might as well be minty fresh.

Much as I appreciate Altoids, I can’t say that I search them out.  I use them to fight garlic, and to keep my gastric equilibrium when suffering from a migraine (fact: peppermint oil defeats migraine nausea).  But I certainly don’t crave Altoids, nor do I really enjoy them. Altoids are what they are.

Or so I thought.  Yesterday in Brooks Pharmacy, I was brought to a dead stop in front of a display of a new Altoids product:  Altoids dipped in dark chocolate.  “Could be nasty,” I thought, “but then again, could be fabulous…”

And the verdict is — they’re fabulous.  Wow.  With dark-chocolate dipped Altoids in my desk, the work day will seem shorter and brighter.  Try them, if you haven’t already.  (I’m guessing that my sister is on her way to the store right now to buy some…hey, Jean, they have a goodly dose of caffeine, too!!)

Weekly update

It’s been a busy week at the library.  Here are some of the things that have been going on:

A local newspaper is working on an article about the teen volunteers who run the Saturday Storytimes and the Games Hour.  The reporter was at the library yesterday, interviewing some teens, witnessing the joyful roar that is Game Hour, and she’ll drop by on Saturday to interview more teens and sit in on the storytime.

The 5th grade is doing a complex project on motion and design, and many 5th graders have come by the library for help in doing research.  It’s relatively easy to find materials for some of the projects – the Wright Brothers, history of the wheel – but for other projects, it’s terribly difficult – the history of load-bearing vehicles, cars of the future, Mars exploratory vehicles.  Nicole, Lisa, and I have been working hard to assist these students, but sometimes it’s tough to find what they need!

The stomach bug has been making the rounds among the staff.  Between the bug and a cold that is starting to raise its head, we’re dropping like flies.

The budget for summer programs seems to be balanced, so now I’m just trying to find a few free moments to make the necessary calls.  Hopefully that will be done today, so that I can reveal the fabulous programs that will be coming this summer!

And one last thing: I’m searching for ways to get donations of paperback books to use as prizes for summer reading.  The books need to be classics, and noncontroversial.  Anyone have ideas of where to go, who to ask?

Speaking of the new building

I’m just about to get ready for work, and trying to figure out what to wear today.  Maybe today would be a good day to wear less-than-fabulous clothes and scrounge around in the stacks for books that are in terrible condition and need to be replaced.  It’s a big project, very time consuming, and obviously very dirty.  I’ve already completed about half of the juvenile fiction section, and it would be great to finish the other half today, leaving just (just???) the juvenile nonfiction section and the early reader section.

Not only is weeding a necessary and essential part of any librarian’s position, it feels especially important to me right now as we enter the last months before the move to the new building.  Who wants to see scuzzy books in a gorgeous new facility?  Who wants to handle, let alone check out, a children’s book that was tastefully rebound in 1949?  (I kid you not, I’ve found many of those.)  The heat is on, so to speak, and I think I’ll see what progress I can make today.  Good thing I took a Claritin this morning…all that dust…

The hardest thing

Admit it, all of us have flaws – failings – things that we’re just not good at.  Most of us try to avoid situations where our failings are evident.  Why promote the negative, after all?  Much better to stick to the stuff you’re good at.

So when I talked to Mieke, my best friend from college, a while back and told her that my new job requires me to regularly sing in public, her response was, “Oh, my God, Abs.  Are you kidding?  Those poor people!”  Mieke, of course, has a fabulous voice, and sang all the time in college.  I, of course, have a horrible voice, and sang rarely.

But now I find myself needing to sing as part of my job.  In front of people.  Not just small children, but also their parents, some of whom can carry a tune very well.  And there’s really no way around it.  Story times for young kids need to have books AND fingerplays AND songs; it’s the way kids learn the rhythm of the language, which eventually helps them with reading multi-syllabic words.  Sometimes I’ll break out the boombox and play a song or two from a CD, but there are still times that I have to sing, and it’s pretty painful.

I read Stephen Fry’s autobiography last summer, and one of his phrases really resonated with me.  Fry talks about how he can hear music perfectly in his head, but that he can’t reproduce it; he says that he’s “not tone deaf, but tone dumb.”  That’s exactly what I am, since all those intricacies of the music are so clear in my head, and my inability to voice that music is utterly frustrating to me.

But now that singing is part of my career, what do I do?  I’ll admit to using the “my voice sounds rough because my allergies are really bothering me today” excuse a lot.  On particularly perky days I’ll play the role of cheerleader and say “I want to hear everyone sing this time!”  So far I haven’t yet admitted to being tone dumb, but that time may come.  And I’ve been practicing a lot, singing in the shower after my musical husband leaves for work.  I think I’ve gotten “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” down, but I’m still flummoxed by “The More We Get Together.”  And ”Five Little Ducks” is way, way tough.

Wish me luck.  My singing is definitely a work-in-progress.

And in the end…

…we ate cake and cookies and brownie cupcakes and got to visit with the town fire truck.
Yes, the end of summer reading is here, and the finale picnic was a LOT of fun.  The kids had a blast with the fire truck and all the fire truck’s accoutrements (hats and boots and coats), and we went through a huge amount of yummy desserts.  Rumor has it that some kids decided to forgo their proper lunch in order to have more room for dessert, but I take no responsibility for that!

So tomorrow is the very last day of summer reading, and I’ve already begun to put some of the summer stuff away.  By the close of the day tomorrow, there won’t be a trace of the summer reading program left in the children’s room, and we’ll all have to start turning our focus towards (gasp!) the school year.  I hope that everyone else has had as much fun this summer as I have; though a few months ago the organizing of the program seemed like a gargantuan task, now it’s just a collection of happy memories.  And, shockingly, I can’t wait ’til next year!  We’ll see what I can cook up for next summer…

Crunch Time

I’m afraid that I haven’t paid as much attention to this blog as I should in the last two weeks; the start of my first summer reading program is just days away, and it’s definitely crunch time.

Just when I think I’ve caught up, I think of one more thing that HAS to be done RIGHT NOW.  Yesterday it was assembling large envelopes for the raffle items that have the logos of the donating stores on them.  (One of the raffle items, just arrived, is pretty awesome, by the way: a baseball autographed by the actor and Red Sox fan Mike O’Malley, star of the show Yes, Dear.)

Today, hopefully, I’ll finish up all those nagging last minute items: making the raffle tickets, creating posters for each of the summer’s events, stamping all those museum coupons with our official stamp, confirming the ice cream pick-up time…ugh, I’m getting a stomach ache just thinking about the list.

With luck, next summer – my second summer on the job – will be smoother and easier.  With luck, all the kinks will have been worked out by next year.  With luck, I won’t be this stressed out and exhausted next summer.

Wish me luck, I need it!

Next in line

I’ve just read two excellent books, the newish young adult novel Red Sea by Diane Tullson, and the newish children’s book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.  (I’ll write an entry about each of these books in the near future.)  Now it’s time for me to move on to the next book…which I have decided needs to be the 6th Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling.  We just received a donation at my library of a new copy of the book, and I felt compelled to take the book home to read while it was still clean and beautiful.

I read each of the other five Harry Potter books as soon as it came out (pre-ordered my copies from Amazon, even).  It’s not that I’m addicted to Harry Potter, or that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan.  In fact, a year or more ago I gave away all of my copies in one of many purges of my bookshelves.

But I’m also not a literary snob.  A wise and funny friend of mine often says that it’s not fair to hold children and young adults to higher literary standards than we do adults.  Adults often read bestsellers, books that are engaging but not fabulous, fun but not life-changing.  Why shouldn’t children and young adults have the same opportunity?  Don’t children and young adults have the right to take time away from the crunch of their school work and lose themselves in a quick plot and a fantasy world?  Wouldn’t we, the judging adults, rather see our young people turn to a book instead of a television show or the internet?  (The role of adults in the selection of and production of children’s literature is a topic that I’ll approach in future blog entries.)

I have no grudge against Harry Potter.  The only reason I’ve waited so long to read the 6th installment is rather lame, actually: the 5th book is SO large that I found it physically uncomfortable to hold while I read it.  But as a children’s librarian, it’s both my duty and responsibility to know and understand the literature that the users of my section of the library (children) seek out.  So, Half-Blood Prince, here I come!