Category Archives: library

Girl power, personal

woman symbolIf you don’t know of it already, please google “kidlitwomen” and read at least a few of their posts.

These writers have been making me rethink some things and recharge my literature battery and, yes, inspiring me.  It’s not usually what I’d call “fun” to look back on lost opportunities to stand up for yourself or others, which has happened more and more as the #metoo movement has come and stayed and challenged us.  It can be a struggle to figure out what I personally can do to change all these rusty, hurtful, and broken cultural dynamics.  So what I love in these posts is that – while there is reflection on what has been – these amazing writers are very forward-thinking.  Change might be hard, but it will build a better someday for all kinds of kids, as well as us grown people, allies or not.

Life in Libraryland mirrors the struggles in the “real” world, because, well, it is the real world.  I often think about what I could have done differently in patron interactions that didn’t go as well as I’d like.  There’s a lot I can’t control, however.  Some people walk into my library world with no intention of showing me any respect or kindness.  Maybe they have had a bad day.  Maybe they don’t really know what they’re doing, but their boss is making them do some ridiculous online thing they don’t understand, and of course, the boss is assuming they have internet and computer access at home, which they don’t, and before they even walk in the door, they are angry at the world and, by extension, me, the person who is in front of them not doing exactly what they want as fast as they want.  There are all kinds of anger and despair and frustration that build up before people walk in the door.  I get that.

But sometimes there’s an added layer to it, one where mostly older, white men think it’s ok to bully, accuse, threaten to get you fired, or make other inappropriate and unhelpful remarks, all while you are supposed to be “helping” them.  Nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of that, and when I get around to thinking about it, I feel pretty strongly that they would not behave that way to the men I know, even if that man did not have a clue how to help them and I did.

Do we call that spade a spade, though?  It’s harder than you might think.  We all want to provide good customer service, and our society has been training women from birth to get along, be nice, not be aggressive, and so on, although we certainly like to think that’s changing.  I’ve occasionally been able to talk people down if I can figure out what’s upsetting them and what they need, so once in a while, it all turns out ok.  I spent years in social services, so I came into this gig with some previous experience dealing with really angry people.  If I could deal with that screaming and scary-on-a-good-day dad who was enraged we were trying to help his daughter graduate (long story), I know I can do all right for myself when jerks are in front of me now, although all bets might be off if I’m on cold medication or you’re the fifth person who’s making my day.

Anyway, these moments can seem unsettling and very not empowering.  I know I was socialized to try to make others happy first and be quiet when boys talked all through my youth and college years – you don’t want to see the list of long left-behind incidents that have been popping into my head these days – but things can change.  I can be forward-thinking, too.  I can find new ways to stand up for myself and the readers I have the luck to influence and the writers I have the privilege of reading.  So think about it, brothers and sisters.  Let’s find a way to leave the screaming hot messes in our worlds behind and boldly go somewhere new.

And also read some interesting essays and good books, too.  Always.

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Letters we all could write

dearf451Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You showed up on my desk that extremely cold Saturday when almost no one came in.  Did I read you then?  No, I did not, because unlike the popular (and completely wrong) stereotype, library workers do not sit around reading at work.  I may have spent quite a long time discussing kidlit and graphic novels with a coworker I rarely see that afternoon, but you rested quietly in the stack of books in my locker until I headed home.

When I opened you later from my warm nest on the couch, I laughed frequently enough that my husband and son wondered what was up.  They were watching Game of Thrones (also in my stack) and things were particularly bloody and violent, so it probably seemed a little jarring.  What can you do?

I especially appreciated your letter to Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as told by Christian, because I have also been told, enthusiastically and repeatedly, that I would just LOVE that book or the previous books in the series by people who don’t know me at all.  I’m not snippy about many books, but let me tell you, that’s one of them.  (Sure, there’s a book for every reader, but that doesn’t mean I’m the reader.) I would be more likely to read Sexy Beast VIII or any of the other originally and uniquely titled Sexy Beast books.  I try to keep an open mind, really I do, but I’m just not all that successful sometimes. But that’s a rant for another day, probably.

What amuses me most about you, however, is that three or four of my favorite patrons suggested you to me, although two were careful to note that some of your language is a little profane.  One handed you to me to check in and commented that she just didn’t think it was appropriate for a librarian to swear that much, but that just makes me love you more, because honestly, there are days when it’s all I can do to wait for the door to close behind the late-in-the-day-angry-at-the-world-and-taking-it-out-on-everyone-jerk-of-the-month to mutter “@#$^%!!!” and head home.

Yours  very truly…

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

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Libraries know everything

max and birdIf you work in a library (check) and read books to kids (check), this book will positively sing to you.

“Follow me,” said Bird.  “We’ll go to the library.  Libraries know everything.” (from the book)

And then they DO go to the library.  And they find materials to do their research, which might take them weeks, because they are just that serious about their research.  And then they experiment and make mistakes.  (Also, they meet a pigeon who looks a bit like our friend Pigeon from Mo Willems’ books.)  Will they succeed in solving their problem?  Will Max’s list of pros and cons sway him to eat a friend or be a friend?

It’s a happy ending.  I’ll be reading this one to kindergarten this year, I think.  It’s a bit wordy for really young kids, but oh so fun.  If you haven’t read Vere’s Max the Brave, check that one out, too.

Max and Bird by Ed Vere

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Why I am a disaster in toddler storytime and also perfect for it


I love books.  I love reading with little kids.  (Also with big kids, but they’re less likely to want to gush on about Elephant and Piggie or Kadir Nelson’s amazing illustrations.  Stop fangirling, Book Lady!)

You might think that would help when I’m asked to fill in for storytimes at the library, even if I do not approach it with years of study or academic research on the topic.  I’ve certainly spent my share of time working with kids of all ages through volunteer work and at home.  I’m pretty clearly an introvert, although I have always worked in something of an extrovert uniform.  But what the heck – I’m willing to give a lot of things a whirl if it helps out a co-worker or friend.

Toddler storytime is one of those things that turns out to be completely different than what you might expect it to be.  Often I find that, no matter what label has been slapped on a library program – toddler, preschool, elementary – people just show up with whatever kids are on hand that day.  So toddler storytime can have actual toddlers, but there are often older kids there, too, as well as an infant or two and a bunch of adults who may or may not be engaged in this whole activity.

Older kids are sometimes less willing to enter into the goofier aspects of toddler storytime.  Will they dance and pretend to be moons?  Will they do the fingerplays?  Will the rhythm sticks turn into the 5 year old’s sword for attacking his sister?  You never know.  Just when I think I’m in the middle of a disaster, where no one gives a hoot about any of the books, doesn’t want to dance, and can’t be trusted with the shaky eggs, an older kid will decide that the Wee Willie Winkie fingerplay is the most awesome thing in the world.

Basically, what I have learned about doing toddler storytimes is that I don’t matter at all.  I’m the substitute for their beloved children’s librarian who probably does completely different (and better) songs and stories.  I’m not going to have her awesome crafts or regular expectations about behavior.  There will be a lot of Laurie Berkner songs, whether or not they really apply, because she is awesome, and everyone should know and love her music.  Once in a while, I’m not going to have books and magnet stories or flannel boards that work for whatever group of kids and parents show up.  (For a family storytime, I once did only stories with dark humor, paired with really perky songs.  A few of the parents seemed bewildered, but others laughed and actually listened to the stories, stopping to compliment me on the way out.)  But I don’t matter.

Storytime is the break for a mom or dad or grandma who needs a reason to get this kid out of the house and doing something different.  They don’t care what I do.  The kids like their routines, but if they can get past the fact that I am not Miss J or Miss M, they can at least gaze off into space and look at what’s on the walls around us or maybe sing along.  It’s a life skill to be able to cope with change and move on, right?

And for me, it’s a chance to share books and get outside my introvert skin for a little while, doing something outside my usual routine.  I might have an excuse to dance like an elephant or hop like a cow.  I can live with that.

Illustration from

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All ages wonder women

ty g picI used to see a bumper sticker a lot – “THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY!”  It’s kind of a feel-good, “I can change the world” sort of thing.  I can care about what’s happening in Syria, but by shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk, I can make up for the fact that I am ill-equipped to change anything about wars in far-off lands, right?

I have to admit, though, that I feel ill-equipped to conquer many of the world and societal ills smacking me in the face these days.  I am a huge lover of public education, for example, and our state has recently gutted collective bargaining rights for state employees – including teachers – and thrown in  a number of other flat-out mean-spirited policy items which they didn’t mention they were going to do in the last election.  So, I marched and wrote and showed up at meetings when I could, but it’s not like they seem the least bit worried about what regular people think, because anyone who opposes them is, they accuse, “out of touch.”  Meanwhile, they have been handing away tax breaks to companies and rich folks, so of course, our state revenues have fallen and next year – they’re so sad to report – there will have to be more cuts.  And if they could re-organize all the voting districts, so that my vote meant nothing and they would remain forever in control “doing what’s best for the state and the country,” I think they would.  That’s how little I trust them.  And on the national and world level, it’s at least as bad if not worse.

I understand that my politics are probably neither here nor there to you, but I have a point here.  Some days I have to focus on what I CAN do, and not on what I can’t.  I realized long ago that I was never going to get a Nobel Peace Prize or do something that really changed the world, but I do try to live a life that is mostly positive when I’m not complaining about my legislators.

And here’s where my love of reading and books comes in.  I’m lucky enough to work in a library and spend some time volunteering in a school.  I’m really lucky, because I came to my job in the library as a second career, and I came to volunteering in a school because of my son’s absolutely wonderful elementary education.  (There’s that love of public education.)

Along the way, I have met some really incredible women who make me feel like there is a reason to hope.  Things happened last week that made me appreciate each one of them all the more.

J. is one of our regular library patrons. I liked her even before I knew that she was friends with some people I admire and respect. She is always telling me about interesting books and TV shows and movies she’s come across, and she is kind to absolutely everyone.  She notices things, too.  One day, she came up to me to thank me for being nice to people who are complete jerks to me, having had to listen to someone angrily accuse me of a whole list of things, followed by the threat that they would get me fired for being incompetent.  Nice.  She spends a lot of time trying to do good in the community and her own family.  Last week, she told me about something happening in her life – a really awful thing brought about by people in her own family – which upset me, because people shouldn’t be jerks to her, either.  So I wrote her a poem, which I will add in below.  I’m a mediocre poet, but hey, I was trying to repay some of her kindnesses.

That same afternoon, I went to see V., whom I’ve known for almost three years.  V. got her first library card in 1920.  Her grandfather, who lived with them when she was a child, was a Civil War veteran.  When she was in high school, she rode the streetcar (which doesn’t exist anymore) to the old downtown library.  After her eyesight failed, she started listening to books on CD, which is how I came into her life.  At almost 104 years old, she was sharp as a tack the last time I saw her, three days before she died.  From the outside, I can see how someone dying at almost 104 would not be a shock to most people, but V. really had become a friend.  We talked about books, but we also talked about our lives at work and at home.  She was such a delightful and kind person that I often talked about her at the library with my coworkers and with my son, so her influence went far beyond the minutes I spent in her room.  I was touched by the fact that her obituary noted her love of books on tape, because the library was able to keep her love of reading going right up until she passed away.

The next day, I went for a walk with one of my teacher friends.  I volunteered with her kindergartners last year, reading books, doing finger plays, occasionally staying for recess afterwards.  One of my favorite kids was a little girl who barely spoke above a whisper, but who paid attention to everything and had a spark in her eyes.  You could just tell she loved being at school and learning.  Yay!  And on the playground, she had two friends, and those little girls as a group were so fierce and fearless!  I loved watching them coming up with games, jumping rope, racing around, giggling.   My teacher friend gave me a little book of drawings the kids had made for me.  My favorite had drawn the picture you see here.  And what’s wonderful about it to me – aside from the really awesome triangle dress which I never wore, but clearly am rocking in this picture – is that she included two books in her picture:  The Snowy Day and You Can Read.  Both are books I read to the class in the sometimes chaotic time before recess.  She remembered!

So as I thought about all of this, it struck me that even if I can’t do much to change a toxic and angry world, I could do these things.  And I have to start somewhere, because hope and kindness (and public education!) do make a difference in the world.



you are a warrior

Midwestern Amazon

you stand

arms open wide

heart exposed

the selfish, the greedy,

the mean-spirited fools

are blind to your might

unable to bend your destiny to their will

you carry no shield, no sword

marching ahead

embracing, welcoming

unafraid of bitterness

energized by ideas

open to challenge

no arrows can pierce you

when you share yourself so willingly

do you armor yourself with so much

love tempered by loss —

can they not feel your strength?

your weapons may be your kindness,

your generosity,

your baked goods

(Midwestern, after all)

do not forget your power

you are a warrior

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I’m not a real librarian. I just play one at the library.

Liamalibrarianabels are so important in helping us figure out who we think other people are, right?  Pile on the stereotypes, and we’re good to go!

Children’s books about occupations sometimes fill that role, too, explaining what all kinds of people in the neighborhood do.  The Tinyville Town librarian could be me, if I had an MLIS, rode the bus, and was a different gender.  People ask me questions all the time, I help them find information, I know where those elephant books are hiding, and, dagnabbit, I like a good mystery, too.

People still think I’m a librarian, because to most people, working at the library makes you one.  Yes, I’m state-certified, but I have an advanced degree in the wrong thing, so here I am, five or so years into running the rides at Library-land, and I don’t usually call myself a librarian.  Instead, I say I work at the library.

I might not carry the cool label, but I do know a thing or two.  One thing is that books about occupations are usually kind of boring if Curious George is not involved. Tinyville Town might be a little predictable, but there’s some fun in its mildly snarky illustrations.  And this is my new favorite book for librarians, although it might be nice if a few female librarians were in it, too.  Six years ago, the American Library Association said that 83% of librarians were women. I totally get working a little diversity into the mix on gender roles, but I want to see what Tinytown’s female librarian looks like, too. Like me, maybe?  Just a thought.

I am a Librarian (Tinyville Town) by Brian Biggs

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Pigeon. Pete the Cat. Llama Llama. The election is over.


So here we are.  It’s happened.  Pigeon has won the presidency.  Hide the keys to the Presidential bus.

Pete the Cat was just too laid back.  “It’s alllllll good,” he kept saying.  Llama Llama just couldn’t overcome the drama drama.  Pigeon, meanwhile, was racking up a number of questionable votes — why did that whole stack have EXACTLY the same X in exactly the same spot?  Why did unmarked ballots keep disappearing off the end of the counter?

Still, it’s a democracy, people.  Good luck, Pigeon, with all that messy governing you’ll have to do.  Good luck.


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Public libraries. Discuss.

chicken picYou might be asking yourself if this is just an excuse to post a funny chicken picture. Hmmm.  Read on, my friend, and the truth will be revealed.

Even before I began working in one as an adult, I’d had a history with libraries. Some of my earliest memories are of the Saturday mornings I spent in the children’s room at my local library, trying to quickly find ten books – my weekly limit – so that I’d be ready when Mom said it was time to head home. Later on, I worked in the high school library as an aide, putting things away, checking things in, moving books here and there, appreciating the break from multiple choice tests and pages of math problems.

In college, I passed many hours in the college library reading rooms, sometimes working at the big tables under the murals from the 1930s, sometimes collapsed in an arm chair. During my 2+ years as a full-time volunteer, I helped shepherd groups of kids to story times at the old library. Grad school meant more hours in study carrels and reading rooms, as well as hunting down references in the government documents for a professor writing a book on banking. Once in a while, I’d go to the public library there for a change. And then, when I worked with kids again, we went to programs and did summer reading challenges in between trips to the pool and park and other things. After my son was born, I added on regular trips of my own again, checking out stacks of books, both for him and for me.

And then, a friend who worked at the library suggested I think about it for myself, either as a volunteer or to work there. I did volunteer, making story time kits, sorting summer reading prizes, and wearing a mascot costume. I eventually began working as a substitute, later a library assistant.

Libraries look much different from this side of the desk. To some of our patrons, it’s still a place to go for quiet or to find books, magazines, DVDs or CDs. To others, it’s a place to find information – family obituaries, high school yearbooks, the phone number to that company you want to contact. We still have story times for little ones and author programs for adults, and many other things for everyone in-between.

It’s a strange place to be some days, however. You get the person who’s angry we don’t have free paper copies of the tax forms they need – even the IRS office here doesn’t do that. You see the people who say they haven’t been in a library for twenty years and seem surprised we even exist anymore – often they don’t have any idea you can download magazines, audiobooks and ebooks and do all kinds of research through the website. There are the retired folks who are still reading – we still have westerns and inspirational books in addition to the latest steamy romances, literary fiction, and mysteries. Teens come in after school to hang out or use the computers or find the latest in the series they’re into now. There are little ones playing with the puppets or at the train table, stay-at-home moms and dads looking for a tv series on DVD, the newcomer to the U.S. who’s trying to learn English or get citizenship or study for the ACT.

Because it’s a place for everyone, you get everyone. We see people from the shelter up the street, the kids in treatment, the guy who doesn’t use computers but needs to apply for a job online, the mentally ill who are on their own, the disabled who come in with helpers, the lonely people who are looking for a social connection. We also see businesspeople, workers, truck drivers, artists, writers, parents, and people studying for firefighter and nursing tests or the Armed Forces entrance exam. Many wonderful people come in our doors and thank us for finding that book with the red cover they read when they were a kid which they’d like to share with their grandchild. Others download pay stubs with our help or find a friend from long ago. It’s mostly good most of the time.

But inevitably, there are also the people who get mad about fines from ten years ago, because they never would have checked out that book, even though the birthdate, address and ID number match. There are the people who smell so strongly of alcohol, urine, cats or whatever that you can track them from forty feet away. There is the one who smears feces on the wall of the public bathroom. And the teens who swear and yell and then are surprised when we ask them to leave, because they’ve somehow always understood they can do absolutely whatever they want, anytime, anywhere, and it’s a public place, right?

We see people who say obnoxious things to us, or tell us it must be nice to have such an easy job where no one expects you to do anything, or think we’re part of the conspiracy against them. Once in a while, they might leave a trail of poop on the floor and still head straight over to the computers and log onto the internet, as if nothing untoward has happened. Or they might return a book which their dog has chewed up, their coffee has spilled on, they’ve dropped in the tub, or maybe their kid marked up with a Sharpie without mentioning anything about it, later denying they had anything to do with it. (We once had a person claim that the water damage to a book must have been done by the person before them and the book was still wet when we got it back.) There is that guy who takes all of his cellphone calls and talks so loudly that everyone in the library can hear him, instead of using the lobby like we ask. There are the parents who don’t supervise their kids and then get mad at us when we explain to their kids (and them) that it is not a safe place to play chase or hang off the stairwell or throw trains at each other. Like everywhere else, there is a lot of bad behavior going on. People just don’t usually think it happens at a library.

Still, I try to come back to the people who come to my writing group and share their poems or novels or life stories about their trained chickens.  (The chickens did not actually wear sweaters as far as I know, but the picture above somehow fit.) There are great teen volunteers who help out during summer reading, and others in the community who do their part in other ways. I regularly have patrons who come in to tell me about a book they’ve read which they think I would love – or a movie, or a CD or a graphic novel. Sometimes they’re only 6, but already have strong opinions about their books already. Sometimes they’re in their 90s and are just happy to have found another great read.

It’s hard to remember the kindness and laughter when someone is almost yelling at you or accusing you of being a CIA operative, but at the library, it’s all just part of the whole.

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lemoncello-olympics-200Book nerds love making connections. Really, who doesn’t enjoy bringing together different things they love into something joyful? Maybe you like fly fishing and great literature – can you find a poem that fits your mood perfectly when you’re out on the stream on a fine day and the fish are hungry? Yes! Maybe you favor gardening and baking – can your squash become a chocolate dessert? It can!

It doesn’t always work, though, which is why sequels to books like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library make me a bit nervous. Escape was quirky and goofy, an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, complete with wacky Mr. Lemoncello who sought out book and puzzle lovers to bring some joy to a new library. There were puzzles, lots of them, and mentions of favorite books, and kind words about librarians.

So, although my son grabbed Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics as soon as he saw it and didn’t give it up until he was done, I wasn’t initially convinced. Then, 48 pages in, I came across my favorite Neil Gaiman quote ever in a rebus, and really, that’s all it takes for me. I don’t know if that’s an exceptionally low standard or a high one, but throw in my favorite Neil Gaiman quote and a puzzle, and you’ve got me at page 48. Sure, the story is action-packed. Yes, there are mysteries and bad guys, snobs and ethical choices, mistakes and community-building. All of that is fun. But the love of books and libraries, the puzzles, and the true friends? All liowabrarians dig that stuff.

rebus lemon

Can you figure out my rebus? Part of it comes from the book – all credit to CG for working a brain into “librarian”. The solution? THIS BOOK IS FUN FOR LIBRARIANS.   Perhaps not as creative as working in Neil Gaiman, but true, so true.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

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Fangirl at 102

play pauseI have a special fondness for V. She’s one of my homebound patrons, and she’s had a library card since she was seven and could walk the block to the library on her own. That was in 1920, by the way.

Visiting V is always filled with little surprises. One day we talked about her grandfather, who served on the Union side in the Civil War. Other times, she’s talked about her many years working for the local school district. She’s got funny stories about most of the men for whom the local schools are named. The other day, I found out that a relative of hers was involved in the Norwegian resistance during World War II. You never quite know where you’ll end up.

V is a lifelong reader and book lover. In the last few years, her eyesight has made it hard to read, so she “reads” through books on CD. She’s a Jan Karon fan, so she’s heard all the books in the Mitford series, and she frequently rereads those which are brought to life by John McDonough. I searched out other books he’s read which we’ve got in the library collection, and from Snow Treasure to presidential biographies, she’s loved them all. “I know I’m a traitor to my sex,” she’ll say, “but I just prefer the male voice, especially his. He’s really the best.”

One of her nephews knows she’s partial to John McDonough, so when the new Jan Karon book was coming out in September, he made sure to send it to her as soon as it was released. When I stopped in to drop off some new books this week, V explained that she was way behind on her reading. That new John McDonough is so good that she’s had to listen to it a few more times. Work, work, work.

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