Monday, November 30, 2009


Munster branch, Ottawa Public Library, housed in the heritage building of the former St. Stephen's Anglican Church, 1886.

In the beginning, was the word....

I grew up the daughter of two Anglican priests. For much of my childhood (9 up), I was raised by my mother, who served in parishes suburban and rural. It's only recently that I've gained enough perspective on those times, from a "professional" point of view, to think concretely about how much I learned, and why I work the way I do, based on what I observed during that time in my life.

I'm not going to get into what else I observed, besides work culture and professional attitudes, because, um, that's a whole other story. I will say that I certainly saw the best and the worst of human nature and human behaviour. The rest is for another day, my pretties.

Recently, however, I was thinking about the similarities between the profession my parents chose and the profession I have chosen. My mother organised a Fall Speakers' Series at her parish (scroll down to Wednesday here) and it reminded me so distinctly of some ideas I have had for Rideau Branch that it sparked a whole train of thought in my head. Sometimes, whether calling on local experts to give public talks on a subject, or unplugging the toilet because no one else is there to do it, I have to blink to remind myself we're not in the same profession.

Granted, some initial observations are obvious. The priesthood, and librarianship, can both be considered to be vocations. Both are "trusted" and - in most cases!- non-partisan voices. Both are service professions that work under a shared set of values and principles, rather than under the banner of commercialism or profit (um, ideally, anyway). Both think the written word is pretty much paramount (click here for reasons why church is like a book club). Both like rules a lot (you know I'm only half joking!) This has been discussed elsewhere, most notably in Sacred Stacks (see also the May 2006 issue of American Libraries).

I was struck, however, by the extent to which, at least if you narrow my field to public librarianship, our organisational structures are often similar, and how our organisations work on a very similar grassroots community level. I think a lot of what I seem to know intuitively about this work comes from observing my mother do similar work during my childhood and youth.

Both the diocese and the library have "central control" units (a diocese, a director, a governing board), with different departments branching out from there. Some of these departments are in individual communities, outposts where things might work a little differently than the norm, or things have worked a certain way for years. These outposts are staffed by people who may rotate (Markham Public is rotating staff on a 3-year basis! Priests are called to different parishes every few years! Compare and contrast that with your library....). Those professionals staffing those departments in individual communities may also serve on central committees, allowing them to socialise and share ideas with colleagues working for the same organisation but separated by sometimes a great geographical distance. This is something I never underestimated, watching my mum traipse in from Bedford to attend council and Synod. The conversations, and resolutions passed, may be to your liking or not, but the benefits (sharing with colleagues, lunching with friends, trading ideas and supporting each other) outweigh the drawbacks (the cost, the commute, dealing with the difficult people). I'm so glad I learned that, and the lesson has served me well when working in smaller libraries, or in new communities, when you need that professional connection as a touchstone to ward off becoming stale, and desperate.

Back in the outposts, within individual communities, is where the real work gets done, of course, by the community librarian and the parish priest. The organisation often survives on "word of mouth" recommendations in the commmunity (I have seen people leave a parish or a library branch when a new priest or librarian comes along!). The day-to-day small battles, on the ground, in the community, help win the war and foster a positive impression of the profession as a whole.

Each community has its own subset of values, and may feel differently about aspects of the service that "make or break" an individual's experience in the environment. This can be crucial: professionals might not last too long in an environment that isn't a good fit for them. In churches, some of these values might include strong opinions about architectural space ("I can't worship in that modern monstrosity!" or "Ugh, that old Gothic building is cold!"), types of music, appropriate places for children, volunteer spirit and involvement, use of formal or informal language; in libraries, some of the same stand: people are certainly drawn to a certain library because of architecture, some even going out of their way to keep the same home branch after their -actual- home has moved. What is the appropriate place for children? How much do you rely on your staff and incorporate volunteers? Music may not be a factor in libraries, but noise and how you deal with it certainly is!

There is also a significant importance placed on involvement in community life and development of partnerships in both organisations. I grew up accompanying my mother on various "outreach" visits: to homes, seniors' residences, community groups, picnics, schools and so on. I certainly don't do home visits, but I did spend a summer responsible for shut-in service, which is comparable. Outreach (however you interpret it) is key in both professions: it shows respect for and willingness to value input from marginalised populations and groups, spreads the word about services, and, as an added bonus, it raises your street cred (see? Now, you must admit, neither librarians or priests are known for that, usually!)

Some of the more problematic characteristics that both professions share include a certain sense of comfort dealing with the under 6s and the over 50s. The flip side of this, of course, is that neither of us have done a very good job of relating to, or being relevant to, youth, young professionals and families, and those in their 40s. Yes, yes, you could argue for the evangelicals, or for the libraries that seem to espouse that evangelical zeal (I am not naming names. I'm not here to criticise what might be over-the-top, selling-your-soul-to-Satan, marketing). Overall, though, both groups are, frankly, somewhat wary of these populations and have a tough time meeting their needs under the confines of what they consider service to the community.

Maybe what we consider service has to change a little bit, or, at the very least, we need to start hiring people who actually care about the needs of these groups. Our own professional demographics could also stand to be tipped in the same direction (what's that # again? 50% of librarians are over 50? Seen many younger priests around in positions of authority, either? Didn't think so).

While we're on the topic of hiring for our community's needs, let's talk public speaking. Neither librarians or priests went into the profession thinking, great, this is really a place for me, since I love giving speeches on a weekly basis! Yet we find ourselves giving elevator speeches to community organisations we want to partner with, or meeting with groups as diverse as city councillors and teen mums, talking about library programs and services, or giving booktalks and leading book clubs, and it's not that different from a parish priest going to a local school or giving a weekly sermon, and we catch ourselves thinking, how did we get into this, again? Both fields need to attract, encourage, and actively recruit great speakers, strong voices, passionate defenders. And, if you're working in a parish or leading storytime, a good singing voice or some skills on the guitar wouldn't hurt, either.

All joking aside, there are some real connections between these two fields, and a lot we can probably learn from each other in (equally) troubling times for our professions. On a more personal level, my mum certainly modeled good professional behaviour in any situation, and committment to a vocation, and that has influenced me a lot and probably made me the librarian I am today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Linkage of the day

  • Excellent post and interesting comments on Re:Generations blog about dressing to impress. I agree with she who said she dresses not just for others, but for herself. I also agree with those who write they dress to not be mistaken for students. I also must say, jeans, to me, are never appropriate at work... but I'm funny that way. Final editorial comment: one of my first mentors took me aside when I got my first (temporary) full-time job (at circ, mind!) to say: dress the part. Dress the part, and patrons will treat you differently. And she was right.
  • LoC opens new area for the rugrats. Various linkage to be made here.... Official kiddy website here. Pick yer poison.
  • I like saying linkages. Tee hee. I also just kicked a migraine, so I am going away now....

Friday, November 20, 2009

RA in a day: Genre Talks: Narrative Nonfiction Readers' Advisory

The second, and last session I attended at RA in a day was one in which I participated, “Genre Talks: Narrative Non-Fiction with members of the RA Committee.” The description for the session was that we would “blitz the room covering a variety of non-fiction genres, focusing on the appeal of each for the reader and book-talking a few examples;” I like to think of it as speed-dating your non-fiction collection. Members of the committee really did move from table to table, giving an intro to a specific nonfic genre and 5 core Canadian titles in that genre. Here are some notes…

Traditionally, we have viewed our role as readers' advisers to include mostly fiction recommendations. If we did recommend non-fiction, it was strictly by subject headings. Our booklists were fiction only, or, if they were non-fiction, they were called bibliographies and offered nothing in the way of annotations or evaluative reviews; God forbid we should mix the two and have a booklist with both fiction and non-fiction recommendations on it! Popular professional opinion tended towards thinking that there was no fertile ground for RA in non-fiction – patrons could simply search using the catalogue’s headings, and find what they wanted, and the concept of appeal factors being applied to non-fiction was unthinkable.

Then there was a shift! Now we’re talking about abolishing Dewey in some public library non-fiction collection, books have been published, and NoveList is including non-fiction in NoveList Plus! More recent developments that include non-fiction within RA include the development of reading maps, and OPLA’s Readers’ Advisory Core Competencies including non-fiction in its definitions of collection knowledge (defined as an “understanding of, and familiarity with, the depth and breadth of materials and resources in the branch and/or system, including material in all formats and media, both fiction and non-fiction”).

We began to realize that subject headings weren’t always adequate: they did nothing to characterize non-fiction using appeal factors or account for the power of narrative, they were often so specific as to be utterly useless in making connections to other texts, they sometimes didn’t link titles in a non-fiction series, and they sometimes didn’t list nonfiction award-winning books.

We also began to realize that authors aren’t as prolific in nonfiction, and they often write about completely different topics, making for bad read-alikes! Non-fiction reading, much more than fiction, lends itself to dipping in and out of texts; as librarians, it can sometimes be difficult for us to embrace the idea that not everything needs to be read cover to cover. We also began to differentiate between mediums or types (graphica, essay, humour, letters, memoir) and genres.

In other words, in our profession, there are various barriers to nonfiction RA service: our own reading limitations, our collections and the way they are arranged, and even our patrons (they know to come to us for subject search and fiction recommendations, but not necessarily recreational non-fiction reading suggestions).

With respect to appeal factors for narrative non-fiction, there are overlaps with fiction appeal factors, but many appeal factors for nonfiction are unique. Kenneth Shearer (in Burgin) makes the point that nonfiction and fiction exist on a continuum, a “textual terrain” – are all nonfiction books completely true + factual? (Think: Frey!) Many advance a point of view, or offer a comforting perspective. Neal Wyatt adds to the traditional appeal factors these, for narrative nonfiction: detail, learning/experiencing, language, setting and tone. Why do people read nonfiction? Vickie Novak (in Burgin) lists some reasons: to indulge our curiosity, for the suspense of real-life stories, to bring meaning to our own experiences, because of a personal/emotional connection with a particular subject, to be inspired, to make history come to life, to learn something, to be transported, to live vicariously!

Now, here’s the giant stumbling point for librarians: we often recommend nonfiction based on subject, not appeal!

Here are some suggestions to market nonfiction in your library:
  • Have nonfiction stickers like fiction stickers for specific genres
  • Use shelf talkers
  • Create displays
  • Promote nonfiction reading lists on your library's website, and in reading guides and reading maps
  • Practice whole collection RA!
And now, here are the various titles we promoted during our speed-dating sessions:

Genre #1: Travel, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Never shoot a Stampede Queen: a rookie reporter in the Cariboo by Mark Leiren-Young
  2. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas
  3. Fantasy in Florence: Leaving Home and Loving it by Rod McQueen
  4. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson
  5. Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage, edited by Katherine Govier
  6. Upcoming title: Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly; Toronto: Random House, 2009.
Genre #2: Sports, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Searching for Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt
  2. Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini
  3. 100 Greatest Canadian Sports Moments by James Bisson
  4. Inside the Olympics by Dick Pound
  5. Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, by Mark Tewksbury
Genre #3: History, five core Canadian titles:
  1. More Than an Island: A history of the Toronto Island by Sally Gibson
  2. Tip of the Spear: An Intimate Account of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion, 1942-1945, A Pictorial History By Lieutenant-Colonel Bernd Horn and Michel Wyczynski
  3. Holding Juno: Canada’s Heroic Defence of the D-Day Beaches: June 7-12, 1944. By Mark Zuehlke.
  4. The Battle of the St. Lawrence: The Second World War in Canada, by Nathan M. Greenfield.
  5. Battle of the Atlantic. By Marc Milner.
Genre #4: Adventure, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Beyond the sky and the Earth: a journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
  2. Fatal Passage: the untold story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer who discovered the fate of Franklin by Ken McGoogan
  3. The Riverbones: stumbling after Eden in the jungles of Suriname by Andrew Westoll.
  4. Rowboat in a hurricane: my amazing journey across a changing Atlantic by Julie Angus.
  5. Starting out in the afternoon: a mid-life journey into wild land by Jill Frayne.
Genre #5: Current affairs, five core Canadian titles (this one's my category, so send your complaints to.....! Also, I am aware of the fact that I went totally left-wing with that. I suggested to my audience that you do a left/right display ... depends on how you feel about library fistfights, I guess... We also had a really interesting conversation about RA for this genre that goes against, um, your own political leanings!):
  1. Blue covenant: the global water crisis and the coming battle for the right to water by Maude Barlow
  2. The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change by Irshad Manji
  3. Future: tense: the coming world order by Gwynne Dyer
  4. No logo: no space, no choice, no jobs: taking aim at the brand bullies by Naomi Klein
  5. Race against time by Stephen Lewis
Genre #6: The arts, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Crean, Susan. The Laughing One: a journey to Emily Carr.
  2. Friedrich, Otto. Glenn Gould: a life and variations.
  3. McMichael, Robert. One Man’s Obsession.
  4. Nadel, Ira B. Various Positions: a life of Leonard Cohen.
  5. Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood starting out.
  6. Two more “Can’t Miss” titles: David Gilmore's The Film Club: a true story of a father and son, and Carol Shields' Jane Austen.
Genre #7: Cooking and food, five core Canadian titles:
  1. The 100-mile diet: a year of local eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon
  2. Apples to Oysters: a food lover’s tour of Canadian farms by Margaret Webb
  3. Anita Stewart’s Canada by Anita Stewart
  4. The complete Canadian living cookbook
  5. Fat: an appreciation of a misunderstood ingredient, with recipes by Jennifer McLagan
Genre #8: Health, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Lives in the Balance: nurses’ stories from the ICU edited by Tilda Shalof
  2. The Man Who Forgot How to Read by Howard Engel
  3. The Doctor Will Not See You Now: the autobiography of a blind physician by Jane Poulson
  4. Cockeyed, by Ryan Knighton
  5. Scurvy: how a surgeon, a mariner, and a gentleman solved the greatest medical miracle of the age of sail by Stephen R. Bown
Genre #9: Memoirs, five core Canadian titles:
  1. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
  2. A Journey of Days: relearning life’s lessons on the Camino de Santiago by Guy Thatcher
  3. Small Beneath the Sky: a prairie memoir by Lorna Crozier
  4. Not Yet by Wayson Choy
  5. Pathologies: a life in essays by Susan Olding
Genre #10: Science, five core Canadian titles:
  1. First Principles: the crazy business of doing serious science by Howard Burton
  2. Slow Death by Rubber Duck: how the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health by Rick Smith, Bruce Lourie and Sarah Dopp
  3. In Bad Taste: a quest for the world’s most exotic foods by Massimo Marcone
  4. World In Six Songs by Daniel Levitin
  5. Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex by Mary Roach
Genre #11: True crime, five core Canadian titles:
  1. Schroeder, Andreas. Fakes, Frauds and Flimflammery; even more of the world’s most outrageous scams.
  2. Vallee, Brian, Torso murder: the untold story of Evelyn Dick.
  3. Vallee, Brian. Edwin Alonzo Boyd: the story of the notorious Boyd gang.
  4. Miller, Orlo. The Donnellys Must Die.
  5. Siggins, Maggie. A Canadian tragedy: JoAnn & Colin Thatcher: a story of love and hate.
(Man. When I look at this, it amazes me how much work we did. I have excluded here our intros to each subgenre and our annotations - if you really want them, e-mail me. Meanwhile, YAY team!)

Selected resources:
  • Baker, Sharon L. and Karen L. Wallace. The Responsive Public Library: How to Develop and Market a Winning Collection.
  • Burgin, Robert (ed.) Nonfiction readers’ advisory.
  • Sarah Statz Cords. The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests
  • Wyatt, Neal. “Working with nonfiction enriches readers' advisory and offers your readers more.” LJ Series "Redefining RA": Exploring Nonfiction. Library Journal, 2/15/2007.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I don't know how we all sleep at night

When I moved to Ottawa in 2006, I was astounded at the levels of poverty, homelessness and drug abuse in my neighbourhood. Much has been written or reported about homelessness in Ottawa:
  • 7,045 people stayed in emergency shelters in 2008.
  • There was a 13% increase in use of shelter beds in 2008 (both via).
  • Our city has a Community Action Plan on Homelessness.
  • CTV W5 report entitled Capital Shame (can be watched here).
Let me be clear: there are many things I love about this city (Isobel's cupcakes, the canal, sunset over the Rideau Falls, Lac Leamy). That being said, I am, frankly, ashamed to live here, ashamed that we, as residents, allow this situation to continue, and, in fact, to worsen. Things I have observed/experienced since moving here:
  • Drug trades in broad daylight
  • My friend was asked if she was a prostitute while walking to work (before 9 am)
  • Dirty, bloody needles on the streets near my house and near local schools
  • People shooting up
  • Lots and lots and lots and lots of drinking, enough to put me off drinking outright some days.
Things I have learned about:
  • Needle exchange programs
  • Signs that someone has smoked crack (sores on their face, like really bad acne, caused by smoke)
  • How to wake up someone who is dead asleep or passed out on the street/at work (reach your leg out and tap the back of their knee; that way, if they lash out, your leg is behind theirs instead of in front, where you can get whacked)
  • Homeless children and teens
  • Shelters for those who have been kicked out of all the other shelters for violent behaviour.
  • Events like this, and groups like the Ottawa Leadership Table on Homelessness (thanks, Kate, for the link)
  • SCAN legislation (in progress)
Needless to say, I am no longer "bothered" by being asked for money every twenty paces when walking in the Market. For one thing, I take the sound advice of a Centre 454 staff member, who told me she never gives anyone money because "there are just too many places they can go in the city." I am, however, utterly horrified, and deeply, deeply saddened, to cross paths every day with people who live lives of such utter desperation. I have debated with women smoking crack in the washroom at my workplace. I have offered to take the drunk, weeping man outside on Rideau St. to the Mission. I have given money, once, tearfully, to a girl my age crouched alone at the corner of Sussex and Rideau (across from Chateau Laurier). Too many times, I have stopped and watched people: are they going to get hit crossing the street? Are they going to be preyed upon by that group at the corner? Are they going to get out of that fight with their john in one piece? Are they really OK sleeping there?

Part of me thinks we should all just stop what we're doing, permanently, for as long as it takes to make this city better. That's it: nothing I do in my daily life could possibly be as important as ending this suffering. I make this tenuous link to education, and literacy, lifting people up and giving them one path out of the lives they are currently living, but I don't entirely believe it sometimes. Sometimes, it's just about a safe place to sleep. I know that many of the people I pass on the street have a list of attendant issues: unemployment, addictions, histories of being abused, criminal activity, mental health issues. Believe me, I have seen most of it walk through the solid oak doors of my workplace.

There are so many organisations in this city to help people going through rough times: the boon, and also the curse, is that they are all in one neighbourhood (it happens to be mine, but whatever). The point is, what is the use in creating a ghetto? Many people I talk to, who come to my workplace to get away from these enclaves of misery, say that they have trouble getting back on their feet in this neighbourhood: their dealer, their drinking buddies, or whomever, are simply waiting for them on every streetcorner. How can they escape the lifestyle?

All this literally in the shadow of Parliament, a few blocks away from monuments celebrating heroic Canadians. No sign of heroism in Parliament for these people: the only heroes I see are my staff, making friends with the regulars, and the staff at the Mission, Center 454, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, and so many others.

I have trouble really enjoying Ottawa, or enjoying the grandeur of the city. I find I am mostly thinking about who's out on the street near my house, especially in the dead of winter, and why no one is doing anything about it. Until the W5 piece (in which they do a good job of putting politicians on the spot, and getting nowhere), no one was talking about it outside of Ottawa. Frankly, no one's talking about it within Ottawa. It's been two years since our mayor called the homeless "pigeons," and I've seen Police Chief Vern White making a concerted effort to change the Market, and there are some plans to construct housing on Merivale (non-Ottawan readers: that would be outside the ghetto in my 'hood - rejoice!), but nothing from O'Brien (OK, well, except this, but that's really all).

We should be doing more. I should be able to sleep.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too geeky to miss out on...

A spreadsheet of all the "Best books of the year" lists. Love it!

RA in a day round-up (finally!)

Here, finally, are my notes....!

Our first session was "Blogging books and blogging at your library," about the process of blogging. The first speaker was George Murray, editor, poet and founder of Bookninja blog and e-magazine. George talked about his average day and the process of blogging for him: he admitted to being rather obsessive about checking news sources (he reads 10-15 newspapers a day, never mind how many blogs he checks). He generally reads the news and opens various tabs in his browser with articles he wants to go back to, or things he wants to post about. He also says he is obsessive about posting on Bookninja. He underlined the importance of posting every day, suggesting that this is where you can really gain and maintain a following. He pointed out that people who aren't using a feedreader to access your blog posts are going to the site: if they don't see anything new, they won't bother coming back. He stressed that consistency, reliability and personality are all key for a blog: consistency in the timing of your posts (when and how often), reliability in the content of your posts (you should post the same type of news), and personality in the voice of your blog. A tip about developing that personality: write as if you're talking to someone, even though there is no one in the room with you when you write!

George also talked about the history of Bookninja, its following (which he credits, in large part, to the Bookninja personality, which he has underlined in conversation with me is not actually him!), and reader involvement in the blog. He talked about the variety of feedback he receives through the comments on the blog (he says you're guaranteed good traffic on a post about either Stephen Harper or Margaret Atwood!). He also mentioned that, despite the Bookninja persona's rather irreverant tone, he has never been dragged into court over anything, although he may have made some enemies (he stressed this is not a tone that we, in a library blog, have the luxury of taking!).

Random add-in comment: George came up with the best explanation I’ve heard of for Twitter: it’s like an online bulletin board, or a latter-day telegram!

The second speaker was Jackie Sasaki, a.k.a. "Muffy" from Ann Arbor District Library’s blog, and the author of their “Fabulous Fiction Firsts” feature. AADL has blogs set up for everything from gaming to exhibits, events, and software development (see here for a complete list of AADL blogs). They have both “categories” and “subject genres” for each post, and can add images using the record # in their catalogue or the ISBN. They have a category for “series” posts, such as Jackie’s “Fabulous Fiction Firsts,”, and they even have a category for posts that promote their foreign language collections (these posts are written in the relevant language: so far, they are blogging in Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Russian). Jackie talked about the collaborative process of library blogging. In AADL, everyone, even a desk clerk, is required to blog; they also invite guest bloggers to write posts (eg. about local history). Jackie outlined their process for each post: titles, tags, links, login info. Interestingly, although each staff member has a login name, they all have the same password, so if Jackie has a typo in one of her posts, for instance, someone else can login and fix it for her. For the techies out there, AADL is using Drupal as a CMS. Posts to any AADL blog Jackie also had some great tips for websites to help your library find blog topics: she suggested everything from the local newspaper as a source of a blog post, to the website for information about books that are being made into movies, to blogging about community resources (unemployment being a popular topic of late…). She answered the question, “Why blog?” by saying that it’s good service, it increases patron participation in the library, it provides value-added content, promotes partners and develops partnerships, and is a “community-building” activity.

The second session of the day was a promotional talk by one of the sponsors of the day, Gale's Books and Authors database. All I have to say is, mmmmm... I am a sucker for Venn diagrams ... see page 4 of this.

We then took a lunch break. I ate at my poster session table! I didn’t get to visit many other poster sessions, but they included: Connecting with Readers in Library 2.0 (with Dawn Connolly, Book Buzz Librarian @ TPL), Book Club Sets (with Caitlin Fralick from Kingston Frontenac Public Library), Teen Book Clubs (with Debra Smith and Cindy Pomeroy-White; Children & Youth Services, Barrie Public Library), and One City, Many Stories (with Joanne Kraemer, Hamilton Public Library). Meanwhile, I co-presented a poster session about reading maps with my (former) colleague from Westmount Library, Lora Baiocco. We tried to tell our “story” of reading maps in Montreal and Ottawa. The library director at Westmount heard about maps at PLA in 2006 and brought the idea back to greater Montreal community librarians. A template was developed by the committee for use in their libraries; we brought examples of maps from Westmount, Cote St-Luc and Pointe Claire libraries from this time period. I then adapted the template for use in Ottawa when I moved here. Beyond the basics, I should say it was such a joy to work with Lora on this. Not only is she a talented librarian with a great eye for the visual design of both maps and poster sessions about maps, but working with her made me feel like my current and past library jobs were meeting, in a very collaborative way, in the t

Our lunchtime speaker was teen and adult fantasy novelist, Kelley Armstrong. She spoke about the writing process, and about the special challenges of being a writer who writes for both teens and adults (some bookstores shelve all her books together; what is appropriate content for what age; cross-over appeal, etc). She also read from The Summoning, the first volume in her latest teen series. Kelley also kindly autographed a book for one of my Algonquin students, who is a big fan.

The first afternoon session was entitled “Serving teens through readers’ advisory,” with Heather Booth, Teen Services Librarian at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, Illinois and author of Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory (ALA Editions, 2007). She talked about the importance of that “home run book” – the one that you may have read as a teen that stuck with you. “Kids that find that book,” she reminded us, “are readers,” and this, in turn, improves their scholastic attitude and achievement. She outlined the reasons teens read, grouping the reasons into three broad categories:
  1. Empathy: teens who read for empathy read for a shared experience, a personal connection with a book
  2. Mental vacation: sort of the opposite of #1! Teens who read for a mental vacation want to read something that will help them escape from real life.
  3. Information: These teens read to learn about a culture, an experience, a life, or a situation.
She emphasised how “What would you like to read?” may often be an alien question for teens; they spend much of their time being told what to read (by their school and/or by their families)… so it may take them awhile to articulate an answer, and they may need help identifying what they like about particular books (that whole appeal factor vocabulary!). Heather talked about the teen brain (the amygdala is running the show) and how that influences reading selection, not to mention how it affects an RA interview with a teen! She talked about other things that affect the RA interview with teens: they view us as authority figures, they have trouble with abstract thinking, they judge more based on plot, they have a shorter reading history (shorter lives!) so are sometimes less comfortable deciding on a good book. Heather recommended focusing on the teen, not the question they have, first: sometimes we are already running through optional answers and recommendations before the teen (or any patron, for that matter!) has stopped talking. Take a deep breath!

Heather’s advice: be specific with your descriptions of suggested books, be brief, and present options. One very concrete tip I loved: never hand teens books; they will take them out of politeness! Leave them on the edge of a shelf instead; they will not feel as pressured, and you can check which ones they didn’t pick later to “check” how your RA interview went! She also talked about tricky situations (homework help; RA by proxy, i.e. with parents, and faking it: when you haven’t read the teen books you are recommending).

Another tip: keep a binder of recommendations in your teen zone. The shy teens will appreciate it. For more information, check out the wiki for Heather’s book.

The second, and last session for the afternoon was one in which I participated, “Genre Talks: Narrative Non-Fiction with members of the RA Committee,” and I'm going to leave that summary for another day... It will be looooong!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Random news + madness!

Hey kids, I'll be in and out over the next few weeks, and may be limited to short posts comme celui-ci.

I'm dropping in today to say:
  • I secretly confess I watched the show (yeah, that's the girl from Dr. Who) that was based on (breaking news) this woman's life. Also, pretty courageous to come out with the fact that you were a call girl when your current job is, you know, "a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol."
  • I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling overwhelmed. Thanks to kindred spirit of the week, Girl About O-Town, for notifying me that Ottawa is getting its own Spacing blog!! Have you checked out the other ones (Montreal, Toronto, and more) ? They're great....
  • We've reached max. capacity (60-ish) for the room for this event next week that I'm organising. Which is fabulous, but I'm having recurring daymares that we won't have enough chairs.
  • What is American literature? What is Canadian literature? I'll pencil in my existential crisis, for, oh, say, sometime in late December. Sorry, folks, fully booked until then.
  • File under: feel my pain. The next few weeks will include: prep a lecture for library school students at Western (1 week away), write intro for the lovely Laura speaking at this, write up notes about RA in a day (for my boss, and also to post here!), spend $1000 before Dec 3o on author visits, finish buying teen zone furniture, plan Jan - May programming schedule, plan my Acquisitions course at Algonquin for Jan, pack for England, and attend a baby shower and a goodbye party. Oh, gee, I think that's it. There are big-picture items, too, but I'll spare you.
Over and out.......

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We are rich

It will not last, love will again be free:
There will be one who watches from this hill,
With rich contentment in his eyes, the grey
Flow of eternal afternoon one way,
The valley bindweed in his fingers still.

There will be one who from a drawer will take
Labour and heart's ease for the growing nights:
There will be one who kneels at hide-and-seek
Beneath the yews, too overcome to speak:
There will be lovers putting out the lights.

All will be selfish, weaving as did we,
The world they wish, the bright or dim cocoon,
The daring of the cosy ecstasy.
Sick heart, take comfort then; for there will be
All that there was: good days, though not our own.

For what's the difference, if those eyes that watch--
That hand that threads the needle by the flame--
Those hands that grope towards the flame and touch--
Are but the dream of wombs? They will be rich.
We were: they will be. It will be the same.

- Laurence Whistler, "It will not last." Poems of the War Years: An Anthology.
London: Macmillan and Co., 1950.

My grandfather, James Huntly Wilson,
December 22, 1945,
Enschede, Holland

Monday, November 9, 2009

The wall came down

"And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in,
And I say well I'm lucky, 'cause I am like East Berlin.
I had this wall, and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks,
And I could hear their radio.
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing,
And they'd know that I was scared,
They'd would know that I was guessing.
But the wall came down, and there they stood before me,
With their stumbling and their mumbling,
And their calling out just like me..."
- Dar Williams, "What do you hear in these sounds?"

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. Well, to be entirely accurate, the gates were opened and people were allowed to travel between East Berlin and Berlin without ID checks. The wall woodpeckers, chipping away at the Wall itself (or, as we all memorably saw on TV, smashing it with sledgehammers) came later.

On the same day, something of less global significance happened halfway around the world: my father died.

It takes every bit of courage I have to keep writing past that last sentence. I don't like to talk about this except with one or two people, and I have come to realise recently, more than ever, that my habit of "pushing things down" is not an entirely healthy one. Coupled with a significant anniversary (twenty years is, frankly, almost unfathomable), I decided that it was time to talk, if only to my (limited, let me tell you) subscribers. I feel an almost crushing need to share some stories on this anniversary, to mark the passage of time in a meaningful way.

I find myself mentioning my father more now, in passing, briefly, alluding to his jokes with my students at Algonquin ("What's the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?" "Well, one is in fulfillment of requirements to become a Phony Doctor.") I talk about his love of the theatre (his own phony doctorate was in English Lit, and his dissertation focused on the stage history of Romeo and Juliet - since I am spending waaaay too much time these days on Amicus, I would refer you to Amicus #s 85462, 6756158, and 10132599). I've explained to dozens of people how momentous my upcoming trip to England is, being the first time I have travelled there since the early 90s, and the first time I am spending with my father's family as a whole since the mid 80s.

Sometimes this is easy for me, and comes naturally, and sometimes it shatters me just to get a trivial memory out of my mouth. I know it's what I need to do, though; the more time passes, the more I realise that this is how someone lives on: in sharing those stories, those memories, with others. It's the best way to keep him alive for me, for my family and friends, for my students and work colleagues, none of whom he ever met.

I've recently understood how much of an introvert I am, and that there is nothing wrong with how I handled my father's death (although it's not a good way to, say, live a whole life). The tragedy made me withdrawn: for years, I didn't talk to anyone about him: I remember my mother bringing home those kids' books about grief (if I could recommend one that didn't exist at the time, it would be Michael Rosen's Sad Book, which made me weep openly at work a few years ago), trying to start the conversation, but to no avail. I remember my mum's friend and colleague Ros trying, in her kindness, to break the shell, and how I was so utterly mortified at her attempts. I felt like I didn't have the language to talk about it. I didn't miss a day of school, and carried my grief (selfishly) close to my heart.

It was only in high school that I made my first true best friend, someone I am privileged to still share a very wonderful friendship with. I felt comfortable talking to her, and so she was the first to hear how deeply I was still grieving. She and I observed the anniversaries of my father's death, and his birthday, by doing something together, whether it was as small as sharing a box of Smarties (my father had an outrageous sweet tooth). It was what I needed, and I am forever in her debt for creating the kind of relationship where, for whatever reason, I felt like I could talk.

I am indebted in many ways, also, to the Anglican community of Montreal. Lacking a larger extended family, I was able to see in them a collective memory bank. Many went out of their way over the years to tell me a story about my father, or simply to say they remembered him. Every time I see Ros (which, granted, is not that often) she tells me my father would have been proud of me. My mother is now serving as interim priest in the parish my father served in during the late 70s and early 80s. A woman came up to her recently, saying she had such fond memories of my father: she recalled how he welcomed her as a child, made her feel important, made her believe she could do and be anything. She told my mother that this acceptance and encouragement made her believe in herself, and years later, she remembered his compassion and generosity. I have had my issues with this community, over the years, but I have nothing but admiration for the ways in which they can rally around people in a time of need, and, in my case, for years afterward.

I am amazed at the sheer weight of grief: it is still there, every day, every week. There is hardly a week that goes by that I don't miss my father. Years ago, when downsizing, we gave away a number of his old books. Some ended up on the booksale truck at Westmount Library, when I was working circ. I was OK with the books going, but it was hard to be the person actually tallying up the sale. It was only when a father and daughter came in and bought a few that I thought, let it go. I still snipped out the edges of the endpapers, where my father had inscribed his name and the year he obtained the books, and spontaneously pocketed them. Two of these endpaper triangles are still in one of my suit jacket pockets, and when I reach in, I am comforted.

I am a librarian because my parents read to me, and I saw them reading, voraciously as a child. I am a librarian also because my mother took me to Westmount and Atwater Libraries, as well as to the Birks Reading Room and the Diocesan College Library at McGill (I was heartbroken to see Dio. sold last year). I am a librarian because my great-aunt bought me virtually every Nancy Drew book, from the original hardcovers to the Case Files. I am also a librarian because I saw ignorance and intolerance around me in my college and university years (anti-gay sentiment in church youth groups, religious hatred and incomprehension of my Muslim boyfriend at the time around 9/11) and I truly believe that education and literacy are the keys to stamping out intolerance in the world. But sometimes I think I really became a librarian when books, specifically those books, my father's books, became sacred to me. They were a link we could share beyond other, more permanent, boundaries.

So, in the spirit of those high school Smarties, I urge you to do something for me, today, to maintain that link. Big or small, it doesn't matter. Here are some ideas:
  • Sing or play the piano.
  • Eat some After Eights. My father convinced me to leave them for Santa because they were "his favourite."
  • Read some Shakespeare.
  • Tell a lame joke (my mother would likely recommend the one about the two skunks, In and Out. It involves a long, "Who's on first?"-style monologue, but here's the abbreviated version: In and Out got lost in the woods, and Out finally found In. When asked how he found his brother, Out says, "In stinked").
  • Smoke a pipe.
  • Write a funny limerick.
  • Use the phrase "back to you with knobs on!"
  • Play the "Frank's Trucking" game: yes, this needs explanation. You know, reverse the first letters or syllables of a phrase: go to the ost poffice to pick up your package, park in the larking pot, etc. Now figure out why Frank's Trucking is the classic example....
  • Move to a new country.
  • Change your life.
  • Change your student's lives.
  • Show compassion.
  • Be a leader who can be relied upon to support others and inspire them to greatness.
At the time of his death, my father was chaplain at the Royal Victoria Hospital and editor of the Montreal Churchman (now the Montreal Anglican, for, um, obvious reasons...). The last editorial he wrote was entitled "Too Many Armadillos." A poem about the compassionate, suffering Jesus seen in the Gospels, it talks about a Jesus who "sighs / and weeps / and rages. He is sometimes at a loss for words." My father writes,

They break his body
but not his spirit.
And I can identify with that.
I can accept a Saviour who has suffered,
and let go of pride, prestige, and self;
Never one who is invulnerable;
Never one who covers up the cracks, denies the earthquakes;
Never one who pretends to know it all.

People, priests and prelates alike
Do themselves no service when they act like the armadillo.
Who can relate to the armadillo
when there's hailstones and coals of fire falling about our ears?
Give me the Man of Sorrows;
the Jesus who said he felt forsaken!
Give me the Christ who was misunderstood.
His power, as stubborn Saul found out,
is "made perfect in weakness."
Not in covering it up,
Nor in pretending it doesn't exist.

Something I suspect I am often guilty of, in my personal life and perhaps even in my professional life. I hope I can do better. I tend to be very much of a "stiff upper lip" kind of person, which I think I thought was "admirable" until recently, when I realised that it can have some pretty awful side-effects for a person's development and self-awareness. I am trying to be more open, and this is my first genuine effort, here, kids. I think it's important to share this, both for myself, so that I can begin to be less of an armadillo, and for others, so that anyone stumbling on this post in their own grief might be comforted.

Now go out there and eat some chocolate.