Friday, December 31, 2010

Quotation of the day #9

Rather appropriate for NYE:

“We must always face finite disappointment, but with infinite hope.”

Top 10 of 2010

Well, this year was not the *most* eventful of my life (so far, that would be 2006, a year I would mostly like to wipe from my memory), nor was it a year for banishing ghosts of the past (2009, year of The Return To Ancestral Homelands For The First Time Since 1991) but it had its moments. The most wonderful Caroline convinced me to make this list for Facebook, and actually, I am so glad that I did, and so I am re-posting it here.

I am not really the type of person who is reflective on New Year's Eve, nor am I frankly the type of person to see the glass as half-full, but putting this list together made me appreciative of all the wonderful experiences I have been fortunate to have this year.

Below, a list of things that made 2010 truly memorable and amazing for me, in no particular order.

  1. Coming back to Rideau Branch in a new, supervisory role, and nurturing new partnerships in the community with groups serving marginalised populations, including the homeless.
  2. Running my first half-marathon.
  3. Discovering that a post on my blog was picked up by an Ottawa Citizen blogger (sorry, can't resist the linkage), and being mentioned in OttawaStart's Ottawa Blog Guide.
  4. Attending the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. A truly transformative experience which taught me a great deal about myself, and has blessed me with an entire network of remarkable librarians.
  5. Celebrating turning 30 twice: once with good friends over dinner at one of my favourite restaurants, and again with my rezlings in Niagara on the lake, the first of (hopefully) many rezling vacations!
  6. Going to the beach for the first time in my life (don't mock!)
  7. Speaking to a packed room of enthusiastic library technicians at the OALT conference in Hamilton, Ontario, capping off a round of speaking engagements about online RA tools (OLA and CLA talks were in 2009). Now, for the next chapter...
  8. Being present for milestones in the lives of people I love: Meeting the first rezling offspring (miraculous) and attending my high school best friend's wedding (moving).
  9. Starting the Digestive Librarians' Digest with Lora and Laura, blessing me with another (overlapping!) network of remarkable librarians ... who love to eat!
  10. Bearing witness to magnificent works of art: hearing Kathleen Battle at the NAC, and watching Richard III at Hart House Theatre.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quotation of the day #8

Part of a larger farming metaphor: “There are things you just have to plough under before they stink up and die!”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quotation of the day #7

With respect to recognizing employee achievement: “You can never over-recognise.”

Just a thought

If we want people to know what a librarian does, and we want people to be aware of our profession (and we're not ashamed of the word "librarian," which I know some of us are), why don't we include it in our titles? Most senior managers are just "Manager;" why not, "Managing librarian" or "Librarian Manager"?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quotation of the day #6

“There is no such thing as a bibliographic emergency!” (so slow down!)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quotation of the day #5

“Do something you believe in… Otherwise, for sure, you will get called on it at some point.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quotation of the day #4

“Don’t assume that an increase in satisfaction among employees will result in a decrease in dissatisfaction.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Quotation of the day #3

“Leadership hurts … but it should hurt.”

Favourite children's books of 2010

Picture books:

Over at the castle by Boni Ashburn - I'm quite fond of the song "Over in the meadow" and so when I saw this title released, I had to check it out. Not only is it an inventive, original variation on the tune, but it is genuinely very funny and has an excellent cast of characters to diversify a child's vocabulary. For instance (sing along with me now!) "Sauté," says the chef; "Flambé," said the six...or "Plan," says the prisoner, "We plan," said the five... (rats, that is, of course!). There is the requisite dragon in the tale, too, playing a very important role (and he is, if I am correct, the dragon from Ashburn's previous Hush, little dragon). Great for early grades still willing to listen to a story but old enough to begin to understand the setting. Wonderful illustrations.

Art & Max by David Wiesner - I love me some good art books for kids. This one is brilliant, and postmodern, and just plain strange. Serious artist Arthur is plagued with "beginner student" Max: a creative idea by the latter takes both lizards, um, artists, on a topsy-turvy journey through artistic influences such as surrealism and Pointillism. Dude won three Caldecotts. Not to be messed with.

The heart and the bottle by Oliver Jeffers - 52% of all children's books published in a given year involve a dead parent. Or at least it seems that way. This book is about the love between a little girl and her father: her father shares his wonder at the secrets of the world with her.
He always answers her questions. When we observe his chair empty one day, we know that he has died; we watch the girl be so bewildered by her grief that she takes out her heart and puts it in a bottle to keep it safe from further damage. Carrying it around, she is insulated from hurt, but also from seeing any real colour in the world; besides, it's really heavy (see right)! And so she decides to take it back out, .... but can't figure out how. *Warning: just reading the reviews of this book makes me cry.

Brontorina by James Howe - .. because how could you resist a brontosaurus who wants to be a ballerina? Gravity just isn't on her side. I love how the book manages to convey Brontorina's sheer size: on only several pages is she fully shown. Most pages just have half of her, or her neck or feet, displayed, with tiny ballerinas surrounding her, perplexed. Of course, the problem, you see, is not that Brontorina is too big; it's that the dance studio is simply too small.

My Dog is As Smelly As Dirty Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits by Hanoch Piven - Shout-out to Rideau patrons: this was "seen via patron hold." In other words, I was keepin' it real, as my uncle says, helping out shelving the holds, when I came across this title and reserved it for myself. It was a total hit with a local Grade 1 class. Using a children's drawing of his family as a starting point, the book explores what is *not* shown by the drawing: the child's mum, for instance, is "as soft as the softest FLUFF and as bright as the brightest LIGHT." The close-up of the mother is then transformed to include some fluff and a light bulb. Piven uses real household items to embellish the art in the book, and half the fun is in figuring out what he's used, and figuring out what *you* would use and what it would "say" about the person you atre illustrating. Talk about an underhanded way to introduce the concept of a simile to students! This book would also make a great starting point for a craft project... and of course an enterprising team of librarians has already beat me to it!

Middle grades:

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo - I blogged at length about this title back in October. It's a great early reader, because the text is simple and many nuances are conveyed in the rich illustrations. When I first used it for a booktalk, [kids, don't do this at home!] I was doing my prep last-minute and needed extra copies STAT, so I called a few branches to ask them to pop their copies in the inter-office mail to me. One of my favourite children's programmers answered the phone at one of the branches answered, and she had just finished using Bink and Gollie for one of her classes... Sure sign that we have a winner! A great story about friendship, differences, and compromise.

Layla, Queen of Hearts by Glenda Millard - File under: Books that make you cry at work. Third-grader Layla wants to take someone to "Senior Citizens Day" at school (seriously, where are these schools?) but her grandmother died awhile ago. Her best friend Elliot's wise grandmother suggests her friend Miss Amelie, an elderly woman in dire need of a friend. Elliot's grandmother explains that Miss Amelie has some trouble remembering things, but that isn't something to be afraid of. Layla and Elliot befriend Miss Amelie, and Layla especially becomes quite sensitive to both Miss Amelie's sorrows and her moments of real joy. A very light treatment of the perils of Alzheimer disease, in which Layla seems to intuitively understand how certain sticky situations can be sorted out, with the wisdom that children sometimes have.

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz - Fairies are vicious, and conniving, and pointy. This book delivers (finally, world!) a realistic fairy. Wait, did I just say, "a realistic fairy?" Oh well.... This book hearkens back to the classics of children's literature, those fairy tales and folk stories with devious little people battling real dangers. I was always a sucker for The Tale of Two Bad Mice and Thumbelina - tiny things fascinated me immensely. Our fairy heroine here is Flory, a young night fairy "no taller than an acorn" who is a little bit, let's face it, cocky; out flying one night, her wings are torn and she finds herself no longer able to fly. Awake, and stranded, during the day, Flory is forced to learn about the daytime world and its dangers (new to her): People! Different animals! Flory's resourcefulness and ferocity is admirable, but she is also pushy: she befriends a (truthfully, rather dull) squirrel named Skuggle, and essentially bosses him around to get her way. A delightful adventure story.


The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger - Thanks for the recommendation, Jess! 6th grader Dwight is essentially a loser, and frankly rather odd, until he crafts a Yoda figure out of origami and perches it on his finger. Origami Yoda spouts words of real wisdom, and soon students who once mocked or ignored Dwight are seeking Yoda's wisdom. How can Yoda be Yoda when Dwight is so ... strange? How is it that Yoda can even offer sound advice about Dwight's problems, advice which Dwight then ignores? Is the paper Jedi Grand Master for real? Dwight's classmate Tommy writes down Yoda's story in this book, gathering testimony from other students, to attempt to establish whether Origami Yoda is the genuine article.
*Want to make your own? Get folding instructions from the author here.

The Dark Deeps (Book 2 in the steampunk series, "The Hunchback Assignments") by Arthur Slade - This series is just great fun: adventure, with a dash each of history, science, romance, and espionage. Fourteen-year old Modo (yes, a hunchback), a British secret agent who was adopted by his boss, Mr. Socrates, at a young age, continues to pursue the agents of the evil Clockwork Guild. This time, his mission leads him on a submarine voyage to unravel the underwater mystery of something called the Ictíneo.

Watching Jimmy by Nancy Hartry - Watching Jimmy is the job of his best friend, Carolyn, even before Jimmy had a mysterious accident that left him with brain damage. What Carolyn knows about this "accident," and the implications for both Jimmy and his family, is revealed over the course of this deeply moving historical novel set in Canada in 1958. This is a story about single mothers, about war, peace, regret, loyalty, and health care (yes, Tommy Douglas makes a brief appearance). Winner of the 2010 CLA Book of the Year for Children Award (BOYCA), for which I am a judge.

Previous lists: 2009, 2008.

Felt Friday: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

A Felt Friday bonus: an entirely felt Christmas tree, seen in a department store in Toronto recently. This was a full-scale tree, by the way ... perhaps an ambitious project for me for 2011? Maybe a smaller version!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favourite teen books of 2010

So, funny story. I have sort of been reading fewer teen books this year. I was worried I was using them as an emotional crutch in life, a kind of lazy bibliotherapy. I actually didn't realise how much I had cut back until I ran a list in LibraryThing for YA2010 tags, and there were a pitiful 10 titles. Well, that makes a Top 10 list hard to write! So here's my top, um, 5.

Heist society by Ally Carter - Slight guilty pleasure. Carter is a pretty good writer, but she airs on the side of repetetive, sometimes. That being said, don't let the cover put you off this book: while it looks chick lit-y, it does have some serious art history in it. Katarina Bishop is tired of being involved in her father's art heist schemes, and enrolls herself in a private school; alas, her "vacation" from the family is short-lived, as her father ends up the prime suspect in a major heist that, ironically, he claims he didn't pull off. In an attempt to clear his name, Kat assembles a team of teen accomplices to retrieve the stolen art (which ends up being stolen Nazi art). Great descriptions of exotic locales, fancy espionage techniques... I really stick with Carter for the humour, though.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Captain Obvious, I know. The Hunger Games Trilogy was, in my mind, absolutely brilliant, and one of the most complex, disturbing teen titles to come out in a long time. I previously wrote about my anticipation of Mockingjay, the third and final book in the trilogy; in that post, I quoted an interview with Collins in which she described how her father told her stories about the war growing up. She said that "if the whole concept of war were introduced to kids at an earlier age, we would have better dialogues going on about it, and we would have a fuller understanding." Well, I think Mockingjay does that; the novel covers topics such as PTSD, child soldiers, media, and propaganda in an action-packed drama with real appeal to teens. Many meaningful links are drawn in all three books between Katniss' society, the ancient Romans (the candy-coloured buildings, the Latin phrase panem et circenses, or bread and circuses) and our modern age (media embedded with soldiers, the meld of performance, politics and battle - hey, we live in a world in which Stephen Colbert testifies - in character - in front of the Senate). Katniss is a tough girl to like, all right, but then so is any child soldier: she is selfish, and her relationships with those close to her (especially her mother) are forever marred by her experiences, and the choices she has had to make. Lots to chew on.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland - Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove is a (mostly) respectable Victorian girl, with some not-very-respectable ambitions: she wishes to be a doctor, like her father. After her father's unexpected death, her somewhat unorthodox interests, which had been tolerated by her mother and brother until then, are promptly dismissed. When Louisa objects, her family has her committed to Wildthorn Hall, a home for lunatic women, under an assumed name. Deprived of her very identity, and faced with inhumane treatment by nurses and doctors, Louisa tries to hang on to her sanity, and forge bonds of trust with other residents of the Hall. Wildthorn is inpsired by true stories of women who were incarcerated in asylums in the nineteenth century.

The secret fiend by Shane Peacock ("The Boy Sherlock," #4) - This series works for kids 10+, but I'm putting it here anyway. There is a lot of darkness in Peacock's Sherlock, and I think Sherlock's growing self-awareness, and control over his emotions, is better appreciated by a more mature audience. I've been a fan of the boy Sherlock since Book 1, which blew me away. Peacock has mastered a truly remarkable, unique voice in these books: they are taut, gritty, realistic, historically authentic, and also, at times, touching and tender. Future classics.

Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas - What is Haida manga, you ask? Haida manga is a hybrid art form that com­bines clas­sic Haida design and sto­ry­telling techniques with manga. I enjoyed this book a lot because it was so utterly unique. I don't read a lot of folk tales anymore, but the art in this book drew me in. I read a review in Quill and Quire, and was fascinated by the fact that Red was constructed as a single giant mural; in other words, if you put every page together, they compose a single artwork. Each double-page spread also has its own image (see this for an example). The story itself comes from the oral tradition of the Haida Gwaii, and features a young man, the titular Red, seeking revenge. A more eloquent review of the book, with more spectacular scans of the art, and a video, is here.

Previous "Favourite teen books" of the year on this blog: 2009, 2008.

Quotation of the day #2

“There is no freedom without boundaries.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Quotation of the day #1

“Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Favourite adult books of 2010

Why have I never done an adult top 10 list here? Who knows! Anyway, high time to start, I think!

(Children's and teens lists for 2010 are forthcoming)

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart - Beefeater Balthazar Jones and his wife mourn the death of their young son while Balthazar struggles to keep in line the new menagerie of animals at the Tower of London, and his wife seeks to re-unite items lost on the Tube with their owners. Some reviewers criticised this book for being too "cute;" I disagree. Maybe I feel things too keenly, but the Jones' grief was palpable throughout the novel, undercutting any cuteness with a sense of loss and emptiness. Really, lost things, people and animals was the main theme of this work for me: the human characters wrestle with isolation or hidden passions, the animals are lonely, needy or cantankerous, and objects devise a life of their own, independent of their owners. An utterly unique, complex novel.

Room by Emma Donoghue - So much has been written about Donoghue's novel this year. It's cutesy / it's creepy; it's sensationalist / it's subtle. I'm exhausted from the media coverage. I am a fan of Donoghue's other work (especially Slammerkin and the magnificent Life Mask), and I thought Room was an interesting departure for her. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to get through the book, or wouldn't enjoy it, because it covers such a horrible topic: the imprisonment of a young woman and her son in a single room, held there by an abusive man. I find I am much more inclined to "inhabit" a character in a novel, rather than a character seen on TV, so this is a far cry from watching Law and Order, say. The voice of 5-year old Jack, the narrator of the novel, did, however, ring true to me, and caught me from page 1. I couldn't put the book down, and I could hardly take a breath. I actually also quite liked the second part of the book, which happens outside of Room, as Jack calls their home; I thought it raised an interesting discussion about re-integration into society, and what makes humans social beings.

Three Junes by Julia Glass - Disclaimer: I am sort of cheating since this book was originally published in 2003. Previously briefly blogged about here; read based on recommendation by Caitlin. Maybe you'd be surprised to learn that I worry a lot about legacies: what we leave behind, who we leave it to. This book reassured me a lot: it's all about the friendships and connections we forge with other people, whether family or friends. Set during three summers, years apart, the novel follows three siblings (Fenno and his twin brothers) and their aging Scottish parents. Fenno, a gay man living in New York in the 1980s, provides the central perspective in the novel: he feels himself an outsider (in his own family and as a Scot in the United States): the non-twin, the homosexual, seemingly at odds with his father. Throughout the novel, Fenno learns secrets about his parents and brothers that help shape and change his opinions about them, and he begins to find his place in the world, and understand the contributions he can make to his family's lives.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn - I am a total closet architecture geek. This novel will perhaps always remain remarkable to me, in that it made me temper my hatred of Brutalism. Frank Allcroft, the novel's main character, is in the middle: he is a middle-aged television reporter for "Heart Of England Reports," a middle-England regional (not local, not national) news program. He is caught in the middle of a possible secret regarding the death of a former colleague, and is also caught in the middle between his daughter (reaching out for the future with both hands) and his mother (seemingly unable to move forward from a past filled with regret and depression). Meanwhile, the buildings his father, a brilliant but under-appreciated Brutalist architect, built, are being demolished; only one remains standing, as his city makes way for new construction and turns its collective back on the past.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith - Oh, Zadie. I do love you. I wish we were friends. I think we have a lot in common. A love of E. M. Forster, for instance. Smith writes about Forster in this collection of essays, literary criticism, and reviews. The Guardian called Changing My Mind "sparkling," the New York Times called it "quirky," the Globe and Mail called Smith a "maestro," and even said the essays "come together like a patchwork quilt." Changing My Mind is divided into five sections: the first, "Reading," is composed of critical essays about the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Joseph O'Neill, Tom McCarthy, E. M. Forster, Vladimir Nabokov and Roland Barthes. "Being" covers everything from Obama's oratorial style to the craft of writing; "Seeing" delves into film reviews, ranging from Spencer and Tracy classics to the more tepid rom-coms of the current day; "Remembering" focuses on the late author, David Foster Wallace. My favourite section, and I freely admit I am a sentimentalist, was "Feeling," a collection of three largely personal essays about Smith's family, especially her father. In the "Feeling" essays, she discusses family holidays, her father's wartime experiences (on D-Day: “So much experience that should be parceled out, tenderly, over years, came to my father that day, concertinaed into twenty-four hours”), and his love of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. Full disclosure: I skipped the 40-page essay about David Foster Wallace. I know, I know. He is on my to-read list; I just figured the essay would be more meaningful after I have read his work.

My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares - This book is the wildcard in the list; I confess I simply cracked it open because of Brashares' popularity. The premise of this novel is that we have past lives, and there are some people (not many!) who can remember some or all of these lives, either in part or in full. What these people do with this information, and how it affects their current life and experiences, varies. I'm surprised this book didn't get picked up a bit more for reviews; it's certainly a popular, melodramatic romance, but it has some thoughtful moments, also, including an examination of the controls we try to exert on our environment and our own personalities, what makes us ourselves, and what makes us human.

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki - 23 year old Asif Murphy's life hasn't turned out the way he intended it to....His mother's death leaves him in charge of his younger sister, Yasmin, who has Asperger's. That being said, Yasmin's life hasn't turned out the way she intended it to, either.... Asif, Yasmin and their other sister Lila each have secrets things about them that they think the other two will never understand. A surprising, touching novel.

The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins - Previously blogged about here. Just go and read that, already, so you too can learn about Japan's love of Shakespeare in puppet form, and the people who devote their lives to creating spreadsheets of every copy of the First Folio. I am secretly kind of in love with Paul Collins. He just can't write a bad book. What's up with that?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I know, over-discussed book of 2010... but actually very good. The New York Times review accused it of pushing readers' buttons, and indeed it does that, but not just that. This is certainly not the first book about racism I have ever read, nor the first about the African-American experience in the Southern U.S., but the fact that the action of this novel is set at a turning point in American history (1962) lends it a certain danger and urgency. It's astounding, all over again, how women were treated (white or black); it's incredible to witness the bravery of individuals in the face of collective ignorance, hatred and the mob mentality; it's powerful to hear about women bonding together in the face of adversity, and despite numerous barriers.

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole - A wickedly funny story about an entirely impractical woman who decides on one practical and meaningful act in her life: unfortunately, it's a series of homicides. Nominated for the Writers' Trust Award and recently reviewed in the Ottawa Citizen.

As mentioned above, there are no previous adult reads lists from this blog, but check out these Top 10 lists from my BiblioCommons account: Favourite adult novels of 2009, Favourite adult novels of 2008.

"All we can do is stand up for what we think is right"

Children's book author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons is proposing a day of protest against cuts to libraries in the UK. The Guardian reports the day of protest and "read-ins" would be in February 2011, the month when local councils finalise their spending decisions.

Monday, December 20, 2010

NELI reflections

I promised myself I would tell you all a bit more about NELI, and so now that I have (mostly) recovered, and re-integrated into society, here it goes.

I was at Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park, B.C. from December 2-7 for the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute, “an institute by and for Canada's library leaders,” a six-day program to which librarians can apply within 2-7 years of receiving their MLIS degree. 24 librarians exhibiting leadership potential are normally chosen; 36 attended this year’s Institute. NELI’s founder, Ernie Ingles, indicated this increased number of participants reflected the Institute’s response to the current crisis in library leadership, as baby boomers retire and there are not enough people to step into leadership roles.

NELI’s mission is “to motivate professional librarians in order to assist them in developing, strengthening and exercising their individual leadership abilities so that they are better prepared to create, articulate and achieve organizational visions for the benefit of library service, initially, and society at large, ultimately.” The Institute offers an “experiential and theoretical learning situation.” In order not to detract from the experience of future candidates, participants are asked to keep confidential the specific details of the Institute.

2010 NELI faculty included staff of the University of Alberta and a former ALA president (among others,) and 2010 NELI mentors included at least four university librarians, five current or former public library CEOs, and several managers, partners or vice presidents of vendor and associate organisations. NELI sponsors included OCLC, Coutts Information Services, YBP and EBSCO Canada Ltd.

Components of the 2010 NELI program included sessions focusing on networking, teamwork, active listening, leadership, management, giving/receiving feedback, visioning, change management, conflict resolution, and influencing. We also developed our own individual career development plans, in consultation with our group mentors and any other mentors from whom we wished to seek advice or input.

NELI was a transformative experience for me. I learned about my own capability and potential. The connections I made with 36 similarly dedicated and passionate new librarians will support me throughout my career. The wealth of knowledge I was exposed to via the mentors, sponsors and faculty have informed my professional path. Perhaps most critically, the program’s experiential learning approach not only enhanced skills I already had but also helped me develop new skills that will serve me in my entire life.

I cannot even begin to share everything I learned at NELI in a report, in part because the experience is so rich, and also because the experience is so personal. Over the holidays, I will post ten quotes from the sessions and from conversations that took place at NELI. Hopefully, these will begin to capture the NELI experience for outsiders without violating the confidentiality of the participants.

If you are within 2-7 years of receiving your MLIS degree, I would highly recommend considering NELI.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Ottawa,

I am growing to love you, really. Sometimes you even make me proud.

In the meantime, some advice when attending concerts, plays, and operas etc. at the National Arts Centre: standing ovations are for special occasions, not every night. A standing ovation is appropriate when an artist has exceeded all expectations, when a performance is extraordinary, or when you have a very, very special guest. Or perhaps for the wonderful evening (I hope to be there) when the carpet on the NAC staircase stops smelling permanently of mould.

Witness the magnificent a capella encore ("Were you there when they crucified my Lord") given by the American soprano Kathleen Battle at her NAC performance this year. That, my friends, was well worth a standing ovation. In my dozen or so trips to the NAC in the past four years, that is the only performance I have truly felt was worth a standing ovation (but then, I missed the Kirov's performance of Swan Lake; I'll hazard a guess that that was probably worth a standing ovation, also).

If you give a standing ovation at every performance, you risk the following, in my opinion:
  • Devaluing an excellent performance
  • Forcing the tired musicians back on the stage for a third encore (oh yes, it's happened. And it makes us seem greedy and cheap!)
  • Looking like hicks
Please look before you leap, so to speak, next time. Those of us with significant scar tissue on our wristbones who find clapping painful for more than, say, 5 minutes straight, will also thank you.

P.S. It's kind of not your fault. Standing ovations in general seem to be devalued these days, from the political sphere down to the professional conference setting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trailers again

Jeesh. I turn my back for one week, and they're all over the news.

The Huffington Post has "Book Videos: 19 Of The Best And The Worst."

Way to go, Alexandra

Not me!

Just catching up on the book awards.... In this case, the 2010 Guardian First Book Award.

American Libraries covers book trailers

"Their effects, however, are debated. The Wall Street Journal (“Watch This Book,” June 7, 2008) contrasted online promotions viewed to sales figures for a handful of popular titles, suggesting that trailers did not necessarily prompt purchases, while Publishers Weekly (“Way Cool: Marketing and the Internet,” Feb. 19, 2007) quoted publishers’ marketing staff, who believe that there is a positive correlation."

Complete article here.

Back home again

I am back from the wilds of B.C., where I was kidnapped for a 7-day leadership institute.

I have a million e-mails to wade through, and piles of notes of ideas from the institute to implement, and, oh, I've also returned to some bad habits and have had to go to the bathroom for about 1 hour now. I am also suffering from sensory overload, Team Sparkle Motion withdrawal, and a condition I am calling LOM - lack of mountains.

I will return shortly with more meaningful observations, but for now, feast on this:

More here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

See you in 7-ish days!

I'm taking a blog break for a week, mostly because I will be in the Rockies, in a hotel with no wireless or cell reception.

While I'm off the grid, don't do anything newsworthy, 'k?

If you're really lucky, I might tell you some stories when I get back. At I've scheduled at least one post so you won't forget I exist.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Edzell Library update

You may recall that I previously blogged about the fate of the Edzell Library, just one story among many in the UK these days, earlier this year.

The good people at the Edzell Library Action Group sent me an update yesterday, and I will excerpt their words below. You can also find more information here, here and here.

"The Council have said they hope for a Public Meeting in the New Year to discuss with the community the future use and management of Inglis Memorial Hall. The Council have given no precise plans for its important historical aspects. They have claimed they wish to make the library room and old books into some sort of volunteer-staffed ‘museum’ but no detailed ideas have been presented and they have stated if the community do not agree and no volunteers come forward then the proposal will be withdrawn. It currently seems as though the Council appear to be wanting to hand over responsibility for Inglis Memorial Hall to the community. The thought that the Council may be thinking of selling Inglis Memorial Hall gives even greater cause for concern.

Since the closure Edzell has received 2 hours a week mobile library service parked outside the old library. New mobile vans have been promised but confusion exists over many aspects of the proposed service. Start dates, originally presented as imminent, are now uncertain; the new vans still not having been ordered. In November the Council conducted a consultation on the new service where draft timetables showed a proposed increase in mobile hours to an average of 4 hours a week for Edzell.

ELAG do not understand the Council's financial reasonings and believe that if a library service can be provided for 4 hours a week via a van parked for most of the time directly outside Inglis Memorial Hall (as is currently proposed) a library service can equally be provided for 4 hours a week inside Inglis Memorial Hall."

Special health collections in libraries: Only Connect readers report!

A faithful reader of this blog sent me the following information about, and photo (at right) of, the Kitchener Public Library's special collection about Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Our reader reports that the collection "was originally established by the Waterloo Wellington Autism Services. The library holds 54 titles (of over 800) that have been published in 2009 or 2010. This specialized health collection has just been moved from the Main Library (major renovations) to the Grand River Stanley Park branch." More information available here.

I was at KPL in 2009 - more general photos are here, in my Libraries, bookstores, and book-related set.

The readers' advisor in me can't click "publish" without recommending the following excellent novels featuring characters with autism spectrum disorders:
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
  • The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Friday, November 26, 2010

Felt Friday: Ten in the bed

Ten in the bed:

Ten out of the bed:

This is a great song to use to introduce children to different animals: what's fun about it, especially, is the hodge podge of domestic and farm animals. This leaves the door open for a storytime about cats, dogs, pets, or farm life! The song is useful also for the more obvious reason: it's a counting song.

Here it goes:

Ten in the bed
There were ten in the bed,
And the little one said,
“Roll over! Roll over!” [do motions]
So they all rolled over
And one fell out.
[you can also say "And Dog fell out," etc. or even add noises, eg. "Splat!" "Crash" "Meow!"]

There were nine in the bed ... etc.

[before the last verse I make them go "shhhhh" and make the little girl character lie down in bed]
There was one in the bed,
And the little one said,
"Good night." [motion going to sleep]

This felt was a lot of fun to make, because the animals are really small, which means less detail work and they are still oddly cute, if I must say so myself. The bed is extra-big (about 26 cm) and the burgundy bed frame is that harder, skinnier felt, re-enforced with velcro behind the "bedposts" so that it stays stuck on the board even with the weight of ten in the bed. The blue bedspread is a stretchier, knobbly soft felt, glued and stapled on each side (because we all know there can be accidents sometimes!)

Each animal is about the size of one of my fingers. My favourite is the goat (wait, my favourite is almost always the goat, whether we're talking cheese or felts...).

I used this felt this week for the theme "Families." We read Good night, Sam by Marie-Louise Gay and Les Dents de ma Maman by Antoine Guilloppé.

Other songs you can use with this felt, depending on your theme, include "Five little monkeys" (I laminated a set of monkeys from this wonderful website, which my colleague Courtney told me about years ago - I also sometimes use their stories as templates for felts...), "Skinnamarink" (families - love), "Where is Thumbkin" (families - people in them!), or either of the following action rhymes. Enjoy!

Where are my baby mice
Where are the baby mice? (squeak, squeak, squeak)
I do not see them (peek, peek, peek)
Here they come out of the hole in the wall
One, two, three, four, five. That's all!

Come little chickens
"Come little chickens," calls Mother Hen
"It's time to take your nap again." [Beckoning motion]
And under her feathers the small chicks creep, [Fingers of right hand creep into folded left hand]
And she clucks a song till they fall asleep. [Move hands gently in rocking motion]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quebec Writers' Federation literary awards

Full list of winners here, including:

Miguel Syjuco's Illustrado for the fiction prize (which is kind of nice, since it was starting to look like Canadian awards were ignoring him...), history scholar Sean Mills's The Empire Within, and Caryl Cude Mullin for Rough Magic (for children and teens - well, really more teens), a book I read last year and loved. Rough Magic is inspired by The Tempest and follows the story of Sycorax, Caliban's sorceress mother.

(More) book trailers online

Mooresville Public Library (Mooresville, Indiana) has over 80 up on their blog.

(Thanks to The Reader's Advisor Online Blog for the tip).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Those were my salad days..."

I love, love, love this idea:

"Scott Griffin has launched a new competition designed to revive the art of poetry recital among high school students."

(More info. here and here)

One of the best things my high school English teacher, Mrs. Tynan, made us do was memorise poetry and drama: either monologues from Shakespeare or something similar. Of course, years later, Dr. Lecker (twice in one day, talking about Lecker!) had us identify Canadian poetry quotes for our Canlit final exam.

I cannot think of a more appropriate statement about poetry than Griffin's: "Poetry is not just for the elite — it is a language that should be spoken in the cafés, the streets and especially the classrooms of the nation."

Hear, hear!

*"My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood." Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra.

Canlit class + OPL blogging

Yoked together by violence*, and Michael Turner.

Thanks, Dr. Lecker.

*to quote Samuel Johnson's criticism of Donne.

Customer-friendly features

Oh, dear. Even the press release leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

According to a big research study published today by the UK's MLA, "while books remain at the core of the public's expectation for the service, there is clear demand for customer-friendly features such as online book lending, children's facilities, adult classes, helpful staff, convenient opening hours."

Whoa. Didn't realise that children's facilities and helpful staff were considered extra, "customer-friendly features." I kind of took them as a right.

It's interesting to note that current and lapsed users rate coffee shop on site, longer opening hours, and children's activities as the top three things that "would encourage them to use libraries more."

It is alarming to see that only 14% of those surveyed view the library as somewhere to take their children, but heartening to see that even non library users see the value in library service.

England, I do hope you realise I pick on you because I love you... and because I know you can do better.

And maybe a little because I miss you. It's a passive-aggressive thing, you see.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My dream library*

Quick. You're 10 years old again. Close your eyes and picture your dream library.

Got it?

OK, now see what kids in Britain are picturing by clicking here to check out the first three of the nine finalists in the "My Dream Library" competition organised by UK children's book supplier Peters Bookselling Services to celebrate the 30th issue of its tBkmag magazine. PBS asked schoolkids and library book clubs to "draw and describe their dream library, offering the chance to win a 'tBkmag Reading Zone' for the library of their choice, consisting of library furniture and shelving to the value of £2000 from The Kit Shop, and over £1000 worth of books donated by leading publishers."

Three finalists' drawings will be revealed on the PBS website every week, leading up to an announcement of the winner on Dec 8th. The three above feature a roller-coaster, cameras, and a casino theme (I have to say, you can't sell me on that last one...)

Says PBS of the over 300 entries received, "the theme running through all the entries is that children want somewhere fun and exciting to read, and see the library and books as a way to exercise their imagination - real evidence, if it were needed, of the importance of libraries and books to young people at a time when libraries face much uncertainty amid budget cuts and closures."


*I kind of hate that title. It's so "My little pony" somehow....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Costa shortlist

Everything is coming up awards today: The Costa 2010 shortlist was just announced:

In case you didn't already know about them, the Costa Book Awards (formerly The Whitbread Awards) are for UK (Great Britain and Ireland) authors.

GGs announced

Winners are:

Fiction: Dianne Warren for Cool Water and Kim Thúy pour Ru
Poetry: Richard Greene for Boxing the Compass and Danielle Fournier pour effleurés de lumière
Drama: Robert Chafe for Afterimage et David Paquet pour Porc-épic
Non-fiction: Allan Casey for Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada and Michel Lavoie, pour C’est ma seigneurie que je réclame : la lutte des Hurons de Lorette pour la seigneurie de Sillery, 1650-1900
Children’s Literature – Text: Wendy Phillips for Fishtailing and Élise Turcotte pour Rose : derrière le rideau de la folie
Children’s Literature – Illustration: Jon Klassen for Cats’ Night Out, text by Caroline Stutson and Daniel Sylvestre for Rose : derrière le rideau de la folie, text by Élise Turcotte
Translation: Linda Gaboriau for Forests (English translation of Forêts par Wajdi Mouawad) and Sophie Voillot pour Le cafard (French translation of Cockroach by Rawi Hage)

Details here!

2010 Evergreen Award

The 2010 OLA (Ontario Library Association) Evergreen Award winner is the lovely Jessica Grant's Come Thou, Tortoise, one of my favourite reads of the year. Grant also won the First Novel Award and made the longlist for the IMPAC Dublin Award.

The Evergreen Award is the adult "tree" in the OLA Forest of Reading.

(Thx to Shonna for the announcement).

More on tortoises forthcoming: another of my 2010 favourites may well feature one.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"On not being able to write"

The bittersweet ode of Keats'
autumn, the Kafkan labyrinth,
the fated, fractured, Ariel.
An awful
beauty in such agonising
the destined winter lurking always
outside the margins,
in the spaces between the

The spaces and
my words.

This is the moment:
creativity is
Sylvia turns on the gas,
the scream of the muse
to make any noise at all.

I no longer believe that
will keep my Caliban hidden.
You taught me language,
and my profit was not that I learned to curse,
but that I learned the protest of silence.

I have watched the
insinuate darkness.
I have built
the labyrinth of labyrinths,
containing horror in
the fragile glass of
a few phrases.
I have kept a world of
anguish in a
captivity of my own ill-constructed design,
and it is not enough.

A terrible beauty is born and borne
and there are no
words left.

What is the language of suffering?
I think I spoke it a long time ago,
when it seemed to carry the weight
of less horrible things.

When I carried the weight of less horrible things?
I forget.

I forget what it was like
before the silence stifled,
before it crept into my mind,
a duplicitous lover,
intimating peace.

Monday news sludge

Did you watch the Giller awards ceremony? I caught up with in as a rerun this weekend, and I'm so glad I did. Not only was the wealth of young faces totally refreshing, it was energising to hear Canadians speak so engagingly - and passionately - about our literature. I hate when people use the word, classy, frankly ('cause I think it's a little vulgar) but I have to break with that rule and say that Jack is a class act, because, um, he just is. I had the great honour of meeting him in person when we both spoke at ABQLA's 75th anniversary a few years back, and he is just as interesting - and interested in everything - and totally warm as he looks on TV.

If you watched the ceremony, perhaps, like me, you were also moved to tears by Joanna Skibsrud's sisters tears when she won - that was such a great moment!

Meanwhile, news swirls around us, including the first item here, which is Giller-related. It should be extra incentive to complete the One Country, 5 Books challenge!:
Eeek. Now I am going to be late for work if I don't leave the house RIGHT NOW!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Felt Friday: Colours

Back by popular demand! I am pretty sure I won't be able to post every Friday (as I did in May), but I will try to revive Felt Fridays once in awhile.

This is a newly-constructed felt. Heartfelt thanks goes out to the staff of Rideau Branch, who helped me make these mittens during The Great Melodramatic Symphony Update of 2010. They cut out the mittens according to my template and colour specifications; I decorated them (my favourite is the grey mitten with the snowflake design.... and yeah, I hand-sewed that swirly thing on the small green mitten).

I'm breaking this felt in this week for storytime, since my theme is colours. Books I will probably use:
  • Wow, said the owl
  • Le Rêve de Mimi
  • De quelle couleur est ta culotte?
  • Blue Goose
More titles can be found tagged "colours" in my LibraryThing account here. I prefer to read Frederick in the spring; I had also just read Where Is the Green Sheep? a few months ago.

Now, the reason for specificity with mitten colours: I use the mittens during the below song! In fact, each of the mittens above has a "mate," which I am planning to hand out to kids before storytime. They can then come up and match their mitten to the one on the board.

If Your Clothes Have Any Red (tune: “If you’re happy and you know it;” props to Kaya for coming up with extra verses to this song)

If your clothes have any red, any red,
If your clothes have any red, any red,
If your clothes have any red, put your finger on your head,
If your clothes have any red, any red.

Pink – give your neighbour a big wink!
Blue – reach down and touch your shoe!
White – reach up with all your might!
Purple – make yourself comforturple!
Grey – dance your sillies all away!
Green – wave your hand so you are seen
Yellow – smile like a happy fellow
Brown – turn your smile into a frown
Black – put your hands behind your back.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"War poet"

I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me;
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down
Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.

by Sidney Keyes.
Poems of the War Years: An Anthology.

London: Macmillan and Co., 1950.
[see also]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


... was the theme of today.

As part of a continuing partnership that I have been trying to develop with the Ottawa Mission, I visited the Stepping Stones Learning Centre for adult learners at the Mission last week and the Day program today. The Day Program (the only program of its kind in Ottawa) is a daily group program for clients in the shelter and the community who may not be ready to commit to residential addiction treatment (participants must be clean and sober each day they attend the program).

Both visits were extremely well-received, and about 30 men learned about the library’s programs and services, including library membership, computer usage, databases for research and hobbies. Each person also received information about library programs, a bookmark and a free paperback. The men were welcoming, interested, and grateful for the personal connection to the library. Honestly, both groups were exemplary. I could not have been more impressed.

This morning, only a few hours after I visited the Day Program, three men from the group had already come in to get library cards for the first time!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I remember

21 years ago.

Today I will leave you with a poem (not mine) that always reminded me of him.

"The woman who could not live with her faulty heart"

I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;

I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.

All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.

But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitious,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,

and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.

It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?

Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.

Margaret Atwood, Two-Headed Poems, 1978.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend update

(now with less Seth Myers!)

I had a pretty busy week. Last Sunday, I found out I am going to NELI, which is really exciting .... and really scary! I am very pleased, and honoured to be chosen. I think it will be a great opportunity. So one thing I did this week was make some other arrangements for my absence in early December (re-arrange my course outline for ILLs, arrange hotels, etc.)

Our big thing this week was author visits: we had two at Rideau, on the same day, even! Children's author Sylvie Massicotte visited Rideau Branch to talk to a class on Tuesday afternoon; Claire Rothman visited on Tuesday evening. My colleague mostly handled Sylvie's actual visit, because my brain was full of other stuff that day for Claire's visit; I had also done a lot of the prep, including chasing down a class to attend the visit. You'd think this wouldn't be so hard! ... and yet. Here's the deal.

The opportunity for this visit comes as part of our branch's participation in the Livromagie club from Communication Jeunesse; in other words, the author visit is for the children participating in this club. I had some issues finding groups and/or classes to join this club, and basically, finally, after lots of work, we got a grade 1-2 class willing to participate in the club, and they came to see Sylvie on Tuesday afternoon. What was especially interesting about the event was that it took the kids about 15 minutes to completely understand that Sylvie, the woman in front of them, was actually the author of the books they had been reading in class. This was definitely the first time any of them had met a published writer, and I think they were a bit in awe. What a rewarding experience ... in the end.

What was I talking about? Sorry.

Oh, right, Tuesday. Author visit #1 - check. Author visit #2 - Claire - check. We had 15 people at Rideau for her reading, which was both awesome (I would have been happy with anything over, say, 5; author visits at libraries are generally not well attended, which I frankly have a few theories about, but that rant will have to wait for another day....) and kind of depressing (considering the amount of marketing I did!) I was cheered that one person had found out about the event because of a flyer I put up at Loblaws, one heard through one of our book clubs, and two attended from another local book club (not held at Rideau) of McGill alumni, who I had invited specially.

On Wednesday, Claire spoke to a group of senior school girls from Elmwood in Rockcliffe Park, and I accompanied her there as well. Honestly, I was able to better concentrate on her talk the second time around, since I sort of felt like I had Author Reading Brain for the first two days of this week (like Mommy Brain!).

It was great to get to spend some time with Claire. I must confess that we weren't particularly close when I was a student in her class at Marianopolis; she was closer to my best friend at the time, Kaya. Both Kaya and I were writers, but it was Kaya who shared much of her work with Claire. That time in my life was when most of my energy was devoted to exploring my new-found independence, bonding with my rez girls, feeling anxiety about money (and working three jobs) and navigating my first relationship. I was probably not the most respectful or studious girl in Claire's class. Claire and I floated in and out of each other's lives since then, seeing one another at Kaya's concerts or in Westmount circles. I'm so glad that we are still in touch, and I'm so glad that now, 13 years later, I have been given the opportunity to get to know her better. Turns out we're both dancers, and runners, and we both love long walks; we have similar warm memories of a particular nun at the College who I lived with; we're both ardent feminists, and so on. Honestly, it was lovely to see her.

A couple of quick things I learned from her talk, besides the obvious about Dr. Maude Abbot:
  • The history of the Holmes Heart
  • What she was reading when she developed the idea for The Heart Specialist: excellent Canadian historical fiction, including Helen Humphrey's Afterimage (about amazing Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who I totally had a girl crush on anyway) and Michael Crummey's The River Thieves (which I sort of knew was about the Beothuk, but had sort of also forgotten; must pick it up)
  • She loved Dorothy in Middlemarch!
  • My favourite quote of the talk: Claire, speaking about her main character's expertise with the physical heart, and ineptitude with her own emotional heart, says "We can be the smartest people but we are just falling all over ourselves in love."
At the last minute, I realised that Claire's talk would be a great time to promote Winter 2011 programs at Rideau, even though they aren't totally finalised yet (the new issue of Preview is just being drafted now, and I am currently inputting programs into our online database). I made up a quick draft flyer to put on the table for the reading.

In case you are wondering, we have some of the usual suspects: our bilingual Family Storytime, our two Frontier College partner programs (the Reading circle and the Homework club), our three book clubs (Morning, Evening, and Mille-Feuilles), our writing workshop group, and March break programs, of course!

Our new and exciting initiatives include two more sessions of "Coffee with a police officer," two partner programs with the Ottawa Art Gallery: "Talk about Art with the Ottawa Art Gallery," and "Meet the Firestones with the Ottawa Art Gallery," and 6 free legal aid clinics (in partnership with three local legal aid organisations), focusing on Tenants’ rights / Droits des locataires, Workers’ rights, Income maintenance for the elderly, Successions & testaments and Human rights.

(Just for fun, remember that not only do I organise all this, but I get to make the posters for each event, too! Which I really enjoy, actually, it's just a lot of work).

I did one other incredibly rewarding thing this week (in addition to welcoming Claire, that is, not in addition to program submission and poster design - both of which are more equal parts rewarding and tedious): I went on outreach to the Stepping Stones program at the Ottawa Mission. I met with a group of about eight men who are in this program (along with their teacher, who has been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic about meeting with me about partnerships). I introduced myself, talked about Rideau Branch, explained library membership and services (computer use, databases for homework help, language learning and hobbies), and brought some free paperbacks to give away. The men were interested, respectful, and they laughed at my jokes, which is always good. At one point, I logged into my library account to show them how to check their accounts and renew books, and they loved that I had overdues! I was very impressed by the group.

Instead of grading assignments on Friday, I decided to give myself a break and hung out with friends, which was kind of unusual (at least for the me that exists since I moved to Ottawa) but a lot of fun. Meanwhile, back at Rideau, my colleague received a group visit from a local refugee centre for a tour of the library.

On the weekend I prepared next week's lecture (on copyright! Horrors!) Oh, and I worked Saturday, when it was so cold inside the library (weatherstripping issues - don't ask) that my nose was frozen and I kept my legwarmers on all day, and, in other news, I explored the fine line between "Is this patron sleeping on the heating vent in the parking lot?" and "Is this patron passed out?" Sigh. I believe only emergency response teams can answer that one for me. But hey, I helped a guy with MLA format. Wheeee.

Then I slept for 12 hours.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

RA in a day 2010: OPLA RA Committee 2010 picks

The OPLA RA committee’s picks for the best books of 2010 are online here.

RA in a day 2010: "Putting Readers First: An introduction to the reader-centred approach" with Rachel van Riel

These are my final notes about RA in a day 2010; I am concluding with notes from the first session of the day (sorry for being backwards!)

Our first session, which lasted all morning was "Putting Readers First: An introduction to the reader-centred approach" with Rachel van Riel, the director of Opening the Book. I was lucky enough to have dinner the evening before the conference with Rachel (as well as Sharron from the RA committee and Brittany Bryan from NoveList); we had some fascinating discussions about books and reading, and the reading / library culture in the UK.

Opening the Book is a British company that has worked with every library service in the UK (as well as several in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia) to design, equip (i.e. with furniture) and train employees in “reader-development.” The concept of reader-development involves looking at the psychology of reading; this seemed to become a theme for the day, really, as it was a term picked up later in the afternoon by Dr. Mar (see also). Reader-development involves libraries’ focusing on a reader-centred approach to service, which includes:
  • Increasing people’s confidence in and enjoyment of what they read: says van Riel, “I want to live in a world where no one apologises for their reading!” We shouldn’t be ashamed of our reading, or put our own tastes down; we should be talking about what’s on our bedside table, not what we brought with us to “look good” in public.
  • Opening up reading choices: 80% of the sales in UK bookstores are of less than 5% of the stock. Libraries have a definite strength here: we can offer a much richer diversity of titles, and the “risk” (monetary + disappointment) factor is much less in borrowing from us than in buying.
  • Offering opportunities to share reading experiences: Reading is a bit invisible. Where were you when you finished the last great book you read? It’s likely you were in bed, with the light on, late at night. If someone else is there with you, it’s probable that they are snoring. You are not, for instance, in a sports stadium with 10, 000 other like-minded people, cheering your favourite author or book on! Reading is not like sharing other art forms. Were you to travel into space, however, you might see the world lit up at night by all the lights on from the homes of all the readers, worldwide: we outnumber fans of all other leisure activities.
Van Riel’s session was so informative, and so jam-packed, that I am going to break it down into my own “themes” for clarity of expression here!

Sausages and chocolate bars: concepts behind the reader-centred approach
The reader-centred approach starts with why, how and what people read, how reading fits into people’s lives, and how to promote to readers using motivation and engagement. As van Riel phrased it, “sell the sizzle, not the sausage;” libraries should be selling the experience of reading more than the actual book (eg. what the sausage/book can do for you, not what it is). She says we spend a lot of time choosing our sausages (debating which book to recommend or promote). Often, even, we end up promoting access to the bestsellers, which is counter-intuitive; we “sell” the same top 10 that people see at the bookstore, even though we have a much broader selection, and even when these top 10 are unavailable at the library (due to requests). The real test of the library of the future will be when patrons come in for that bestseller, can we sell them something else? The reader-centred approach should open up reading choices, allowing library staff to escape from genre and author displays, bring books together in unusual combinations, and mix fiction/non-fiction.

Look at the way chocolate bars are marketed, which is pretty stereotypical: there are chocolate bars sold to men, and these campaigns stress energy, protein, etc. There are chocolate bars sold to children, and these campaigns stress fun colours, shapes and textures, or pop culture characters. There are chocolate bars sold to women, and these campaigns stress treating yourself, doing something for yourself, and/or sex. As ridiculous as this is, we could learn something from this idea: the library tries to be “anything aimed at everybody,” and as a result, “nobody identifies with it.” People come into our buildings for 3 minutes, 30 minutes or 3 hours, and we treat them all the same. We should be exploring offering more targeted services to targeted markets.

As an example, van Riel described a pilot outreach project in a cancer treatment centre in Wales. The project was developed after a library employee visited the centre herself. She observed that the reading material provided in the waiting rooms was out of date and tired; moreover, people in the centre for treatment came from all walks of life and various parts of the country, often for up to 8 hours a day. A small library collection was developed for the cancer centre; the idea being that people could read the book while they were there, or take it home to finish and return it to any library in the area. The program was a great success: during the first week, one book from the collection ended up in Anglesey, which was “pretty much the farthest it could be” from the centre. Having the collection also provided a “safe” topic of conversation (eg. other than illness) for patients and staff of the centre.

Display and marketing ideas
Libraries in the UK and Scandinavia have experimented with reader-centred marketing campaigns, design, and programs, and van Riel outlined several in her presentation, including the “Give me a break” marketing campaign in Wales. This campaign was geared towards 18-30 year olds, and the posters completed the slogan: “Give me a break from stress,” “Give me a break from the kids,” or “Give me a break from it all.” The emphasis was on the diversity of experiences of 18-30s: some already had families, jobs and responsibilities, and some were still living at home, students or unemployed, possibly bored. The posters themselves featured images representing these experiences. As van Riel pointed out, book publicity generally shows photos of authors and book covers; where is the reader in all this? By giving readers the starring role in marketing and display ideas, libraries can re-engage with readers, value their individuality, and celebrate what reading means to them.
Other ideas:
  • Take the lead: books to get ahead
  • Take a risk – on a book
  • Bite-sized reads
  • Books about people more memorable than you!
Displays and marketing are key because studies show that people like manageable choices. One study analysed people’s behaviour in an empty parking lot versus a full one. In the full one, people pulled into the first available spot; in the empty one, people changed their minds about their spot many times, often pulling in and out repeatedly. To avoid this dithering, displays are a great tool to spark discussion and help patrons make choices.

Programming ideas
A book and wine tasting event was held at a community library in England. Several countries were represented by a table in the library containing a wine and a novel; visitors sat at that table, and, while they were tasting the wine, listened to a reading of an excerpt from the novel.

The physical layout of a library
Furniture and displays should thus make choices easy; we should also remember that the bestsellers don’t need our help! In children’s departments, van Riel suggested actually connecting books and play (TPL’s KidsStops and OPL’s early literacy spaces do this very well, I think!). Many libaries segregate areas for play and areas for reading - van Riel sees this as implying: “Have fun here; be bored here!” She showed some magnificent photographs of children’s spaces in European libraries, including one library where they had hollow tunnels with custom slatwall on the exterior curve; children were encouraged to pick a book from the slatwall and enjoy it inside the tunnel on a built-in bench.

The library’s online presence was used as an example of a dynamic website targeted to readers. The site promoted titles beyond the bestsellers and from independent presses using an online read-alike survey. Reader-friendly websites, van Riel explained, should be structured around users, not the library, should use technology to meet needs that cannot be met online, and work best when they are small and changing, rather than huge and static.

Getting the conversation about books going
Consider using real people and their real statements about reading for a library marketing campaign: one campaign in the UK took pictures of local well-known personalities and put them up around town (eg. the local hardware store would have a photo of the owner). Each photo was captioned, “What is he/she reading? Find out at the library!” In the library, there was a display of books chosen by each personality.

Some other suggestions for engaging with patrons included:
  • Have a spot for returned books. People love browsing each others’ returns. Consider a double-sided book truck, with one side labelled “Recommended” and the other “Not recommended!”
  • Have a “Book of the day” display – one book. If the book is taken out, that person has to choose the next book of the day. van Riel said that in one library where this was done, the book changed practically every 2 minutes.
  • Recommended reading from patrons: write down what people say in their own words. Can be used on small noticeboard with passport-sized photos of readers to accompany text, or large poster on end of bay of books, or on website, local newspaper, or e-mail signature line.
For the next part of her session, van Riel had us break up in pairs (with someone at our table that we didn’t know very well) to discuss the following questions and get our own conversations about books going. The questions below were geared to get us thinking about the experience of reading, and how a conversation around reading habits can easily turn into a conversation about particular book titles.
  1. Where do you read? (places, eg. armchair, bed, staffroom, beach, balcony)
  2. When do you read? (time, eg. time of day, season)
  3. Do you read every page or do you jump ahead? Do you employ different strategies for different types of books?
  4. Do you ever cheat and read the ending first? If so, what are the circumstances?
  5. How far back can you go with your reading memories? (eg. what is your earliest memory of reading or of books?)
  6. What else do you do when you read? (eg. cook, sunbathe)
  7. What did you read as a teenager for the “sexy bits?” (eg. what was passed around class or had well-worn pages in the school library?)
  8. Who do you talk to about your reading?
Final thoughts
Most organisations, van Riel concluded, claim a lot more than they achieve. Libraries, on the other hand, “achieve loads more than they claim.” We should be immensely proud of the fact that we are the most popular voluntary organisation; the most popular organisation that people choose to participate in!

We then took a lunch break. During either break or lunch, a woman from Stratford Public Library (Melanie? Sorry, my memory is terrible!) came up to tell me she was a reader of my blog. That was pretty exciting! She also told me about some wonderful things going on at SPL, and she shared with me a great reading list they made that is set up like a menu, entitled “A taste of the Stratford Public Library.” Categories included appetizers (magazines), entrees (non-fiction), desserts (light fiction), and specials (DVDs and databases), with all titles food-related!