Notes from the Black Lagoon

For those of you who are fascinated by technology and technology in libraries, take a look at one librarian’s journey into the modern world over at The Game’s Afoot. Daisy, our intrepid Assistant Director, hated anything to do with technology because she feared it! Now she’s conquered her fear of computers and is now light years ahead of the rest of us. Daisy’s story sort of inspired me to take a minute and think about my tech-roots and how they’ve influenced me in the Children’s Room

So, for those of you who don’t know, I am a tech-savvy Millenial (formerly Generation Y) who grew up with computers and rapidly changing technology. We had a computer in our home when I was young, an old-school Commodore 64! I had computers in my elementary school. I don’t know how to use an electric typewriter and had never seen one until I came to the TPL. I most certainly do NOT know what filmstrips are or how to use them. My first stereo had a CD player and I’ve been using IM for over 10 years. I have a Facebook account and am in love with MS Word 2oo7.

Clearly, I’m down with technology. But I’m a different animal than Daisy. Daisy is a self-professed Geek. I would call her a tech-seeker, a lover of tech things for their own innate tech-i-ness. I’m more of a tech-consumer. I use technology because I need it or see it as advantageous for my life. I’m definitely open to learning new things, but I can only remember what I’ve learned if I need it for home or work! I don’t actively seek out new tech things just because. I need incentives..namely, “Can this make my life easier or harder?”. I think the process of determining that is an important one for people in my generation. Growing up and being bombarded by so much information and technology, you can start to think that anything tech is good just because it’s tech-y. Which is certainly not true! Good tech-consumers can pick and choose what actually does make their lives easier and more efficient while refusing to be bombarded by the constant flow of STUFF out there.

I think another key skill my generation has picked up from its exposure to technology is our ability to adapt to change. Technology is changing all the time and we can’t keep up with it. Millenials see technology as conceptual, as patterns that can be adapted across devices, programs and software. They can apply what they’ve learned before to a new technology that is presented to them. Very useful and time-saving skill, if you ask me.

I think the biggest influence my tech-savvy ways have had in the library is how we reach our patrons. We have used technology to catch our patrons’ attention on our website and in our programs. We’ve done podcasts of kids’ short stories and have an e-newsletter in Children’s. I also think I’ve affected the way the staff accomplishes our daily tasks. We, thankfully, no longer use the electric typewriter to make labels. Instead we use Word! Yay! So we keep evolving here at the TPL…maybe one day we can make it into the 21st century.

Well, this is the second week of my story/craft program and we’ve got a great group of kids this time around. Today’s theme was (appropriately) rain and puddles! I love puddle books and read two of my favs, The Rain Puddle by Adelaide Holl and The Puddle by David McPhail. The Rain Puddle is one of my absolute favorite picture books, a fact I was quickly reminded of when one little girl accidently ripped a page while she was looking at it! Sadly, it’s out of print, so we had to use our best book repair skills and save it from the bin.

Then we made a Rain Stick for our craft. Thanks to this video on Sprout’s website, I was able to watch Nina do this craft and then re-create it for my story time kids.The Rain Sticks were definitely a hit…not to mention very noisy and fun to do! I made a few modifications though from the Sprout version. First, I used wrapping paper to cover my paper towel rolls. I also used sprinkles (or jimmies if you’re from New England) for the noisemakers inside the roll instead of dried rice. Good thing too, as some of my story time friends decided to eat them rather than put them inside the Rain Stick.

Next week: dinosaurs!!!

Here at the TPL, I’ve gotten the spring programming pretty much tied up. I’m all up to date on my reviews. I have a few things left to catalog. The shelves are beautiful and the book carts are bare. In other words, I have to face my denial over the summer reading program and get on with planning it!

This year’s state-wide theme is “Wild Reads”. Normally, I’m not usually enamored with the themes that the state comes up with, but using the theme is convenient and flexible for us in the Children’s Room. I’m also trying to move patron away from the “cheap plastic prize incentive program” that has characterized our past reward system for reading over the summer. I don’t think the TPL is ready to go prize-less, but I think we can pretty easily move to prizes that reinforce our main purpose. So, I’ve decided (thanks to Adrienne over at WATAT) that we’re going to offer books as prizes. Books, you say? Yep. Books. Cuz that’s what we do best at the library. Here’s my plan:

Prizes

Each week, there will be three different books (a picture book, an easy reader and a fiction book…all paperback) that children can put their names in for. Every time a child comes into the library and checks out books, she may enter her name for the book of her choice. So if a child comes into the library every day and checks out books (NOT MOVIES, books), he can enter his name for a book every time. Each week of the reading program, I’ll draw 10 names from each book’s name box and call the winners! So, very sneakily, we encourage reading and reinforce it with a book prize. We used to spend so much money on crappy prizes. But I’d rather spend the money on books for prizes and then just get patrons in the library with programs, programs, programs.

Reading Logs 

Next, I want to get rid of reading logs. It’s too much work for us and the parents. And I really don’t care WHAT kids read, just as long as they read.  So instead of reading logs where parents scramble to remember what their kids read last week, we’re going to just have visuals for kids to hang on the wall and mark with stickers every time they’ve read 2 books or 20 minutes.   Plus we will also give out book recommendation forms that kids can fill out, return and let us hang around the room.

This is all very tentative and new at the moment.  But I’ll force myself to firm it up in the next week or so.  So I’ve built a bridge and gotten over my river, Denial.

I have a guilty secret to confess. I’m a children’s librarian and I love to read. I just don’t love to read children’s books. Let me clarify. I adore pictures books. I rejoice in easy readers. I abhore most children’s fiction. I’ve tried really hard and I feel so guilty because there are tons of childrens’ librarians out there who LOVE kidlit. So, in the spirit of the new year, I’ve made a resolution to try and read more kid’s fiction from our collection. Here’s my first attempt:

Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky takes us back to the vibrant world of ancient Pompeii in the Roman Empire, full of augers, soothsayers and bizarre wedding customs. 12 year old Julia is a member of the city’s most prominent family and is its last unmarried daughter. Born with a shriveled arm, Julia had spent most of her youth with her slave, Sura, sheltered by her her loving family, including her doting cousin Marcus. As her sister Cornelia’s wedding day draws nearer, so does Julia’s and Sura’s dread about their uncertain futures. Sura’s eavesdropping reveals a master plan to give the deformed Julia (who is not expected to marry) as a priestess to a prominent cult’s temple and sell Sura to finance Cornelia’s open-bar reception. Lasky builds the sense of impending doom by alluding to tremors, noxious gases and other tell-tale signs of Mount Vesuvius’s tragic eruption that would eventually take place in August of AD 79. This is nicely juxtaposed nicely with both girls’ struggle to come to terms with the meaning of freedom and the ability of each to chose her own future. The book also explores the complicated and beautiful relationships between sisters and, through Sura and Julia’s relationship, suggests that sisterly ties can exist beyond the bounds of family. The most problematic parts of the book center around the character of 15 year old, Marcus, Julia’s cousin. Though Marcus, who laughs at the supposed silliness of Roman traditions and religion, Lasky tries to present a modern understanding of physical deformities that seems a little too anachronistic to fit in with the rest of the story. While admirable, this contributes to the plot’s uneven pacing: It drags in the middle as Julia is dragged from one oracle to another and then abruptly jumps forward with lightning-quick speed as Marcus proposes marriage as a way for them both to escape their fates. Modern middle grade readers may also be a bit puzzled over the budding love of first cousins (an acceptable Roman social more). All in all, this novel is an interesting idea for historical fiction. It richly describes Roman life while providing a deep exploration of the two protagonists but it ultimately leaves readers hanging with its uneven plot.

At the TPL, we have what we like to call “a rhythm” to our year in the Children’s Room. Summer is the height of it: the busiest, most fun, and most exhausting time. Fall slows down as kids go back to school and we get back to doing other library work. After the holidays, it’s usually dead until things pick up in the spring. It’s so predictable and reassuring, it’s nearly like our own little seasonal cycle that creates the perfect balance between patron services and the behind-the-scenes work we do. However, February school vacation marks the one HORRID interruption of our near-perfect system. That’s right….for one week, the entire city seems to congregate at the library and they all have a project due when they get back to school!!!

And so, I have gotten nothing done this week…including blogging. I did want to talk about one kick-butt program we did for kids of all ages yesterday. If you’re a librarian in the southeastern region of MA, listen up! Doll E Daze is a fantastic organization based in Mansfield, MA that promotes cultural diversity and dialog through their amazing African Wrap Doll Workshop. The women who run Doll E Daze are all black doll collectors and focus on the history of black dolls and African-American history in the U.S.. Debra Britt and her family not only collect these dolls, but also run workshops for libraries and schools on how to make African Wrap Dolls. In celebration of black history month, we had this program at the library yesterday and it was a huge success!! Debra is an amazing speaker who draws on her own experiences of loneliness as a child growing up in the racially-charged atmosphere of 1960’s Boston to tell the tale of doll-making. Every child and adult who attended the program made his or her own wrap doll with materials provided by Doll E Daze.

Debra entertains the gang and makes them laugh Dolls made by the Doll E Daze Ladies

We had over 80 people crammed into our auditorium and actually ran out of seats! The ladies from Doll E Daze did a fantastic job and even vacuumed the room when they were done. I can’t recommend this program enough!

What do these two things have to do with each other? Nothing, unless you count Facebook as a convenient distraction from cataloging. Which I need to do today. Anyway, initially, I was against Facebook, saying that people with a real life don’t spend time on Facebook. HA! Another thing I was wrong about. Now that I have a Facebook account, I find it so much easier to keep in touch with my friends. For me, that’s essential as I’ve moved away from my hometown in New York and most of my college friends live all over the country. Recently, I just reconnected with two friends I met while living in Ireland for my junior year abroad! I hadn’t heard from them in ages and I just found them on Facebook. We’re all very happy to hear from each other and I’m hoping Patrick and I can maybe (and when I say maybe, I mean I have to convince Patrick) to go to Ireland on our honeymoon. In a professional sense, I’m also hoping I can connect with some other children’s librarians on Facebook. I’ve joined a few librarian groups on Facebook to see what’s going on. Nothing yet, but perhaps I’ll start a group for Children’s Librarians in MA.

Back to cataloging. This is another hat I wear here in Children’s. At the TPL, the Children’s Room is sort of like it’s own mini self-sufficient library. Both myself and my other full-timer, Mary Beth, catalog and process all of our materials and have complete freedom to put them where we like in our collections. It also means we know our collection REALLY well since we see everything before it goes on the shelf. The negative side is that cataloging is a total time-suck. I always have to do it and keep on top of it. It stops me from doing as many story times and programs as I would like. And I’m also not terribly detailed-oriented, so that means I’m not the best cataloger. I try though. A mixed bag all around. If you do catalog at your library, I would highly recommend OCLC’s Dewey Cutter Program for your desktop. This software allows you to type in the author’s last name or title or whatever and generates 4 digit Cutter numbers based on that. It’s a lifesaver when I’m doing my call numbers and I couldn’t live without it.

A final note: I love Errol Flynn. Patrick got me into Errol Flynn movies after we watched The Adventures of Robin Hood. Right now, we’re watching Captain Blood, but my favorite Errol Flynn movie is The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Bette Davis playing Queen Elizabeth I and Flynn as Robert Devereaux. Bette Davis is AMAZING as she plays an Elizabeth full of complications and rage and Flynn is her match as the charming but treacherously power-obsessed Devereaux. Fabulous movie.

Ok, so when I started this, I thought this would be a cool and fun thing to do every now and again. I wasn’t even sure that I had a lot to say. But now I realize how foolish that was! Now, I find myself thinking about subjects for posts all day and composing them in my head! I’m not getting any work done. My cataloging has suffered (yes I have to catalog…sigh). My patrons have suffered! I’ve even said to my fiance, “Could you hang on a sec, I just need to finish this post”. So I’ve a sit-down with myself and we’ve decided to set down some limits: Once a day, no more than a half hour. That’s it!

Anyway, we just got a new shipment of DVDs that I ordered, including seasons 1 & 2 of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. For the uninitiated, this live-action series was filmed all over the world in the early 90s and featured Indy as a kid and a young man. In each episode, Indy meets up with a famous historical figure (like TR or Churchill) for some crazy, swashbuckling adventures. The DVD version has been a bit edited from the original TV series according to Amazon, but got good reviews all around. The third season is coming out in April.  My fiance was OBSESSED with this show as a kid and now we’re both huge fans of the movies. Since I catalog, I get first dibs on new stuff! I can’t wait to bring this home to Patrick! Oh yeah and I’m excited for our patrons to see it..

Check out the trailer for the new Indy move that’s coming out on May 22. I’m skeptical. Not that I’m ageist, but Harrison Ford in his 60s playing Indy??? Plus there have been various reports of problems with the script. We’ll see.