Recreational reading in college

I am taking on something several people have told me is hopeless at my new library: celebrating, supporting, and encouraging recreational reading at a university. I’ve had numerous people tell me students don’t read anything they don’t have to, and very little of what they do have to. Professors, I’ve been told, like to read in the summer but won’t read a thing for fun during the academic year.

Maybe I’ll find this all out the hard way, but I’m convinced that this isn’t exactly true. Maybe most students aren’t reading War and Peace for fun, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t consume any written words, in print, online, or in audio. Yes, I’m expanding my view of what reading is. I know a lot of voracious readers who also listen to audiobooks and no one questions whether that’s really reading. So aren’t podcasts like audiobooks? I think so. I know several (and am married to one) people who read magazine and newspaper articles, essays and short stories more frequently than books.So then, aren’t blogs like other short form writing? I think so.

Yes, I’m hoping people will read books, too, and I’m working on ways to promote our book collection, too. But even more importantly, I’m hoping to affirm this: whatever you have time for, whether it’s your favorite fashion blog or a true crime podcast or last night’s Red Sox scores, you are reading, and if you don’t have time for a book right now, the library will be here for you later when you do.

Stay tuned. And if you have ideas that have worked at your academic library to promote reading, leave a comment and tell me what worked.

 

Advertisements

Being countercultural

A few weeks ago I had a conversation that’s stayed with me. I was speaking with a group of people when someone pointed out that libraries are countercultural. I think what he was saying is that the existence of a place where everyone, for free, can enter and read and learn whatever he or she desires is really pretty mind-blowing if you think about it.

But is what we’re doing really counter to the prevailing culture? I guess libraries are sort of a part of the “slow” movement. Like cooking from scratch or making things by hand, reading and learning are time consuming, in a culture where many people prefer to do things as quickly as possible – although James Patterson is trying to make reading speedier by publishing books that can be read in one sitting. Regardless of the cultural preference for speed, the Pew Research Center reports that Americans have a very strong affinity for lifelong learning. And there wouldn’t be slow or maker movements if people weren’t willing to invest time in these pursuits, so maybe slowness isn’t all that at odds with the culture. Nor is learning.

What about reading? The media likes to report that no one reads, but again, looking to Pew, that just isn’t true. In their report on reading in America in 2013, the center notes that a large majority of adults read at least one book in the previous year, and not just rich well educated adults. Across their demographic measures, readers were in the majority.

So if taking one’s time to do something worthwhile, learning, and reading are more common than not, what is it that seems countercultural about libraries? Perhaps it’s that we’re open to absolutely everyone, and funded by all for the common good? That we seek to provide diverse materials to every community we serve? That we not only offer public space, but also quiet — there are very few places in the world where people can enjoy relative silence. That libraries do not just offer books and other materials but cherish their existence? That free access to information is libraries’ birthright and highest ideal?

There are many ways libraries are countercultural, and every person will probably have a slightly different take on how this is so. But it’s helpful and to me, comforting, to note that in important ways we are more in step with the culture around us than not.

Diversity in libraries

I subscribed to the recent ALA Reference and User Services CODES (collection development and evaluation section) conversation on diversity. I think of myself as someone who is concerned about all kinds of equality, and is aware of my privilege as a white middle class professional. Certainly I’ve championed libraries as egalitarian outposts in an increasingly divided society. I get that “we need diverse books.” And that even my very white state has become much more diverse in the last ten years.

What I hadn’t thought about is the bias in the way I’m marketed to, as a collection development librarian. Yes, I primarily make my purchasing decisions based on reviews in professional journals, but those journals are written and edited by, and feature books published by, people who are mostly very much like me, demographically. Some of the participants in the conversation online noted that it’s hard to even find reviews of books by diverse authors in genre fiction, like sci-fi or mysteries.

Andrea Gough of Seattle Public Library wondered if librarians are even biased in the way we think about diversity. She noted, “perhaps because we’re a largely white field, or because our culture normalizes a white viewpoint as a ‘neutral’ viewpoint, when we talk about diversity it’s often presumed the direction is from white to POC.” In other words, the entire conversation about diversity starts with making libraries and their collections less white. But that oversimplifies diversity and overlooks the complexity of contemporary American society.

As I read I made a mental list of some of the non-racial diversity in the community I serve: homeless people, former inmates, addicts, people with less than the average amount of education for our area, immigrants, transgender people, gay or lesbian or bisexual people, various religious minorities, and a wide range of people who are differently abled, physically or mentally, just to name a few. Yes, it’s important to consider the whiteness of publishing, and of the library profession, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook the other types of diversity in our communities.

Another fascinating point in the conversation was that it’s too over-simplified, and frankly, biased, for collection developers to simply purchase more “diverse” materials. One person told a story of a new library branch in an African American neighborhood where the music buyer had purchased a wide selection of rap and hip-hop. One of the first questions at the desk was whether there were any opera CD’s. Someone else pointed out the reverse is true as well — people in more homogeneous communities assume library patrons won’t want to read books with protagonists of a different race, religion, ethnicity, or cultural background and yet that there is no evidence of that, and it’s often just plain untrue. Think of novels like Things Fall Apart or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or The Kite Runner and of nonfiction such as Between the World and Me or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. All enjoyed a wide audience.

One of the best things about books, of course, is that they take us into lives we’ll never live. And with that in mind, one of the contributors pointed out that the goal of a good library collection is not only to meet the existing needs of the library’s patrons but also to present materials that will affirm our common humanity and expand patrons’ experience beyond the walls of the library or the boundaries of a town.

This issue is obviously too vast to be covered in a blog post, but I intend to keep considering diversity and the ways my own “frames” need to be expanded or even better, abandoned, in order to best serve every person who comes through the library’s doors.

 

 

 

 

 

Book tribe community

This week I’ll be doing one of the things I love most about my job — helping to facilitate Books & Brew, our book club with no assigned books. We meet at True Brew Barista, a coffee shop and bar near the library, people enjoy the brew of their choice and we talk about what we’ve been reading. I borrowed the idea from a readers’ advisory blog post I saw that talked about a similar library group meeting in a wine bar.

And this weekend, we’re wrapping up my library’s first Winter Reading program for teens and adults, Book Bingo. The idea is to try any of the reading tasks (several of which are designed to get people to venture into different parts of the library, like reading a magazine, a graphic novel, or a book from the teen area) on the twenty-five squares, and if you get a “bingo” of five in a row, you get a raffle ticket. As you can see, I’ve whited out spaces as I rearranged titles to maximize my squares. I have books picked out for the rest of the card; I’m just playing for fun, not prizes, so I’m going to keep reading all the tasks even though it officially ends tomorrow.

FullSizeRender

Books & Brew and Book Bingo both appeal to me as a member of the book tribe – I love it when people want to talk about what they are reading. Just yesterday I had a woman stop by the information desk to say she usually just reads mysteries and she has had so much fun trying all the other things on the card. And the response to Books & Brew has been great for the same reason — it’s easy to join in, fosters a shared love of reading, and expands our reading horizons as we hear about and think of titles to recommend.

At their best, that’s what all kinds of libraries do — engage people of many different backgrounds and life experiences and bring them together, joined by a love of stories, true or fictional. Community happens when people recognize in each other a common humanity and a shared purpose, whether it’s seeking information or a quiet place to work or study, or finding a good book to read. And that’s why I love the parts of my work that remind me I’m a part of the book tribe.

Free kids from reading lists and they thrive

A few summers ago here at Nocturnal Librarian I wrote about the tyranny of summer reading lists. I argued then that kids should be free to read whatever they want in the summer instead of being made to choose from a list, because reading is more appealing when we have the freedom to decide what we want to read. Turns out I was on to something. The Washington Post reports that a series of studies have shown that when it comes to countering “summer slide” — the loss of skills and knowledge during school vacation — the freedom to read anything they like is a tremendous boost for kids. Those granted this freedom performed better than kids who had to read what their teachers chose.

One paragraph from the story really caught my attention: “For one class, researchers ran a book fair, where each student picked 13 books to take home at the end of the school year. The fair featured a broad range of selections — fiction and nonfiction, classics and newer works — and students eagerly passed the books back and forth, reveling in the opportunity to pick those matching their personal interests while chattering with one another about familiar stories. (An adaptation of Disney’s “Frozen” was especially popular.) Many also chose works considerably above or below their reading levels so they could share with siblings.” The kids in this class were in second grade in Rochester, New York, and an eye-popping 96% of children from their school qualify for free or reduced lunch.

What struck me, besides the tragically high level of poverty? First, the scene: I can recall many a book fair when I was in elementary school, and how exciting it was to pick books knowing I could take them home and keep them. Second, the image of kids “chattering” and “reveling” not over tablets or computers or video games, but books. And third, that strong desire kids showed to “share with siblings.”

This affirmed for me everything I already know to be true about reading: it’s a joy, when it’s allowed to be. There was no book report or test looming after the fair, the kids just knew they could pick a whole armful of books to read. And they couldn’t wait to share their choices, with each other and with their families. Books are meant to be loved not just by one person, but many. The communal experience of hearing a story together, or reading aloud to other people, is a pleasure just about everyone in America experiences either in school or at their local library, if not in their homes. These kids were not only going to read to themselves over the summer, but to others.

I also wondered whether the researchers considered taking kids to get library cards? Or directing families to the summer reading program at their local public library?  Don’t get me wrong — I love that these kids got to own books, and I wish every kid could. But it seemed very obvious to me that libraries are schools’ best partner in helping low income families keep their kids reading during summer break.

Books on the Nightstand, one of my favorite podcasts, has a Summer Reading Bingo card on their site. I might try it. Or I might throw all suggestions to the wind and just read whatever strikes me this summer. What are your summer reading plans?

Joining in the praise

You may have seen the article, “In Praise of Libraries,” published in the Rotarian Magazine, making the internet rounds this week. Naturally I agree with much of what author Joe Queenan has to say about the importance and role of libraries. I thought I’d take a look at how my own public library holds up to his praise:

1. “The public library is the only civic institution in my community that is uncompromisingly successful. . . . Nobody in my town ever stands up and says he dislikes the public library. Nobody in your town does, either.”  In our town I’d have to say this isn’t true. I’ve had people tell me they don’t like using the library, and there are thousands of people who are quietly saying it by never getting a card.

2. “The public library is an indispensable institution that somehow manages to get taken completely for granted.” Yes, I’d venture that if we closed tomorrow, the public would be up in arms that there was no library, even those who have never use it.

3. “The public library serves many functions in a community. It is an adjunct to the public schools, a place where kids can do their homework. It is a day care center of sorts, where small children gather for story hour. It is a safe haven where senior citizens can pass the time in the company of others, where the unemployed can look for work. It is a place where the lonely can be less lonely, the bored less bored, the dejected less dejected, and the ignorant more enlightened. It is the one place in a small town where teenagers cannot possibly get into serious trouble.”  I’d agree with the majority of this paragraph. Save the last sentence.

4. “The public library has features that make it different from any other institution. It is public, in the true democratic sense of the word, and it is free. . . . The library’s philosophy is simple: Come one, come all.”  Yes. As you’ve read here at Nocturnal Librarian this is one of the things that keeps me going, as a librarian. Unfortunately, the fact that it’s open to all is one reason not everyone likes coming to the library. And it’s also one reason I contend that teenagers — or anyone — could conceivably find trouble if they wanted to in many public libraries around the country, including my own.

5. “The wide array of things that libraries offer means that they reach all levels of society. They make society better than it would be if left to its own devices. Libraries are a subtle, almost cunning, bulwark against the racial and socioeconomic segregation that society naturally gravitates toward, even when it does not do so out of malice. People congregate in libraries in a way that they do not congregate elsewhere. Because they are not bound by narrow class or economic or cultural strictures, libraries can cater to everyone.” I agree that we cater to everyone, and should do so. I agree in theory that we make society better by serving as an antidote to cultural, economic, social, and racial segregation. In practice, I think the same people who avoid each other’s company, or more likely, simply do not even truly realize each other’s presence, outside the library do so inside it as well.

6. “Libraries are both aspirational and inspirational.” Yes. Ideally, we are. When we try to live up to our mission, “to connect individuals with resources in order to enhance lives and build community,” anything can happen, anything is possible. This is the other thing that makes me happy to go to work every day.

7. “Public libraries are not judgmental in the way that other institutions are. They offer good books, but they also offer bad books. Lots and lots and lots of bad books. If you want wheat, they will lend you wheat. If you want chaff, they’ve got plenty in stock. Inside the library, it’s a free-for-all, culturally speaking.” Yes. You can find what you want to read, what you didn’t know you wanted to read, what you will be better for having read, and everything in between (and all combinations thereof).

8. “But the most valuable thing that libraries offer us is a path through the looking glass, a sense of wonder. American life is all about planning and regimentation and scheduling and efficiency. The public library is where serendipity reigns. It is the place where you throw out all the rules and wing it. I personally never go into the library and come out with what I went in for. . . .When I wander into the library, I might bring home anything.” Amen. Which is why I always recommend people browse our shelves rather than just looking at the online catalog and then finding specific books. But with roughly half our adult books in storage, that serendipity is not maximized at the moment.

9. Queenan quotes his hometown librarian, Maureen Petry: “We are a community center, yes, so we offer help with doing your taxes and applying for jobs and improving your English. But we can’t just be that. We can’t just be a service organization. We can’t lose sight of our identity as a cultural center.”  Preach it, sister. As I’ve written here at Nocturnal Librarian many times before, we can’t lose sight of what makes libraries libraries even as we try to meet all those other needs Petry mentions. We are a freely accessible place to be thoughtful and quiet and studious, to read, to learn, to discover. Books are at the heart of what we do. Championing reading, lifelong learning, and the value of culture is what makes us more than a community center.

10. And he adds, “Petry says you cannot underestimate the role of the library as a community adhesive. She believes that people become more appreciative of libraries as they mature.” I’d say that the first statement is one we should aspire to but I’m not sure my library is accomplishing; we’re not exactly an adhesive if a majority of our community are not library users. And her second statement is possibly true, and is one reason we serve so many older citizens. But I know many younger patrons, young families, young adults and teens, but also kids, for whom my library is a haven. They count on us for a physical place to be, for internet connectivity, for reading material, for human contact. And I believe they appreciate us.

11. Again from Petry, “It makes you feel that you are part of a community . . . . In the library, you get to feel that you are part of something bigger than yourself. It’s life.”  Yes. I certainly feel that way, and I think both our staff and patrons do too.

12. “The library is thus both the ultimate backstage pass and the rabbit hole we can follow Alice down. The library is not just the House of Knowledge. It is the House of Dreams.” Queenan is specifically referring to the fact that kids aren’t told what to read at the library. Which should be the case. But I think the point applies to everyone. At its best the library opens the door to knowledge and brings dreams within reach. But again I return to point 1 — people have to want to come use the library first.

We have the potential to be all of the things Queenan praises about libraries. We’re already some of those things, at least to the subset of citizens who come through our doors (or our virtual doors, but they have to come in and get a card first). We can be all of this, and we’re working towards that.

Oh how we fret about tech

Three articles related to libraries, technology and e-books caught my eye this week. Taken together, they paint a picture of how much the library and book world collectively fret about whether we’re offering enough technology services to the public.

First there is the Nielsen report about teens’ preference for print versus e-books. I’m not sure how surprising this is, but I know it’s something many librarians and booksellers worry about — will anyone be reading print in the future? I check books out to teens all the time at my library and I am the parents of a teen who has never read an e-book for pleasure and regularly shops for regular books, so my view of this might be skewed by daily experience, but I was happy to read a report that backs up my optimism about print. If young people are not developing an affinity for e-books growing up, it seems unlikely that will be their preference as adults. I was also heartened to read that a solid number — about 45% — of teens are influenced by social media in making reading choicesm which is good news for libraries like mine trying to ramp up our social media presence. I’m hopeful that as The Teen Zone, Concord Public Library’s teen tumblr, and its sibling the CPL Reading-Rumblr, gain more followers, we’ll be helping people find good reads.

Next came a report from Britain on the state of public libraries. I was appalled to read a) only 35% of people in England use the library regularly (the closest stat I could find for the US is 54% who went to a library sometime in the previous 12 months, from a 2013 Pew report), b) one of the major recommendations, according to the Independent‘s story, is to offer Wi-Fi and “a comfortable, retail-standard environment, with the usual amenities of coffee, sofas and toilets,” and c) “The Government should secure changes in European and UK copyright law to enable library users to borrow e-books remotely in the next legislative term, the report recommended.” Whoa. I had no idea that only about a third of British citizens use libraries, that 1/3 of British libraries lack Wi-Fi, nor that in the UK readers can’t check out e-books outside of libraries. Two things really disturbed me:  the suggestion regarding making libraries more like cafes, and this bit about recruiting and training staff: “21st century librarian(s) will need… digital and commercial expertise.” Sounds like the British government believes that if they turn libraries into Starbucks and librarians into cafe managers they’ll have solved their problems! Wi-Fi is important, but focusing on hot drinks rather than recognizing — and educating the public –that librarians’ information skills trump random internet searching seems incredibly short-sighted and, frankly, daft! If the British government doesn’t appreciate librarians’ primary role in supporting the development of a literate and well-read citizenry, I don’t see how any of the other recommendations will do much good.

And about that digital expertise — I hosted the NH State Library’s Technology Resources Librarian Bobbi Slossar recently to talk to our staff about “customer service in the digital age.” I’d heard her speak at the NHLA Reference and Adult Services fall conference, and what really resonated with me about her approach is this point: Bobbi noted that libraries have always had car repair manuals but no one ever expected librarians to go out and do an oil change for a patron, so why should we approach tech. customer service any differently? Her solution is that staff need to focus on being librarians — teaching people how to find the information they need to solve their own tech problems — rather than trying to be help desk staff. And she notes that to teach others, we have to be comfortable with and knowledgeable about tech but even more importantly, we have to use our reference interview skills to get to the heart of what a patron needs. I couldn’t agree more (maybe British librarians should fly Bobbi over to address Parliament?), so I appreciated “The Art of Sweet Talking Or How to Talk Tech to Patrons.” Jason Pinshower, like Bobbi, notes that how we talk to patrons is just as important as what we say. His advice? “Our patrons need to be able to confide in us and feel comfortable being embarrassed about their technology need. Nobody enjoys asking for help.”  I love that. I tell patrons all the time that I personally find printers really frustrating, and it truly does make someone feel better if you admit you struggle with technology.

Thanks for reading Nocturnal Librarian and best wishes for a happy and healthful holiday season. See you in 2015!

 

 

Future libraries

Last week the Slate article “What Will Become of the Library” by Michael Agresta burned up bookish social media circles. Much of what Agresta discusses I’ve written about on Nocturnal Librarian as well; he even mentions “book mountain” in the Netherlands.

He posits that bookless libraries are “almost inevitable” and goes over all the ways libraries are “reinventing” themselves. He covers maker spaces and innovation stations, and the “interventionist” role public libraries have in serving the “dispossessed of the digital age” – namely the homeless. And like so many others he asks whether “patching the gaps of the fraying social safety net” is or should be libraries’ role. (Agresta wasn’t alone on that topic last week — several newspapers covered recent ordinances prohibiting bathing, anti-social behavior, and sleeping in libraries across the country. I can report that in my library’s case, very few homeless patrons actually engage in those activities. A few hard cases make bad law, and always have, but I digress).

Stop yawning.

Having recently read Alfie Kohn’s excellent book The Myth of the Spoiled ChildI’ve become hyper-aware of how some media outlets are a sort of echo chamber of unsupported theories. I don’t know about your public library, but mine is nowhere near, now or in the foreseeable future, becoming a bookless downloadable maker space. There are a few exceptions, but I would guess, having chatted with a broad cross-section of my fellow public librarians at PLA 2014 last month, that most American libraries are much as they were a generation or two ago, albeit with more technology for both staff and patrons and new material on their shelves.

While journalists crow about our impending demise, we are frequently welcoming more people than ever, and not just the homeless; we serve, as we always have, every demographic, rich and poor, old and young, recent immigrant and Mayflower descendant. Are some libraries experiencing lack of growth? Yes. Is that caused by the coming digital smiting of traditional library services? A classic error of assuming causation. Sure, some libraries are losing patrons, for any of the reasons any service oriented business loses “market share,” like poor management or inadequate marketing.

People do visit their libraries for social interaction, as Agresta notes, but they aren’t all printing 3D gadgets or collaborating in a computer lab. Lots of people are attending lectures and classes, story times and book discussions just as they always have, and checking out physical books. Very few library patrons (or any other readers) choose ebooks exculsively — just 4%, according to the Pew Research Center. Many folks still want a quiet space to read or study, and we have that too, just as we always have.

Why the endless chatter about how different we are and how much we’ll have to keep changing when we are in fact, in cities and towns across America, essentially the same? I will allow that I am speculating as well, but I do have the benefit of a network of professionals whose anecdotal evidence indicates that issuing library cards, lending materials, providing information, recommending good books, and putting on programs are still the bulk of their daily work. Just as they were when my grandmother was a librarian. Pew notes that the presence of a library (in the traditional sense I’ve described) is highly valued across generations all over America. Will some communities choose new and different library services? Sure, but I’d bet even those still check out books, every day.

As for Agresta’s “book-oriented library, where it survives in defiance of the digital shift, tends to take on the aspect of a temple for this sort of focused, old-fashioned study and contemplation?” My reaction ranges from “get over yourself ” to “temple, schmemple.” Come browse our romance novels, our large print westerns, our People Magazine and Mother Earth News, our dystopian YA, zombie and horror paperbacks, our Value Line and Cat Fancy and cozy mysteries and chicklit and Amish fiction and inspirational memoirs, our self-help and car repair guides, our cookbooks and comics, and DIY, and then we’ll talk.

Now hear this: Real people, of all kinds, read all kinds of stuff they checked out at their local public libraries. It’s not a catchy lede, but it’s reality.

 

Books via bike

Recently I’ve read about two library systems trying a new outreach tool: bikes rigged to pull mobile libraries. Denver Public Library’s DPL Connect is a “tricked-out trike” and wifi hotspot “designed in partnership with Joe Crennen, a local custom bike builder.”  According to their website, “The librarian riding DPL Connect, armed with a tablet and an internet connection, will provide traditional library services, helping customers with digital downloads (eBooks, audio books, and digital magazines), offering reading suggestions, assisting with research and registering new customers for library cards. Down the road, we’re working on DPL Connect’s ability to operate as a full-service library, complete with the ability to check out materials.”

Library Journal reported on Seattle Public Library’s Books on Bikes, which also provides free wifi and features biking librarians pulling a “trailer was developed and constructed by Colin Stevens, who runs Haulin’ Colin in Seattle” that can carry 500 pounds of materials and can hold an umbrella in case of rain.  Books on Bikes services include everything patrons can do at their library except paying fines and returning books. Books on Bikes librarians can check out books, making Seattle’s version a bit more like a traditional bookmobile. They’re even doing book talks and story times, and have a dedicated collection of 400 books to rotate on the trailer.

Living in a bike-friendly community, I love this idea. I think a bike-powered mobile library unit would work well in Concord for festivals, the weekly farmers’ market, parks, and perhaps even school visits to interest kids in the library’s summer programs. Our main branch is close enough to parks, community centers, and downtown festival and market sites, that we could easily pedal there. A unit based at the City’s recreation department for visiting nearby neighborhoods and sharing library services at city camps and other programs would also be cool. I hereby volunteer to pedal!

I like the full service version allowing people to check books out as well as sign up for library cards, but I wonder if we’d have trouble with materials being returned. Has your library taken services into the community by bike or other mobile units? How have you handled returns and other logistical issues? If you’ve done library marketing by bike, what has the reaction been in your town?