Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Part of Your Librarian Radar

There's a strange radar that comes with being a children's librarian--that of being able to spot a child looking for a parent they can't see. There's a change in body language, a hesitancy. Occasionally the radar malfunctions and the child has already melted into tears but often that first quiet "Mommy?" or slightly fearful look sets off alarm bells ringing. Usually parent/sibling/relative is just down one of the non-fiction aisles, out of direct line of sight but not really that far away. But sometimes I've had quite the stroll around the building in search of "Patron Age 5's Adult."

But we go to search, which is faster and less scary than making them wait while we page the whole building. Generally, the child is okay with walking in the general vicinity of me (the "safe adult") to see if we can't find their grown-up, but sometimes they'll hang back a few feet, just out of reach. They're willing to check down the chapter book aisles in my wake but I'm still a strange adult.

Chalk it up to one of those things you get crowned with alongside "knowing everything" on graduating with the MLS. :-p

Monday, June 29, 2009

Playaway Update

Valerie asked for an update on how Playaways are going.

We've now had Playaways in my library for about 18 months. The collections--in adult, children's and teens are doing quite well. Our adult audio selector had a specific budget line this year for Playaways, which may give you an indication of their rising popularity.

Currently, we have over 350 titles on Playaway. Approximately 160 of those are children/teens, nearly doubling my initial collection purchased in December of 2007.

Fun Facts

* Circulation is good and usage is pretty steady across ages. Our teen collection is seeing the lowest regular use, but even most of those titles are seeing around 5 circulations per year (3 week circ period).

* You do have to replace the entire thing if something breaks, but there are some warranties. Recorded Books gives you a year, which is nice when something goes wrong nine months into owning it. It is occasionally frustrating to not be able to just refinish a disc.

* Now that the initial novelty has passed and purchasing (in youth services) is on a slower trickle, circulation has gone down a little. I anticipated this as I don't have the funds to buy 100 new titles every six months, so I'm not disappointed that the shelves aren't totally picked clean. New titles go out very well and, because I bought a number of classics (Charlotte's Web/Boxcar Children) as well as newer titles, there is usually an audience.

* Picture book authors with multiple titles on one Playaway (Clifford, Doreen Cronin) are VERY popular. I get the impression there are a lot of car rides with those characters in someone's headphones. Clifford is our most popular title in children's; Eragon in teens.

* You can't please all patrons and periodically someone is disappointed that I only have it in one format or the other. It's a matter of budget, whether or not the title warrants it (I decided the Christopher Paolini's Eragon series did but not Michael Buckner's Fairytale Detective series), as well as availability. Neither Harry Potter nor Twilight are currently available on Playaway. Yes, I'm sure. No, I don't know if the publishers will be permitting release in that format. I'm not really sure why, it seems like it would be another good cash cow.

* It's an easy sell to most patrons. If patrons want to listen as a group, especially in the car, a convertor that would work with an mp3 player will also work with this format. It's great for families going on road trips with varied reading interests. It's good for people who need to move around while listening: you can put it in a pocket or some of them come with lanyards. Either way, it's smaller and goes through far fewer batteries than a cd player. It is harder to break or scratch or lose--though I don't recommend patrons try it out on the new puppy. (Harder does not equal impossible.)

* It doesn't take a long time to explain. Most of the kids here are seeing them in the schools, so the technology is familiar to them. Adults seem relatively comfortable with the new technology--though some have thought we reintroduced VHS because of the shape of the cases.

* We chose not to put the locks on the cases. That works for us and to date we haven't had a particular problem with them wandering off. That'll be specific to each library.

* The customer service people at Playaway are nice but occasionally trying. I think they have finally learned that calling me is a sure way to get on my nerves, but in the last email they managed to screw up my adult selector's email address. Their website still gives me headaches--I have a difficult time finding what's new except via subscribing to the RSS feed and their tagging is very strange to me. Unless I'm looking for a very specific title, and even sometimes then, I've found the site difficult to navigate. (Can you imagine that I don't want to page through nearly 3K titles 25 at a time?)

* Ipage now carries Playaways with a 25% discount. More audio publishers are coming on board with the format, which allows for more options to purchase with simultaneous (or nearly) publication of the print version. There's still variance in pricing but in general it's cheaper to get the Playaway (especially from Recorded Books) than the Book on CD. It's nice if you use Ipage regularly as you can make a choice to get both print and audio at the same time.

* We continue to supply the first battery and sell headphones. In children's we do keep a couple of sets of headphones that can be given out as staff warrants necessary. We also chose to purchase a few extra cases, pieces of foam, and battery covers. Particularly with the last, it just seemed prudent and for the I think two that I've had to replace, we didn't charge the patron. I figured a five pack of those every year or so was part of the cost of having them.

Overall the collection is very successful and well used by our patrons. I'm generally hearing only good feedback from the kids and parents in the children's area, with the occasionally wish that we had more titles or titles on both cd and Playaway format. With more digital players and digital downloads being available from public libraries, I think it's a format our patrons will grow ever more at ease with.

If there's a specific question I can answer, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hedgehogs in the News: JAMA

Hedgehogs, we're everywhere, including your major American medical journals.

Thanks to Martha for the tip!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Care and Reading of Chapter Book Series

As I've mentioned before, I do the collection development for the children's room chapter book series. I've got the computer doing a computation on just how many books that is at the moment (minus the hundred or so on order and about to be ordered for July).

3506 Regular Collection
436 New Arrivals/On Order
1359 Paperback books (we're slowly moving those over so they'll be just in the regular collection but with that many, it'll take ten years or so)

Total: 5301 (minus a few that have probably gone missing)

A large number of those are books in series--ranging from Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles to Animorphs to Tiara Club to Harry Potter. There's a wide variety of topics, time periods, age levels, book thickness. Kids love series. (So do adults, for that matter, or some of the more popular mystery and romance novelists would never have made it very far.)

With the care and feeding of the collection comes the making suggestions responsibilities* and that means I take home piles of books. The houseguests who've visted can attest that the "library basket" in my kitchen is overflowing--all the time. I rarely get to read anything more than a picture book at work and I feel severely guilty when I actually stop and go through some of my chapter books more than a brief skim. But how to know what to suggest?

I read the first books in series. I've found that it's usually enough to give me a sense of the series, to know what a child is referring to when they coming looking for the "owl" books or the "pet fairy"; I have a sense of storyline, characters, grade level, can discuss with involved parents whether it would be a good fit for their child, etc.

This baffles some patrons, who are hurt and offended that I'm not reading every single book in the series they most adore. "If you'd only read the second/fourth/fifteenth book" some have pleaded. I'm apparently committing some crime by only deigning to read the first one or three books. Sometimes I'm gentle but often (especially with adults) I'm blatantly honest--I don't have that much time in my life. I have piles of books at home waiting to be read, a few of which are even "adult" books rather than written for those sixth grade and under. On a good day I can squeeze in a couple of hours of reading, but good days are coming few and far between right now.

It's part of the job and I enjoy getting to see what new children's literature is out there. I consider it a testament to really good authors when I say yes, I've read the whole series (and wasn't 8 when I did so). I've praised Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice and Springer's Enola Holmes series before and I'm caught up fully with Enola, though Book 5 of the Ranger's Apprentice on CD is waiting at home for me. I also just sat down and charged through all the new books in the American Girls series, but that was an hour and change of reading...

Such it is and with literally hundreds of new books coming in each year--I unfortunately can't read them all. When I can pass on a series, it lets me get to those rare gems that aren't a series. And really, life is too short to keep reading books I'm not fully invested in.

*in library speak we call that "reader's advisory"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Abandon the Books...

I'm not particularly good at stopping books. Never starting them, that's an area where I excel, as the tomes that have been hauled back and forth to work several times will probably unhappily attest. I'm interested in starting them, except for when I actually go to pick something up to read out of my library basket.

Two books though lost their coveted bedside table spot and were returned un-finished to the library.

Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits
Celia Rivenbark

Another round of Rivenbark's funny stories about living in the deep south. While I appreciate her ability to self-deprecate, throw in some explanations for the Yankees, and generally be southern---I just couldn't get into it this time. Perhaps if I'd charged right into it following Bless Your Heart, Tramp but instead it languished. And surely others need a chance at the humor.

Philip Reeve

Magpie-like, I picked this book up based on the cover of the third book in the series. I've tried to read it and I've tried to enjoy it. I fell asleep over it when I was in NY but that was attributable to exhaustion, I fall asleep over books I'm enjoying all the time.

Reeve sets out a world where a family can live in space, with hoverhogs (convenient vacuum cleaners that have an interesting method of propelling themselves about) and gravity generators and, of course, the absent mother for two kids and the father. Only, spiders show up and take over and the father is killed and the kids must set off on adventures around the universe.

I wanted to like this book but two things bothered me: the unnecessary swearing and the repetitive sentence structure. I'm not the librarian to write off a book just because there is a curse word in it, though it does frustrate me when an otherwise easy-sell book becomes instantly impossible because the parents will not approve on that basis. But here it felt like the author was trying to be cool and edgy, and so was tossing in swearing. It got in the way and felt very out of place for the Victorian setting that the book was supposed to have, where talking of bodily functions is deemed unnecessarily crude. Secondly was the repetitive sentence structure. While this works for rhyming books, it got dull and less imaginative here. And I got bored.

Not everything is a hit, which is all well and good, but these didn't even warrant finishing. At least not for me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who Decided It Could Be June

I need their number because, seriously? June? Really? Practically LATE June no less?

I'm baffled that we're half way through 2009. I'm flabbergasted that the first week of summer reading has already zipped by--though I expect to be crawling home at the end of next week thankful that it's nearly July. Go figure. But it is time to revisit what goals I set myself.

Goals for 2009: 1) Use things -- I have tea, yarn, books...so many things that are here waiting for me. When they start feeling like clutter rather than things I enjoy, it's time to use up or get rid of rather than hold on indefinitely.

Where I'm at in June: I've brought five bags of books to work and sent them downstairs to the Friends Book Sale. And I still have LOTS of books at home. I'm starting to hone the collection though to ones I have read, enjoyed and will re-read. I've gone through most of the huge amount of tea that was residing and I burned a lot of candles, as that is what they are for. Yarn? Well....we won't talk about the yarn at the moment--though I did bring 30 skeins to a stash swap in March and didn't take anything home.

2) Knit for myself. I talk a lot about knitting but almost always it's for other people. Call it selfish but I want some warm woolly things for me.

Where I'm at in June: I finally finished the cowl I cast on for myself in January. I've started on a shawl. I just have to seam up an afghan that will be all wool and all for me! And I've come up with all sorts of things to make for other people.

3) Write for more than just my blog audience. I need a better collection of rejection emails and letters and possibly some acceptances too.

Where I'm at in June: I've come up with another book idea. I have very crazy looking post it notes that require at least a year's acquaintance with me to figure out what I'm talking about. My houseguest last weekend managed to translate it.

4) Scrapbook old papers. Not the incredibly matted, decorated, and beribboned, just the "here's a paper, here's something from junior high" with some notes on the side about why I kept it.

Where I'm at in June: Nothing here yet.

5) Survive braces....20 months to go. (14 ish left now?)

Where I'm at in June: Doing okay, not great but okay. Got the bottom braces on a week ago. Eating spaghetti is creative. I did invest in the platypus flossers and they are amazing and I love them. Rubber bands are a necessary but painful evil. Tylenol is wonderful.

6) Get my books into LibraryThing.

If I volunteered to have beverages and snacks, do you think I could get a flash cataloging mob at my apartment? It could be a small mob, maybe just of one other person to motivate me.

What about you? How are your goals coming?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: Tumtum and Nutmeg

Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall
by Emily Bearn
Illustrated by Nick Price

It always surprises people when in the midst of a serious discussion of library policies, information literacy, sustainability in the current economy, etc--I can suddenly vacillate to talking about the cute new mouse book I'm reading.

Fortunately, as they're shaking their head, I have a lot of talk about. Bearn has combined three short novels that are paired beautifully with Price's detailed drawings.

Tumtum and Nutmeg live in a broom closet long hidden behind a dresser. They live in style, with many bed and bathrooms, and a glorious ballroom that isn't often used. Their residence is part of a ramshackle cottage where an absentminded-professor father and his children Arthur and Lucy live. Having no children of their own, the mice decide to take on the human children, caring for their clothes and doing some repairs to the cottage.

In the first story we meet the mice as Nutmeg decides she'd like to help the children. When their evil aunt arrives and poisons Tumtum, Nutmeg gains assistance from the local General Marchmouse to thwart her. Nutmeg is sadly, given little credit for her various engenuity --though she writes back and forth with Lucy and Arthur, who dub her a good fairy, especially when they drive away the aunt. In their second and third tales, General Marchmouse, who obviously doesn't have enough to do, spurs the two less-adventuresome mice, into situations where they run against rats, sinking ships, pogo sticks, gerbils, and a teacher who doesn't like rodents.

The stories are a delightful and quick read. While I was a little skeptical at Tumtum spending the days reading and eating and lounging whilst Nutmeg bustles about the kitchen--one certainly feels sympathy that their tranquility is so often disrupted by their near neighbor. Bearn provides a lot of detail that brings to life how much differently things are viewed from mouse size (one pork sausage, 6" long, feeds several hundred mice).

It's a thick book, being a 3-in-1, just over 500 pages. But it will capture the heart of the readers as they cheer Nutmeg and Tumtum through their adventures and safely home. For mouse lovers everywhere.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Book Review: Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson is known for her deft skill with words and this latest book packs a wallop. Lia is an anorexic, supposedly recovering, but still caught within the depths of the illness even after her best friend, a bulimic dies from the binge/purge cycle.

Narrated by Lia in a somewhat journal-entry style, the reader is drawn in and it's difficult to get out of the book and to get Lia out of your head. Her hyper-awareness of caloric intake and her obsessive focus on food and weight permeates the pages. You have crawled into the mind of a girl whose entire world is defined by the food she is not consuming. It's defining her relationship with herself, with the other members of her family, and how she perceives everyone else around her.

The book follows Lia in weeks immediately following the death of her best friend Cassie. While struggling with her weight and her attempts to continue to hide her anorexia, Lia is taunted by Cassie's ghost and gives insight via flashbacks to the relationship between the two girls. She turns to the internet and nameless other girls who seek affirmation in their quest to be super-thin. She voices the socially correct platitudes to the adults around her, hiding behind a mask of indifference and frustration.

Anderson's work is powerful in it's capture of the voice of a girl who cannot see anything beyond calories and desiring power over her own body through her ever lowering weight. Anderson has amazing insight and sympathy for girls caught in bodies they perceive as bloated, where they must inflict wounds to let out the pain and subject themselves to too much exercise and starvation to try and achieve what they feel will be beauty and strength.

There have been articles that suggest the book could be a trigger for some. It could. But so could watching the runway models at most of the major fashion shows or actually considering a career in modeling. (I'm on the extra-petite side of things and I know I'd have to "lose inches" as I've heard it referred to in order to model.)

It's a powerful, utterly disturbing book. A quick read but not one I'd recommend for younger teens. It's a frighteningly well done examination of illness from our nation's obsession with being thin.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All the More Reason to Visit

La Crosse, the current residence of this hedgehog, has been chosen as one of the U.S. News and World Report's 2009 "Best 10 Places to Live".

So when are y'all coming to check it out?

(The Master Sergeant* keeps saying he's coming to fish...)

*Tech Sergeant got a promotion!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Celebrating Me :)

A little shameless celebration of me. I was interviewed during the Knitting in Public day in March for an article in our regional knitting magazine.

The article is now available on page 27.