This Is Why I Love Libraries

In my post about hatred the other day, I mentioned my life motto: “I am human: nothing human is alien to me.” (In the Latin, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”)

And all at once it strikes me—this is why I have always loved libraries.

Libraries give me access to the full depth and breadth of humanity. All of our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our fears, our creativity and cultures, our histories, our plethora of worldviews and philosophies and beliefs.

All our stories.

I can access all of this through my library. If my library doesn’t have it on the shelf, they can find it and get it for me.

Libraries are where I go to learn how to be human, in all our myriad aspects.

The Genres that Scare Me

I spend a fair amount of time talking about the importance of diversity in our stories and reading culture. I fully support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. I’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of my own reading, both in terms of authors and characters.

I read two posts over the past couple of weeks which spin the idea of diverse reading in a slightly different direction:

I Can’t Even with Librarians Who Don’t Read Diversely by Molly Wetta (posted on Bookriot, August 12, 2016)

Call to Action: Get Out There and Read Something You Are “Afraid” Of by Becky Spratford (posted on RA for All, August 22, 2016)

Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).

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Conversations about Libraries, Conversations about Privilege

A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman who insisted that public libraries are going to disappear soon. He voiced the standard arguments about how everything is online now, and how ebooks are going to replace print entirely. His conclusion: libraries are irrelevant in the modern digital age.

Like so many people who take this position, this gentleman personally loves libraries and sees their inevitable passing as a loss to society. It makes him sad to think that there won’t be any more neighborhood libraries (even though he freely admits that it’s been years since he last set foot in his local library).

Of course, I spoke up to correct him. The stats make it very clear that libraries are as relevant to their communities as ever. Public library usage has actually increased with the advent of the digital information age, increased yet more during the recent economic crisis, and popular approval ratings are as high as they’ve ever been and holding steady. I shared all these stats with him. I shared multiple calculations of the economic impact of libraries and the ROI for every tax dollar invested—libraries are the single best public investment most communities can make. I talked about how libraries bolster and expand educational opportunities for kids and adults, citizens and immigrants, and the illiterate. I talked about how libraries can function as neutral gathering places during times of community upheaval. I talked about the library’s role in upholding the freedom of information and expression in our society. I talked about our computer labs and maker spaces and coding sessions and 3D printers and recording studios, our creative writing groups, our book groups, and our art spaces. I talked about our public programming and community discussion forums.

It was so clear to me that this gentleman would be happy to know that libraries are doing very well, adapting more-or-less adeptly to changing circumstances as they’ve always done, and they remain well-used and beloved by their communities.

That’s not what happened.

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How Libraries & Librarians Can Promote Community Health

April Roy is the branch manager at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. April is a 2015 winner of the “I Love My Librarian Award” from the American Library Association in recognition for her work at Bluford.

You can read an article about her work here:

KC librarian honored for transforming branch, community

by Donna Pitman (KMBC, January 20, 2016)

April and her staff are amazing librarians and they’ve done incredible things for their neighborhood. I’m exceedingly proud to be a part of the same library system.

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I’m Reviewing for Booklist Online Now

I’ve been rather silent on this blog lately. That happens sometimes. In this case, I’ve been worn out from working on projects around my house. Totally worth it, though, because I now have (among other things) a whole floor-to-ceiling wall of built-in bookshelves!

Bookshelves
Pardon the wonky persepctive—I swear these shelves are actually straight & true. These are hand-built from a design that (as far as I know) was created by my dad. I grew up in a house with shelves just like them and I’ve always wanted to build my own. They’re a bit over 9 feet long and close to 8 feet tall. My wife & I used to have around a third more books than this, but I got rid of a significant portion of my collection when we moved from Chicago to Kansas City. Movers charge by weight, after all.

I’m also excited to announce that I’m now reviewing for Booklist Online. My primary focus for them will be adult SF with an occasional nonfiction title thrown in. So… not all that different from the kind of books I review here.

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When People Ask Me about My Favorite Authors

In my continuing quest to find my way into and through the world of Readers’ Advisory…

Sometimes people will ask me how to get started on a particular author. They haven’t read anything by this author, but they know I have and they want to give ’em a try. They ask me which of the author’s books is my favorite, or which they should read first.

My initial impulse is to tell them which book is my personal favorite by the author. But I also know that what appeals to me might not be what appeals to them, and so my favorite might not be theirs. Learning which is my personal favorite might tell them something about me, but it might not be their best entrée into the author’s body of work.

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Internet Access as Public, Social & Cultural Space

In his book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, Dr. Wayne Wiegand groups library services into three major categories:

  • Information access
  • Reading materials
  • Public space

These categories clarify a nagging issue I have with the language we use to talk about the importance of internet access in libraries. The following quote from a recent article by Larra Clark is a good example:

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