Friday, December 9, 2016

"Perfectly good"

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about library donations. Mainly, about how very often, the very things you want the most... are not what is actually donated. Of course, everyone knows this about book donations. Librarians would gladly welcome a box full of new NYT bestsellers, or a bag full of the latest season of popular TV shows on DVD. Instead what we usually get is a dusty, musty box from someone's garage - plenty of items that are yellowed, torn covers, missing pages, but still "perfectly good." In book resale parlance, these are called "reading copies" - still readable, but in terrible shape and basically with a very low to nonexistent monetary value. There are a few gems, to be sure, but mainly we take these donations for the "feel good" factor. Many patrons will become incensed if you refuse a donation! What is wrong with you? These books are "perfectly good!" You're a library, aren't you? Why aren't you hopping up and down with excitement over my box of dusty, mildewed books? So, to save a fight, we just take everything that's offered. Rightly, or wrongly, the patron walks away feeling happy that they've accomplished a "good deed" and we fish out a few nice items and (quietly) recycle the rest.

Now that I'm the branch manager of a large suburban public library, I've been coming across donations of a different sort. Our library is located on a beautiful set of grounds - admittedly, not terribly well-cared for, but there is a reading garden, a small wooded area, and a meditation maze walking path, along with an outdoor story circle and several benches dotted about. Overall, it's a lovely space, and I'm very lucky to work here. We get a lot of "offers" for donations for the park! In the past year, people have offered up:

  • More benches
  • Evergreen bushes
  • A new garden installation
  • Fresh bulb plantings
  • Several truck loads of wood chips
  • Even more benches
  • More public art sculptures
  • A mural
  • A climbing playground structure
  • Grass re-seeding
  • Recycled tires
  • Rosebushes
  • Yet more benches
  • Pinwheels and other yard decor for the lawn
  • More recycled tires
  • A Little Free Library box
Most of the things on this list are not our top priority, but we have accepted a few of them. Yes, to the rosebushes and the bulbs! (Even though they died out soon after being planted.) Yes, to the wood chips. (Even though it was, perhaps, one truckload more wood chips than we really would have preferred.) 

But, I find myself saying, "no" to a lot of our garden donations. No to the public art (too large for our space), no to the evergreens (too expensive to install, no way to upkeep them), no to the benches (we already have 27,) no to the playground structure (too expensive to install, possible safety liability.) No to the load of tires (we already have more than enough), no to the Little Free Library (competes with our used bookstore sales, and sadly, people tend to fill up LFL's with junk anyway.)

Wow, if I thought patrons got huffy over books being turned away, I had no idea that people would get so upset over our refusal to take their garden offerings. "Well, what am I supposed to do with all these old tires??" Uh, I dunno. Not make them our problem?

I'm walking a fine line between having an involved, engaged community, who are contributing to make our shared space wonderful, but at the same time, not being the place where unwanted garbage is dumped (while people pretend it's a wonderful gift.) Happily, most patrons eventually see sense with a little talking to. 

At first blush, the idea of having our lawn full of pinwheels sounded whimsical and fun. However, when the patron hedged that the pinwheels were coming from their garden, and they were a little worn out, but still "perfectly good," I decided to follow-up with a gentle reference interview. 

"So why are you taking the pinwheels out of your garden?"
"Well, they are a little worn out."
"Do you think I could see a few of them, before you move ahead with installing them?"

And here, the patron brought me a box of the most tattered pinwheels I've ever seen, torn-up, sunburnt and covered in dust. My initial reaction was pure Simon Cowell, "It's a no from me, I'm afraid." But, out of politeness, I continued to gently lead the patron to the logical conclusion.

"Are they all in this condition?"
(somewhat defensively) "These are pretty good."
"What inspired you to want to donate them here? Do you think these would look better on the lawn here than at your house?"
"Um... they look okay."
"Do you think it would make people happy to see them?"
"Why don't you recycle or throw them out? Then purchase new ones, which we'd be happy to install."
"I can't afford to do that!"
"This one is torn. This one doesn't spin anymore."
"So you don't want them?"
"All right."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Read in November

Last month I read the following:

1. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly - Anthony Bourdain

picture credit:  Reflection, Francis John Wyburd

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lucky review

by Rachel Vail
May 2008

First line: "Our toaster is moody."

Eighth-grader Phoebe Avery has led a charmed life: good looks, good grades, she's friends with the popular set, and her parents make a "comfortable" living that includes designer clothes, their own maid and trips to Europe. She's in the midst of planning a major bash to celebrate her eighth-grade graduation when everything starts crashing down around her ears. Her mother loses her high-powered job, and suddenly, the whole family must economize.

I found Phoebe bratty and difficult to like. What sort of eighth-grader angrily demands to purchase a Vera Wang dress? The first clue that all is not right occurs when Phoebe dramatically throws away the family's broken toaster. Her mother angrily fishes it out of the trash, very out of character. Phoebe, of course, has only been imitating her mother who had recently thrown away a slightly imperfect tea kettle.

What is strikingly real about the book is Phoebe's excruciating self-consciousness. It's painful to read, because it takes you right back to that feeling of being in middle-school, and terrified of not fitting in. As the youngest of three sisters, Phoebe always feels like she's trying to prove herself. Phoebe feels like she's barely holding onto her spot in her social circle, as her best friend Kirstyn insists on taking their big graduation party to greater and greater excess. Poor Phoebe is so distracted with her family's money worries, she can hardly spare a thought for Lucas, a boy at school that she's been interested in.

There's something very, very intense about going through tight times at this age - Phoebe is old enough to understand very clearly exactly what is going on, but young enough to be completely unable to help out, or support herself at all. She's utterly humiliated at the idea of having to shop at thrift stores and can't bear to tell her friends the truth about her reduced circumstances. Many tween readers may get a vicarious thrill out of reading this, knowing that if their own situation mirrors Phoebe's, at least there's a very good chance that they'll handle it with better grace than she does. This is the first in a trilogy.

Compare to:
Everything I Was - Corinne Demas

The Not-So-Great Depression - Amy Koss

Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles - Sabine Durant
The Daughters - Joanna Philbin

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Read in October 2016

Last month I read the following:

1. The Midnight Queen - Sylvia Izzo Hunter

picture credit:  A Quiet Moment, Fernand Toussaint

Friday, November 4, 2016

Election 2016!

In general, I try to avoid getting political in my blog... but I have to say, our library is serving as an Early Voting site and as a polling place on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 8, and the lines are the longest that I have seen. I've noticed long lines every day! Voter turnout has been truly stupendous. I do think that's great - when everyone votes, the winner is truly the will of the people.

Political circus aside, I know our patrons have been upset by the loss of our meeting room. A lot of our regularly scheduled programs have had to be moved or cancelled in order to accommodate the election. In truth, it is a bit of a hassle, but I don't mind it! It's only once every 4 years, after all!

I know a lot of our staff are getting frustrated by this election as well. It can be tiring to feel like a broken record, answering the same questions over and over again, about voting dates and times and places, about voter registration status and so on as the phone rings off the hook all day. Personally, this is another one that I am not bothered by at all. I'm always glad to help people, and there's nothing more satisfying than answering the phone and immediately being able to spout out the correct answer! (Because it's the 10th person who asked today!)

I've been asked if I enjoy helping people register to vote and in a kidding-not-kidding tone, been asked if I am more eager to help citizens in the "correct" party. Not at all! I pride myself on staying neutral and truly helping everyone. I might inwardly grimace when a rabid supporter of a party I don't care for successfully registers to vote, but you would never guess it from my professional demeanor!

Just a few days more, and this will all be behind us.

Friday, October 28, 2016

This Savage Song review

This Savage Song
Victoria Schwab
Greenwillow Books
June 2016

First line: "The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn't angry or drunk. She was desperate." 

I loved this fresh, inventive urban paranormal fantasy. In Schwab's dystopian future, the world has come under attack from monsters of our own making - Corsai, Malchai and Sunai, each type springing up when humans commit violent acts. They are kind of like fey-folk, kind of like vampires, kind of totally their own thing.

Super-rare, Sunai only burst into existence after mass murders. Corsai are quite vampire-like, and Malchai are simply ravening monsters that roam the countryside, keeping most humans penned into small fortress-like cities.

Kate Harker is the daughter of a famed crime-boss who wants to prove her toughness to her father, more than anything. August Flynn is a Sunai who hates his hunger for human souls and struggles to reconcile his love of music with it's deadly effects. I liked his unconventional family; murderous Leo who gives in to his taste for killers and sweet Ilsa who models astonishing restraint each provide August with a completely different path that he might try to follow. August Flynn seemed like a smarter, more thoughtful Edward Cullen, that's for sure.

There's the very lightest hint of romance, as August goes undercover at Kate's school, but nothing really develops on that front. Which makes perfect sense! With a city under siege and competing human crime syndicates, who has time to think about romance?

Moody and atmospheric, perfect for Halloween, I'll recommend this to any teen readers who enjoy reading magical books about tortured souls. 

Compare to:
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
The Replacement - Brenna Yovanoff
Chime - Franny Billingsly
White Cat - Holly Black

Friday, October 21, 2016

Baby 365

We did it! This year I vowed to read a book day to my daughter. We finished up reading our 365th board book this month, but we'll keep on reading! This has been such a neat experience. Of course, we have a lot (really a lot) of books around the house, but this project has allowed me to explore what our library has to offer, and given me the excuse to shop for more.

I also felt really humbled by statistics that show nearly half of children are not read to every day. Reading nearly every day was a challenge! And there were a lot of days that we skipped, and a lot of days where we'd read 4 or 5 books. So technically, we didn't read "every day." If a librarian can't read Every. Single. Day without fail, who can?

It has been really fun reading old favorites with my child, and reading those books which were always my favorites to perform during storytime and see her reaction. She likes making chomping noises for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and patting the fluffy dog in Touch and Feel Farm. I also discovered a lot of new authors, and even found that some of my daughter's favorites were affordable books we picked up at the dollar store. Her all-time favorite has to be Jungle Noises. "What sound does a tiger make? Rawr!"


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