Monday, February 26, 2007

An Evening with Elizabeth Berg

A former library co-worker of mine once told me a story about going to Chicago to meet one of her favorite authors at a book signing. Anticipation had built up on the drive there and standing in line to actually be in front of this person who had inspired her greatly. When it was finally her turn, my former co-worker confessed to the author that her life was changed after having read her books – she sobbed with them and she grew with them. The author smiled briefly and said, " And who do I make this out to?" (blink, blink)

I am ecstatic to write that this was most certainly NOT the case when I met one of my all-time favorite ficiton writers Elizabeth Berg last week. She is beautiful, warm and true (and funny!) – much like the books that she writes. I had the pleasure of going to dinner in Kankakee with her and some other library folks. Here are some stories and factoids that she told:

Once when her children were small they had a massive snowstorm and in turn a snow day from school. Elizabeth wanted to turn this into something positive so exclaimed to her kids, "Let's play shoe store!" as they arranged all of their shoes for trying on. Her kids were giddy with delight at this whimsical play. That is until the phone rang. And their friends called for them to play outside. That, of course, was the end of Shoe Store. This little story stuck out at me because it’s the kind of thing that my mom and my sisters and I would play.

Elizabeth must have been a very playful parent as she also told a story of how her kids wanted their stuffed animals to get married. She clapped her hands in excitement and said, "Excellent! We’re going to make a tiered cake!" and then proceeded to plan the stuffed animal nuptials. I, too, remember attending/planning many a wedding of my stuffed animals and my cats (though, they were dubious of this commitment).

She said that she does narration of many of her own books for the audio versions and that one of the most time consuming ones was We Are All Welcome Here because of the heavy accents in the story.

Elizabeth also talked about her love of cover art and how she has cover art approval in her contracts. She gave us a sneak peek of the cover of her newest book, Dream When You’re Feeling Blue. I told her my favorite of her books is What We Keep and she chuckled and replied, "Oh, that’s a good one, isn’t it?" I agreed! Elizabeth said that the cover of that book is actually a picture from her editor – the two girls on the book are Elizabeth’s editor and her editor’s sister.

I was equally taken with Elizabeth’s companion, Bill. He knows a lot about everything and especially everything in the book industry, which makes for fun conversation for me.

At dinner when it came time to order, Elizabeth chose ostrich. That's right – ostrich, as in the big, non-flying bird. She’d never eaten it before and all I could think of was the episode of Mad About You where Paul orders Ostrich for the first time and then proceeds to get sick and have weird dreams that resemble Rowan and Martin's Laugh In episodes. Please don’t get sick and not speak at the Kankakee Public Library, Elizabeth!

She didn't. She said the ostrich was fabulous.

If you are already one of the millions of Elizabeth Berg fans, you may want to listen to the podcast or watch the vodcast of her talk at the Kankakee Public Library. If you’re not yet a Berg fan, check out one of her many books at KPL or at any library or bookstore.

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Non-Traditional Student

It's a fact that a large percentage of the staff at Kankakee Public Library are currently students of some sort. High school, undergrads, grad students, you name it - you can find them here at the library. Which brings me to the topic of this blog post - the non-traditional student. I, along with many others, happen to reside in this demographic of non-traditional student. I am a 31-year-old (it's true!), married mother of a teenager, embarking upon a brand new career in health care. A co-worker/friend asked me the other day what my perspective on college is now as opposed to when I first started my collegiate journey 12 years ago. I had much to offer.

There are major differences:

1) The financial responsibility that is now mine instead of my parent's.
Gone is the hope for talent based scholarships and work study to supplement my weekly existence. Tuition these days is my problem and mine alone.

2) My grades are outstanding. The distractions that prey upon people in their early 20s are no longer an option for me, so I can focus on my studies better. Besides I'm older and haven't the time or money to waste on repeating classes (see #1).

3) My choice in my major is not up for discussion. Between 1994 and 1997, I am sure I changed my major at least 6 times. I'm older and wiser and I've done my research. My career path at this point is much clearer (see #1).

4) My appreciation for my professors is much greater. I no longer view my teachers as my tormentors and I hold them in the highest regard. As opposed to when I was younger and thought I knew everything; I now realize that I'll never know enough. We learn something new every day, sometimes
in the least likely of circumstances. I've learned to be a student of
life. (I think I read somewhere I can get college credit for that?)

5) Most of all I no longer view college as an option. Statistically, it's just not feasible these days to achieve your optimum success in life without a college education. The job market is much more competitive and without a degree, one's resume can often remain at the bottom of the pile or even worse.

Oh what a difference 12 years makes!

Tich Richardson
Youth Services Dept.

Friday, February 16, 2007

On Burning out, Growing up and Crashing SuperVillain conventions...

Finishing a college degree can be a bit, let's say, "frying" for the mind. Don't get me wrong, I love learning for the sake of learning, but working three independent projects in Chicago while commuting, working and living in Kankakee is a surefire way to turn your cerebellum into gelatinous meat byproduct. After all that schoolwork in December, a break was in order. Reading was set aside in favor of sleeping, making music and enjoying my biggest guilty pleasures, video games and films. I had finally come out of my reading slump at the end of January, and I already had drawn up a mammoth list of literature to devour over the next few months.

And that, dear reader, is where Joe Meno comes in. Though I'd never attended any of his classes or lectures, I knew that he was a creative writing professor at Columbia College. What a better way to celebrate graduation than by reading a work by a professor of my alma mater? (I certainly wasn't going to reread Ted Uzzle's Technical Fundamentals of Audio, as much as I liked the guy.) In fact, two of his works were sitting at the top of my list: Haircuts of the Damned and The Boy Detective Fails. I found myself surprisingly disappointed by Meno's critically well-received attempt at a coming-of-age story (Haircuts of the Damned), so I expected very little from the Chicagoan's next effort. However, the moment I laid eyes upon the small glob of introductory text tucked into the lower right corner of the first page, I knew that this work would be a special one.

The style of Boy Detective is a departure: the narration takes on a deceptively simple structure reminiscent of the genius child-sleuth genre. However, rather than presenting us with a handsome and sharp young genius child, Meno introduces us to a veritable has-been: former child genius Billy Argo, a nervous, pill-popping wash-up of a man, newly released from a ten-year stint at a mental hospital after his sister (and fellow sleuth) Caroline takes her own life. Alone and unsure in a world very different from the one in which he solved crimes as a child, Billy tries everything he can to get by - avoidance, distractions, feigning helplessness- until he gives in and does the only thing he can: solve the mystery that is the life around him.

The resulting story is simultaneously surreal and touchingly realistic, mixing bizarre crimes (disappearing buildings, scheming corporate overlords, absurd super-villain organization conventions) with mundane postmodern existence (dead-end jobs, antidepressants, social anxiety). Wry humor keeps the book in place throughout - well enough, in fact, that I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. Meno knows, it seems, how to touch his readers on many fronts. The novel slyly poses the question to us: "What happened to the wonderment and adventure of childhood?"...and answers that question quite well. For any one of us who ever faced failure in adulthood, being burnt-out after the brightness of childhood, or the loneliness in the working world, The Boy Detective Fails is for you.

Nick Garcia
Adult Services Dept.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Falling in Love With the Dutch...

It seems appropriate, being Valentine's Day, that I admit my newfound love for the Dutch. I first fell in love with Delft, Holland when I read Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring - a beautifully written book that took place in 17th century Delft. But I fell in love with Delft all over again - and more to the point, two Delft librarians - last week when they visited the Kankakee Public Library.

Erik and Jaap of DOK Delft Public Library in the Netherlands are filming a documentary on gaming in libraries and visited Chicago last week to visit some "innovative libraries." Lo and behold, Jenny Levine of The Shifted Librarian and also the American Library Association suggested that Erik and Jaap might check us out. Kankakee Public Library in a documentary? By Dutch librarians? You don't have to ask us twice! We were driving up to University Park to pick up Erik and Jaap at the Metra station faster than you can say "Goedemorgen!"

I cannot accurately describe the enthusiasm and humor that these two brought with them. Erik and I began talking from the moment we met and didn't stop for the next few hours. Erik and Jaap are both truly amazing. The DOK Delft Library website reads "DOK is on a mission to become the world´s most modern library" and boy!...are they ever! Read on...

"In order to do this we believe we need to have the best communication with our users possible. Therefore we our working very hard on innovations. One of these has been presented recently on a seminar Publishing beyond look and is called Tank U. TANK U wants to be a place in town where passers-by may download information on their mobile phone. Made available free of charge by their public library to inspire users with suggestions for reading, viewing or listening. Not the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, but suggestions that broaden one’s horizon and get the user in touch with all things beautiful the library has to offer."

TANK U is only one of so many innovative things that they're working on over there. Erik and Jaap at DOK are definitely ones that I'll be watching in the coming years. It is people like this that truly make me LOVE this profession. Goedenacht, Erik and Jaap! You have a devoted following here in Kankakee!

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services

Friday, February 02, 2007

Top 5 Library Problems

A friend is taking a college Literature class and had to interview a public librarian. Her assignment was to ask what are the top 5 problems with libraries today. I told her she'd better sit down for this. Here are my Top 5 Library Problems (with possible solutions/ideas)...

1.) The biggest problem that faces public libraries today is whether we will be around in the next 20 or 30 years. Reference librarians will shout from the rooftops the importance of using a librarian vs. using
Google. They say what we do is far more complex than just finding data/answers on the internet. We are trained to extract information from the patron and use a variety of electronic databases (and yes, Google, etc..) and local resources to find the answers to what people are looking for. That's all true - but users are getting savvier and I think we all need the face the harsh truth that they really may not need us in 20 or 30 more years. Let me clarify - they may not need libraries the WAY that they've needed us in the past. Something that we've been doing at my library is changing the focus of traditional Reference to a plethora of "Adult Services.” We try to be a community center for the downtown area. We do computer classes for the community (both in the library and soon out in the city), and we bring in award-winning authors, performers, and lecturers to the library for programs. We're trying to provide a service for our community that is unique.

DRM – Digital Rights Management and the “book” – The same battle that is going on with the music industry and the movie industry right now is also going on with the publishing industry. What consumers want and what the “industry” wants are two different things. The publishing industry doesn’t want to give copyright over for digital downloads of books because they’re afraid that will be the end. Users/patrons would like to be able to download books onto their MP3 players and their iPods. Well, the publishing industry wants to secure this so that people will still *buy* their books in any kind of format. Libraries do use products like and others but there aren’t any (that I know of) that are compatible with iPod (and iPods dominate the MP3 industry). What is the future of books? Will books go the digital route and will we dispense with “the book” as we know it today? I don’t think it’s a one or the other kind of issue. I think there will always be books because like movie theaters – they are an “experience.” I can download a movie and watch it on my computer, watch a movie On Demand or rent a DVD – but none of that takes the place of the “cinematic experience” that is the movie theater. It’s the same issue with books. Nothing quite takes the place of the “book experience.” Even if the industry works out DRM to everyone’s advantage – I think we’ll still see books in their original form and still have a need for them in libraries and in bookstores.

3.) Teens – Teens are a perpetual problem for libraries, but in an ironic sort of way, they are also the solution(wow!...profound! You've never heard that before). By that I mean that teens are the future users of libraries, so libraries certainly don’t want to write them off. But we have to entice them with things like gaming (
DDR, Second Life, Worlds of Warcraft, traditional games, etc..) and social networking sites (My Space, Chat/IM, Wikis, FaceBook, YouTube, Flickr, Tagged, etc..) to get them *into* the libraries. Once we get the teens there, then we try and introduce literature and incorporate that into the fun. My library, in particular, “gets” this. We use popular themes like American Idol and Amazing Race and incorporate those themes into book clubs. You can see examples of this on my library’s Flickr site. The way some teens can be a problem is that they can be unruly and destructive, and this drives adult users away from the library. If you need an example look at Maplewood Public Library in New Jersey. The New York Times did a piece on them a few weeks ago when they announced they were going to have to close down the library during after school hours (3pm-5pm) until further notice because the teens had taken over the library (later the community did step in to help out so they wouldn't have to actually close). Sometimes you have to "think outside the book" (sorry, bad pun) on how you deal with teens. If you do it right – you’ll have future library users (and taxpayers)…if you do it wrong – well, you may have turned a person off of libraries indefinitely.

4.) Funding – I put this down towards the bottom because my director always says, “Never let lack of money hold us back from doing what you want to do. If we have ideas, intelligence and enthusiasm, we can do anything.” I believe that this is true. But, the reality is also that libraries are cutting back on services all over the country because of lack of funding. Often at the local level, tax referendums don’t pass and that means that libraries have to cut their hours, their staff and hence their services. This means that librarians need to try even harder to promote libraries and think outside of the box on how we can do this on limited funding. Taxpayers and government will pay for what they think they need to pay for – if librarians don’t find different ways of promoting why we are necessary, we will eventually not survive.

5.) Censorship – In particular, “digital censorship.” There was some legislation introduced a few months back called
DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act). In a nutshell, the Act wanted schools and libraries to have internet filters and to prohibit social networking sites, and this includes email and chat/IM, to users who are under the age of 18. Now, this isn’t really an issue of liberals vs. conservatives because believe me, there were (and still are) plenty of liberals who are in support of this. This is an issue of people who are afraid of sites like My Space and are afraid of chat because they believe there are too many crimes going on against minors. If DOPA was passed, my library would have needed to put filters on all of the internet computers (because they were purchased with certain funds) and we’d have to ban email and chat (among many other things like this blog, for example!) from these computers because we do allow teens on them. We could literally walk over to the computer and switch the filters off for adults and then switch them back on for anyone under 18. This would be impossible for staff – so this would have meant that we’d just have to leave the filters on altogether and no one would be able to email in the libraries. Can you imagine a student going into his public library and not being able to email his paper to his professor? I can’t imagine being a patron in my library and not being able to email or chat with my brother-in-law in Afghanistan. I also can’t imagine trying to do research on “breast cancer” but the filters won’t allow access to articles that have the word “breast” in them (yes, this is an actual example). DOPA was passed in the House in July of 2006 but died in the Senate. But I hear rumors of similar legislature taking form. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. There is no doubt that it can be scary what children have access to on the internet, *BUT* that doesn’t mean that the federal government should make the decision on what patrons can and cannot view on library computers. That is something that should be decided at the local level.

And there they are. The Top 5 Library Problems according to me. My Assistant Director says, "Try not to introduce a problem without also introducing a possible solution." Sage advice. Kankakee Public Library may not have all the solutions. But, we do love a good challenge. Problems? Bring 'em on! We're ready.

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services