Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Secret Shopper

Today, I did some spy work, and secret shopped the readers' advisory desk at a local library. I wasn't sure what to expect especially after hearing some of the horror stories in class. However, I was fairly pleased with the experience.

I walked up to the desk and the lady smiled at me and asked if she could help me. I said, "I was hoping you could recommend a good book for me to read." She laughed a little (not meanly) and asked what I like to read. I told her I'm currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and love it. I said I also loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, so I guess more historical fiction. I told her that I also enjoy fantasy though too.

She thought for a minute then grabbed a book that was on display behind her, Garden Spells. She said that since I liked the other two books, I'd probably like this one, and since I'm okay with fantasy the magical elements of the book would probably be appealing to me. She did say that it is set more in modern times.

However, she didn't stop there. She had another book in mind too and took me to the stacks to find it. However, it had been checked out. She wrote the title on a piece of paper for me though. She said that this book was about a leper colony in Hawaii. She said she thought it was a pretty interesting book.

She then showed me a display they have for read-a-likes for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. (The library I went to was in Hamilton County, where this is the county-wide book for the months of March and April.) She suggested a book to me from this display. She suggested City of Thieves by David Benioff. She told me that it was about WWII, but that Benioff's writing is fast-paced and funny. I told her that that sounded good to me, because I enjoyed how The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was fairly light-hearted despite it's serious topic.

I ended up leaving with three books and a title she wrote down for me for later. I'm pretty excited to read all of the titles she had suggested. I was a little surprised that she did not use any RA tools. I mean she did use the book display, which I guess is a tool. I made it easy on her by mentioning I enjoyed a book they have a display for, I suppose. But I guess I was still expecting her to use more tools. Despite that, however, I felt pretty happy with the experience. She was very nice and willing to help me. She would have kept looking for more books for me if I didn't say the three she had already chosen sounded good. I'm not sure if she was a MLS or not, I didn't ask. I wouldn't be surprised if she was. She provided wonderful suggestions and great customer service.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Five Readers' Advisory Interviews

I decided to document my RA interviews with tables. This was the easiest way for me to organize my thoughts and the results of my interviews. I asked pretty much the same questions for each person -- What was the last book you read? Did you like it? What is your favorite book? What did you like about it? What is your favorite genre? I then asked more detailed questions if need be.

You can click on an image to enlarge it -

Overall, this was good practice for me. I found it more challenging than I had thought it would be in some regards and easier in some ways too. It's a daunting task to help someone find a book they may like out of all the possible books out there! All the people I interviewed I know, which I think helped in some ways because I knew more about them than just what they revealed in the interviews. I think this may be harder in a real-world setting where strangers come up asking for book recommendations. But the challenge of it is kind of fun. It's such a joy to help someone find a good book for them. And if it takes a while and if it's challenging, then I think the end result of finding that right book is even more rewarding.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We Could All Learn a Thing or Two from the Children's Librarian

After our discussion in class, I've been thinking about library programs for adults. Why did so many have a bad or so-so experience? That seems like missed opportunities on the part of the libraries in my opinion.

The program I attended was interesting, but there were no librarians present. There were no library books. It didn't really feel like a library program. It made me wonder if readers' advisory and reference librarians should be talking with children's librarians a bit more.

Children's librarians, I feel, on average are better programmers. I think children's programming is more expected in libraries than adult programs which may be the main reason for that. I mean the preschool storytime is a library staple. But children's librarians know how to engage their audience. They know how to entertain while educating. They know how to promote their collection. They know how to get people to come back for more programs. It seems to me that librarians who program for adults could learn a thing or two from children's librarians.

Now, I'm not suggesting that there should be adult storytimes that begin with the group singing "Mr. Golden Sun" followed by the librarin sitting in her rocking chair reading a picture book. I don't think that'd go over too well with an adult audience. However, there are aspects of a children's program that could work very well with adults. A good storyteller can be enjoyed by any age. The story may be made more sophisticated, but a storyteller telling an engaging story can be an enjoyable program for adults.

Another children's activity that translates well for adults is crafts. Crafts do seem to be in several programs I have seen listed at different libraries, whether it be sculpture building or watercolor, arts and crafts are an activity enjoyed by any age.

The main thing though that I have seen children's librarians excel at is promoting their collection. They'll have books available for check-out lined up near the door. They'll have books related to the program in hopes that someone will be intrigued by the program and want to learn more. I've also seen children's librarians create handouts or bookmarks that they pass out at the end of a program with a list of similar titles that program participants may be interested in.

There may be many librarians who program for adults out there who excel at creating programs, but from personal experience this has not been the case. I feel more like their created to fill space. Their created on the fly almost. Whereas the children's programs I have seen are full of energy and well thought-out activities. It just seems to me that more of that joy of the library should be able to translate for adults as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Owls and Other Fantasies

Mary Oliver is certainly a name to know when it comes to modern poetry. Her work is new, but she writes as an old soul. Owls and Other Fantasies is a prime example.

Reading Oliver's work reminded me of reading Emerson or Whitman. She has that deep appreciation of nature. Oliver looks at the beauty around her a bit deeper than most people do. For example she writes in her poem "Spring," "...My, in his/black-feckled vest, bay body with/red trim and sudden chrome/underwings, his is/dapper..." Her description of this bird is so detailed that a reader can easily picture him. She goes on to describe this bird's courtship with a female and the beauty of the circle of life that is present each spring. This is just one example of the beauty of Oliver's writing.

Oliver's poetry is gentle and unforced. She examines the beauty of nature as well as some of the darker sides of life. "Hawk," my favorite poem in this collection, is one that examines the darker side. This poem battles the ideas of religion with the natural order of the world. Upon seeing the hawk perched alert on top of a tree, Oliver writes "and I said: remember/this is not something/of the red fire, this is/heaven's fistful/of death and destruction." She refers again to religion later on in the poem by writing, "and I said: remember/the tree, the cave,/the white lily of resurrection." In the end, she desribes the hawk: "seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it/turned into a white blade, which fell."

Owls and Other Fantasies would be a great suggestion to someone who enjoys poetry about nature. This would also be a great suggestion for someone who isn't sure about reading more classic poetry. I feel Oliver's writing would be a good stepping stone into the "harder" classics.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poetry and Readers' Advisory

I've been trying to find articles about poetry and readers' advisory, but that topic seems to be non-existant. Why is that? There are entire textbooks on genre fiction and readers' advisory. Why should poetry be left out? Well, I was able to find some possible answers to that question.

First of all, poetry's not as popular as genre fiction or non-fiction. As Dominique Raccah writes in his article, "The Promise of Poetry in a Digital Age," poetry is one of the poorest sellers in bookstores. It would only make sense that the same would be true for libraries. But why? Why is poetry such a poor seller? Raccah suggests that poetry tends to make readers feel a bit uncomfortable. He mentions that "no matter how learned the reader was, people generally were unsure of themselves in tackling poetry." Now it should be said that Raccah is the CEO of Sourcebooks, the publisher of Poetry Speaks. Poetry Speaks is a book of poems accompanied by CDs of poets reading their work. Raccah is suggesting in his article that this book helps people become more comfortable with poetry because they can hear the poems read outloud. Regardless of his obvious objective in writing this article, I still feel that Raccah makes a good point in suggesting that poetry does tend to make people uncomfortable. I am an English major who enjoys poetry, but I still feel uneasy or confused at times when reading poems.

Raccah may also be correct is suggesting that hearing poetry helps people get more out of poems than simply reading them. PoetryArchive.org, created by 1999 U.K. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, seems to agree with Raccah on this point. They explain that poems were originally made to be read aloud. Hearing poems was more important than reading them. In that tradition, perhaps hearing a poet read his work would be more meaningful than reading a poem on your own.

In addition to the challenges that poetry presents to readers, I also feel that poetry is not as popular because people tend to cling to certain poems that have great meaning to them. In my opinion, it can be more difficult to drift away from a favorite poet than from a favorite author. For me, that poet is Robert Frost. I had to memorize "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," in fourth grade. It was that poem that really introduced me to poetry. It was that poem that caused me to fall in love with this art. I can read other poems by other poets, and I have, but none have stuck with me like Frost's work.

So, what is a readers' advisor to do? There are several resources out there that are helpful in locating particular poems, themes, poets, etc. It would be helpful to familiarize ourselves with these resources. A patron may have a poem in mind, but only knows a single line of the peom. Or they may want a book of poetry on animals or robots. These resources can be quite helpful. If a patron wants to read poetry, but doesn't know where to start, a collection of poems may be a nice suggestion. Perhaps the patron will then find their own Robert Frost.

Some suggested resources:

Poets.org (created by the Academy of American Poets)

PoetryFoundation.org (publishers of Poetry Magazine)

loc.gov/poetry (Library of Congress - contains info on Poet Laureates, news conferences and links to other useful sites)

PoetryArchive.org (Inclues searches by poet, poem, theme or poetic term - great for teachers)

guardian.co.uk/books/poetry (includes reviews of new poetry)

Bartleby.com/verse (includes many of the classic poets)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I was originally going to read a street lit book, but something else caught my eye. Hamilton county has a program each year called "Hamilton Reads." This program encourages all of Hamilton county to form a book club, basically. We are all encouraged to read the same book in order to create more opportunites for discussion. There are also several programs centered around the book that take place during the two-month long program. This year's book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Therefore, I've chosen to read this book, an historical fiction novel, as one of my six titles.

I really fell in love with this book. Although, I wasn't so sure during the first few pages. This book is written entirely through letters. It was a little difficult getting used to that format at first, but once I did I really came to enjoy it. There's something very personal about reading letters. You feel like you're getting to really know the other person through what they write. I also felt a bit like I was spying on other people by reading their personal letters. It was kind of fun.

This novel centers around Juliet Ashton, a writer living in London just after WWII. Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. Mr. Adams tells Juliet that he had found a book that had once belonged to her. Her name was inside the cover. The book was by Charles Lamb and Mr. Dawsey asks Juliet if she could perhaps help him locate more books. He mentions that he is part of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is intriqued by Mr. Dawsey and his literary society (particularly what the society's name means). She writes back, starting a pen-pal relationship with not only Mr. Dawsey, but all of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Juliet begins to develop friendships with the people of Guernsey through her letters and decides that she would like to write a book about them. She discovers that Guersney was occupied by the Germans during WWII. The islanders had it fairly rough during the war. The literary society actually came to be because of the German occupation. A group of the societies members were out past curfew one night, and when caught, they came up with the excuse that they were coming home from a literary group. The German officers were interested and let them go. The next day the group gathered as many books as they could find and began their made-up literary group in order to cover-up their lie. The facade became real. They were able to find an escape from the harsh reality of the world around them through books. Literature saved them in a way.

Juliet is fascinated by the islanders experiences and decides to travel to Guernsey herself where she falls even more in love with Guernsey and its people.

Filled with unique characters and relationships and information about WWII, literature, friendship and love, this is a book that I was easily able to become lost in. I would certainly recommend this to fans of historical fiction or literary fiction. This would also be a great suggestion to someone who enjoys untraditional formats.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster/0743291476/$25.00

A.J. Jacobs, editor-at-large for Esquire Magazine, decided to take on the seemingly impossible for a year -- following the Bible as literally as possible. He admits that he is not a religious man though his family is traditionally Jewish. However, he felt obligated to explore the top-selling book in the world.

Jacobs uses humor and compassion to describe his experiences of following the 700+ rules outlined in the Bible, all of which he tries to obey (assuming they're legal in today's society.) He grows a beard, he doesn't wear wool and linen together, he rests on the Sabbath, he prays regularly, he doesn't touch menstruating women, and he stones adulterers (which he accomplishes at one point by dropping a pebble on a man's shoe). However absurd or strange the rule may be, Jacobs keeps at least a partially open mind and tries to follow it as best as he can. During his year-long journey, Jacobs comes to find himself appreciating religion and leaving behind some of his secular ways.

While, Jacobs does cover the Bible is some detail, he creates an approachable book that people of any religious background can read and enjoy. Funny, engaging and thought-provoking this is certainly a title worth recommending.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I had never before read a Sherlock Holmes novel. I, of course, knew who Sherlock Holmes was. I had a mental image of him before ever opening one of Arthur Conan Doyle's books. But I felt that I was really missing out on something, making my classic an easy choice. I wish I could say I had a brilliant reason for choosing to read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes over one of Conan Doyle's other novels, but the truth is it was one of the few novels available at my library on the day I was there. However, I felt that it was a pretty good first read of this series.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is actually a collection of short stories, although the stories do refer to one another from time to time. It's a great pick to suggest to a reader who may not be sure that they want to read a classic. A reader can just read a story or two from this collection. Each story is around twenty pages making them a good length for a reluctant reader.

I also feel that this would make a good first classic read because this book if filled with so much. There's suspense, horror, humor and mystery. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is very much character driven. It was the characterization of Holmes that really made this book appealing to me. The best thing that I can compare Sherlock Holmes to is the TV series House. Like House, Holmes is a brilliant man who can often figure out things no one else can. He has a loyal friend, Dr. Watson, who reminds me of House's friend Dr Wilson. Holmes uses drugs, much like House has drug problems. Although, at least in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes' drug use is not mentioned very much. Both House and Holmes are arrogant and well aware of their brilliance. However, their characters are likeable despite their arrogance. Both characters make sarcastic comments which are fairly humorous at times. Much like watching different episodes of House, there is a mystery that holds each story together, and the ending of the short stories of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are somewhat known. The reader knows that Holmes will surely solve the case. It is following Holmes as he comes to the solution that is fun and exciting.

The only down side of this particular Holmes book was that while each chapter had a mystery, I'm not sure that a die-hard mystery fan would really enjoy the tales. It is hard to develop a full mystery with twists and unexpected results, as Agatha Christie does so well, in twenty pages or so. I'm interested to read a full-length Holmes novel to see if the mystery is developed a bit more fully. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to others.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quality vs. Demand

What's more important? Which should the library be more concerned about? The quality of its materials or the demand of the masses? It's not an either/or. Both are important.

Libraries are not going to bring people in if they are focused solely on quality. Not everyone wants to read the classics. This would result in a feeling towards reading that many students feel in the classroom. Forcing students to read Melville, Shakespeare or Faulkner is not going to get many interested in reading. If the choices in the library for adults are along the same lines, then their views of reading will never change. Reading is important for reading's sake alone. Being able to engage the mind through reading is important. As Ross mentions in her article "Finding Without Seeking," even readers who read "fluff" are engaging their minds and learning. They are relating to characters or seeing a different view of the world. Just because they are not getting this reaction through classics does not diminish the effect that that reading experience had on them. Isn't opening peoples' minds to different view points, even if they're fairly minor, good for society as a whole? Isn't helping people engage their minds a public good? If libraries can reach people by listening to the demand, then there is nothing wrong with that.

On the flip side, however, there is something to be said for quality. Many classics have become a part of our shared knowledge, our culture. It's for the public good for a library to help in maintaining that. One of the students in another class is an elementary teacher. She had mentioned that she had asked her class to name some fairy tales. The only tale that anyone in her class could name was Shrek. They couldn't come up with Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood. That's incredibly sad to me. These fairy tales are shared knowledge in our society. If the next generation does not know them, what does that say about our society? About our culture? To me this is a prime example of the importance of the quality in the library. These stories may not appeal to patrons on their first few trips into the library, but as readers' advisors, we can eventually show readers quality materials that we think they'll enjoy. Use the demand to bring them in, so we can introduce them to the quality.

So, yes, I believe quality and demand are both important for a library. The trick is to find the balance. This can be difficult when there is limited space. But I believe it's important for a librarian to remember the importance of both sides of this argument because they are both quite valid.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anansi Boys

Neil Gaiman has to be one of my new favorite authors. I was introduced to Gaiman as an undergrad with his Sandman graphic novels. I then read my first novel by him last semester in my Materials for Youth course, The Graveyard Book. Anansi Boys was my first Gaiman novel written for adults. I was not disappointed.

Anansi Boys follows Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy, the son of the god Anansi. Anansi is the trickster spider-god of many tales. And there are several Anansi stories throughout the book.

In the beginning of the novel we learn that Fat Charlie is living and working in London and is engaged to an optimistic girl named Rosie. Fat Charlie, as is evident by his nickname, did not have it easy growing up. His father teased him and played tricks on him. For example, his father got Fat Charlie to dress up as President Taft on Presidents' Day, telling him that all the kids dressed up as their favorite president on that day. That's just the sort of childhood Fat Charlie had until he and his mother moved away from Fat Charlie's childhood home in Florida and moved to London. Fat Charlie's mother dies peacefully several years later and Fat Charlie's father came to say good-bye to her. We learn that they really did love one another.

Fat Charlie worked hard and was under-appreciated, but overall was doing okay for himself. He loved Rosie and was pretty happy with his lot in life. Until he learns that his father died. Fat Charlie then has to fly to Florida for his father's funeral. He hadn't been back to his childhood home since he and his mother left many years earlier. He remembers some of the houses and recognizes the old lady who lived near them, Mrs. Higgler. Mrs. Higgler surprises Fat Charlie by telling him that he has a brother. Fat Charlie thinks this is crazy. "It's true," Mrs. Higgler tells him. "Just tell a spider you want to see your brother, and he will come."

Fat Charlie figures Mrs. Higgler is now old and senile and doesn't pay her much mind. He returns home to London and Rosie. However, he has a thought lurking in the back of his mind that maybe he did have a brother at one point. Fat Charlie figures there's no harm in trying, and he picks up a spider and asks it to bring his brother to him.

The next day a man shows up at Fat Charlie's door. He says his name is Spider and that he's Fat Charlie's brother. Spider seems to be the opposite of Charlie. He's better looking and more charasmatic. He's able to talk his way out of things and can talk people and things into doing what he wants them to do. He's just like Fat Charlie's father. He's the brother who got the God part from their father. Once these brothers meet, madness occurs. Free-wheeling Spider finds that he likes living with Charlie. He likes pretending he is Charlie, and since he can make people think what he wants them to think, he can pretend to be Charlie pretty easily. Spider gets Charlie in trouble at work, he falls in love with Rosie and he adds a hot-tub to Fat Charlie's apartment. Eventually Fat Charlie has had enough with Spider and returns to Florida to talk with Mrs. Higgler and a few other women about ways to get rid of him. This forces Charlie to discover more about his father, his brother and the other gods, and maybe a little about himself too.

Anansi Boys is a pretty quick read filled with humor. The majority of the story is pretty light-hearted, while the final third is a bit darker. There are a few scenes of fairly graphic violence and some swearing throughout. As Gaiman is British, there is some British slang that not all readers may enjoy. (There isn't anymore slang than what readers of Harry Potter have already been introduced to.) This is certainly a fantasy, but it is set in a realistic place for the most part, which is the type of fantasy that I tend to enjoy. More of a mild fantasy, I guess. Overall, this is a fun read that I would highly recommend.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Big Stone Gap

Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap was a title that I had heard about several years ago and never got around to reading. Then when I saw her suggested as a Gentle Read in my Reader's Advisory textbook, I decided now was the time to try it out.

Trigiani's Big Stone Gap, the first in a series, describes a small town in the mountains of Virginia during the 1970s. She emphasizes the beauty of the mountain surroundings and the eccentricities of the townsfolk. There's the flirtatious librarian who drives the bookmobile, the chain-smoking, wrestling-obsessed pharmacy assistant, the Baptist priest who uses poisonous snakes during his sermon, the lawyer who conducts meetings with a loud radio playing so his wife, his assistant and town gossip, does not eavesdrop on his conversations. These are just a few of the people who make up the town of Big Stone Gap.

Our heroine, 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan, is the town pharmacist and the town spinster. She's unique in this small mining town in that she's Italian. In the beginning of this novel we learn that Ave Maria had already lost her father, Mr. Mulligan who was raised in Big Stone Gap, several years back. Ave Maria explains that Mr. Mulligan was a tough man whom she did not get along with very well. We also learn early on that Ave Maria has also lost her mother. Her mother, we learn, died just a few months before the start of the novel. This death was hard on Ave Maria as she and her mother, who was born and raised in Italy, were very close.

As the novel progresses, Ave Maria discovers that her mother had kept some secrets from her. Most importantly, that Ave Maria had family in Italy. Ave Maria's life gets thrown for a loop as she works to discover where she comes from and who she is. Along the way, she is faced with challenges of identity, love and sacrifice.

While she does push the boundaries of a Gentle Read, Trigiani's novel is that of a simpler time. She does well in developing the small town feel. The reader really gets a sense of what this town is like and who these people are. Trigiani does mention sex, though not explicitly, and does use minimal soft curses. Overall though, this is a pleasant, feel-good book. I wouldn't say that I fell in love with this book though. Honestly, I did not feel as though I was ever fully absorbed by it. I think this was because I felt that Ave Maria's character could have been developed a little more fully. There were times when I almost felt that our heroine was overshadowed by the town itself. The town and the townsfolk were really what made this novel for me though.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol has been on my to-read list since I first heard about it. I've read several of his other titles and have actually enjoyed them. I particularly enjoyed his titles featuring Robert Langdon -- The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. While he's not the best writer out there, his stories are full of mystery and consipiracy and non-stop action. His first two novels in his Langdon series were a great escape from reality.

I was a little concerned that his newest release may not live up to the hype or my expectations. And, in a way, I was right. The Lost Symbol was not as much fun to read as the original two in that this sort of secret society adventure story is not new to me anymore. That's not to say that Brown's latest novel was not exciting. It certainly was. Brown is great at ending each chapter with a cliff-hanger and scattering twists and turns throughout. These tools Brown uses force the reader to flip through the pages at a rapid pace. His books are certainly quick-reads.

I guess for me, part of the appeal of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons was that they were set in Europe. I particularly enjoyed Angels and Demons because it was set in Vatican City and discussed Catholicism a great deal. The Lost Symbol, however, is set in Washington D.C. Robert Langdon is tricked into traveling to D.C. to help an old friend only to find a severed hand with symbols tatooed on its fingertips. This hand, it turns out, is an invitation of sorts which pulls Langdon into a night full of adventure and puzzles. While I was pulled into the story, I was never as fascinated with the secrets and symbolism as I was in Brown's previous novels. Maybe I should read a book on Catholicism or secret society in Europe rather than another Brown book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Introduction

Hello! I'm Valerie Moore and this is my second semester as a SLIS student. I received my BA in English from IUPUI a couple of years ago, and I'm really enjoying being back in school again!

I don't have a whole lot of library experience. (I worked briefly at the Fishers' Library checking books back in.) However, I have a great love of reading. (That seems to be a typical feeling among librarians.) I particularly have been enjoying reading YA literature. I took Materials for Youth last semester and have been stuck on YA ever since. I do want to become a young adult's librarian in a public library eventually.

Currently, I'm working as a graduate assistant with Dr. Applegate and Shaping Outcomes. I'm also hoping to start volunteering at a library soon. I've been talking with a librarian at an IPS school, and I believe I'm going to start volunteering with her, hopefully.

During my free time, I love scrapbooking, card making, watching movies and, of course, reading. I also love spending time with family, friends and my dogs. I'm certianly a dog lover!

I'm looking forward to learning more about reader's advisory and different genres that I may not have been as interested in in the past.