The Something of Books

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“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

― Ray Bradbury,
Fahrenheit 451

I work in a high school library and made a banned books display a couple of years ago. I chose the words above to be the centerpiece, not merely because of the censorship flowing through Bradbury’s novel, but because I loved this quote on its own. Sometimes when people ask me about my favorite books, I can’t explain why I like something. When I read a poem or a complicated text that I don’t fully understand, I can still find it beautiful and essential. I echo Bradbury’s words in those moments: “There must be something there.“

fahrenheit 451 book cover

Reading is an endless search to find that something. For some, it’s comfort. For others, it’s entertainment. William Nicholson writes, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Realizing there’s someone else in the world who thinks what you think or feels what you feel is a wonderful thing, especially when those thoughts and feelings are dark and isolating.

I think about the link between reading and loneliness a lot since working with teenagers. I feel a unique duty to these kids to be able to point them toward books that will inspire and teach them, but also toward books that will lessen the blows of that still-familiar teenage feeling of aloneness. A fictional character can say to them what someone else might not: “You’re okay. You’re not the only one. Life gets easier; I promise.”

Before I took my current job, I never read many young adult books, even as a teenager. I still don’t consider myself well read in the world of YA lit, but I do have a few favorites that I recommend frequently. When I dipped my toes into the water of YA books, I was surprised at how stellar the writing is and how adult the subject matter can get. I realize that sounds snobbish, but it’s true. I’m thankful for great writers like Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers, and Laurie Halse Anderson, who not only address hard topics but do so with eloquence.

Some of my favorite young adult books

For me, the element of surprise is one of the best things about reading. Not only does surprise open my eyes to whole new genres, but it gives me pause. A beautifully written sentence or paragraph makes me slow down and take note. Sometimes I end up seeing more in the long run by focusing on one small thing. Throughout my reading life, I’ve had my eyes opened so many times to new ideas and unique ways of seeing the world. Whether it’s discovering a whole new genre or reading a line of poetry that invites me to pause and see something ordinary in a new way, those moments of newness and wonder are necessary elements to the something of why I read.

There must be something there. I want each student who walks through the doors of my library to sense that truth. I want them to develop their own reasons for reading. I want books to become a joy and not a chore. Not every student is going to become a reader, but I want even the ones who don’t to be curious about how any character could stay in a burning house for the sake of some words bound together.

Small and Low-Cost Library Changes That Make a Big Impact

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Sometimes when I think about changes I’d like to make in the school libraries where I work, I think about new furniture, cool technology, fresh layouts, and shelves packed full of new books. It’s fun to imagine these things, but it’s also unrealistic given my schools’ annual budgets. Instead of making over the entire library and purchasing every new book that’s released, most of the changes I’ve brought to my libraries have been small but effective. Today I want to share a few of those changes with you in case you need some free or low-budget ideas that have a significant impact.

Read the rest over at Teen Services Underground.

On Losing School Librarians

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Last Thursday, I found out that all of the librarians in my school district had been laid off. I’ve been a library clerk in this district for nearly eight years and had no clue this was coming. I still haven’t heard if I have a job next year or, if I do, how that job will change in light of these recent developments. The district claims school libraries will remain open and that students will continue to have access to books and other resources. If we clerks get to keep our jobs, books will be cataloged, processed, circulated, and repaired just like they are now. But elementary students will no longer have stories read to them each week. Middle school students will no longer have a librarian to hand them that perfect book that would make them feel a little less alone, a little less awkward. High school teachers will lose classroom collaborators and students will lose the person who knows just what database they need to use for their assignment. The library is the heart of some schools, and with librarians gone, that will be compromised.

Like so many issues, this one boils down to money. (I should note that teachers and other staff members have been laid off, too.) Logically, I realize that when schools are forced to make cuts, keeping teachers is their priority, as it should be. Having teachers in the classroom is an obvious necessity. Still, it saddens me to know that some people see librarians as disposable. I want librarians to be essential in every school and for others to see their work as crucial to student success.

I’ve asked many questions over these past few days, such as:

  • Do librarians not promote themselves and their work enough to be appreciated and given credit?
  • Do people believe that librarians only check books in and out all day?
  • If school administrators value student literacy, how can they get rid of the people who are experts on the subject?

I can’t answer these questions, and even if I could, I doubt I’d be satisfied. People I care about would still be laid off, programs I’ve seen flourish would still come to a halt, and students who need librarians would still be without them. Other than contacting my state legislators and asking for more funding, there’s not much I can do in the face of the school district’s decision. I can keep talking about libraries, though. I can tell people about the little kids who stop at my desk and tell me how much they love coming to the library each week. I’m happy to share stories about energetic classes who become silent when a librarian reads them a great story or focuses their attention with a fun, hands-on project.

If you too love libraries and appreciate librarians, speak up! Show your support, whether or not jobs are on the line. When you notice a librarian who’s doing great work, spread the word. Use your public library and vote for library bonds. Enthusiasm is contagious, and while it’s not enough to make up for budget shortfalls, it certainly can’t hurt. If you believe librarians matter, do what you can to spread that message.

YA Fiction & Nonfiction Pairs

In the high school library where I work, it can be difficult to get students to read nonfiction. One of the ways I like to promote it is to do a display in which I pair high-interest nonfiction titles with a novel about the same topic. Today I want to share a few pairs with you in case you too are looking for ways to promote nonfiction to your teen patrons.

Click here to read the rest of the post over at Teen Services Underground.

3 Reasons Why Weeding Matters

Today I have a blog post up over at Teen Services Underground.

If you went into your local library looking for a book about space, would you want to check out a copy that was published before the moon landing? If you wanted a travel guide, would you choose the one written twenty years ago? Of course not, yet I know from experience that books like these occupy the shelves of many school libraries. I’m going on eight years as a public school library clerk, and during that time I’ve worked in six different schools. Several of them had books on the shelves like the ones I described above. The tape on the book jackets had become yellow and brittle, the information inside was obsolete, and the books hadn’t circulated in years, but they remained on the shelves because no one had bothered to weed the collection. Today I want to share three reasons why weeding matters to me and the difference I’ve seen it make in the libraries where I work.

Read the rest of the post here.

Why I Love Public Libraries

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I’ve worked in libraries for over thirteen years, but I’ve been a library patron for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of the public library where my mom took me to pick out books. My love for the library has always been strong so working there seemed obvious.

That love is still there, so today I want to talk about why I love libraries so much. As technology and society have evolved, so have libraries, and they have a plethora of goodness to offer their communities. I know that firsthand, and I hope you do, too.

Libraries are for everyone.

This phrase became more common after these beautifully designed posters started making the rounds online. I used some in the school library where I work and saw them in the public library where I also work. The message the posters send is essential. How many other places can people go and sit inside for as long as they’d like without having to spend any money? How many other places strive to have something to offer to babies, senior citizens, and everyone in between? Good libraries try to reach everyone in their community, regardless of the barriers some people might find elsewhere.

Libraries provide opportunities
to discover and learn.

My public library has offered free classes about dancing, yoga, finance, painting, and more. They’ve hosted concerts, artists, and poetry readings. Our collection provides material by creators who disagree emphatically on just about everything. Patrons can check out tickets to museums, the symphony, and can even take home a large telescope. There are still books on the shelves, too, about any subject you can imagine. Libraries offer people the chance to find new writers, hobbies, interests, and passions. I’ll never get tired of talking about that.

Libraries meet people where they are and help them go farther.

One of the best services my library provides is called Book a Librarian. This service is an option for people who just got a new Kindle but have no idea how to use it. It’s an option for people who need to type a resume but don’t know anything about Word. Basically, if you don’t know something but want to know something, you can make an appointment for uninterrupted one-on-one time with a librarian who will teach you. How great is that?

Libraries help bridge
economic gaps.

I’ve read many articles over the past couple of years about libraries doing away with fines so that there are fewer barriers for people who need the library most of all. It’s encouraging to know that public libraries offer the same number of checkouts to patrons regardless of their bank account. Food for Fines is another way libraries help people in need. During a select timeframe, patrons have the option to pay off their fines with canned goods instead of cash. The food goes to a local food bank, and the fees are waived. This helps the patron, of course, but it also helps people in need who might not ever visit the library.


There’s so much more I could say, but these topics are nearest to my heart at the moment. Why do you love your library? What services are your favorites?


If you’re as library-obsessed as I am, you might like these posts:


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What I Wish People Knew About Their Public Library

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I’ve worked part-time at a public library for over 13 years. I’ve noticed that some patrons are dynamic library users. These folks know about our events, have no trouble finding what they want, and use our online resources. But there are a lot of patrons who know very little. Here’s a list of things I wish people knew about their public libraries. We have so much to offer, says the woman who’s not biased in any way.

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YOUR LIBRARY’S WEBSITE IS FULL OF TREASURE.

If you’re a student and need to find articles for a research paper, your library will have great online databases to offer you, such as ProQuest or Science in Context. If you’re on a tight budget and want to get out of the house, check your library’s calendar of events. My district hosts trivia nights, offers concerts and poetry readings, and has taught classes ranging from yoga to art. Are you part of a homeschooling family? The library will be your best friend. Not only can you get educational materials, but check your library’s site to see if they offer special cards or classes for homeschoolers.

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YOU CAN HAVE AN ENTIRE LIBRARY IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND.

On your library’s website, you’ll probably find links to media resources such as OverDrive/Libby, Hoopla, RBDigital, or Freegal. I enjoy audiobooks, and I enjoy them even more when I download them to my phone from OverDrive and don’t have to carry around a large, plastic case with multiple CDs. I also like presidential biographies, which can be quite heavy. You know what’s not heavy? My Kindle Paperwhite and the biography I downloaded to it. Your library almost certainly offers downloadable audiobooks and ebooks, but they might also offer magazines, movies, comics, music, or TV shows.

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IF YOUR LIBRARY DOESN’T OWN WHAT YOU WANT,
THEY’LL DO THEIR BEST TO GET IT FOR YOU.

There’s a magical thing called interlibrary loan (or ILL) in which librarians will track down an item for you if it’s not in the collection. Libraries all over the world participate in this system, so there’s a good chance a librarian will be able to find that rare book you’re seeking. I fear patrons will search the catalog, not see what they want, and then give up. But you can always ask about ILL. You can submit a purchase request, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, I requested an ebook through OverDrive, and it was automatically in my checkouts by the end of the week. Trust me when I say your librarian wants you to get what you want.

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YOU CAN PLACE HOLDS ON THINGS THAT
HAVEN’T BEEN RELEASED YET.

At my library, patrons can already place a hold on the 2018 version of A Star Is Born even though it’s still in theaters. Jane Harper’s newest book doesn’t hit the US until February, but I’ve had a hold on it for at least a month or two already. If you want to avoid being 147th in line for a popular item, check your library’s catalog ahead of time and place a hold. Even if you think there’s no way the library will have it yet, check anyway. I’ve been surprised many times.

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YOU CAN CHECK OUT ALL KINDS OF THINGS.

Libraries are no longer places just for books; numerous libraries have a library of things available for checkout. Here’s a list of what I’ve seen various libraries offer:
-Ties and bags for job seekers
-Telescopes
-Museum/symphony passes
-Specialty baking pans
-Musical instruments
-Seeds
-Tote bags full of books for book clubs
-STEM kits and blocks for kids
-Video cameras

I’m sure there are a lot more, so make sure to see what “things” your library has available.

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LIBRARIES ARE NO LONGER JUST QUIET SPACES.

There’s a cliche about librarians in which they’re always shushing people. Perhaps that was the case at one point, but it’s certainly not anymore. Public libraries are no longer quiet places all the time. One library in my city has a coworking space. Another has a studio with cameras, a green screen, and a beautiful Mac desktop that I might be lusting after a teensy bit. Things happen in public libraries like storytime, game nights, art walks, and sometimes even concerts. It’s fun to see libraries become the creative cornerstones of their community.

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YOUR QUESTION ISN’T STUPID.

I can’t count the number of patrons who seem incredibly guilty when they ask me a question. They might say, “This is probably stupid.” I’ve also gotten a lot of, “I’m so sorry to bother you.” Others have confessed how long it’s been since they’ve been to the library at all. Let me assure you that your question isn’t stupid or a waste of time. It has definitely been asked before and will be asked again. Library staff is there to help you find what you need. If a staff person is ever rude or dismissive to you, that’s their problem and not yours. So feel free to ask about whatever makes you curious. The vast majority of library employees work there because they love learning, so they’ll be glad to help teach you something.


Every library might not have the resources I mentioned, but I’m willing to bet a lot of them do. What’s your favorite thing about your public library? What do you wish your library offered?