Building a Personal Library

I’ve been a library patron for as long as I can remember.  Though I was a frequent library user, I’ve also been privileged enough to always own books. My collection evolved from things like The Baby-Sitters Club series to John Grisham paperbacks to whatever was $1.99 at Value Village. As I entered adulthood, I decided I wanted a large, well-curated library of my very own.

When I embarked on this dream I sort of ignored the “well-curated” part. I bought anything I thought looked interesting thanks to thrift stores and used book sales. I just wanted to have a lot of books, and I wanted them immediately. But over the years, as my reading tastes have changed and what I want to spend money on has shifted, I’ve finally become choosier about the books I purchase. Here’s what’s important to me now when I add books to my library.

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IT’S A BOOK I KNOW I’LL WANT TO WRITE IN.

If I want to read a book to learn something specific, chances are I’m going to buy it. I don’t tend to write in fiction books very often, but my nonfiction shelves are full of books with my underlining and marginalia. (I love that word so much.) I don’t tend to write terribly detailed notes, but I do like being able to flip through a book to see what ideas I thought were important. Books that fit into this category are usually theology or writing guides. I mark up my poetry books quite a bit, as well.

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IT’S A SPECIFIC EDITION.

Do I need three different editions of Moby-Dick? No. Do I own them anyway because they’re pretty? Yes.

As a kid, I was always collecting something. I loved building mini-collections of everything from snow globes to rocks (a.k.a. gravel from my driveway). There are a few different editions of books I collect, and I’m always eager to add to them. One is the Penguin hardcover collection designed by Coralie Bickford Smith. I think these books are beautiful. I love the feel of them and how they look on my shelf. I also collect the Drop Caps series designed by Jessica Hische. While the hardcover books are elegant and classic, the drop caps are bright and fun. I love their boldness and the colorful edges that match the cover.

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IT’S BY AN AUTHOR I LOVE.

There are certain authors whose books are immediately on my to-buy list. They could write books about how to use a hammer or what crafts to make with dryer lint, and I’d probably still buy them. These authors include Donna Tartt, Celeste Ng, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay, Marisha Pessl, and Liane Moriarty. I know I love the work these writers put out so I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase their latest. (I even bought Pessl’s recent release, Neverworld Wake, even though it’s far outside my wheelhouse. Andrea + Marisha = Love)

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I READ A LIBRARY COPY AND NOW I NEED MY OWN.

The most recent book this happened with was The Nix by Nathan Hill. I listened to this book (the audio narration is excellent, by the way) and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to give it a hug, but you can’t hug audio files from OverDrive. I had to get the book. If you’ve read this far, I trust you understand.


Do you like buying and collecting books? If so, what guides your choices?

How I Use My Public Library

As libraries have evolved over the years, they’ve become much more than quiet places filled with books. Libraries offer free programming and classes for just about any interest you can fathom. Some libraries have museum and symphony passes, telescopes or specialty baking pans that patrons can check out. Today I want to share all the ways I use my public library. They employ me, sure, but I’m also a patron.

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BOOKS

This one is obvious, I know, but the primary thing I use my library for is books. I have so many unread books on my shelves at home that I have tried over and over again to cut back on library checkouts, but somehow I end up with a towering stack of library books by my bed anyway. I tell myself that this is really a selfless act since I’m helping keep circulation numbers up. (You’re welcome, library.) I definitely place too many things on hold at a time and sometimes check out books just because they’re pretty, but at least library checkouts are free. Thank God for that.

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DVDs

I hardly ever see movies in theaters anymore because a) it’s expensive and b) I’d have to leave my house. Why would I go see a movie when I could check out a DVD from the library and watch it while curled up in my sweatpants and enjoying the pleasant scent of a Yankee Candle?  I also appreciate the fact that if I don’t like a movie, I didn’t waste any money on it or have to put on real pants to watch it. I love things that are free and also allow me to be lazy and comfortable.

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OVERDRIVE

OverDrive is my source for downloadable books. My library adds new releases on Friday afternoons. I refresh the site compulsively until I see the new stuff, overcome with a feeling of exhilaration when it loads. Being the first to check out a brand new ebook when the holds list for the physical book is staggeringly long is one of my favorite feelings in the whole world. I feel like I have actually accomplished something when all I have actually done is click a button.

I use OverDrive for audiobooks too. I check out books on CD from the library if the book I want can’t be downloaded, but having an entire book on my phone is preferable to trying to shove that large plastic case full of CDs into my already-cluttered car glove box.

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GALE COURSES

Not all libraries will have this subscription, but I’m thankful mine does. Gale Courses offers free 6-week courses on many different topics from writing to programming to gift basket design. (There’s part of me that wants to become a professional gift basket designer now, but I’ll save that post for another day.) I’ve only taken one class before (a poetry writing workshop), but it was a great experience, and I learned a lot. I know I’ve used the word “free” in this post several times already, but how great is it that you can take a class from a qualified instructor for free? That will always excite me.

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NOVELIST

I think NoveList is my BFF when it comes to book sites. I use it all the time, both professionally and personally. If you’re unfamiliar with it, NoveList is a database of books. Depending on the subscription your library has, you might have access to only fiction books, but I’m lucky enough to have access to nonfiction titles too. You can browse book lists, learn more about genres, get help with readers’ advisory, but my favorite feature is how specific you can search. NoveList lets you search for books by tone, setting, and much more. If you want a coming of age book written by a female author that was published in 2005 and got a starred review, you can find it. (I found 25 titles when I did that exact search.) Whether you’re looking for books for yourself or for a patron, NoveList is a fantastic resource.


What about you? How do you use your library? If you don’t, why?

My Reading Autobiography

Recently, I read an article called “Are You a Reader?” by Karin Perry. Perry discusses how librarians read and how they can help kids become readers. One section of her article was especially fascinating:

“One way Dr. Lesesne and I get our MLS students thinking about their reading lives is to assign a Reading Autobiography. We ask them to think about how they interacted with books during various times of their lives. By understanding what made them like and dislike reading, they will be more aware of what and what not to do with students.”

I want in on this Reading Autobiography project. Today I want to share a few of the books that have either been important to me or shaped me as a reader.

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The Little Engine That Could and Green Eggs and Ham are my two earliest book memories. I recall reading the latter by myself when I was four or five, and I haven’t stopped picking up books since. Reading was a constant part of my life. Well into my teenage years, my mom always took me to the library. We lived in a small Kansas town when I was a little kid, and we’d visit the one and only branch. They sold plastic book bags for a few cents, and I’d get to pick out a new bag every time and fill it up. As I look back, something I’m grateful for is that I always got to pick whatever I wanted. Whether I was six or sixteen, I don’t ever remember my mom hovering around me, trying to get me to read this or that. I was always allowed to choose whatever books I wanted. I believe choice is vital in helping kids become lifelong readers.

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When I started reading chapter books, I thoroughly enjoyed the mysteries of The Boxcar Children. (The weird plot of four kids growing up alone in a train didn’t bother me then.) While I liked Boxcar, I loved The Baby-Sitters Club. There were hundreds of these, and I bet I’ve read most of them. Looking back on this series as an adult, I’m impressed with what Ann M. Martin accomplished. This series is about a group of girls becoming entrepreneurs. They make their own money and demonstrate responsibility. Martin covers topics like divorce, death, and sickness in ways that seem real yet appropriate for her readers. I was thrilled to see this series get the graphic novel treatment since it gives a new generation of kids a chance to discover the joy of the BSC.

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Since the Baby-Sitters Club series was so popular, a couple of spinoff series were launched, including California Diaries. I read these books as a tween, and I could not get enough. I was fascinated by the diary format and knew for sure that California was a whole lot more interesting than Kansas. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this series, so I’m not sure how popular it was. I loved it enough for several people, though, and still own a few of the books.

Columbine happened around the time I was reading Martin’s books. I still remember watching the news and seeing students flee the school. I was shocked by the violence and enthralled by the stories that came out after the massacre took place. As a Christian, the stories of Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott mesmerized me. I read She Said Yes and Rachel’s Tears over and over again. (If you want to read an excellent study of Columbine and it’s aftermath, check out Dave Cullen’s Columbine.)

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As a kid, all I wanted to be was an adult. I had a wonderful childhood, but I was more interested in adult matters than most kids my age. I remember my mom reading a Nicholas Sparks book, and I asked if I could read it. She said sure, and I started immediately. I was reading an adult book. I thought that was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Shortly after discovering Sparks, I turned to John Grisham thanks to my brother’s recommendation. My early high school years were full of books about lawyers and people in love dying. I loved every suspenseful, sob-inducing minute.

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In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted depth in my books. I’d moved away from Sparks and Grisham toward anything I thought looked profound based on a cursory glance at the cover when I was at the library. (I found some good books that way, so judging by the cover isn’t always bad.) Two of the books I loved most during this time are Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Both of these texts gave me the depth I wanted and spoke to me about art, doubt, faith, and how all three of those can intersect. L’Engle’s thoughts were especially powerful at the time. Walking on Water is still precious to me because that book made me feel seen.

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In college, I majored in English with a minor in history. Being assigned several hundred pages of reading a week between all of my classes was normal. As is often the case, college stretched me in profound and lasting ways, including my reading life.

I was assigned Till We Have Faces in a course on the philosophy of C. S. Lewis and thought I was going to hate it. Instead, I was captivated by the myth Lewis retells and was struck by his powerful thoughts on beauty and longing. I took a poetry class and needed to have a copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I resold a lot of my college textbooks, but I’ve kept this one. In its pages, I discovered my beloved John Donne and found that beautiful poem of Margaret Atwood’s that I analyzed for a paper (this one). In a contemporary literature class, I read Paradise by Toni Morrison. Though I considered myself widely read, I’d never read anything like Morrison before, and I still haven’t. Her voice is uniquely hers.


There are many more books and authors I could have included, but this is long enough already. I’m going to guess that you’ve never read a blog post before that references Ann M. Martin, John Grisham, and Toni Morrison, so you’re welcome.
What books and authors would be included in your reading autobiography?

Why Bother Having a School Library?

For the past seven years, I’ve worked as a library clerk for a public school district. I spend my time in three different buildings working with elementary and high school students. I love my work and believe it can make a difference.

When you think of a school library, maybe you think of old books, slow computers, and encyclopedia sets from 1982. Perhaps you imagine the librarian glaring at you for talking too loudly, or you still feel a bit guilty about all those library fines. If you don’t have good memories of your school library or maybe never even used it, you might wonder if they matter. I think they do, and here’s why.

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STUDENTS CAN SIMPLY BE IN THE LIBRARY.

There are many demands placed on students by their peers, parents, and teachers. There’s constant pressure to perform and excel. While such pressure is necessary for success, kids need a break from it sometimes. The library offers students something unique because when they walk through the doors, they can just be. They can come in with friends to chat and study together. They can come in and sit alone, enjoying some quiet time. They can read, listen to music, do research, play computer games, flip through a graphic novel, or create something. In short, they can relax. I don’t care about homework, grades, reading level, or popularity. I care that students can visit the library and feel free to be themselves.

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A LIBRARY IS FREE FROM JUDGMENT.

Not all libraries are judgment-free zones, of course, but that should be the goal. Students should be able to use the library to learn and discover without being evaluated. They should feel free to research what they’re interested in without raised eyebrows. They should be able to choose books about tough topics knowing that what they read will stay confidential. I hope when students use their school libraries they’re greeted with kindness and warmth. Kids know when they’re wanted and when they’re not. Those of us who have the privilege of working with students every day need to remind ourselves that our small acts of kindness toward them make a more significant impact than we know.

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STUDENTS CAN BE CURIOUS IN THE LIBRARY.

Whether a student wants a book or online resources, they can use the library to examine what they’re curious about. I’ve had students ask me for information about many different topics, including computer coding, drawing, writing, religion, mythology, and so much more. Once I had a student ask for books on World War III, and I had to reassure him that hasn’t actually happened yet. Kids are naturally curious. The library provides a place where that curiosity can be fostered.

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THE LIBRARY IS FUN!

Focus and hard work are essential if a student is going to succeed, but having fun is important too. If we want kids to love reading and learning, they have to enjoy themselves in the process. I’ve worked in libraries where elementary students have access to stuffed animals, bean bag chairs, puzzles, games, and art supplies. A high school I worked in had computers with specialized software so students could edit photos, videos, and music. The high school I’m assigned to right now offers chess sets to kids. Learning is a big part of the library, but fun is vital if students are to be lifelong library users. I’d hate to think someone never sets foot in public libraries as an adult because they were so bored in their school library.

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STUDENTS ARE REPRESENTED IN THE LIBRARY.

The schools I’ve always worked in have been predominantly white. That’s why it’s so important that when I do social media posts and book displays, I feature people of color. Students who look around at their peers might not always see other kids or teachers who look like they do, but it’s essential that they see themselves reflected somewhere. I want students of color to recognize themselves in their library’s book collection. I want them to see lives and stories like theirs in the titles we display and the posts we share. People have an innate need to feel seen, and school libraries can help as long as they make diversity a priority in both their collection and marketing.

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THE LIBRARY IS A PLACE WHERE STUDENTS HAVE A VOICE.

Another way libraries make sure students feel seen and represented is to give them a voice regarding the library’s direction. After years of research and experience, I’ve developed a little trick I like to call asking. Ask kids what books they’d like to see on the shelf, and they’ll know you care about their opinion. Ask the ones who always run toward the computers what kind of programs they’d enjoy, and they’ll know you noticed their excitement about technology. Ask the student who says your horror section is too small what books she’d suggest the library purchase next and she’ll know you care about her favorite genre. Asking for feedback is such a simple thing, but it helps students understand their opinions count for something.


I could go on (and on and on), but these issues are the ones I’m most passionate about at the moment. How do you feel about school libraries? What did you like or dislike about the library as a student?