Saturday, November 26, 2011

Over and Out - for now

This is going to be my last blog post for quite some time - perhaps even a year or more.  Partly it's that I want to use the time I spend writing posts on other pursuits (mainly more reading) and partly it's because I've been appointed to the 2013 Newbery Committee (I'm almost afraid to announce that, in case I jinx it.  But I've avoided reading any and all manuscripts - so all is good.  All is blissful, in fact.  Yay!!), so posting reviews of 2012 middle-grade books would need to be avoided anyway.

Blogging about children's and YA literature and library services has put me in touch with an amazing, nationwide community of librarians, authors, teachers, parents, and book lovers.  My Google Reader will remain in active use as I continue to follow their blogs.

Huge thanks to all who have read this blog over the past few years.

Feel free to follow my reviews at (though I won't be reviewing any Newbery contenders in 2012). 

I tweet occasionally (mostly library-related stuff) @evamitnick.

Here's wishing you a focused and happy 2012!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Engaging tweens

Is it enough to give tweens slightly longer and more complicated storytimes or invite them to teen programs?  I ponder service to tweens on the ALSC Blog.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nuggets of Nourishment

The annual California Library Association conference was that happy mixture of inspiration, ideas and relaxation.  Unlike ALA, there is no staggering about in a foot-sore, exhausted daze; the exhibits are a manageable size and there are only 2 days of workshops and sessions, with another day of institutes tossed in.

Sometimes conference workshops and speakers synch exactly with what I am doing at work, and there are multiple "Eureka!" moments that transform my thinking on one or several topics (early literacy, outreach, etc).

This didn't happen for me last weekend, but almost every event or session I attended either planted a kernel of an idea or nourished a sprout that has already taken root.  Here are a few:

 "Dream Big! CLA's 2012 Summer Reading Workshop"
Our children's and teen summer reading committees have already begun planning our 2012 club, and this workshop was full of great ideas for kids', teen, and adult programs - check them out here.

My take-away nugget -
  • Buttonhole Sarah Vantrease (easy, 'cause she's at LAPL) to talk about ways we might incorporate an altruistic element into our program - if not in 2012, then in 2013 for sure.  Kids reading to earn a grooming for shelter animals?  Now that is magic!

"The Future: Frankenbooks, Social Collaboration and Learning on Steroids"
No one could ever say that Stephen Abrams tiptoed around a subject, and thank goodness.  His talk on how to keep libraries relevant was both positive and heartening (books are not going away, they're just in a different format; librarians are more necessary than ever in this booming informational world) and a wake-up call (don't live in the past! get out there and show the world what our values and strengths are and why they're more relevant than ever).

My take-away nuggets-
  • It's librarians, not books, that need to be the branding for libraries.  
  • Libraries are about community, learning, and discovery.
  • We're good at teaching patrons how to frame questions and at showing them how to get at those how and why questions that Google sucks at answering
  • It's about engagement with our patrons - this is our strength
"Single Service Point, Multiple Models: The Market Place Concept in a New Economy"
Several different library systems (Pasadena, San Jose, Orange County) presented their experiments in offering patrons new models in terms of face-to-face service.  In most cases, this means offering one all-purpose information desk that can handle both reference questions and circulation questions (while also offering patrons more and better self-check machines).  Staff are cross-trained and empowered to answer many types of questions (support staff can do catalog searches; librarians can answer questions about fines).

My take-away nuggets:
  • Patrons don't divide their questions into two types (circ and ref); they just want answers.  Why bounce them from one desk to another?
  • Love the idea of empowering staff to do more.  We all know that it's the pages/MCs who get asked all the questions while putting books away
  • Librarians and clerks should get out from that desk and be out with the patrons, mingling and helping.  ENGAGE!
  • When librarians help at the front (and only) desk, they are meeting patrons they never met before - 'cause most patrons don't go to a reference desk.  They find their stuff, then check it out - no librarians required.
  • Love San Jose's lazy-S narrow info desks allowing "hip-to-hip" service to patrons that allows staff to show patrons how to do computer searches
  • Also love the "marketplace," which guides all patrons past face-out displays of popular (home and garden/cookbooks/etc) and new items.  Think browsing at a bookstore
"Play and Learn: Early literacy and Childhood Development"
Rancho Cucamonga Library shared how they created their cool museum-like "Play and Learn" stations, not just for their own branches but to lend out to other library systems - for free!

My take-away nugget:
  • Ever since I watched a webinar about Storyville, I've been mulling over a way to bring small-scale, portable versions of these "play stations" to our branches.  The Play and Learn stations are a bit bigger than I was thinking, but they are much closer to something that would actually work for us.  I can imagine how we might get funding to do a pilot in one of our Areas, so that 10 or 13 libraries might share 4 different types of learning stations, keeping each for 2 or 3 months.  A "market" station, a "kitchen" station, a "construction" station, a "dinosaur discovery" station, an "art" station... so many possibilities.
And I attended lots of other meetings and events as well (a New Vision for Summer in CA meeting, the CALTAC luncheon, the CA Young Reader Medal/Beatty banquet), plus I was a panel speaker for the program "Reaching out with your SRP: CLA's Outreach and Outcome-based Summer Reading Initiative."

Good stuff!  Can't wait for ALA Midwinter...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Juggling sharks

It's been mostly a juggling act at work lately, trying to keep all my projects and deadlines from crashing down around me.  Or maybe it's more like an endless swim across choppy seas - exhilarating, sure, but then there are those lurking sharks down below and an uncertain and constantly shifting shoreline somewhere up ahead.

So far, I've managed to keep my nostrils above water.  It sure has helped that this is now officially Book Season, filled with invigorating, soul-warming author events.

Last Saturday, the Children's Literature Council of Southern CA held its annual Fall Gala.  Hearkening back to the early days of its 50-year history, the Council decided to throw a glitzier event than the breakfasts that have predominated over the last decade.  Dress was "semi-formal," drinks were served, and (because the event was held in the afternoon), guests could segue into cocktails and dinner afterward at one of Pasadena's many fine restaurants.

The keynote speaker was Lois Lowry, whom I don't think I've ever heard speak. Her presentation, accompanied by dozens of photos from her childhood, was poignant and funny, rich and humorous, and just the right length (we wanted more but were left well satisfied).  I felt like the only person in the audience who hadn't known that The Giver and Number the Stars feature jacket photos that Ms. Lowry took herself in the 70s. 

What is particularly nurturing about the Fall Gala and similar local events is that it is essentially a gathering of good friends.  Even in the early days when I didn't know many folks, I felt surrounded by good, interesting, smart folks who love books as I do - and as I got to know them, this turned out to be true.  It's a great opportunity to greet old friends and make new ones.  Unfortunately, I was so busy doing this on Saturday that I missed out on meeting Lois Lowry herself, though I would have been too shy to do more than beam at her.  Next time, darn it...

Luckily, there were yet more bookish delights yesterday at the quarterly YA Librarians' Information Meeting.  Planning and convening these meetings is one of my responsibilities (same for the Children's Librarians' Information Meeting) - and while the other 3 YA meetings this year have been packed to the gills with updates, training, and presentations, it felt necessary to end this very challenging, crazy year with something more spiritually enriching.

So - I invited Jennifer Hunt, VP of Acquisition and Development and editor-at-large at Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers (and newly relocated to LA - yes!), and seven local YA authors (Cecil Castellucci, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Sherri Smith, Margie Stohl, Carol Tanzman, Janet Tashjian and Lisa Yee) to come speak to each other and our YA librarians about all things YA Lit - the controversies, the trends, the struggles, the passion.

Yee, Tashjian, Tanzman, Stohl, Smith, Sloan, and Castellucci

Lisa Yee and Janet Tashjian
Wow!  The morning zoomed way beyond my expectations (which were pretty high to begin with).  Jen moderated the discussion with humor and insight, but the authors needed no prodding to share often quite hilarious stories and thoughts.  (Sherri Smith talking about the color of the hand on her first book Lucy the Giant?  Priceless!).  The YA librarians welcomed the chance to sit back, relax, and revel in the presence of folks who produce the books they love - and the authors were thrilled to be talking with the folks who actually get those books into the hands of teens.  It was a revitalizing morning.

Which is good - because I'll need all kinds of energy and good vibes for this weekend's CA Library Association conference!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mayhap it's time to take a break from fantasy

I'm listening to The Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin on audiobook during my daily commute.  We're talking 28 CDs!  Good thing I'm on the road two hours a day.

The problem with audiobooks is they take so dang long to listen to; in the case of The Game of Thrones, there's no skimming quickly past the frequent clash-thunk-and-bloodspray of sword fights or the interminable speeches in pompous fantasy-talk.

Speaking of which -can we call a moratorium on the fantasy adjective "wroth"?  What's wrong with angry, mad, livid, or furious?  I'm tired of the phrase "But I'm almost a man grown!" (which every boy and teen in the book uses at least once). And "mislike" instead of "dislike" is just plain silly.

Actually, I'm loving the book - it's truly a luscious wallow in Epic Fantasy.  But perhaps it could do with the 90-second treatment?  See this example below (thanks to Fuse #8 for the link - I'm jealous, jealous, jealous of that film festival!):

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Creeeeeeepy school stats

The scariest thing that happened to me on Halloween was getting my daughter's "School Report Card" in the mail.  My daughter is a senior at Venice High School, from which my older daughter graduated in 2009 and my younger sister graduated in the 80s.  Venice High is one of 129 high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

So - what was so scary?

Right on the front page of this pamphlet was this statistic about Venice High:
Students Graduating in Four Years - 57% (393 out of 691 students).  And this is slightly better than the LAUSD average, which is - 54%! 

Cue the Psycho shower theme!

Here are some other spooky statistics from Venice High:

Students scoring at the proficient or advanced performance level in:
English Language Arts - 43% (LAUSD average - 37%)
Math - 24% (LAUSD average - 16%)

Seriously - 24%?  16%?????  And didn't I just read that most of the decent jobs in the 21st century are going to require math and science knowledge?  This doesn't bode well.

Students achieving a "C" or better in all A-G courses (these are 15 courses needed to be eligible for acceptance to a Cal State University or University of CA):
28% (LAUSD average - 25%)

Ironically, 42% of students say they "plan" to get a 4-year college degree.  This does jibe with the fact that 47% of students took the SAT and achieved a "minimum" score.  In fact, 61% of students who took the SAT got a minimum of 1400 - which ain't great but isn't rotten, either.  But only 38% of LAUSD students as a whole scored at least 1400.

And what really gets me is that it's been SO HARD to get LAUSD to see the Los Angeles Public Library as a truly valuable ally in helping students succeed.  We can't even get LAUSD administration to return emails, much less sit down and listen to how we can help.  It makes me want to hooowwwwllllll! 

But we'll keep trying.  'Cause that's the way we roll at the Library.

Can't scare us!

Monday, October 31, 2011

8:45 am to 9:45 am - reflection

In a perfect world, my job would include an hour or two reserved purely for thinking, reflecting, planning, and mulling things over.  Some of this thinking would be targeted at particular issues facing existing or upcoming programs - trouble-shooting, fine-tuning, problem-solving, and improving - but some of the reflecting would be unfocused and undirected.  How lovely it would be to feel free to wonder "what if..." and see where that question takes me. 

As is the case for so many people these days, the reality is that there isn't enough time in the day to spend on all the projects I'm responsible for, much less time to dream and ponder.  Surely this is a problem!  There is great pressure for libraries - and for my library system in particular, which is trying valiantly to pull itself out of a slump caused first by a decades-long, head-in-the-sand culture and now by terrible budget woes - to be innovative.  Yet can there be innovation and creativity if we're fighting hard just to keep our noses above water? 

As I've gotten older, I've discovered some truths about myself, some of them rather dismaying.  The main thing I've learned over the past 5 years is that I'm simply not creative in that brilliant, lightbulb-flashing-on way that I so admire in others.  I don't get sudden fabulous ideas.  I'm not going to be the one who comes up with an amazing new service model that wows the crowds at a future ALA conference.  (Well, never say never - I could be a late-bloomer, right?)

Luckily, along with the sad self-revelations come positive ones as well.  For instance - it has become more and more clear to me that not only do I do my best work when collaborating with others, but I love it.  For an introvert who felt for years that I could be happy shelving books all day long if I could get a decent wage for it, this is Big News.  And happy news, too - because my colleagues are intelligent, hard-working, and (most importantly) brimming with amazing, creative ideas.  Aha!

So my tiny Youth Services staff met with a handful of fiercely dedicated YA Librarians on Thursday and with similarly enthusiastic Children's Librarians on Friday, and together we created the outlines - and even fleshed in some details - of what will be a terrific 2012 Summer Reading Program.  My job was to lay out all the things we needed to discuss and decide - and then guide the discussion, coax out details, keep folks on track and enthusiasm high...

...and then get to the unglamorous task of turning all the great ideas into a program we can implement.  Because that's another one of my strengths - being practical and hard-working. 

But to help transform LAPL into not just a well-functioning library system but also a dynamic and responsive one, I need to encourage the creative people around me to share their ideas with me and prod me into figuring out a way to make them happen. 

And even a busy workhorse like me needs some time just to dream and ponder. 

What if...?!