Posts Tagged library

An Old Friend in a Busy Season

A few weeks ago I attempted my first solo trip to the library with all three of our little boys. The library is walkable from our house at the edge of the borough, and since I don’t generally plan outings with the same attention to detail as my wife, I strapped the baby into a carrier, loaded the other two into a double-wide stroller, and decided we were good to go. The first three minutes of the walk were very pleasant — we noted the setting sun, talked about the books we hoped to find, hummed bits and pieces of Christmas tunes. It was all very nice. Then the boys asked for snacks. I only had one granola bar, which I had snagged on my way out the door mostly so the dog wouldn’t find it and eat the wrapper. Through some artful negotiating, we agreed to save the snack for after the library, but then they wanted water. There would be probably be water at the library, I told them.

“What about the book bag?”, they asked. 

Of course we didn’t have the book bag. I could picture it in my head — a reusable shopping bag my wife always brings because when you think for more than ten seconds about a trip to the library, you remember you’ll need a place to put all the books. 

The walk continued like that for another ten minutes — them asking questions and me dodging them like an embattled politician at a news conference. When it  was finally in view, the Phoenixville Public Library looked to me like a glowing beacon of hope rising up from the bustling corner of Reeves Park. We shuffled in, a blast of warmth hitting us as we pulled open the glass door. The kids’ section is at the bottom of a staircase, nestled deep in the belly of the building. By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs, everyone was quiet. The boys had forgotten all about being hungry and thirsty, and I’d forgotten all about being annoyed that I didn’t plan better. Even the baby had a renewed sense of calm. There was just something about being in that space that settled us.  

December is arguably the busiest and most emotionally complex time of the year, so I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on those quiet, unassuming buildings on street corners around the country. The library can mean different things to different people, but a few specific comparisons come to mind as I consider the library in this lovely albeit chaotic month.

A Refuge

photo credit: Gaelle Marcel

In a recent interview on The Daily, librarian Martha Hickson described her school library as a refuge. That word really resonates with me because it’s true on so many levels. The library can be a physical refuge — a public and safe space to go when it’s cold or dark or dangerous outside. But it’s not just a building. The library is a refuge for ideas — silly ideas and bold ideas and sometimes contentious ideas. In her interview, Martha discussed her battle to keep controversial books on the shelves at her library, and regardless of my personal opinions about specific books or their content, I really cherish the notion that the library is a refuge even for ideas that fall outside the comfortable and familiar. To that end, Martha helped developed a website designed to support other librarians facing similar challenges, and the way the literary community has circled the wagons really speaks to the importance of libraries as safe spaces.


A Swiss Army Knife

photo Credit: Debby Hudson

When I was a kid, I really wanted a Swiss Army Knife. I’m not sure why – I wasn’t especially outdoorsy. For most of my adolescent years, I couldn’t even open a can of soup without parental intervention. I think I just loved the idea of something serving so many different functions. In a lot of places, libraries are the Swiss Army Knives of the community. They serve as polling places, event centers, computer labs, and classrooms. Contrary to popular belief, most librarians will even tolerate quiet conversations between friends. The library is home to endless forms of community engagement, and its influence is like soft music playing in the background — a comforting, steady rhythm that settles the soul.

A French Chalet

photo credit: Toa Heftiba

December is a very commercial time of year. At our house, we don’t get much regular mail these days. It’s mostly ads for Black Friday sales and post-black Friday sales and double-bonus sales events just in case you missed the first bonus sales event.  Libraries don’t have much to sell. I think that’s another reason I find them so refreshing. As a middle school teacher and parent of young kids, I’ve gone to my share of school book fairs this season, and while no one loves shopping for books more than I do, there is something jarring about the way books are advertised in those settings. It feels a little like Vegas for book nerds — super fun but slightly overwhelming. Going to the library is like visiting a French Chalet. I’ve never been in one, but I’ve heard they’re very cozy.


A Thick Blanket

photo credit: Valentin Antonini

Of course no refuge is perfect. At the end of our library visit, my two year-old tripped over a train table and hurt his arm, and my five year-old nearly had a meltdown when I told him he couldn’t check out all twenty-three Berenstain Bears books at the same time. Still, the gentle music played and a million ideas from a million books swirled around and covered us like a thick blanket. We walked home mostly in silence, warmed by the thought of the dozen or so books wedged under the stroller. We’d found a brief respite from the business of the season, and I hope you do, too. Whether you go to the library every day or haven’t been there in years, I promise it’s waiting like an old friend.

Just don’t forget a bag.

Celebrating Little Free Libraries and Their Founder

You’ve seen them, right? Little boxes on poles, filled with books, and standing in the most unexpected places.

Brunswick, ME has a Little Free Library down the street from the Brunswick Inn.

The Little Free Library movement began just nine years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin when founder Todd Bol crafted the first book box from an old door. Less than a decade later, there are more than 75, 000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries.

Of course, Bol’s vision had everything to do with books and reading, but what many don’t know is that building a sense of community was Bol’s ultimate goal. Connecting people to books is one thing. Connecting people to people through books is what makes each Little Free Library so very special.

Ashlyn doesn’t wait to get home to start reading. The Little Free Library in Monroe, Indiana is one of her favorite places to visit.

Last week, Todd Bol died following a very brief illness. He leaves behind a successful non-profit organization that employs 13 people and has more than 75,000 volunteer stewards who maintain the Little Free Libraries around the world.  Author Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra have been working on a picture book about Bol and his Little Free Library movement. The book is titled “Little Libraries, Big Heroes,” and will be released in 2019.

Listen to Miranda discuss the upcoming book and Bol’s legacy on NPR’s All Things Considered.


Little Free Libraries have sprouted up everywhere. They can be found in parks, neighborhoods, outside of businesses and on country roads. Authors Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jane Yolen have placed them in front of their homes.

One day, Sherri’s neighbor called and told her to grab her camera and look at what was happening outside. Sherri snapped this picture.

THIS is exactly what Todd Bol envisioned. Not book boxes on sticks. Hubs of community, sharing, reading, memory-making.


This Little Free Library stands outside the Exploration Station at Perry Farm Park in Bourbonnais, Illinois.


Recently, my daughter discovered a Little Free Library near her college campus in Illinois. On a rainy day, she placed copies of my books inside, snuggled next to Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat. Knowing that a young reader could wander by and find a story to enjoy there made my day.


The Little Free Library at Phoenix Farm, the home of author Jane Yolen.

At some time, I’d like to place a Little Free Library myself. I live on a sprawling, working farm, so my own property would only attract cattle and hogs. I will think of the perfect spot and I’ll carry on Todd Bol’s amazing legacy by signing up to become a Little Free Library steward. You can, as well, by clicking here.

Until then, I’ve resolved to keeping a box of books in my trunk. I won’t pass a Little Free Library without adding my contribution, in memory of and in celebration of Todd Bol.

Rethinking a Small School Library

Three years ago, I retired from the small independent school where I’d worked for twelve years. The last ten I spent getting my library certification, while building the library and library programming there.
It was hard to leave but time to go, with family needs and the publishing company left to me by my Dad calling on my time and my heart.
But that library led me to my true calling, I believe, and they really never got rid of me, once I was able to go back as a sub the past two years. I’d shelve books and exclaim over the new acquisitions, and happily talk books with the kids (and teachers!) in the hallway and classroom.
Three years later, I have the opportunity to be a part of the school improvement plan in ways none of us could have imagined all those years ago, when I was growing a library from shelves full of used books and a room full of promise.
While others prepare to deliver curriculum in the library, I am redesigning the collection for a move to new teaching spaces after this coming school year.
The first job is a total weed of the collection, something which can never happen completely while also fulfilling a teaching and duty schedule. Over the years, this task has grown to somewhat daunting proportions.
One could say that moving a school from two buildings to one is a sad thing, that it is a downsizing of the program. Really, though, this is a right-sizing of the program designed to serve this small school population while resources grow.
My job, building a library collection that reflects the mission and vision of the school while it shrinks to fit smaller spaces, is one example of the thoughtful approach to these changes. Our school is authorized for the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate, serving students grades 6-8. The school is actively pursuing application for the Primary Years Programme, which serves early childhood through middle grade students.
Using best library practices, I’m working to make this the best possible library for our school community. I’m using the following points to approach each book we have in the library.
Does the collection include diverse voices and viewpoints? Do windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors exist in the choices of the books we choose for our students? Could ANY student find themselves reflected somewhere in our library, and could ANY student learn about people with different experiences and viewpoints than their own there?
Did we practice due diligence in examining our personal biases as we decide which books serve our community the very best way? Can we offer teachers and families a wide selection of really great books, including those that exemplify the IB’s ten Learner Profile traits?
Next, I use circulation statistics to inform my decision about a book. If no one has checked out a book that is more than ten years old in the past five years, it’s got to go, unless I happen to know that it a hidden gem no one could find before.
The last gauge I use is age (science, geography and other areas are outdated faster than others). The copyright date is one checkpoint, but smelly books always go(ewww),no matter how special!
Library staff has performed these weeding exercises by section as they were able to in the past, but this move provides great motivation to get the whole job done on the entire library, and I’m making progress. When I’m finished, the remaining collection will fit into the new teaching spaces being designed for them throughout the school, the collection will be accessible to everyone, and the great books that have in some cases been hidden within the vast number of volumes will be visible and ready to share!
It is so exciting to be part of something that will add value to a school so dear to my heart. I’m very happy to back in the bookstacks to be making a difference, also to peek between the covers of favorite middle grade books I recommended or have on my own TBR pile, and to geek out in the land of the well- designed library catalog, one of my weird and wonderful passions.