Banned Books Week 2016 continues more  than 30 years of celebrating  – and protecting – the freedom to read. This freedom to choose what we read from the fullest array of possibilities is firmly rooted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Even as we enjoy a seemingly limitless and expanding amount of information, there is always a danger in someone else selecting what is available and to whom. Would-be censors from all quarters and political persuasions threaten our right to choose for ourselves.

The year’s Banned Book Week is focusing on the diversity of authors and ideas that have prompted a disproportionate share of challenges. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that more than half of all banned books are by authors of color or ones that represent groups of viewpoints outside the mainstream. When we speak up to protect the right to read, we not only defend our individual right to free expression, we demonstrate tolerance and respect for opposing points of view. When we take action to preserve our freedoms, we become participants in the ongoing evolution of our democratic society.



Believe it or not, I don’t usually seek out libraries while I’m on vacation. I’m a big fan of libraries, of course, but when I’m visiting a new place I’m usually preoccupied with non-Iowa sites, like skyscrapers and world famous museums and mountain vistas. However, I was lucky enough to be in New York City earlier this month and my friends and I made it a point to stop in at the New York Public Library; it was a visit that was both fun and inspiring.

At the main entrance you’re greeted by the library’s famous lions, named Patience and Fortitude, and the grand facade of the beautiful Beaux-Arts building which opened in 1911. The building is very museum-like, with it’s marble columns and sweeping staircases, murals painted on the ceilings, fine art decorating the reading rooms, glittering chandeliers and ornate windows. It is also very library-like, with it’s bustling crowds (it was very busy), rows and rows of reference books and public computers, busy families in the Children’s Center and hushed silence in the research rooms. It is obviously a much-used, much-loved building.

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We were lucky enough to be visiting while a special exhibit was on display, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Beautifully curated, the exhibit was a walk down memory lane for the child in anyone – an Alice with a neck (made from books) that slowly expanded, then retracted, a charming re-enactment of the web Charlotte made to save Wilbur as well as recordings of E.B. White reading passages from his famous book, a cut-out of the Wild Thing to climb on, a life-size room from Goodnight Moon, the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends (who are usually on display in the Children’s Center), an umbrella donated by P.L. Travers just like the one Mary Poppins carried, an original watercolor by Eric Carle and many more treasures.

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Another fun attraction was the NYPL Photo Booth in the soaring main lobby. Anyone can answer a few simple questions, then have your picture taken to commemorate your visit. The photo is later emailed to you and are also on view on the NYPL Facebook page and Flickr account. It’s a wonderful blend of old and new, something libraries all over the world practice every day.

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This blog is written by the staff of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (the 11th stack refers to the top floor of their library). The posts are quirky and thought-provoking. I love this one, Hot Makes Angry, in which the author likens himself to the Incredible Hulk. During the current heat wave, his emotions were on edge, so he delved into the IH graphic novels (bit of trivia: the original Hulk was gray, not green).

A recent post, Batman. Dark Knight Looming, notes that, last summer, Pittsburgh was the site for some of the filming for Dark Knight Rises.

The staff biographies are as fun to read as the blog posts. If they are anything to go by, this is a fun and diverse library to work at. For example, Holly’s hobby is “thrifting,” (I need to find out what this is), Leigh Ann “practices mad science,” Bonnie likes “gluing and taping things,” Maria, who would “love to meet other Michigan transplants so that she can talk about Michigan without seeming weird (such as using her hand as a map)” and one I’m on board with: Tara, who is into “making soup and napping.”


guest post from Georgann

Libraries and fairy-tale magic! What a combination! A sort of a cross between The Librarian movies and mish-mash of fairy tales, The Grimm Legacy has a flavor all of its own which left me hoping for more!

Elizabeth, our reminiscent-of-Cinderella heroine, is lonely at her new school. She does a kind deed for a stranger and is noticed by her social studies teacher. He recommends her for a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository. What is the New York Circulating Material Library, you may ask? Elizabeth had to ask too. This particular library checks out all sorts of unusual objects, from clarinets to coronets, from chess sets to tea sets, and from doublets to fondue pots. And, the New York Circulating Material Library has some very special collections, including the Grimm Collection, which, believe it or not, contains actual magical items featured in a wide variety of tales! And the magic really works!

As it turns out, Elizabeth’s new job is full of adventure and unusual experiences. Plus, she makes new friends and finds a place for herself. I enjoyed this book from start to finish. The characters were likable. The fantasy was fun and intriguing. There were some exciting moments and some mystery.

I wonder just what all might be available in our Special Collections. Hmmm……

April 10-16 is National Library Week!  What a perfect time to check out some materials featuring libraries and/or librarians.

Here are a few of my favorites, and even though technically the main characters aren’t librarians, they definitely do spend a lot of time in libraries.  First off is The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.  When they wrote this, they were fresh out of college, so their descriptions of academic life at Princeton really hit the nail on the head.  Also, the book’s plot reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, as the two main characters are close to solving the mysteries of an ancient Renaissance text that has confused scholars for centuries.  It’s fast-paced and there’s lots of code-breaking going on.

Another favorite is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  This is a lengthy Draculian tome, so it’s catalogued in the Horror section.  The book begins with a young woman exploring her father’s library when she discovers an ancient book with letters all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor.”  Generations of researchers have risked their lives and their reputations trying to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler, and to uncover this source of darkness and rid the world of it powers.  Now this young woman must decide whether to take up her father’s quest; her journey takes her from  Ivy League libraries to archives in Istanbul and Eastern Europe.  I don’t usually read Horror, but I couldn’t put it down.

Just think about it.  Celebrate National Library Week! And find the answers to your quest at your Davenport Public Library!

Adrift after graduating from Harvard and rejecting the demands of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Avi Steinberg stumbles into a job running the library in a tough Boston prison. Funny, heartbreaking, sometimes brutal, always human Running the Books is his memoir of his time spent among the inmates.

The criminals that Avi encounters are complex – many of them are cruel and dangerous, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness, of lives devastated by poverty, abuse and violence. Hope for redemption for most is slim. And although he is completely unsuited to prison life, Avi attempts to reach out and make a difference – with decidedly mixed results.

This book also works as an excellent memoir as Avi reflects on his own life and the choices he’s made. The humor is sardonic and Avi is not afraid to shine a light on his own failings. It’s also a great study of the library as central to a community and to the humans, imperfect and lost, that use it.

The title of The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is indicative of the book’s style. The cookbooks in question aren’t introduced until well into the story, and is just one of several plotlines. The book has been compared to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility but I get a Dicken’s vibe, myself. There is an abundance of characters; many of them quite eccentric. There is also a sense that, in this book and for these characters, morality is an actual consideration in how they conduct themselves and the choices they make.

Two sisters are contrasts in lifestyle and general philosophy. Jess, the younger sister, is a free spirit, environmentalist, and perennial student.  Emily is the CEO of a computer startup company (this being the late ’90’s and San Francisco).

Romantic tension abounds between Jess and her boss, the owner of a used and rare book store; they argue about everything –  books, authors and whether books should be collected and owned or shared (via the public library system!). The dialogue between these two is witty and erudite, but not pompous.

Book lovers, library users and patrons of book stores, will all find something in The Cookbook Collector to chew on.

The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom is a light, easy-read mystery is a novel choice for National Library Week.  There’s a lot of dialog (maybe too much at times) but since it takes place in Northern Ireland, I guess it’s reasonable to espect a bit of blarney or wit-repartee.  Enter Israel Armstrong, the primary character, now living in a converted chicken coop, and according to the first sentence is” possibly Ireland’s only English Jewish vegetarian mobile librarian.”

Israel is depressed; his girlfriend Gloria has just broken up with him, he’s about to turn 30, and he’s under suspicion in the disappearance of a local teenager.  Some consider him responsible because (horror of horrors) he lent the girl a book from the library’s special “Unshelved” collection.  Rather than be run out of town, he hops in the library van and does his own research, of sorts.  Israel, in his frumpy cords and rather slovenly ways, is a very unlikely detective, but much of the humor comes from this self-effacing characterization.  This is not classic literature, but book-lovers, especially, will find some good laughs.

“In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

Here at the beginning of National Library Week, let’s pause a moment and think about libraries. What makes a library? Sure, the building is important, and the computers and systems in it, and the books and information it contains. But what really makes a library is the people – the behind-the-scenes people who order the books and process them so you can find them (it’s not elves or magic that does that, but real people); it’s the people at the desks who check out your books or sign you up for that library card; it’s the people putting books on the shelves and keeping the computers up and working (again, not elves or magic – real people); and it’s the librarians at the reference desk showing you where to find that book or digging up that obscure bit of information you need.

Marilyn Johnson has written a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the world of libraries – their diversity, their changing role, their struggles in This Book is Overdue! Johnson is not a librarian, just a long-time library user. Her wide-ranging topics – libraries in Second Life, libraries defending the First Amendment, libraries preserving the past, libraries embracing and leading technological innovations for the future – quickly explode any myths about a staid and passive profession. Yet libraries are facing hard economic times, just at the time when so many people need them and Johnson wants to make sure that we don’t let them and what they stand for disappear:

“In tight economic times, with libraries sliding farther and farther down the list of priorities, we risk the loss of their ideals, intelligence, and knowledge, not to mention their commitment to access for all –  librarians consider free access to information the foundation of the information revolution because they level the field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D.”

Don’t let your library disappear.

Library patrons don’t often get a chance to see how the dollars and quarters accrue in their favor.  Spend a couple minutes plunking in values on this Library Value Calculator assembled by several libraries across the country to get an accurate representation of the kind of value you as a consumer have reaped.

For example, if you have used the library to answer two reference questions, borrow two books, check out two movies, and use the internet for two hours, count yourself a savvy spender friend.  You’ve just saved 114 dollars.  Before you call these figures inflated and self-serving, go to a doctor, lawyer or body shop and see how quickly their services tally up.

Being a library cardholder is not just good citizenship, it is smart money.