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Library responds to a community’s natural crisis

11 Jun

In a time when so many libraries are trying to redefine themselves or rebrand their services, stories like the one of the Arlington Public Library in Texas, which is helping tornado victims find lost family photos, goes a long way to show how the request of one person can act as a catalyst for new service projects that have strong community appeal. I know unfortunately too many librarians who would react to this situation with “It’s not my job” instead of seeing the amazing opportunity to help preserve the community’s heritage and bring new people into the library.

I strongly salute the staff at the Arlington branch libraries who looked beyond the obvious hard work involved and are now viewed as community heroes to the people who are rediscovering their lost photos! Based on the comment on their Arlington Public Library website, people are extremely excited about the service the library is offering.

Visit the Eagle to read the whole article: Library helps tornado victims find lost photos.

Where does your public library fit in your community?

19 Jul

Tracadie public library
Everyone has agreed; our public library needs to move. Our library is currently located adjacent to the town hall and for a few years, the plan was to expand the building on the current property. However, it has now been decided that even an expanded library would not meet the demands of the population we serve. So now comes the hard part…where do you move a public library? For the past year, I have attended numerous meetings to discuss possibilities for the new location of the library. Everyone has their own opinion of where the library should be built and essentially I have found that people’s ideas for the physical location of the public library reveals their psychologically view of where a public library fits in the community.

One popular idea is the construction of a cultural center that would group the public library together with an art gallery, historical museum, and café. This option demonstrates the cultural importance that people attribute to public libraries. I find this interesting, yet I wonder if these same people would be able to justify the cultural significance of our high circulation statistics of Harlequin and other romance novels.

Others think that the library should be built as an extension to the local high school which demonstrates that people consider the significant role of public library’s to be that of education. Opponents of this idea argue that a high school is not an inviting environment for library users who might have bad memories of their high school days and that some could be intimidated by the presence of groups of teenagers.

Others still believe that it is a question of pride and that a bustling town should have a stand-alone public library building directly on the main street of town surrounded by other services.

Where is the public library currently situated in your town/city? Do you believe that if your public library would move or be grouped together with other services that it would increase to decrease its circulation? If you had a clean slate and you could put your public library anywhere in your community where would it be built? What do you think this says about your vision of the role of a public library?

Informal Training: when staff requires more than just on the job learning

15 May

Libraries are spaces that foster learning. Most librarians love helping users and teaching information literacy skills has become a fundamental concept in librarianship studies. So what happens when it is the librarians who need help learning? We are all conscious that libraries are constantly evolving; systems are updated with new features, new services are added, policies change to better reflect the times, etc. Yet are we doing a good job of making sure that all staff are aware and comfortable responding to these changes?  In a large library system like mine, we can receive several memos a day informing us of new additions to the catalogue/circulation system, services, policies, etc. There is a huge difference between staff reading these memos and being vaguely aware of them and then having staff who actually understand the changes on a level that permits them to integrate them into their work or confidently explain them to a user.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately specifically in relation to our provincial library system’s introduction of OverDrive. In the fall, our Public Service Librarian from our regional office provided us with a brief OverDrive training session. This training was unfortunately during opening hours of the library which meant that we were constantly being interrupted by users with questions and having to answer the phone. With all the distractions, it was very difficult to assimilate what we were being shown and as we know, OverDrive is full of little hiccups regarding compatibility issues and software which are hard to address until you run into them. As time goes on, more and more users have been asking about Overdrive and I realized that staff were completely reliant on me to answer all OverDrive related questions. People who work in libraries are very intelligent. However, without being taught the knowledge necessary to accurately respond to users’ inquiries, the situation between staff and users can be very discouraging and possibly even embarrassing.

Last week, I decided that it was time to sit down in front of a computer with a full-time librarian assistant and a library volunteer and download together an audiobook onto my Ipod. It was informal and during the process I was asked so many questions that went much beyond OverDrive concerning the differences between devices like iPads, iPods, MP3 players, smartphones, etc. I was happy that even though I am not the most tech-savvy person out there, I was still able to share knowledge that I do have. It was extremely rewarding to see how appreciative both women for the informal training. They now feel better prepared responding to inquiries and conversing with others on the subject of the different formats of e-books/audiobooks and how to download them.

It is fantastic that libraries present themselves as keeping up with the tech trends including providing the download of e-books. However, how well is staff being trained to respond to all the new technology in their workplace?

What is the environment like at your library for training librarians and staff and then working together as a team so that everyone feels comfortable with their new knowledge and skills?

Canada Reads inspires the reader in all of us

7 Feb

Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.

Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.

I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).

Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.

I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.

I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.

Happy reading!

Going to be a librarian? Don’t forget your screwdriver!

9 Jan

During library school students were told that librarians must wear many different hats and that we should be prepared for whatever diverse responsibilities might come our way. Since becoming a library director at a small public library I am confronted with this reality every day.


Before the 2010 budget year came to a close, I had the pleasure of making a few new furniture purchases for the library. I spent a lot of time taking measurements of available space, looking through library supplier catalogues and websites, and considering both the usability and esthetical requirements for a new DVD display case as well as tables and chairs for our kids’ activity room.


This week my staff and I enjoyed a second Christmas as we excitedly opened the large delivery boxes sent to us from Brodart Canada Library Supplies. I was happy to see that the chairs had been sent well wrapped and with no assembly required. Likewise the DVD display spinner was easily assembled in a few quick steps. The two tables however were another story…


Now I am not one to back away from furniture assembly. I have bought my fair share of IKEA furniture and am therefore used to the challenge of trying to coincide strange pictograms with basic design common sense. My infamous leaning tower of Pisa wardrobe that I put together during my first year at SIS became somewhat of a joke; though to my credit, despite its wobbling, it never fell in the two years that I used it while living in Montreal.


One of the reasons why I chose this particular model of activity tables was because of its adjustable height. I thought it was an extremely clever idea to adjust the legs of the table so that younger kids could have a table closer to the ground and the older kids wouldn’t feel like they were sitting at a little kid’s table. Well after I spent the better part of a morning with a manual screwdriver and multiple screws per leg per table, I can tell you that the height of those legs is not going to be readjusted any time soon. Admittedly things did go faster once a male user pointed out that I was not using the most efficient head for my screwdriver. Now I ask you, why did I never learn during my MLIS the value of using a Phillips screwdriver head?  Well all is well that ends well. The tables look awesome and I can’t wait for our regular programming to start this week so that the kids will be able to use the new tables. I just wish that I’d had the insight to include an electric screwdriver in my 2011 budget. I guess that’s what you call learning on the job!

Ethical Acquisitions?

5 Dec

Photo by Steve Rhodes

What is the difference between a public library purchasing their books through a local independent bookstore as opposed to shopping online at Amazon or buying new releases at Costco or Wal-Mart?

In general, I am a huge proponent of buying locally. Yes, most of my clothes were made in developing countries and I do buy bananas and avocados (obviously not grown locally) but I strive to uphold a certain ideal which means that given a choice I will buy “local” even if it means paying a higher cost.

This ethical obligation that I feel towards buying locally and from independent sources might come from my years of working at a small independent bookstore in Quebec City. At the time, we truly viewed Amazon as our evil competition because we felt powerless to rival their fantastic discounts that are only possible when items are purchased in large bulk quantities. Most often distributors will set the cost price of a book (aka the wholesale price) depending on the quantity that the retailer is purchasing. Therefore if my bookstore ordered 15 copies of a new bestseller, we were paying more for each copy than a large chain store who might order 500 copies and then distribute the copies amongst the different store locations. Since our initial cost of the book was higher, we already made less money on each sale making it more difficult to match online or large-store discounts. However, we provided an excellent service; our entire staff was passionate about books, customer service, and recommending the right book for the right person. We developed special relationships with our regular clients calling them by name and knowing which new books would interest certain clients.  When people would say how great Amazon was I would reply “but who do you know who works at Amazon?”. I tried to communicate to people that when purchasing something on Amazon you don’t know exactly where your money is going whereas when you buy from a local store you know that you are helping to pay the wages of the staff who greet you on the front lines.

Since I’ve been a public library director, I’ve been doing my library acquisitions of French books at Le Bouquin small independent bookstore here in Tracadie-Sheila. I know the owner personally and she is always friendly and available to respond to my questions, my requests for rushed billing, or my surprise visits to the bookstore. Unfortunately, my public library’s budget for collection development relies almost entirely on fundraising. When volunteers and staff work hard for every single dollar raised for the collection, it is normal that they expect that the money be spent in the most effective way possible.  Therefore, recently I have been questioned as to why we shouldn’t buy books from time to time at the Atlantic Superstore. Now for those of you outside the Maritimes, the Atlantic Superstores are a chain of big box grocery stores owned by Loblaws, Canada’s largest food distributor (source Wikipedia). In addition to groceries, they also offer a pharmacy, home supplies, a clothing section, and of course books, CDs and DVDs. The majority of books they sell all have a sticker boasting a 25% discount off the retail price.

Now, I love books and I am passionate about anything that gets people reading. I feel then that I must tread carefully with what I say next. Although no one that I know goes into the Superstore specifically to buy books, due to clever in-store marketing and great discounts a lot of people do end up purchasing a book as a type of impulse buy. Am I really going to complain that the store strategically places Caillou books amongst the kids’ clothing so that parents are more likely to buy books for their kids while they are shopping for clothes? No…like I said if people are buying books then I’m happy.

Now obviously the Superstore does not offer the same type of service as a bookstore. Although they always tend to have the bestselling fiction and non-fiction in stock, I cannot place orders through them, and I cannot request that they inform me when the latest title of a popular author will be released.

Also, by doing library acquisitions at the local independent bookstore, I believe strongly that I am having a more positive effect on the local economy. The people who raised money for the library’s collection are from Tracadie-Sheila and therefore I want that money to stay at the local level instead of going off to enrich the already affluent owners of the Loblaws chain.

I am very curious as to what others think about this. Is my self-righteous attitude hindering my library’s collection? If it meant being able to purchase more books with the same amount of budget would you shop at the big box store?

Hanging with a children’s author!

4 Nov

Tuesday my libPictures of Mireille Messierrary hosted a visit by the fantastic children’s author Mireille Messier. I am still on such a high from this awesome event. Here’s why…

The event itself was a huge success as it was attended by fifty-four grade 4 students from a local elementary school. Both Mireille and I were thrilled that the school opted to allow the students to walk approximately 15 minutes to the library instead of having them take the bus despite the chilly temperature. As a result the students arrived at the library bright-eyed and alert; they were consequently on their best behaviour and I believe that at one point or another during the presentation they all raised their hands to participate.

As a presenter, Mireille Messier was incredible. Her background in theatre studies and radio shone through as she engaged the members of her audience with her highly energetic and interactive presentation. Her main topic of discussion was “Where do authors get their great ideas?”.  In general, the students offered extremely creative and surprisingly mature answers when asked what might provide the inspiration for stories. One tiny boy boldly stated that authors could receive inspiration from landscapes. How insightful, it was very cute! Another fantastic exercise that Mireille did with the students was to show them all the same picture and then have them describe what they thought the corresponding story would be. The objective was to demonstrate that although we can be inspired by the same source, each individual has unique ideas. So AKA don’t copy other people’s ideas!

In addition to having a great turnout and being able to offer a fantastic and high quality library event, the coolest part of the author visit was hanging out with Mireille herself. It was planned by my regional office that I would pick up Mireille at the airport when she arrived in New Brunswick as she was kicking off her multi-library Communication Jeunesse tour at my library. I was also supposed to accompany her for lunch on Tuesday right before the presentation. I admit that I was slightly nervous about the prospect of entertaining someone I’d never met. What if she turned out to be a timid author who chose to write books because she was too shy to speak? (I’ve met a few of these types before). Boy was I worried for nothing! Mireille is the most friendly, warm, and interesting person! It was an absolute pleasure to spend so much time with her prior to her library visit. We discussed our love of Halloween, different educational systems, our families, and of course books! In fact, at lunch time we were discussing a certain topic and Mireille’s eyes got wide and she explained “That’s a great idea for a book!”. She then proceeded for the next few minutes to write furiously in her notebook so not to forget the idea. I guess I haven’t hung out with a lot of authors before but that was the first time that has ever happened to me. It was a bit startling but also very exciting. Mireille’s books are highly in demand by publishers since she is the only Franco-Ontarian author who writes elementary-age level books in French. Therefore I have no doubt that this idea born in a restaurant in Tracadie-Sheila will one day be published in a book. What a fun feeling it is to be included in the creative process of an author!

It’s on days like these that I truly appreciate how lucky I am to be a librarian!

Too many books to read!

11 Oct

For three years during my undergrad, my homework every day was to read amazing literature. I got my degree in French and Quebec Literature at Université Laval and I would easily read over 20 books in one semester as part of my required reading. I never once complained about all the books I had to read (although admittedly I did complain about the essays I had to write following my readings). Now that I am a librarian one might assume that I get to read all day. However as other librarians know this is unfortunately completely untrue. In fact it is extremely difficult to be a librarian when you are a huge fan of reading because every day you are surrounded by amazing books that are crying out to be read but you must concentrate on responsibilities such as serving users, organizing events, and promoting the library. Who has time to read?

The past few weeks, I have made more of a point to spend my free time reading certain books. I am running two Hackmatack books clubs for preteens (one in English and one in French). Obviously as the leader of the book club, I need to have read the books that we’ll be discussing. Also last week I attended the award ceremony for the Prix Littéraire Antoinine-Maillet Acadie-Vie, a literary award that recognizes outstanding literature by Acadian authors. I felt obligated to read the shortlisted nominated titles especially since I knew that I would be meeting the authors at the cocktail reception and I wanted to be able to say that I’d read their books. I was extremely pleased that Mme Françoise Enguehard won for her novel L’archipel du docteur Thomas. I found this novel to be beautifully written and I wholeheartedly agreed that it deserved to win the award!  Of course not all of my reading has been work related. One of my guilty pleasures was that I “had” to read Mini-Shopaholic, the new Sophie Kinsella novel as soon as my order arrived before shipping it off to the Regional Office to be catalogued. Luckily Sophie Kinsella is pure brain candy and I was able to finish it within a few days.

Often I have heard library school students and librarians lament about their lack of time to actually sit down and read. One of the best ways to keep reading is to join or run your own book club or have a reading buddy with whom you can share what you are reading. Despite our mountain of other responsibilities, I believe that reading a lot contributes to becoming a better librarian. The more books you have read the better you will be at readers’ advisory, an essential library service. Also, it helps to keep one grounded in what many people believe is one of the cornerstone responsibilities of libraries: the proliferation of a passion for reading.

Go Library Book Rate !

3 Oct

My public library system is largely dependent on the sharing of library materials through Canada Post. Our individual collection budgets are extremely small and it is thanks to Canada’s Library Book Rate that we can easily transfer materials from one library to another at the request of patrons. There is absolutely no way that our system could afford the amount of mail that we send if it were not for the Library Book Rate. Due to its importance, in the spring my Library Board members conducted a letter writing campaign to raise awareness of the fragility of this program and requested that individuals, community organizations and businesses write to the federal government to show their support for the continuation of the government subsidies provided through this program.

So, it has been with great interest that I have been following the developments in Canadian government for a commitment to the continuation of the Library Book rate program. I am therefore extremely thrilled to see that the federal government has announced its support of Bill C-509 in which the Library Book Rate will be integrated into the Canada Post’s Corporation Act as well as expand the current program to cover audio-visual material (not currently covered by the book rate program).

I encourage you to watch the video of the press conference below. I am especially impressed by the importance that the politicians give to the CLA. It makes me very proud to be a CLA member when I see the influence that their lobbying ! Go CLA and go Library Book Rate!

Response to article “How to Raise Boys that Read”

26 Sep

The following blog post is my response to the article How to Raise Boys who Read by Thomas Spence published in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. In this article, Spence comments on the tendency of publishers to promote “gross-out” books in an effort to get boys to read more. He argues against this current trend to “meet boys where they are” stating that these books do not support a valuable education of manners and taste and that ultimately “if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far”.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my huge passion for Children’s Literature. Before returning to McGill’s School of Information Studies, I was the educational representative for the only English bookstore in eastern Quebec and was often invited to give presentations to teachers on how to integrate literature into the ESL classroom. It was my job to know all the new titles from different publishing companies and anticipate which books would be

a) able to capture a student’s interest

b) appropriate for a wide range of different ESL reading levels

Through my meetings with teachers across the province of Quebec, I encountered all sorts of opinions on what kids should be reading. The challenge of getting certain kids to read book is doubled when that book is written in the child’s second language. Most educators were of the opinion that if a student could read a particular book in English then he/she should be reading that book. Popular titles were Captain Underpants, Garfield comics and the high interest/low reading level Stone Arch books from Capstone Publishing.

Once I even had a high school teacher ask me to recommend a book for hersecondary 3 (grade 10) class that had sex in it. This teacher told me that the year before for individual reading one girl’s book with a sex scene chapter had been passed around because everyone was so curious to read that particular chapter. She thought if they were interested in reading about sex, then that would be what she would give them. I recommended Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman, an extremely well-written story of passion using the typical literary motif of star-crossed lovers. In this case, I guess I was sharing Thomas Spence’s perspective in that I was careful not to recommend just any book with a sex scene. I felt Noughts and Crosses would contribute to the students’ education because in addition to having the hot and steamy forbidden sex it also touches on interesting themes for high school students such as loyalty, racism, and terrorism.

Now that I am the director of a public library, I am truly happy to see young people checking out whatever books will make them happy. One series of comics that is extremely popular at my library is Kidpaddle, the latest title in this collection is “Le retour de la momie qui pue  qui tue” (The Return of the mummy who stinks and kills), definitely the type of book that Spence would categorize as a “gross-out book” but the other day a boy around 10 years old came into the library and was so incredibly excited when I showed him that there was a new Kidpaddle book. His face lit up into a huge smile and he exclaimed to his mom “I haven’t read this one yet, I want to borrow this book!” The boy’s excitement to read this comic was the most wonderful reaction to a book I’d ever seen. It completely made my day!

So in conclusion, I’m still on the fence about Thomas Spence’s article. I understand and respect his opinion but at the same time, I really do not think that reading always has to be about learning. I am not convinced that boys would be better off if they were all reading Treasure Island as he suggests. I am an advocate of reading and books and so I will continue to be happy to provide boys with whatever reading they might want.