Newbery Thoughts – The Hundred Dresses

Estes (194The_Hundred_Dresses4 Honor Book) – I just read this for the first time last week on my commute and I fell head over heels in love with it. It’s a fast read (I did it on one leg of my morning commute) and is very approachable and accessible for younger readers. There is a wide swath of reading levels that show up in the Newbery awards and I would put this one as one of the lower, faster, easier levels. It is still a rich narrative that has a lot to sink your teeth into and the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin are delightful and really add to the book.

This book gets at bullying more effectively than any other book that I have read and it did it before bullying even became a “thing”. For most of the book the girls in an elementary classroom tease a classmate mercilessly. I love how quickly you begin to dread the phrase “the fun” as in “that’s when the fun started” or “we started up the fun again”. In no time at all the phrase “fun” gives you a sinking and sick feeling in your stomach.

It’s a very wise look at bullying too. The narrator is well aware that what they are doing is wrong but she is desperately afraid of the pack turning on her. She is friends with the popular important girl but she knows that can change and she is afraid that doing the right thing will make her a target for the same abuse. There is a lovely moment when the bullying has run its sad course when she has to determine just what kind of a person her best friend is. I think that the phrase: Peggy was really all right, just as she always thought. Peg was really all right. She was okay. Is a wonderful commentary on the difficulties of friendship. Please be the person I thought you were, please, please, please.

I’m very interested in seeing how the Newbery books are reflective of their time in history. There is one section which places this one securely in a historical context.

She had stood by silently, and that was just as bad as what Peggy had done. Worse. She was a coward. At least Peggy hadn’t considered that they were being mean, but she, Maddie, had thought they were doing wrong. She had thought, supposing she was the one being made fun of. She could put herself in Wanda’s shoes. But she had done just as much as Peggy to make life miserable for Wanda by simply standing by and saying nothing.

This paragraph speaks to me of children whose fathers and brothers were off fighting a war that did not touch their shores. Why is your daddy far away? Why did your brother die? They did it because they are not cowards, they did it because it was the right thing, they did it because there are thousands of little Polish girls who need someone to stand up for them far away.


Koch Brothers Gunning For Small Town Library


The Koch Brothers are going after a small town library in Illinois. This is actually happening. Why would a pair of billionaires who largely control Republic politics care about a local small town library? It’s a great question and a perfect illustration of how big money politics are wrecking Main Street America.

Plainfield IL is trying to raise money for a new library building. The library is currently an anchor for downtown and is a much loved and heavily used part of the community. They are asking for a 20 year bond and a small increase in property taxes. The end result will be a brand new library that is three times larger than the current library, still in downtown, and will feature new technology, public meeting spaces, classrooms, and more space for books DVDs and other materials for the community.

The Plainfield Library came up with this after years of focus groups, surveys, and public town meetings. The leadership of the library worked closely with community leaders and stakeholders to create a comprehensive plan that would give them cutting edge library services in ways that the community values. This is good old American democracy in action, a public institution needs an update, the community gets involved, a shared vision is formed, people move forward. That is how America is supposed to work.

Then big interests got involved. In this case it is the mega PAC Americans for Prosperity who have decided any tax is a bad tax. They have started a campaign run by professional political operatives from out of town to do a hit job on this library vote. They are doing robocalls to the community with wrong information and doing a social media push that suggests that the new library is frivolous.

This is exactly what is wrong with American democracy today. Large operators mess with Business-Development-and-Job-Training-by-Luis-Prado-Red-Low-Ressmall town politics and try to use them to push a national or regional agenda. They do this with no regard for the people who actually live in the community they are impacting. Whatever prosperity this PAC is pushing it is certainly not prosperity for the people of Plainfield where studies have shown that for every $1 spent on the library the community receives $5.93 worth of services. I am not sure how anyone can suggest that an entity that returns value at a rate of 500% can be seen as a bad investment.

I have friends who are in the Tea Party, mostly old buddies who I grew up with. We have a lot of laughs and avoid talking about politics for the most part. The one thing that they will tell me though is that libraries get a pass from them. They can see their tax dollars there on the shelves and in the hands of their kids. They like having a place they can drop off their moms to hang out for a few hours and know that they will be safe and well treated. They know that the librarians are not getting rich and they respect the work that they do. They are proud of their library and they brag to me about what it is doing and how my big city library needs to keep up. Ultimately it is that pride that makes a difference.  

I’m really proud to be an American but I feel like the America that I grew up in the 70s is long gone. We used to build things as a nation, big beautiful things that we built so that our grandchildren could use them. We used to work together to help our neighbors and our communities. We used to stand for things that couldn’t be seen on a bank statement. Now, with the Americans for Prosperity in the lead, there is a tone of “I got mine so tough luck for you” in the national dialog. We piss away our community’s future to save $10 a month in taxes (which we would have just spent at Starbucks anyway), and somehow feel proud of ourselves for doing so. .

It’s on the people of Plainfield IL to take back democracy. It’s on them to decide if they want to create a space in their community for children and seniors and families and entrepreneurs. It’s on them to decide if they want free classes and concerts. It’s on them to decide if their neighbors and the people who live beside them in their town mean more to them than the agenda of a couple of billionaires from another state. It is on the people of Plainfield to stand up for everyone in their community so that all the people in the community can benefit together.

Please vote YES for Plainfield Library on March 15th.

Images used with permission of


Library Date Night

We are always saying that we lose patrons when they are teens and don’t see them again until they have kids of their own. While there has been a LOT of work done to change this up we still need to do more programming dedicated to young professionals and single adults.

Library Date Night has the potential to hit that sweet spot in programming. It is active enough to get people in and moving around and passive enough that people are not going to feel like they are signing up for a big commitment. It allows you to cater programming to various populations and show those populations individual value by respecting their needs and differences.

Scheduling If it were up to me I would do: 

1 week straight – 1 week gay – 1 week lesbian – 1 week anything goes

NB I may very well be offending people with this. If I am I’d welcome correction here. I am going with breaking them out so that everyone can know what to expect. I am not trying to ghettoize any groups or persons.


  • Games – do your standard teen board game lineup. I would not do the big complicated bookshelf games on this, just light fun quick turnover games. Family game night stuff.
  • Short story discussions – I think that short story discussions are better and easier for this than a book discussion group. You can post the story itself on the library website and people can read it pretty quickly and easily without committing a huge amount of time and prep to it.
  • Crafting – something that can be completed in one session and requires a very low level of entry skill. You don’t want people looking like ham handed idiots but something that they can help each other with would be charming.
  • Cooking – Any kind of no cook cooking class you can offer is great. There may be cleanup issues though so plan accordingly.

Staffing – All staff should be able to work any date night. I don’t really go in for the “well that makes me uncomfortable” excuse overmuch BUT you might want to honor this because otherwise people could be judgemental jerks and ruin the vibe.

Weddings – Isn’t this the obvious hoped for conclusion to Library Date Nights? If you get one then you HAVE to honor it and let them get married in the library or at least take a bunch of pictures there.

NB This continues The One That Got Away

Book Displays as Interactive Discovery Tool

This post is all about Book Displays so fasten your seatbelt for some heady and controversial stuff! No joke though, this ENTIRE post is about book displays so get into a trad services mood. I do think that we can do more in creating book displays that have greater interactivity.

That interactivity can take a lot of forms, we can flashy them up with some tech, we can make the act of taking a book from the book display a poll or a game in and of itself. Book displays are a great way to keep the nonfic turning over and as a means of unearthing deep collections and surprise holdings hidden on your shelves.

I really like the idea of finding off center commonalities in books and using book displays as a means of connecting books across topic areas, fiction/non-fiction lines, or even narrative media ie. graphic novels.

Incorporating fine art books on the topic at hand is a great way to brighten a display and get a circ on those big lovely expensive books of plates that people can’t ever afford to have in their homes. If it is a display about botany get some Georgia O’Keefe on display, if it a Halloween horror lineup include some Dore or Giger. Getting circs on those books keeps them from being weeded next year.

Interactive Book Displays

Tech Augmented Book Displays

  • Interaction between public and technology
  • How do you introduce arduino and raspberry pi into the book display itself to provide literal bells and whistles?
  • LEDs are cheap and easy enough to rig up.
  • Use the tech to do point of contact surveys? Run infrared lights or lasers to keep track of when books are picked up or taken away. Incorporate a pressure pad to track when a book is picked up. Keep a running survey even just by click button w/ display. Make people feel like they are a part of it using the technology.

Staff Pick Display Challenge

  • Interaction between staff and public and staff and staff.
  • Each staff member gets a bookshelf or a section of a bookshelf on a “STAFF PICKS” rank of shelves.
  • Staff can place whatever books they want to on this shelf with the intention of those books being picked up by patrons and checked out.
  • At the end of each day a page (or manager depending on your staff) counts how many books are missing from each staff member’s bookshelf.
  • At the beginning of each day staff refill their bookshelf and make changes and substitutions for the coming day.
  • At the end of the month all of the days are added up and a Champion is declared. The Champion receives a chocolate bar and a plastic tiara/crown.
  • This program costs about $4 a month to maintain if you buy your crowns/tiaras in bulk beforehand and get decent chocolate
  • Real results are that staff all hand sell books. Circulation figures across the branch go up because you have all of your librarians, paraprofessionals, and shelving staff competing to get books taken out mostly for bragging rights and in the spirit of competition.

Book Progression Sets

  • Interaction between multiple titles
  • This book leads to this book leads to this book
  • Can be a progression of skill ie in woodworking or chess
  • A fiction series
  • Graphic novel crossover arc
  • Idea is to have books checked out as a set
  • Have to manipulate circ to make the later ones due back after a longer period of time or renew automatically

Book Pairings

  • Interaction between staff and collection, Interaction and commonalities between texts
  • Goal is to do this with books just as you might with a meal and beverages
  • Some would be directly connected, others more tangentially but with a core connection
  • From Bauhaus To Our House by Tom Wolfe with High-Rise by JG Ballard
  • Salinger’s Franny & Zooey with a good translation of The Way of a Pilgrim
  • 1984 & Brave New World
  • Biographies of Nixon and Mao, Hitler and Churchill,Tupac and Biggie, any conflict between two people where both sides have been written about independently

Book Display Ideas

  • Stop Reading and Get Moving – Fitness
  • You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands – Hobbies
  • Bored? – Hobbies (Again, but public libraries usually have TONS of hobby books collecting dust and it is not like they go out of date very quickly)
  • Put Some Poetry In Your Life – Get those anthologies moving
  • The Play Is The Thing – All kinds of plays but absolutely some Wild Bill Shakespeare.
  • Starry Nights – Astronomy working books, hobbyist materials, telescopes, etc
  • Things To Do On A Hill At Night – Astronomy books, sex books, and books about murder (OK this one is clearly too much, I’m kidding, don’t do this book display, not even at Halloween or on April Fools Day (I am not encouraging you to do these book displays on those days!))
  • Bold Botany – Weed culture books, anything about growing in hydroponics or as part of doomsday prepping, cheap DIY greenhouses, old hippie 40 Acres and a Mule Stuff including that great public service stuff from the Dept of Agriculture from the 70s if you have any of it in Gov. Docs
  • Comics & Culture – Go for the highbrow stuff here. Art Comics, French Comics (Including Asterix that your Children’s Dept probably already owns), Books Without Words, the snooty stuff in the 741.5 section
  • Historical Mistakes – Benedict Arnold’s Sympathetic Biography, the Book That Talks About Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids, Chronicles of the Blunders of History, Biographies of Traitors and Misunderstood Geniuses
  • Literature of Different Regions – National and Regional book displays that correspond to major holidays for the nation or region being featured. Cooking, Art, Culture, Suspense Novels, Histories, Fashion, Children’s Books, Folk Tales, Travel Guides. Ideally tied to heritage programming.
  • Faith and Religion – Why the hell not? We avoid this stuff and as a result American’s can’t talk about religion at anything either above a whisper or below a scream. If we were all a little more aware of how the other person’s faith worked maybe it wouldn’t freak us out so much. Honestly, if I could get the community to go with it, I would include religious displays for everyone in one corner of the library. It would go through a rotation and change out and work by appointment ideally to match with the high holidays of the faith. Yes the Satanists could have it for a period of time, of course.

I realize I don’t have any pictures of any of these displays but if YOU decide to do one or work with these ideas I would love to hear about it.

These are part of The One That Got Away.