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.

Newbery Thoughts – The Family Under the Bridge

Carlson (1959 Honor Book) Thifamily under the bridges is a short little page turner that can easily be read in an evening and makes for a deeply satisfying literary experience. It is hopeful, charming, and optimistic. This is a book that will genuinely make you feel good reading it.

Which is pretty incredible given that the topic is urban family homelessness. The family that is under the bridge is there because they have no place else to live. It’s not drugs or crime or any of that very dramatic stuff  that bring them there, just bad luck and difficult circumstances. They aren’t even really a family at the outset of the book and that is part of the charm of the narrative.

The protagonist of The Family Under the Bridge is actually not the children but an elderly vagrant by the name of Armand Pouly. This in itself is pretty fascinating. Yes there are children in the book, yes investment in them is a driving motivator in the narrative but ultimately this is a children’s book that is the story of an elderly man. How wild is that? Armand is an utterly delightful old codger, relentlessly optimistic and devoutly attached to his life without responsibilities and without work.

When he discovers the children hidden at “his” spot beneath one of Paris’ bridges he is immediately cautious lest the “little starlings” steal his heart. The children have a mother who works as a laundress and is desperate to make it clear that they are NOT tramps despite the reality of their situation but it is Armand who quickly takes over care of them while she works in the day.

Poor Armand, three small children and a stray dog change him utterly as a armand foodperson. There is a MAGNIFICENT moment at the end of the book where he has transformed into a figure of great gravitas engaged in seeking employment and housing for his new family:

Monsieur Brunot noted his hesitation. “We really want a family man,” he said.

That brought Armand’s mind back to the needy Calcets. “Oh, I’ve got a family all right monsieur,” he said, “Three children and their mother. You should see my grandchildren. They would steal your heart away.”

At this point in the book if you are not crying your eyes out then you have no soul and are a horrible horrible person.

The Family Under the Bridge also has lovely gentle little illustrations by Garth Williams who also did the very famous illustrations for Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. It’s pretty amazing that he can create images of children literally sleeping on the streets of Paris and still have them be charming and easy on us the reader.

sleeping under the bridgeWhile the Newbery books often deal with poverty it is usually rural poverty. People are tenant farmers or sharecroppers or on the road after the farm fails. This is the first Newbery that I have encountered that deals with child poverty in an urban environment particularly a text that is based on family homelessness. It is interesting that this book which is a product of the golden era of American prosperity and conformity (the 1950s) deals with poverty and individuals on the fringe of society in such a gentle and generous way.

Armand’s transformation is an inspiration for us all. Who knows what small act will freight us with great responsibilities? I think that what we do for those who have been entrusted to our care is one of the great measures of mankind. Armand, the shabby, drifting, Parisian tramp, is a literary hero for the ages.

Side note: I will be looking at a LOT of the honor books here. The winners of the Newbery are, of course, amazing but a lot of really fascinating books ALMOST got the prize as well and a lot of them have fallen out of favor or been forgotten over the years.


The Four Es of Reference


The reference interview is the greatest skill that a public service librarian can develop. It is our diagnostic, our consultation. Each reference interaction is a mystery and it is the key mystery that will determine our work. What is the true question that the patron needs us to set our shoulder to the wheel on?

Like all complex skills it is easy to do poorly and incredibly hard and complicated to do well. I love this aspect of our work and try and approach every enquiry with the same balance of skills and abilities. These are the four key factors in the reference interview.

Enquiry – the librarian is curious and interested in seeking solutions. They should be able to look at a puzzle from different angles and be asking questions about it from those different directions. What is really being said here? How does that connect to this other thing we have on the shelf? Who would be an expert on this and where do we access them?

Empathy – the librarian needs to care that the patron gets the information that they are looking for. It’s time consuming and can be exhausting to run down the right answer and if it was something the librarian cared about they would probably already know it. Empathy is the quality that motivates the librarian to keep digging into a topic area they really care nothing about. They may not care about the topic but they can understand that the person in front of them does and that is enough to make them pore over a database searching for that one elusive reference.

Engagement – this is similar to both Enquiry and Empathy but is more active than either. Engagement is being in the moment of that query. Is the librarian looking at other windows on their computer while they are speaking to the patron? Are they thinking about lunch or the meeting they just had or are going to? These distractions will impair the librarian’s ability to catch and process nuance and subtle clues that could make all the difference. Engagement also tends to lead to shorter, more effective, more pleasant reference interviews as the patron really feels like the librarian is present in the discussion along with them.

Experience – can a librarian who is early in their career do a good reference interview? Of course they can, but that same librarian will do an even better one in a year’s time and even better five years after that. Experience gives the librarian perspective. While no two questions are ever exactly alike some of them are fairly similar and a good librarian will be able to make those associations and reach for them in the midst of the enquiry.

Can you do a reference interview with only one or two of these traits, sure you can. Can you do it with none? No, you can’t, and you shouldn’t even try.


Ideas for the One That Got Away

A while back I almost started a dreamjob. Throughout the interview process I kept a small notebook in my pocket and filled the thing with ideas. These were all the things I was gonna come tearing out of the gate and get done in the first six months.

Well I didn’t end up getting the job but I had about fifty pages of brainstorming. I thought about mailing them to my interviewer as a kind of “hey no hard feelings, oh and by the way this is what you missed out on” but a number of friends suggested that was not the best way of going about it (“you want to do WHAT? no way man, fuck them”).

It does seem a waste to just let these things sit in a little notebook and die though so I am going to share them here with you.

The Heavy Reading Book Challenge – Instead of tracking number of books read or even number of pages read you do a reading challenge where you measure the height (thickness) and weight of each book read. The librarian keeps the official scale and ruler and manages the spreadsheet with each participant’s stats in it. If you add up individuals and groups you can come up with really fun numbers. Is your bookstack as tall as an NBA player, is it as heavy as an anvil? How about everyone at the branch, did they read the height of the library or the weight of a delivery truck? I did this reading challenge at a small community library with the kids and we got to a height of two Mr Ben’s”, a unit of measurement based on the height of our children’s librarian. It would be great to do it as a combined child/adult challenge and see what kind of dimensions the community can read.

Book Buddies for Grownups – OK we have all done the program of book buddies where older kids read to toddlers and elementary school students. What if you did random pairings of books for adults? You chose a range of books that work for book clubs and discussion then offer them up in pairs. Random people take the two copies of the same book then you have an event where ALL of the book pairings come together to talk about the book they read. It is kind of like speed dating meets book club (actually this would work well in any kind of a “library dating” programming).  It would be easy to do a quick survey to match people but honestly I think it would be more fun to just go off the book and see what commonalities come from people choosing the same title.

Read With A Senior – Similar to the Book Buddies program but with the intention of pairing seniors with younger folks. This would be great for a high school service requirement or a social club that does community outreach like the Lions or Rotary. Any university that has a greek life component could be reached for this as well. Ideally you would hope for a 1 to 1 ratio but you could get away with a couple of seniors per companion reader if you don’t get enough interest. Human contact significantly improves senior quality of life, health, and longevity so this program actually has long term health benefits if you can keep it populated with participants.

Night Bookclubs – If you have any evening hours then capture that allure of the night and get some of your patrons in for programming AFTER work.

Vampire Reading Society – OK maybe you will get mostly teens but God knows there are plenty of materials/series to chose from here.

Night Histories – Fringe history, social history of strange topics, history from the perspective of the “loser”, underexamined historical events and persons

Romance After Dark – Ideally this should be all kinds of romance but I would be tempted to work unconventional love stories and smut

Street Lit By Street Lamp – Street Lit going with a theme of after hours where possible

Up Late Reading Comics – Graphic novel discussion group, again would be tempted to go with more adult titles. Even if the titles are capes and tights go with more challenging themes.

Mysteries by Night – work all the themes of mysteries from cozies to thrillers.

Poputics – Pop political texts, variety of issues. Moderating these discussions would be a nightmare but the conversation would be lively for sure.

More to come folks, this is about three pages of notes…


Newbery Thoughts – Trumpeter of Krakow

Cover of the Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P.

Kelly (1929 Winner) – Fun historical fiction dominates much of the Newbery Awards and this is a great example of what the genre can do. This book does that great thing that good historical fiction books do of illuminating the mysteries of the past, taking a thing that is foreign and remote, and then weaving a story around these mysterious and different things that you (and especially a kid) can get a hook on.

The scene is Poland in the late middle ages and it is a space of magic and discord. There is alchemy and political discord, there’s a treasure, and a family secret and a hidden message in the music of a trumpet. If you want to hear the actual call of the trumpet just click here.

These early Newbery winners from the 20s are just great to me. They are straight up  inspiring stories for boys and girls. There are no narrative tricks or frills, just clean accessible storytelling. The good characters are very good, the bad characters are evil incarnate, and everyone in the book pretty much falls into one camp or the other.

It is interesting to hear the author speak of a Krackow of long ago when his view itself is, in many ways, from long ago. Written in 1926 this Poland has seen nothing of WW II, the holocaust, the Iron curtain, or Solidarnosc. This is a Poland which still seems innocent like so many of the characters in this book.

I love the gentleness of this era of the Newbery Award winners. They are not tricky, there are lessons in them but they speak to basic behavior and good values without being preachy or saccharine. They are books that respect the kids who read them and value them for the adults that they will be, not the adults that they think that they are when they are still very young. Sometimes it seems like kids in the 21st century are adults in miniature. These early winners speak to when kids were still allowed to be children and discover the world at a gentler pace.

Hello World!

zabriskie1I feel like I need to write an introductory post talking about what I hope to discuss in here. I’m sure this is very old school and past media but hey, I gotta be me.

There are a few areas I am going to be really interested in and working from.

Trad Library Skills– man I love that old time library science. I see huge swaths of what we do as extensions of this classic skills base applied in new and interesting ways. For me most of the work that libraries are doing with tech and new services is the new delivery of the same old skills and tasks we have been offering our users for decades.

Graphic Novels – I have a couple of areas in Graphic Novels I am really interested in. I’m really interested in diversity in comics and have been looking at it for years and talking to amazing people about what it means to have diversity on the comics page. I’m also really interested in the idea of a core list of classic comics. I see a Canon of comics and I think libraries are the perfect place to explore that. Sure we should all read THE KILLING JOKE but we don’t all need to own THE KILLING JOKE. This is where libraries can step in. It’s like the regular canon, does everyone need a copy of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE sitting on their personal bookshelves, nope they do not, but it is great to know that you can find one at the library. I feel the same way about THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

Adoption Children’s Books – I am part of an adoptive family and it has made me hyper aware of the depiction (or lack) of nontraditional families in kids books. I look for this stuff like a hawk and I will be sharing my favorites and discussing the issue (a lot, like A LOT a lot).

The Newbery Award – I’m also kind of obsessed with the Newbery Award. I have looked a lot at the list of past winners and I am fascinated by how the winning titles can be seen as emblematic of the year they won. I’m no historian and I don’t pretend to be an expert in children’s lit but I do have an English degree (a Masters no less) so I’m happy to slice a narrative awfully thin.

Library Advocacy – I write about this stuff lots in other places so I am not going to get too deep into it here but I am sure it is going to come up in here plenty anyway.

I’m sure there will be stuff in here about managing staff, dealing with burnout, conference updates, and the trials and tribulations of the NFP Executive Director.

Thanks for reading.