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LibraryThing, My New Love

There's a lot to love about libraries, and there is definitely a lot to love about LibraryThing.

Maybe some people knew about this fabulous program before SLIS, but I didn't.  When Candy Schwartz assigned a small LibraryThing project in 415 my first semester, my mind was basically blown.  Oh, the possibilities! This semester, I used an assignment in 488 to do what I really wanted with LibraryThing, creating a website that weaves book recommendations through my personal and professional background.

As part of the project, I cataloged over 400 children's, adult fiction and nonfiction books with basic tags that I plan to refine over time.  I'm only inputting books that I'd actually recommend to someone else -- believe me, there were many that didn't make the cut.  I went through our library history, my old journals, all our bookshelves, fifteen years of my book club booklists, and my older daughter's near-encyclopedic knowledge of everything she's ever read.  What a trip down memory lane.

Even better than the fun of cataloging the books is the fact that I've already used the system several times.  To add to a list of good read-aloud books at work, I just had to click on the corresponding tag.  A friend wanted a recommendation of books about spring to read to her son's class, and I could pull up all the garden-themed books in a few seconds.

LibraryThing, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Books: 2015, 1st Quarter

As I've written before, I keep a log of all the books I read.  I don't really do anything with the list, though.  Occasionally I'll have trouble remembering an author or title and it comes in handy, but it's more just something I do for no particular reason.

At the beginning of this year, I read Jessamyn West's blog post about the way she tracks her reading, and decided to give it a try.  A cursory look back at 2014 made me think that my reading was pretty evenly distributed between male/female authors, fiction/nonfiction, and authors of color (the categories she tracks).  So, for the first three months of 2015, I tracked all that information, sure I would come out with a diverse, inclusive list.

I was kind of wrong, and kind of surprised about that.

Here's what I read in January, February and March 2015:

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Euphoria by Lily King

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Active Bodies by Martha H. Verbrugge

Will's New World by Arthur C. Hodges

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Snowflake Bentley by Gloria May Stoddard

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

The End of Eve by Ariel Gore

My list is pretty evenly split between fiction and nonfiction (7/9), but the authors are almost entirely female (14/2) and white (13/3) -- I thought there would be more male authors and authors of color.  However, I don't want to get hung up on those particular categories -- this list includes books by authors who are young, old, LGBTQ, famous and obscure (including a self-published book by a friend of my father).  There are a few current bestsellers and some that were published many years ago.   In the last three months, I read novels, memoirs, academic nonfiction, YA and a very helpful parenting book.  So, even though the list skewed white female, I feel like my reading is pretty varied and includes different perspectives, which is important to me.

We'll see what the rest of 2015 holds.

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What We're Reading

Last week, my husband, Andrew, our daughters Katherine (8) and Sophie (6) and I took a short trip.  Between the four of us, we took the following reading material:

  • Seven magazine back issues: The New Yorker (Andrew and me), High-Five (Sophie), Cricket (Katherine) and American Libraries (me).
  • The previous Sunday's New York Times (I only read Sunday Styles, but I think Andrew read most of the rest of the paper).
  • Honeydew by Edith Pearlman.  Edith is a good friend of my mother-in-law, and also an amazing writer.  Her books have been nominated for (and won) many prizes, and her newest collection of short stories is outstanding.  I recommend it highly.
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  I've heard lots about this book, but never felt I needed it, since my kids have always been pretty good talkers and listeners.  However, a few recent episodes made me think I should check it out (literally, from the library), and I have to say, it's pretty great and the strategies totally work!
  • Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  This tremendous book was recommended by the librarian at the girls' school.  I read it out loud to Katherine and Sophie and we finished it in about two days.
  • School Days According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney.  I read this entertaining and pleasant book out loud on the plane home.  I'm sure our fellow passengers were thrilled (and would be even more thrilled if they knew there were 12 Humphrey books all together!).
  • Table of Contents by John McPhee.  This was Andrew's, and he kept reading snippets out loud.  I think John McPhee is excellent; my favorite book of his is Coming into the Country.
  • Katherine, an avid reader, brought some books of her own: a Warrior Cats book, and something she got from the Porter Square Books Fresh Ink program.

I'm not really sure what this assortment of books, magazines and newspapers says about my family, except that I'm no longer in the "buy a People Magazine in the airport" phase of life.  I guess I'm just really glad that my whole family likes to read.

What do you read when you travel?

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Outsides and Insides

Because of the snow, I had a hard time getting to the library these past couple weeks. Which is only unfortunate because I'm taking a picture book class which meets once a month, and in which we need to read 120 picture books. I was planning to check out about 10 a week, but when I missed a couple weeks, I ended up checking out about 30 picture books yesterday. I was mildly embarrassed simply because I don't have any children, and, to a certain extent, I felt like I was taking away books from possible child readers.

But then I reminded myself that the bookshelves were still full even after my two bags of books were removed. In really trying to give myself over to picture books, I noticed a few things about my preferences.

I know my last post was also about picture books, but this is slightly more applicable to all books.

I've said before that I'm terrible and I totally judge books by their covers. Well, in looking at picture books, I noticed that I also judge books by their spines. It makes sense right? When books are shelved at a library, and usually even at a bookstore, the spines are what we can see. The spines have to be attractive enough, in some way, to make me grab the book off the shelf. Now because I was looking for certain illustrators, I had gone online and chosen two books per illustrator and written down their call numbers. Because it's difficult to find books by illustrator (books are shelved by authors, you know), I decided to just take whatever book I'd written down regardless of how the physical copy made me feel.

This provided some mixed results. A couple books which I thought sounded good, I did not like the illustrations of (Jethro Hyde, Fairy Child by Bob Graham, for example). A couple books which I thought sounded fine, the spines and covers were completely uninspiring, but the interior illustrations were lovely (Hercules by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon, for example). And then there were a couple books which hit all high notes for each category: spine, cover, and interior were all brilliant (Check out This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers).

Anyway, this led me to thinking about e-books, and how with e-books it all comes down to the cover. There are no spines, and often, you can't look at much of the interior. We're always told not to judge a book by its cover, but I think e-books make that adage outdated. Maybe judging a book by its cover is more expected with picture books? What do you think? Have you encountered any picture books where the outside was less than thrilling but the inside was great? Let me know!

All the Best


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Book Recommendation: The Map Thief

Despite cancelled classes due to Boston's clearly insane weather system, I'm sure all of you are deep into your classes and the last thing you need is a book recommendation.  But I would be amiss if I did not share with you a great new book that I just finished and absolutely adored, not only because it is so well-written but primarily because it is incredibly relevant to contemporary libraries, archives, and special collections.


The Map Thief by Michael Blanding is made only more intriguing by the scandalous subtitle: "The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps."  The story seems out of the plot of some sort of period film, but all took place within the last decade.  Forbes Smiley, a Massachusetts native, entered the rare map trade in the 1980s when map collecting was just becoming popular.  He loved the history and artistry of the maps and often worked closely with librarians at major universities as he was researching maps for potential collectors.  He was instrumental in assisting major collectors like Lawrence H. Slaughter (whose collection was donated to the New York Public Library) and Norman B. Leventhal (the same Leventhal for which the Boston Public Library's Rare Maps Room is named) in creating comprehensive collections regarding the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions the United States. 

However, Smiley eventually turned on many of these relationships.  According to the book, Smiley received no compensation after orchestrating the transfer of both the Slaughter and Leventhal collections to the NYPL and BPL, a process that took months for each.  This bitterness, combined with financial overextension, led him to betray his privileged relationship with librarians at academic and special libraries throughout the United States and United Kingdom.  He was finally caught in 2005 at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, in possession of an x-acto blade and several stolen maps in a briefcase.  He avoided a trial by confessing to stealing over 100 maps from different libraries and archives. 

The extent of Smiley's stealing inspired many libraries to completely re-evaluate their collections, and many institutions believe that the list of maps that he stole was far larger.  Prestigious libraries like Yale, Harvard, and the British Library claimed that Smiley had stolen far more from them than he claimed.  While many libraries enhanced their security policies and installed devices like cameras in their reading rooms, some institutions were unable to enforce any changes, whether due to bureaucracy or financial issues.

I must admit that I did gasp out loud several times as I read about the crimes of Smiley and other thieves that targeted libraries and archives for rare materials.  But in addition to the scandal and intrigue, the book raises a lot of questions for library and archive students and professionals.  How do curators best protect materials?  How can archives properly catalog items so that there is a clear account of what maps are and are not included in large volumes?  How does one evaluate the loss of cultural heritage independent of monetary value within a legal framework?  How do we negotiate the relationships between library professional and dealer?  

Explore these issues and the histories of map making in the last several centuries with The Map Thief while you stay nice and warm this winter!  And if you are brave enough to go outside, you can see many of the maps that are described in the book at the Boston Harbor Hotel, a project which Norman B. Leventhal developed.

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Blizzard Books

If you are inclined to get carried away with the spirit of Snowmageddon 2015, below I offer you suggestions for books to read while you're hunkered down in this mess or while you're hearing about it on the news from far away (lucky you!). In retrospect, perhaps I should have complied a list of beach reads instead.

Oh well. Here it goes:

Blankets by Craig Thomason- The black and white artwork in this graphic novel makes the snow it depicts intense in contrast with the rest of the drawings. Set in the 90s during a heavy winter in the Midwest, this tale of young love will make you want to snuggle with someone to keep warm.


Simila's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg- Secrets wait beneath the ice in this dark crime thriller that takes place in Denmark and Greenland. Simila, the protagonist, will make you re-consider the very structure of snow itself and all the trails you leave behind in it as she tracks down a child's murderer.

Snowpiercer (both volumes) by Jaques Loeb and Jean-Marc Rochette- Another graphic novel! But another great one, especially if you are a fan of dystopian adventure. Set in the future when the earth has frozen solid, humanity survives on a train barreling through the cold. Now the slave occupants of the back of the train must fight their oppressors (those living in luxury at their expense at the front) for equality and a voice.

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody- Against the backdrop of the swinging 70s, this novel follows two families as everything in their lives comes to a head when they are forced to stay in place for a serious winter storm. Death, abuse, sex, drugs, and general drama are big players here. You will want to go outside and shovel after you put this down just to have an excuse to leave your house.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut- This apocalyptic classic centers on a new form of ice that freezes water at room temperature. If all the talk of ice isn't enough to make your blood run cold, then the way Vonnegut shows humanity's avarice will. Don't worry--as serious as it gets, the author will keep you laughing with his cynical caricatures.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer- Always the outdoorsman and thrill-seeker, here Krakauer chronicles his journey on a March 1996 expedition to the summit of Mount Everest during which eight people died in a blizzard. It's definitely a page-turner every step of the way.


In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides- If you love novels about boats or books about survival, move this one about a journey through uncharted artic waters to the top of your list. It starts out a bit slowly, but you won't get up for so much as a bathroom break in the last quarter of the book when it's all polar bears, snow-blindness, vortexes, and madness.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian- During the course of a snowy night in rural Vermont where treacherous roads and downed phone and power lines prevent a laboring mother from delivering in a hospital, a midwife performs a C-section and must deal with the consequences, both legally and psychologically. Bohjalian's descriptions of the storm's aftermath will have you ordering condoms off Amazon Prime as soon as you finish the book. (Thank God for Prime in this weather...)

The Shining by Stephen King- Blizzard giving you cabin fever? This is your cure. In case you missed the seriously scary movie adaptation, this story is about a family stranded at the Overlook Hotel as its patriarch becomes the property's new caretaker, whereupon he loses his mind and becomes homicidal. Be careful you don't blow a fuse, because this horror classic will have you leaving the lights on 24/7 as you run your little space heater.

The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- Three siblings stumble into another world where it's always winter under the rule of the evil White Witch. With their help, Aslan (lion and savior) can banish her and bring spring to the realm once again. It sounds like a simple kids book, but it's a powerful allegory and beautifully written. It will make you remember what's magical about this season.


Honorable mentions go to Jack London's White Fang, Piers Paul Read's Alive, Gary Paulsen's Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River, Lone Alaskan Gypsy's A Tundra Tale, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and Donna Tarte's The Secret History. Unfortunately, there is only so much room here, and I already exceeded it.

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Picture Books and Graphic Novels

Picture Books. At some point in our lives, we're all told that we need to move on. We need to read "at our age level", whatever that means. As a future children's librarian, I'm required to take two different classes centered solely on the picture book. So why do we encourage young readers to move beyond such amazing and poignant book forms?

Picture books can be a lot of different things. There can be no words (but still have a very meaningful story). There can be a lot of words (have you ever looked at illustrated fairytales? sometimes those have a lot of words!).

But one thing we're usually taught as we grow up is that picture books and graphic novels are totally different forms. Usually we're taught that in high school by someone who reads graphic novels or maybe by teachers who are open to graphic novels as a form.

The ALA Youth Media Awards kind of brought the question of graphic novels to the foreground.

First of all, congratulations to all the winners and honored books! And, I'm happy to say, several graphic novels received awards this year. But there's two I think are really relevant to this conversation.

This One Summer received a Caldecott honor. Caldecott honors are reserved for books "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children" (Caldecott website definition). This One Summer is a graphic novel, and according to Amazon, aged for teens 12-18. This One Summer is the first graphic novel to be awarded a Caldecott honor. I'm always excited when graphic novels win awards, but for this particular case, I have to question whether it should have been awarded it or not.

On the other hand, El Deafo by Cece Bell received a Newbery honor. Newbery's by definition are given "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" (Newbery website definition) . El Deafo is also a graphic novel and aimed, again according to Amazon, at ages 8-12. Those qualifications seem to fit the Newbery requirements exactly.

Again, I love graphic novels. I'm so happy for all award honors and winners. However, I think This One Summer's honor does open up some complicated questions regarding the Caldecott award and what qualifies. I'll be looking forward to seeing how this affects future winners!

All the Best -- Hayley

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