1Book 1Community: learning together

It’s no big shock – to anyone who reads my blog or knows me IRL or has interacted with me for more than 6 minutes – that I like my job. I am blessed with the opportunity to create work for myself, in addition, of course, to the everyday tasks of serving patrons, covering desks, attending meetings, leading programs, etc. Some of the work I create for myself is sitting on committees. In the short 2.5 years I have been with LCPL I have saw on the Summer Reading Program committee, New Employee Orientation committee, and the 1Book 1Community committee. It is the last one that I want to tell you about today.

My first experience with LCPL’s 1Book 1Community was back in September, 2011. I had only been with Loudoun for 3 months when I was asked by the manager of the Programming Division if I would accompany her and the 1Book author – Patricia McCormick – to the Juvenile Detention Center and Douglass School. Read about my experience here.

Six months after my day with Patricia I was invited to sit on the first-ever 1Book 1Community committee. Comprised of 9 public and school librarians and teachers, the committee met 3 times to meet and learn about the title-choosing process, discuss possible titles, and vote on the title. That first year I was assigned to read The Lottery by Patricia Wood, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, The Wave by Todd Strasser, and When the Emperor was Divine by Julia Otsuka. The last one I read was the one that was ultimately given majority votes and chosen to be the 1Book. I find myself thinking of that book – and the shameful thing we did to Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II – often. It has true staying power, and I continue to recommend that title to teens and adults.

My second year as committee member began in March of this year. I recommended the titles Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Septys. Neither of my titles was chosen, but I simply adored the one that was – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.

William is from Malawi, and just knew there was a way he could help save his family’s farm from suffering through another drought season.

I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields [in Malawi]. It was the future I couldn’t accept.

Using English-language library books and items found in the local dump, William built a windmill that successfully brought electricity to his village. You can see his TED Talk here:

I had the honor of dining with William prior to the 1Book program. He was so pleasant, so smart, and so willing to answer the questions of the 11 women who dined with him, some of whom are teachers who said William’s story inspired some of their students in ways they had never seen. In his modest manner, he simply smiled and continued talking about his studies, his experience on the farm in Malawi, his family, and his future. There were nearly 400 people in attendance at his talk. Elementary school children, seniors, families, and groups of high school students listened intently as William shared his experience, inspiration, and goals.


Afterwards, William signed books (and even a Kindle cover! What a great idea!)


We were very honored to welcome William to our library, schools, and community. I was honored to be a part of the 1Book 1 Community committee for 2 years. A big thank you to my mentor and friend Linda (in the picture below) for asking me to be a part of that team and passionate readers.


My 2-year term is up, but I am already making a list of books for next year’s committee to consider. Any suggestions?



Why I am what I am. Why I do what I do.

The folks over at the blog Teen Librarian’s Toolbox posted questions last week to their YA Librarian followers, asking us questions about why we like our jobs, how our jobs are challenging, and more. I wrote too many characters to add my two-cents in the comments section, so I’ve decided to post my answers here. Please ask for clarification if you don’t understand, or want further explanation.

1.  How did you become a teen librarian?
I was volun-told into the position of Teen Liaison when I was only a Circulation Associate at a library in Maryland. Despite not even having completed (or even begun!) my MLS degree, my branch manager thought that my age, enthusiasm, and interest in YA literature were enough to qualify me as the best woman for the job. I hosted the first TAB meeting, and my professional life as I knew it was sealed from that first meeting. I was hooked on serving teens. Their personalities, enthusiasm (or lack thereof, which I considered a personal mission to pull out), were fun to be around.

2. What is your favorite teen read (book or author)?
I especially love Markus Zusak and John Green because of their excellent writing, character development, and one-liners (I write more in the margins of their novels than any textbook I’ve owned) but recently I have fallen in love with David Levithan and Maggie Steifvater, for much the same reasons.

3.  What is one thing you wish your co-workers, administrator or community knew?
Teens are dynamic and fun to be around and work with, but my job is not what it seems. I do more than talk to them, hang out with them, and advise them on what to read/watch/listen to. The planning, publicizing, and general work load is just as significant of any other librarian or professional. I also wish they knew that I am not only here for teens in their current state. I am here to help teens develop into the adults they are to become. I do this through programming, conversations, and ensuring that they read appropriate books for their abilities and interests.

4.  What is the one thing you wish your teens knew?
That sometimes I have emails to answer, papers to write, research to conduct, etc. That being said, I never say “no” to a teen who wants me to look at their newest graphic design, or listen to a song they think I’ve never heard (despite the fact that I’ve been listening to that band since I was 14).

5.  What has been your best program to date?
The Harry Potter movie release party I hosted in 2007. My coworker and her younger siblings made floating candles out of white paper, tape, fishing wire, and paperclips and we strung them from the ceiling. My mom made chocolate frogs and butter beer. My sister brought my infant nephew and dressed him as baby Harry, lightning scar and all. The tweens and teens had such a good time with the trivia, watching the trailers, and watching the 4th movie. It is one of my most favorite program memories.

6.  What do you wish there was more of in teen fiction?
Exciting, realistic fiction novels for boys. Not necessarily adventure, and no more “save the world” stuff. Just, funny, well-written books for boys. (Queue my fiancé saying, “Write it yourself!”)

7.  What teen fiction trend are you so over?
Vampires. If I see another set of fangs on a cover of a book…

8.  What is your least favorite (or most challenging) part of being a teen librarian?
Not having the time, unlimited funds, and attendees for all the awesome programs I want to host. My ideas (admittedly, many come from ideas posted on YALSA listservs…I’d be lost without them) are infinite, but it’s overkill to do too many things. Choosing what those things are, knowing there’s an audience for it and praying they’ll show up, and hosting it, is a challenge. (No matter how extroverted I am, I get nervous for a split-second when a program is about to begin. Will anyone attend? Will they think my program is dumb? Will they return?)

9.  What is your favorite part of being a teen librarian?
The daily interactions with the “regulars” as well as the once-in-a-blue-moon visitors. I truly love reader’s advisory (I read a lot of YA lit, so talking to teens about it is great! And gives my friends and family a break from having to hear me talk about it), asking them about their day. Also, I adore my coworkers. I am privileged to work with people who believe in fulfilling the same missions that I do: serve the public, and serve them well.

10. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the future of teen librarianship?
As technology finds its way into the hands of every teen (I am convinced that my children will have mobile or tablet devices as early as infancy), how do we ensure that the physical space of libraries stays relevant to teens? The library is a wonderful place for teens to develop myriad skills – teaching others, creating new things, learning from materials as well as from each other – so how do we ensure they continue to come in, even when there are no physical materials to check out?

Library Calculator: how much have you saved this year?

So we haven’t fully recovered from the economic crash of 2008, but we’re definitely on the mend. But that doesn’t mean you should be throwing money at things that you can otherwise get for free. Know what I’m getting at, folks? Yeah…books. Movies. Music. Magazines. All things you can find at your local library!

Use this calculator to find out how much you have saved so far this year. My total? $522.35


Library Camp 2011

Last Friday I attended Library Camp! There were snacks (including fudge brownies!), music, and a ton of laughing and talking out of turn.

Okay fine, so it wasn’t camp per se…it was Staff Development Day for Loudoun County Public Library. Regardless, it was a wonderful day of learning.

Our County Administrator began the day’s session giving us an overview of where the county was in terms of budget (no increase for FY2012), capital projects (extension of the Metro down into Loudoun Co.), and more. He actually shocked the heck out of us (at 10am, mind you) when he said that the Board of Supervisors might mess with the library and county budget so much so that the new Gum Springs branch might not open as intended in December 2012. In fact, he said that, if the budget stays the same, in order to open Gum Springs the county would need to fire 12 FTEs elsewhere employed in the county (or open Gum Springs less 12 FTEs). That is a very scary prospect: both opening a library without a full staff and the idea of 12 other people in the county losing their jobs just so the library can open. I am totally pro-library, but I am also pro-employment. As a co-worker said during the Q&A session, “I don’t envy your job at all.”

Our keynote speaker was Ron Carlee, COO of the International City/County Management Association. He is a former county mgmt dude (yeah, that was his official title…) in a Northern VA county (Arlington, I think?) and has been in county/city mgmt for over 30 years. He had wonderful things to say about libraries and their role in communities as well as in the country. He talked a lot about digital inclusion, and how, without libraries, the USA would have no digital inclusion. Think about it: where else can a person (of any citizenship status, age, etc.) use a computer for free? Granted, public access computers are not limitless in terms of time (we give one hour sessions, with renewals only if we are not busy), and users cannot alter the computer’s settings or download software…but they have access to a computer with Internet access. Millions of people cannot afford this everyday necessity, so libraries need continued funding for this.
Furthermore, Carlee encouraged us to not only have access, but know what we (and our customers) can do with it. (This gave me the idea for a teen program titled ‘Beyond Facebook’: how to use everyday technology in new ways). Luckily I have a smart techie boyfriend who has agreed to help me work on this possible program.

My favorite part of the day was the breakout sessions. My first of two was Accidental Marketers with Kathy Dempsey. The information she gave us was a great follow-up to Ron Carlee’s talk, especially the aspect about needing to collect data on our customers to plan programs accordingly. Conduct focus groups, ask questions, collect suggestions…it is imperative that we ask our customers what they want. Furthermore, we need to know that customers will ask about programs, ‘What’s In It For Me?’ They won’t attend a program that does not serve them, their needs, or their interest in some major way. (I had previously had the idea of analyzing our non-fiction checkouts via our circulation software in order to determine what areas are of most interest to our adult population, and plan programs from there. This just re-enforced my idea!)

I’ll stop there because you all probably don’t care about the specifics of LCPL…so I will end with a ‘Thanks!’ to all those who hosted a fun, informative, snack-filled day. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to host a breakout session on working with and for teens. *fingerscrossed*

A Day with an Author

I spent an entire working day with the award-winning author Patricia McCormick. (Just another reason why I love my job.)

Loudoun County Public Library hosts an annual 1Book1Community, which consists of the library purchasing 15,000 copies of a title and passing it out to interested community members. To coincide with the free book we host book discussions, appropriately-themed events, and even an author visit. This year it was decided that we read Patricia McCormick’s Purple Heart, a story of an 18 year old Army soldier who wakes up in a hospital in Iraq with little knowledge of how he sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Snippets of the fire fight slowly come back to him, but he doesn’t want to believe what he is realizing; his buddy killed that young Iraqi boy.

In the words of the author, “Matt’s story is not anti-war or pro-war,” but it does make you think about the human cost of war both in the manner of troop and civilian casualties, and the long-lasting effects on those who come out of the war alive.

McCormick got the idea for the book when she was helping set-up the traveling exhibit Eyes Wide Open in Alabama a few years ago. [The exhibit displays a pair of boots to represent each American troop that died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (over 5,000). A simple Google search of the exhibit will give you an idea of what she helped set up.] She was particularly moved by a pair of red sneakers that looked as though they belonged to a young boy. She remembers being overwhelmed by the need to understand what happened to him. She said during one of her presentations to students, “They’re just boots. They don’t say anything. It’s what we bring to them that gives them meaning.”

Back to my awesome day:
Author visits to Loudoun County are multi-day events. Visits to schools, book signings, workshops, the works! Patty’s (she said I could call her that) visit began at the Douglass School, an alternative school for those grades 6-12 who require/desire a different learning experience. Half of the student body gathered in the lunch room to listen to Patty describe her feelings about the book and to field questions from the teens. She opened up the Q&A by accepting challenging and negative comments, saying, “What sparks good conversation is knowing what you didn’t like.” (Note: No one had anything bad to say.)

A young man from the Juvenile Detention Center asked Patty how she stayed on task while writing a book (each book taking approximately 3 years to write). She said that discipline, keeping yourself motivated, rewarding yourself (she treats herself to M&Ms for every 500 words), and getting critiqued by writers you respect were her ways to staying focused. She also starts every day journaling, emptying her mind of things that aren’t important to the book and that aren’t worth dwelling over. She even said, “I write so many things that go into the trash can.” Patty encouraged the teens to to become discouraged when sentences aren’t coming together. It takes time.

Some lines to remember:
– “Sex trafficking. Substance abuse. Self injury. I’m just a barrel of laughs.”
– Her teenaged son: “How do you come up with these book ideas, mom? Google the word ‘sad’?”
– In response to a question on whether she was a cutter, like the character in her book Cut: “I’m too chicken to hurt myself. But I was that 15 year old with so much anger. So much sadness. And I had no words to describe it. It was a very healing experience to write about it.”
– In response to a question on how she names her characters, “My son’s name is Matt. I really wanted to love this kid.” Furthermore, she named a very hateful character in another book after a horribly nasty person from her life.
– In response to the question of what she reads, “I am constantly inspired by the books I read.” and “Read what you don’t like because it might teach you something.”

Patricia McCormick was a true joy to be around. I will forever be a huge fan of hers and her inspiring novels.

Side notes:
1. In between school visits we went to a stunning 19th century historic landmark here in Loudoun County called Oak Hill (originally owned by President James Monroe). The mansion and the 2,000 acres it sits on are private so I will likely never be able to return (unless my co-worker who is a tenant on the land invites me to tea), but it is an absolutely stunning sight. There are actual dinosaur footprints on stone slabs that had been quarried and sent to the grounds for a walkway. The Smithsonian Institute certified their authenticity.

2. The rare roast beef with lemon-basil mayo sandwich at South Street Under is absolutely to die for.
Myself and Patricia McCormick (and my coworker’s dog, Ruby)

A Bad Idea…

Let me preface this post with the following: I am SO glad that the people of this community have found a way to get books into the hands of those that want/need them; have come together to work on something very dear to them and important to any community; have found a way to make it work, albeit temporarily.

But the fact that the Central Falls Free Library in Central Falls, RI is running on an all volunteer basis scares the heck out of me.

The city went bankrupt in July but the library building fell under the financial support of the Adams Library Trust, meaning that there was still money for the building to stay in operation three afternoons a week from noon to 5:00pm. What had to go was the staff (and, I presume, new materials, but the article only states that “operating costs” were left in tact). In place of paid staff members are teenaged and senior citizen volunteers.

My problems with this situation are as follows:

1. The worker in the children’s department admittedly has no library experience and no knowledge of computers. How does she intend on helping child visitors locate books? Teaching early childhood reading skills to children and parents? Assist children with school research and homework? Work with teachers to ensure proper resources are available for school aged children? (Because if public libraries have no staff, it is safe to assume that the public schools have no librarians either, thereby giving the children of Central Falls NO professional library support system.)

2. The library defaulted on its OSL subscription so it has no way of knowing who has a card, who owes fines, who had what book out before the bankruptcy. The article states that the volunteers are signing people up for cards, but I wonder if this is being done on paper? On a Excel spreadsheet? Some free software on the Internet? Where is the security in all of that?! Who is ensuring that information doesn’t get hacked? ALA must be going bat snap crazy at the idea of that much personal information not being safeguarded by security software and signed documents from volunteers stating “I will not share, give to the police (without legal paperwork), or utilize this information in any way that is not directly library related.”

3. Volunteers are not trained professionals. Fine, I’ll say it…it does not take a Masters Degree to swipe a book under a barcode; to shelve a book in alphabetical or alpha-numeric order; to do online research; etc. FINE! But do you know what it does take a masters degree to do? Everything else that librarians do!! There are standards that must be upheld. Such standards are taught to us in Library Science school. And those who work in libraries who are not degree-holding librarians must go through extensive training and must promise to abide by these professional standards. It is safe to assume that these volunteers did not go through such training. Therefore, are they protecting the privacy of their customers? Are they letting personal feelings come into play when assisting a customer with locating a book in which they deem inappropriate? Are they having dinner time discussions, names included, of books that customers are checking out?

4. The people using the library are likely unaware that their privacy and security has been compromised. (Seriously, is there a disclaimer on the applications for cards that reads “We have no security standards, so don’t expect us to be able to safeguard your information”?

I love that books are getting into peoples hands, but this is a bad, bad way to do it. Rhode Island was one of the first and hardest hit in the economic crisis in 2008, and I feel terrible for their loss of teachers, libraries/librarians, jobs, etc. But I don’t think an all-volunteer staff with no professional oversight is the best way to solve the problem.

Feeding the Hungry

You might wonder why such a title is appearing on a librarian’s blog. What does feeding the hungry have to do with libraries?

Quite a bit, my friends. Quite a bit.

Libraries are a public institution, which means our doors are open to anyone and everyone. The only people not permitted through the doors are unaccompanied children (in which case we will try to locate their guardian) and escaped criminals (and even then a good reference librarian might try to connect them to a reference title on criminal law or a guidebook on free travel). Even immigrants with a Visa and no English language skills can use the library (in fact, we encourage them to do so! “Check out Mango Languages, it will help you learn English”)

We warmly accept noisy families and their inquisitive children, the elderly with their endless requests for computer help, and the general public’s need for new titles, ILL, DVDs, and vending machines.

Why then don’t we accept the homeless? Those who perhaps don’t have good hygiene (due to a lack of access to services), who nod off while reading the newspaper, who spend every hour that we are open on a computer, sitting in a comfy chair, or walking around the building. These people exist, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you want to help them or not.

I have chosen to help.

Almost immediately after I started my position as Teen Librarian at the Rust Library I noticed the hungry teens. Not the growing boys who are constantly in need of sustenance, but the kids who spend 11 hours a day at the library and subsist off the peanut butter crackers/pretzels/granola bars that we pass out as snacks (thanks to a very healthy budget for programming given to us by our library board). When I first mentioned to my hoard of teens in the beginning of summer, “Perhaps you should consider bringing food from home if you know you’re going to spend all day here,” a few took heed and do just that. A handful of others, though, cannot afford to do so. One young girl responded, “We don’t have money for that,” as though it were the most natural thing to say.

That comment, in addition to the observations I have made regarding these few young people, led me to take action. Having spent over six years working with my mom at her food pantry in Southern Maryland, I was aware of what resources could be available in the area. I set out to fit what was available, and even asked friends for advice. Maybe they had an idea?

Quite a few of them came through with great suggestions, some of which I had thought of (but of course, hearing it from someone else validates the idea as good one) but others that were surprises. Some ideas were: set up a community garden, put the teens in charge of a fundraiser for getting food to food banks (which raises their own awareness to the issue of hunger and helps the community/their peers at the same time!), get local restaurants to donate food in conjunction with a program (something cultural, perhaps? or a cooking demo?). I am so thankful to my friends for their advice and will be working on putting some of those ideas into action in the near future.

My next step was to contact the Mobile Hope Van (actually a giant bus) based out of INOVA Hospital that parks in community parking lots and invites young people to come on and get food, clothing, and resources…no questions asked. The women at the office were just as saddened at my observations as I was and they leapt into action. Within a couple hours I had a basket of fresh fruit and trail mix to give to these teens in need. The next day they delivered 8 lunch boxes, each containing a large sandwich, chips, cookie, and a drink, on top of another bag of popcorn and hygiene products. At that time we established a date in August when they will park their bus in my library’s parking lot in hopes of getting resources to teens before school starts.

…And that is where I am at today. Everything moved very quickly and I can’t believe I have had so much happen in less than a week! I am so thankful for how much support I have received, but I know that it is only one very small step. There is so much more I can do, librarians across the country can do, to feed those who can’t feed themselves.

**To all of you who don’t think it is the job of the librarian to find food for hungry people. You are right. It is not my job as a librarian to do so. But it is my duty as a human being with compassion for others to find food for hungry people. Someday you or someone you love might be hungry; and someone like me and the INOVA Mobile Health will be there for you.

If you want to help but don’t know where to start, send me an email at april.pavis [at] loudoun.gov I would love to help!