Monday, January 20, 2014

Reading around Twelve Years a Slave

Next Tuesday evening will be the first meeting of the Books & Beer Club I'm hosting with the co-owner of a local bar, The Cellar Peanut Pub. After a surprisingly great response from their social media following, we selected Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave for our first title. I just finished reading this past weekend, and now I'm looking forward to discussing the book over craft beers at the pub next week!

Twelve Years a Slave is the autobiographical account of a free man in New York who was kidnapped and forced into slavery from 1841 to 1853. Solomon begins his narrative with an explanation of his free status, how he earned a living and how he came to meet his wife. Then he explains how he fell into the hands of his kidnappers and was sold into slavery. Convinced that he would be beaten to death if he mentioned anything of his free status, Solomon endured hard labor, whippings and cruel slavers for twelve years with little hope of returning to his family and home.

Another example of antislavery literature written during its time, Solomon's story demonstrates the horrors and injustice of the system that took advantage of thousands of people for the profit of white plantation owners. During his enslavement, he labored endless days in sweltering heat, watched a family torn apart, witnessed savage beatings, and survived years on a meager diet that consisted of little more than cornmeal and bacon grease. Often times, the thought of some day returning to his wife and children was the only thing that kept him from ending his life.

For me, the following quote sums up Solomon's experience: "I had not then what limitless extent of wickedness [man] will go for the love of gain" (Chapter 3). That speaks volumes about the system of slavery, and it speaks volumes to man's continued "love of gain" today. As a middle class, white American in the twenty first century, I have nothing in my life that compares to the injustice that Solomon and so many others endured because of slavery. However, I - and millions of others - have much to learn from their stories. Without their voices, how could change have been possible? How can further change be possible? While reading the narrative, I thought of a few novels that have also expressed and illustrated the injustice and hardships of the African American race in the United States. For further reading, check out:

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

by Toni Morrison

by Zora Neale Hurston

by Alice Walker

by Ralph Ellison

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The "B" word...

Like with many cities, January is budget time here in Oskaloosa. That means as director I get to put on my number crunching, library advocating hat and do my best to justify the library’s request for funding for the next fiscal year. January, I’ve also noticed, seems to be the time when I get the most calls from vendors of all types trying to push their products. They know we’re working on the budget and will try anything, it seems, to convince us to buy, upgrade, replace! Thus, it’s an ever more important time to pay attention and realize what’s necessary and what’s not.

The local listservs are abuzz, too, with the chatter about budgets as colleagues request ideas for making the library’s case, figures to compare against, and much needed moral support. Some are dealing with board of trustees or council members who believe things like “many libraries rely solely on their Friends Groups and Foundations for materials funding” or “the library could be efficiently operated by volunteers.” That’s enough to ruffle my pages! It’s during this time that I keep a few things in mind when preparing to discuss the budget with board and council members:

Money spent on library materials means money saved for the community.
Just and example, the current hardcover price on Amazon for M.D. Sedman's bestselling novel, The Light Between Oceans, is $18.14. Since we added it to our collection, this title has circulated 19 times. Assuming our patrons would have to buy the title to read it if they didn't have access to it at the library, that’s roughly $326.52 that remains in the community’s pocket because library patrons aren't spending it at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other non-local retailers. Considering the number of new titles purchased against the total circulation of all those items, a $30,000 investment in library materials could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for the community.

Money spent on library materials and staff is an investment in the community’s future.
Up to date exam and college prep books are expensive. Resume and cover letter guides are expensive. Internet access can be pricey too, especially if you live in a rural area. For those new to computers, filling out applications online can be a confusing and frustrating endeavor. A well trained reference librarian can make the task much less so. People who lack the skills needed to find a job may not be able afford to spend money on the resources needed to do so. The library gives people access to these resources and services, which can increase their chances of getting better educations or obtaining work, which in turn would benefit the community. But the library cannot rely on donations and volunteer work alone.

Librarians deserve to be paid!
Cataloging and processing items, planning programs, organizing information, completing in depth research, managing collections, interacting with patrons and helping them find the resources they need - and that’s just the beginning! Not just anyone can walk in from the street, offer their time for free and be successful at all of these tasks. It takes time, skill and training. Yes, some of the more general tasks could be completed by volunteers, but, believe it or not, reliable, skilled volunteers are hard to find. And don’t forget to factor in things like the cost of volunteer insurance (which some cities, like mine, require), privacy issues and consistency. (This definitely isn't to say volunteer work isn't valuable and appreciated, though!)

All of this, of course, isn't new to the library think tank. However, these are things of which sometimes board and council members and other government representatives need to be reminded again and again as we argue the case for library funding. If you're in charge of budgeting for your library (or even if you're not) what other arguments can and should be made? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Five Favorite Reads from 2013

I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I didn't read that many books in 2013. According to my "Books I've Read 2013" Pinterest board, I made it through 19. I'm definitely resolving to read more this year - especially now that I'm serving on the All Iowa Reads Committee! In the meantime, here are five reads that I really enjoyed this past year (in no particular order):

1. Reality Boy by A.S. King

I snatched an advanced copy of this book at ALA basically because of the cover. I knew nothing of the story, but I thought the cover art was pretty cool. About an emotionally scarred teenager, who once was a child reality TV star, coming to terms with his past, the story engaged me even more.

I picked up Better Nate than Ever off the return cart at my library and immediately knew that my husband would enjoy it...because his name is Nate! So I checked it out, and after the book sat on the coffee table untouched through two renewals, I read it myself. What a story! Thirteen year old, show tunes obsessed Nate absconds to New York to try out for the musical version of E.T. I was thrilled, too, to see that Tim Federle would be at ALA, and that I would get a chance to pick up an advanced copy of the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! - just as great!

3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I actually read all three of Rainbow's books this year, and I've pretty much permanently added her to my list of favorite authors of all time. Eleanor & Park is a touching story about the relationship between an unconventional girl in a bad situation and the boy she sits by on the school bus and with whom she finds an escape.

4. In the After by Demitria Lunetta

Another ALA grab, In the After is a thrilling post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel deserving a position among The Hunger Games and Divergent. The central character, Amy, is left to fend for herself after "They" - blood thirsty hunters - overtake the Earth's population. I actually got to meet Demitria, serving on "Team Twinkie" with her in a young adult trivia game at a new author session at the conference. She's pretty awesome!

5. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

A finalist for the 2014 All Iowa Reads selection, The Snow Child was my personal favorite from the list of books the committee read. New to Alaska homesteading, childless Jack and Mabel struggle with the isolation of the wilderness and the work of the farm. After the first snowfall, a mysterious child comes to them from the wilderness, brightens their lives and they come to love her as their own daughter.