Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review - God Help the Child

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. 
There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

-Amazon.com description
Ever since I took a seminar class on Toni Morrison in college, I’ve been a big fan of her work, and I was excited to pick up God Help the Child. Morrison’s characters come to life, and though we may only meet briefly in the pages of her books, you come to feel like you’ve known them for years. Her wisdom and experience exude from her stories, and I always learn a lot.

Even though the description says the novel is set in our current moment, I really felt that the story was timeless. Besides a few mentions of modern technology, I could easily believe if it said 1920’s or 1950’s or the 1960’s. The focal point is on the characters, and technology and modern society doesn’t play too much of a role in the plot.

Anger, pity, jealousy – Morrison develops her characters through their personal experiences and makes you feel something for them. Gold Help the Child is told through multiple perspectives, which is common with a number of Morrison’s novels. Child abuse – psychological, physical, and sexual – is a key theme in the novel and the development of the character’s experiences as adults.

Born with dark, blue-black skin, the central character Bride was raised by Sweetness, a mother who couldn’t bear to event touch her and whose affection stopped short of neglect. However, Bride grows to become a successful career woman in the cosmetics industry, and, with the help of a fashion consultant, learns to love herself through accentuating what her mother found so detestable.

Unexpectedly, Booker, the man she’s been seeing, skips town; his last words, “You not the woman I want.” This leads Bride to a trip through the country to Whiskey, Booker’s hometown. On the way, she wrecks her car and ends up spending six weeks recovering with a rural couple and Rain, the pale skinned girl they’ve taken in. This is where I would have liked to have seen a bit more development. Bride and Rain connect in a way, but their relationship clearly isn’t that important to the main plot.

After Bride recovers, she continues on her path to Whiskey where she plans to confront Booker. Along the way, we learn an important incident in Bride’s childhood that led to a series of events that came between the lovers. The novel closes with Sweetness reflecting on the lasting affect parents have on their children’s lives.

I appreciated this novel like many of Morrison’s, but I put it down wanting more. Perhaps it’s because it’s under 200 pages? I wanted to see more of the relationship between Bride and Rain, as they story only hinted at a connection, but, as in real life, sometimes those connections are fleeting. Overall, I thought God Help the Child was another of Morrison’s inspiring stories.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Prohibition & Free Beer at the Library

This past Monday we had a first for the Oskaloosa Public Library: a free beer tasting! What made it greater, though, was the fact that we paired it with a presentation on prohibition. Local author, Linda Betsinger McCann, shared about her book Prohibition in Eastern Iowa, and afterward the awesome folks from The Cellar Peanut Pub provided samples of four Iowa craft beers.


Linda was a great presenter and storyteller. She shared about her research process and her interactions with the people she interviewed about prohibition in Iowa. It was interesting to learn that Al Capone - who I only ever associated with Chicago - had a presence and influence in Iowa during the 13 year span of prohibition.

I could tell that Linda is passionate about history and about sharing the past with younger generations. What I really appreciated was her effort to research police records from the local paper to share with the audience. She cautioned everyone that they may learn something about someone they know, as she experienced at other presentations!


Following Linda's presentation, I invited the owner of The Cellar Peanut Pub and his pubtender to talk a little bit about the four craft beers they brought for samples. They included beers from Lion Bridge Brewing Company out of Cedar Rapids, Exile Brewing Co. out of Des Moines, and Peace Tree Brewing Co. out of Knoxville.

I'm very grateful that the The Pub was willing to donate the sampling, and hope that they got further business after giving people a taste of what they offer. The owner and pubtender were great, and it seemed like the people sampling the beers really enjoyed them.

Because Oskaloosa tends toward the conservative side, I was prepared to hear some negative feedback about having alcohol in the library; however, I haven't yet. I did, though, do a bit of investigation beforehand to make sure it was all legal. First, I spoke with the state's bureau of alcoholic beverages who said that if the samples were under and ounce and served only to patrons 21 years or older, it wouldn't violate any state ordinances.

Next I checked with the city attorney and the public works director, and they couldn't find anything in zoning ordinances or the city code that prohibited the sampling. Then I checked with the city's insurance to make sure it would be covered under general liability. Finally, I made sure it was cool with the city manager. He even said he spoke to a couple of city council members, and they liked that I was doing new and different things to bring people into the library.


The event brought 40 people to the library, which I felt for a Monday evening was really good. Some of them even revealed on the program survey I handed out that it was the first program they had ever attended at the library. Everyone had positive comments too!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Turning 30 on the Edge of a Cliff

Nervous, thrilled, scared – this is what I’m feeling as I’m leaving my 20’s behind. I’m turning 30 years old tomorrow, and a part of me feels like I’m about the leap from a giant cliff. When I look back at everything I’ve done in the past 10 years, I can only imagine what possibilities await in the next decade. It’s both frightening and exciting.

Final Fling party my senior year at Graceland.
I entered my 20’s a sophomore at Graceland University, having just made the decision to change from education to a triple major in English writing, literature and math. When I told an academic counselor my plans, she laughed and said I would be there for ten years. I finished in four. But I faced challenging 18 to 24 credit hour semesters, long nights reading and writing papers, and advanced topics in mathematics. I proudly left Graceland with a BA honors degree.

I also left with about $20,000 in debt. With that looming over me, I grabbed the first jobs available. I went back to work at the gas station I worked at during high school and continued to work weekends there while doing overnights at a group home and weekdays as a para at a high school. I lived in a small apartment above a liquor store with three cats and spent what little free time I had reading and writing poetry. Romantic, I know. This lasted about a year and a half before I finally applied to grad school for my MLS.

While in library school, I gained my first job in a library and transitioned to Lawrence. I started at the Lawrence Public Library after an assigned reference desk observation which I coincidentally completed just before a part time position opened up. That was my foot in the door.

Pulling a mannequin from my beetle for a display at LPL.
Thanks to the help of my then supervisor, that part time position grew to full time assistant and then officially “librarian” within 2 years. Keeping track of desk statistics, processing inter-library loans and serials, putting together displays, teaching computer classes – I did everything and I really fell in love with being a librarian.

Lawrence is one of the best places to spend your early 20’s. It’s where I really started to come out of my shell, grew professionally and met my husband, Nate. I learned to love myself, and it was possible because of the positive, youthful, progressive attitude the university town generally espouses. But when I was there, I foresaw little chance to move up professionally. So I applied and gained the director position at the Oskaloosa Public Library, and Nate and I moved to Iowa for my next adventure.

Nate and I cutting our wedding cake, 6/9/12.
I was 27 when I started as director. With only three years of library experience behind me, I had to learn how to work with a library board, represent the library at city council meetings, oversee a department budget and manage a staff, a few of which have worked at the library longer than I’ve been alive. Honestly, I briefly experienced a fear of failure – of not being good enough.

Teen Zombie Crawl - one of my favorite OPL programs.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to do all of the “director responsibilities” alongside many of the things I loved doing at Lawrence. I’ve been passionate about my job and library service, and that’s one of many things that have carried me through. Nate and I bought our first home, and we have grown into the Oskaloosa community together. And that’s where I am now.

So here I go. I’m jumping into my thirties. I’m not sure where they’re going to take me, but I’m excited to get there!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Poetry & Arts in April at the Library

If you've read past blog posts, you'll know that I'm a fan of poetry and that April is National Poetry Month. I try to do at least one thing related to poetry at the library, even if it's a simple display featuring titles from our poetry collection.


In the past, I've gone all out and used mannequins for Poetry In Your Pocket Day, featured favorite poets from staff and let a poetry slamming gorilla loose in the library. This year, I kept the display simple, using a word cloud with poetry related words and phrases.

Borrowing an idea from my days at the Lawrence Public Library, I decided to set up a "Poetry Nook" in the entryway of the library. I've provided pens and paper, and am encouraging patrons to write a poem and put it in the box. The poems, then, will end up in random places around town - in a library book, in a booth at the local coffee shop, etc.

My major poetry event will be for teens. Members of our Teen Advisory Board requested we do a Poetry Slam again this year. For some reason, whenever I plan one of these, I have to include a bag of frozen burritos as one of the prizes. That bag of frozen goodness is always the most coveted prize - even over a $50 gift card!

Our Youth Librarian also has gotten into the spirit of National Poetry Month and has put together a fun Poetry "Mad Lib" for the children's area. I'm looking forward to seeing what crazy things the kids come up with!


I was also approached by FACE of Mahaska County, a local arts organization, about planning and cross promoting arts-related programs and events in Oskaloosa for Arts in April. They recently opened an art center in town, and it's very exciting to see what they're bringing to this small-ish community. One of the things they're doing is yarn bombing different locations around the city - including our Reading Garden:


They've coordinated with a number of organizations in the community and have put together a calendar of things happening this month. From graffiti installations to a Gallery Hop to one act plays directed by high school students, there's a lot going on!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Put A Bird On It!

My newest display is inspired by my favorite clip from Portlandia, Put A Bird On It! I figured birds would be a nice spring-ish topic, so I pulled pretty much anything that has a bird on the cover.


I thought pulling titles from 598 and 636.6 would be a little too easy, so I also pulled anything from fiction and our movies. Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, of course! I also cut out a few silhouettes to make the display pop a little.


And here's the inspiration:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Getting Shift Done

Yesterday, my staff and I completed a major re-cataloging, labeling and shifting project. A long time ago, the library had a separate biography section, and at some point, one of the directors decided to interfile them into the nonfiction. We've had a number of patrons recently request, though, that we have a separate section again. We certainly don't have a huge nonfiction collection, but this was one of the biggest projects I've done since I started as director.


I began by going through the collection pulling the biographies. One of the previous directors had the cataloging staff start putting biography stickers on new titles, but they didn't go through the collection and put stickers on anything already on the shelf. This made the process a little more complicated than it could have been, because I had to go through each volume on the shelf, especially in the 900's, 800's and 700's.

What also complicated it was staff was directed to put biography labels on anything that had subject headings of biography or memoir. To me, there's a definite difference between the two, and I only wanted biographies in my new section. Many of the titles that I considered memoirs were by obscure or not well known writers that I didn't think people looking for biographies would be interested in. For example, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven had a biography label on it.


The next step was re-cataloging and labeling (or un-labeling) the volumes. We decided to organize the titles by the last name of who the biography is about, and if there were multiple biographies on one individual, they would be organized by the last name of the author. (I borrowed this idea from the Lawrence Public Library, who completed a similar project before I left. I also went with the same labels!)

My cataloger made quick work of changing the classifications in the system, and a library assistant made sure each new label looked nice and neat. We then started placing the biographies in their temporary location - empty wooden shelves along the wall at the end of the stacks. This would have been a nice way to use these shelves, but they're kind of hidden and are too low.

The permanent home for the biographies is between the large print and nonfiction stacks. This meant that we had to shift the entire nonfiction collection back to accommodate them. With the help of my staff and the local high school robotics team who volunteered their time, though, we accomplished this within three days. We now have a biography section!



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Create & Innovate: Post-It Note Pixel Art

For our monthly teen crafting program, we invited teens to decorate the library with Post-It Note pixel art. You basically create giant mosaics with the Post-Its!


A very simple activity, you just need various colors of Post-Its and window or wall space. We did this program a year ago, and we found out the Post-Its don't adhere to our painted walls very well. Large glass surfaces work best. Otherwise, a large roll of butcher paper comes in handy.


It's helpful to have a few examples or guides, or even provide graph paper so the teens can plan out their art before putting it up. We'll be leaving these up through Teen Tech Week - they're perfect decorations!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
by Shaun David Hutchinson

Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.

Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.

Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts.

But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.

But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better.
- GoodReads.com description

From reading the description, I really expected to enjoy this book. My initial thoughts were, “Could this be an LGBT The Fault in Our Stars?” And as I read, I kept wanting to compare it to the television dramedy, The Red Band Society. I was really curious how the relationship between Andrew, the boy secretly squatting in the hospital, and Rusty, the burn victim, would develop.

There were a few things, though, that I couldn’t get past. I couldn’t accept the idea that a teen could live unnoticed in the unfinished wing of the hospital in which his family died. Would the local police and the hospital staff be so incompetent? On top of that, Andrew is able to work in the hospital cafeteria and get paid “under the table,” which I found implausible as well.

I’m not sure how I felt about the characters either. Andrew is likeable enough, however, his personality felt a bit confused for me. He comes off both mature for his age and na├»ve. He shoulders the responsibility of his family’s death, but he comes to believe the hospital’s social worker is “Death,” and that she took his family away from him.

Everyone else that Andrew interacted with at the hospital was accepting of and acknowledged his sexual orientation, which was nice to see; however, it came across a bit idealistic. Trevor and Lexi are two cancer patients that Andrew befriends. They’re secretly in love with each other, and Andrew helps them come together. I kind of cared about their story, but I felt they weren’t as developed as I would have liked.

Rusty, too, seems underdeveloped as well. We learn that he was bullied and tortured at school and in the hospital because he was set on fire at a party. The only thing that seems to draw Andrew and Rusty together is Andrew’s empathy and the fact that they’re both gay. Andrew reads a few books to him and promises to protect him from “Death,” and suddenly they’re in love.

However, what I did like about the book was that it addressed bullying and suicide, which could serve as good talking points with young LGBT readers. Many LGBT teens, and even adults, could relate to wanting to hide from what they experience as an abusive, intolerant world. Also, I appreciated how Andrew did not perpetuate a gay stereotype. He’s into sports, writes and illustrates a graphic novel, and isn’t focused on his appearance.

Overall, I did like The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley and would recommend it to anyone looking to read more with LGBT themes. I’d give it three out of five stars.