What Would It Take for Me To Want to Monetize My Blog?

Previously, I wrote on why I prefer not to monetize my blog for now. And I hold to that. I blog as a way to relax, to enjoy myself, and to connect with other book lovers. I don’t want blogging to become an actual job because then I would have to treat it like one, with all the stress that would come with it. However, I have watched the conversations book bloggers have had over the years about monetizing, and it has made me reflect on what might make monetizing worth it.

Book bloggers often seem to conceive of monetizing as an easy way to earn passive income. But, from what I have seen, monetizing is not so straightforward. The majority of book bloggers who have tried to monetize–from affiliate links, bookish gift shops, paid content, etc.–generally do not share their annual income. Those who have shared seem not to be making all that much. So, the question for me becomes, how much money would a blog have to generate for it to make up for all the time and effort spent in attempting to monetize it?

Because there’s the key problem: monetizing a blog is not necessarily a source of passive income. Passive income, in the colloquial sense, is money earned by a person with little or no effort. One might think of a book written years before, which still generates royalties. Or a rental property one has invested in that leads to a monthly check. For a blog, one might conceive of doing minimal effort like setting up some affiliate links or formatting a post, and then watching the money roll in. But if I were to monetize my blog, I would want to know. How much time and effort am I actually putting in to format and write and link and schedule everything? Because we bloggers know that even a bit of copying and pasting and formatting of images can take a good deal of time, in the end, and that is before adding in work like a social media component. Is the hourly wage I would be making comparable to what I could be making if I were just to go out and get a part-time job?

The current minimum wage in the United States is a paltry $7.25 an hour, and it might seem easy to make that much from an hour’s worth of work on the blog. However, I would want to calculate out the actual time spent on the blog over the year, and my annual income that resulted from the blog, to make sure that I am actually working for a fair rate. But then I would also consider that many states have much higher minimum wages, perhaps up to $15, and that even employers in states that follow the national minimum might be offering more than $7.25. If I could make anywhere from $9.50 to $15 an hour working a part-time job, instead of spending time blogging for less money, I would start to wonder if I shouldn’t just go out and go a part-time job instead.

I also would consider that income from blogging is taxable, once a person starts making above a certain amount. Income from self-employment or freelancing is generally taxed at a higher rate than income earned working for an employer, to make up for the taxes that an employer would usually take out automatically and to account for the taxes the employer would pay. I would want to determine whether the money made after taxes is more or comparable to the money I could make working for someone else.

Of course, I suspect that many bloggers are not particularly interested in breaking down their annual income in the way I am. Some bloggers may simply want to make a bit of extra “beer money” and may not care about the hourly rate their blog income would equate to. Some bloggers might be happy working more hours for less money, if they do not have to report to a boss in return. Some bloggers may not want to get a part-time job and are just hoping for any extra income they can get. However, for my part, I believe that my time is equal to or even more valuable than the money I could earn blogging. And it would bother me if I thought that I was working long hours for little in return.

Right now, I am not convinced that monetizing my blog would enable me to earn a fair hourly rage. And I certainly do not think I could do as I am now and make some easy passive income. To convince people that my content is worth paying for, I would have to put in a lot more time and effort into making the blog look professional, changing the content, improving the social media marketing, and more. To me, it’s not worth it. I would not make enough money to compensate for it all. So I am content for the moment to continue blogging as a hobby, because it is something I enjoy and not because I am hoping for money in return.

What do you think? How much would you have to earn to think that monetizing your blog was worth it?

What Should the Role of Libraries Be During the Pandemic?

In a previous post, I explored the potential impacts of librarians’ vocational awe on the community. I used the definition of vocational awe found in Fobazi Ettarh’s “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves” to question whether libraries had lost their focus by taking on tasks best performed by other organizations trained for and dedicated to those tasks. The pandemic, of course, has made such questions even more relevant, as libraries attempt to pivot to answer the needs of their communities, and to continue to provide services during stay-at-home orders. Some libraries responded by refusing to close back in the spring, or by attempting to reopen fully back in the summer or fall. Many libraries have responded by offering curbside services and virtual programming. However, in the July 2020 of School Library Journal, Mega Subramaniam and Linda W. Braun argued that libraries should be providing social services in an article provocatively titled, “Wake Up, Libraries: Curbside Pickup is NOT the Answer.” This article is a telling example of the way in which vocational awe has been ingrained in the profession, with librarians chastising their peers for not risking their lives and pivoting to become social workers during a time of crisis.

Before we explore the arguments put forward by Subramaniam and Braun, we should first look at Ettarh’s definition of vocational awe. Ettarh writes that, “‘Vocational awe’ refers to the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” Ettarh goes on to illustrate how job creep, or the expectation that employees will take on increasing job duties with no additional compensation, is one of the primary ways vocational awe manifests in libraries. Because libraries (and their employees) see themselves as upholding a “sacred” institution that provides equal access and protects democracy, they are willing to takes on roles they have not been prepared for or trained for in the name of meeting the needs of the community. To refuse to do so would be unthinkable, because the sacred mission of the library must never be questioned or critiqued. Those who speak out against job creep are seen as unwilling and unable to make the sacrifices necessary to be a “good” librarian, and treated accordingly.

Under this definition, we can see how the proposals Subramaniam and Braun make are a prime example of vocational awe. In their article, they proclaim that libraries have been “focusing service on low-hanging fruit by reformatting traditional offerings” (creating virtual programming, offering increased WiFi access, starting curbside pickup, etc.) and have thus failed to meet the true needs of their communities. They argue that libraries need to, “Shift emphasis from physical access to the library and technology (i.e. curbside pick-ups, summer reading programs) and instead focus on how to establish relationships with the community irrespective of the library physical space.” They propose that libraries do this by focusing on key areas such as meeting insecurities (such as lack of food, clothing, employment, etc.), supporting schools and learning, supporting youth employment, encouraging activism, and providing accurate health information. In other words, libraries should pivot from providing access to information and materials to providing social services.

I think that Subramaniam and Braun’s proposals likely come from two places: a place of caring and a place of fear. Librarians are trained to help people and, during a time of crisis, they understandably start thinking how they can meet people where they are. In some cases, this may indeed mean moving away from an emphasis on the materials collection and towards an emphasis on other services and community partnerships. I also think, however, that libraries fear that closing during the pandemic means government officials will see their work as “non-essential” and believe that the library is truly irrelevant and outdated. If they want local officials to continue funding libraries, the workers need to find a way to show they are necessary during a crisis. So workers stop thinking about how to circulate the latest YA releases and start wondering what they can do to make their importance visible during a time no one can enter the building. Subramaniam and Braun suggest the answer is to offer social services.

I would suggest that this type of thinking is both unfair to librarians and to the communities they serve. Librarians are trained to be information professionals, and not social service workers. What they can offer is probably not as good as what a trained professional or organization can offer in their place. Furthermore, librarians did not ask to be social workers. They did not go to school for that job or apply to that job. To ask them to take on that kind of work–especially with no training–is not right at the best of times, but even worse now. Librarians probably did not go into their line of work imagining that they might have to literally risk their lives or the lives of people they know and care about, in pursuit of serving the community. Telling them that they cannot simply offer curbside pickup and virtual options during a global pandemic, but must go out into the community to provide social services (because you can’t really offer food security or employment services if your building is closed to the public) is to ask them to perform a job they never signed up for. Maybe we would like to believe that the average librarian is willing to risk their lives to offer job help, but I do not think we can blame them if they are not. After all, how many of us would be willing to do the same?

The type of thinking exemplified by the Subramaniam and Braun article is, however, more than a prime example of vocational awe. It is also an example of libraries losing their focus in the attempt to be relevant. Very often, libraries try to be relevant by meeting community needs that are currently unfilled. During the pandemic, this might mean handing out free food and clothing, offering to read and review resumes, creating youth activism clubs, and more. But what happens when the pandemic ends? When the need is met? Libraries lose their relevance when it becomes clear that they are not really a soup kitchen, not really a career center. Then they must pivot again, to find a new, unfilled need that they can meet.

This raises the question: “What is the core mission of the library?” Is it really to take on any community need, as that need arises? Should workers expect to pivot constantly from one job to another, with little or no training? Or can the core mission of the library be re-imagined as something more stable, something that libraries can constantly refresh as community need and engagement changes, without having to redefine their entire job function?

These questions have been circulating around libraries for awhile, as they seek to transform with the times and to demonstrate their relevance in a constantly-changing world. However, I think the pandemic has heightened the dialogue around what libraries are and what they demand of their workers. The pandemic has shown that library administrations, local officials, library workers, and their communities have all, in various places across the U.S. expected at one time or another that libraries would reopen as a matter of course, despite the safety risks. Librarians were literally willing to risk their lives–and those of community members–in the name of serving the community, simply because it was so unthinkable that the library, the place where people gather, read, find information, and access the internet to do anything from applying to jobs to applying to government aid, would not be available. This is vocational awe taken to the extreme.

I believe in libraries and in the work they do. I believe that circulating books, paying for database access, and providing internet access is important work–even if it is work that cannot reasonably be safely done during a global pandemic. I do not think that we need expect librarians to become social workers during this time simply to prove their worth. Libraries still have a role in the community as places where people can find reliable information. In a time of crisis, I think libraries should be able to pivot to find ways that they continue to provide that information–without asking their employees to take on new roles they are not trained for and did not sign up for.

Suggesting that library workers continue to provide information about resources instead of handing out those resources themselves may seem uncaring. It may seem to threaten the very existence of libraries, or even to personally attack the desire of library workers to help when needed most. However, we need to resist the pull of vocational awe. We need to ask whether we can, in all fairness, really ask librarians to risk their health and maybe their lives to reopen buildings during a time when it may not be safe to do so. The library is important, yes. But is it more important than the people who work there?

10 Discussion Post Topics for Your Book Blog that Get Comments

Introduction

In the past several years, I opened January with various discussion post prompts for book blogs, including:

I try not to overlap prompts, so that’s 102 prompts right there! And you can check out our Classic Remarks page for discussion prompts related to classic literature.

For 2021, however, I want to highlight 10 discussion post ideas that are practically guaranteed to generate discussion on your blog. There are not necessarily the most original post ideas — bloggers have been talking about them for years — but they are popular post ideas. People have thoughts about these questions, and writing a post about them is sure to get you some comments!

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Are Negative Reviews Valuable? Or Are Negative Reviews Cruel to Authors?

This topic came back in December 2020, when a few authors berated a booktuber for making a “Worst Books I Read in 2020” video, and other authors and reviewers entered the fray, debating both the value (or lack thereof) of “worst of” lists and then of negative reviews in general. If you missed the chance to talk about why you do or not like, read, or write negative reviews then, however, I have no doubt another opportunity will arise in 2021 and beyond.

Read Our Post: Negative Reviews Aren’t “Mean;” They’re Integral to Selling Books

2

Do You Comment Back on Other Blogs?

Another perennial favorite: Do you comment back on the blogs of people who leave comments on your blog? Why or why not? Do you expect other people to do the same? Do you follow people (or unfollow) based on whether they answer comments on their blog or based on whether they comment back on your blog?

Read Our Post: Do You Comment Back?

What Are Your Bookish Pet Peeves?

Maybe people just love to complain, but a post about things that drive you nuts in books is sure to get people responding in the comments, whether they agree with your or actually enjoy the things you hate. Just keep it light instead of actually insulting authors or books!

Read Our Post: 10 Bookish Pet Peeves

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Do You Like Writing Book Reviews? Do People Like Reading Reviews?

Although book reviews are generally considered the primary content of book blogs, a lot of bloggers don’t actually enjoy writing them! And bloggers have long noted that reviews often don’t get as many page views as other types of content. So, do you like writing reviews? Or reading them? Can you blog without writing them at all?

Read Our Post: Can You Run a Book Blog without Book Reviews?

What Makes You Follow a Book Blog?

While we all love to support other book bloggers, there are only so many blogs we can follow and read! Explaining what makes you click that follow button and become a regular reader is always a popular topic because it helps other bloggers brainstorm ways they might want to approach how they blog.

Read Our Post: 5 Things That Make Me Want to Read Your Book Blog

Do You Have a Set Reading Goal? What Books “Count” or Don’t Towards the Goal?

At the end of every year (and then at the beginning of the next year!), bloggers and readers begin discuss reading goals: how many books they read vs. how many they’d hoped to, whether they believe in having a reading goal at all or just reading at leisure, whether they’re judging people for “inflating” their reading goals with picture books or graphic novels or audiobooks. While most bloggers seem content to let other people set their goals however they wish, the topic of reading goals always gets discussions flowing.

Read Our Post: Don’t Stress about How Many Books You’ve Read This Year

7

Should Adults Read Young Adult (Teen) Books?

It feels as if we should have settled this issue somewhere around 2012: people can read whatever they want, and books “for teens” or “for children” can still speak to adults. Yet every six months or so, some major publication seems to publish an opinion piece about how adults shouldn’t be reading young adult books, and then the blogosphere gets talking again, publishing their own posts responding.

Read Our Post: The Debate over YA Is Over

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Should Book Bloggers Make Money? How Would They Successfully Monetize?

I’ve been blogging for ten years now, and book bloggers have never regularly made money or received payment from sponsors the ways booktubers or bloggers in other niches do, in spite of how much labor they put into marketing books for publishers and authors. Whether book bloggers deserve to be paid and how they can make money if they choose to monetize is a topic that comes up time and again. Here’s to hoping 2021 is the year bloggers who are interested in monetization finally start making a decent blogging income.

Read Our Posts: I’m Okay with Not Being Paid to Book Blog and What Would Happen If Book Bloggers Made Money?

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How Can You Support Other Book Bloggers?

Want to support other bloggers? Want to let your non-blogger followers know how they can support book bloggers beyond just reading their posts? Sharing ways to boost book bloggers is always a hit.

Read Our Post: 7 Concrete Ways to Boost Book Bloggers

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Do You Care about Your Blog Stats?

Some bloggers are deeply invested in their stats and growing their audience, while others blog purely for fun and don’t care at all. Discussing your approach to stats (to look at them, or not to look?) and sharing tips on how to improve stats, if that’s what you’re into, will get other bloggers talking.

Read Our Posts: Is Stress about Your Blog Stats Holding You Back? and Book Blogger Stats Survey Results: 2020

Briana

Trends I Think We’ll See in Book Blogging in 2021

Here are my annual predictions for what I think book blogging will look like in 2021, touching on what I think will be new(ish) in what bloggers are reading and what they are reading.

See my 2020 blogging predictions here! (And tell me if I was right!) You can review my 2018 predictions here.

More E-books

E-books aren’t new, obviously, and book bloggers have been reading and featuring and even photographing them for years, but I think e-books might be a bit more prominent as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Libraries may not be open or may have limited options for borrowing physical books, and people might be avoiding going in-person to libraries or bookstores. Budgeting might also be a priority for those who are unemployed or have received reduced pay. Buying e-books or borrowing them from the library can save readers money and help them stay at home.

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More Book Bloggers Trying to Monetize

I touched on monetization in my 2018 predictions but not in my 2020 ones because this is a topic that comes up with book bloggers fairly often, and then it seems as if most don’t actually move towards monetization (which is fine; I certainly haven’t!). I do think the conversation was a bit more serious towards the end of 2020, and I saw bloggers discussing how they planned to make a bit of money and how they were putting together media kits, so perhaps 2021 is finally the year more book bloggers get some cash!

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More Book Bloggers on Pinterest

I had this in my 2020 post, as well, and I do think book blogger activity on Pinterest picked up last year, but I also continued to see book bloggers ask about the platform, how to use it, whether it’s worth using, etc., so I think we’ll see even more bloggers join this year. (For what it’s worth, I recommend it! You can read how I increased our blog traffic by using Pinterest here.)

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Awards Get More Contentious

Awards of all kinds have received criticism in the past couple years. People are perpetually frustrated that the Goodreads Choice Awards let readers vote for books that haven’t even been released, for instance. Readers have also noted that the GRC Awards are focused on popularity (ratings and reviews), which may or may not correlate with book quality. Informal blogger-run awards to recognize bloggers have received backlash for seeming too cliquey. And in November 2020, Epic Reads tweeted they’d received feedback their Book Nerd of the Year category did not have diverse nominees, and they hope to fix that in the future. I don’t know exactly what this means for awards in the future. Will they change to address feedback? Will some be canceled? Only time will tell, but I do predict that, whatever happens, we’ll all have something to discuss.

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More Bloggers Attend – And Post About – Online Bookish Events

Obviously a lot of bookish events and conferences went virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that trend will continue at least through the first half of 2021, before a vaccine can be widely distributed. ReedPop announced, however, that BookExpo and BookCon as we know them will be canceled entirely, forever, and that whatever replaces them will include a hybrid of in-person and virtual events, to better serve people who can never make it to in-person conferences. Likely other event organizers will continue to offer virtual options even when in-person meetings are possible. But will bloggers post about them? I didn’t see a lot of posts about attending virtual BookCon or a virtual author event, the way I’d normally see posts from people who went to in-person ones, but maybe 2021 is the year we start writing about our virtual experiences, as well.

What trends do you think we’ll see in book blogging in 2021?

Briana

Negative Reviews Aren’t “Mean;” They’re Integral to Selling Books

Introduction

Anyone who has been in the online book community for more than a year probably thought we settled this discussion years ago, multiple times, but it’s rearing its head again: authors and even other bookish influencers (bloggers, booktubers, bookstagrammers, etc.) are arguing that writing negative reviews of books is “mean” because 1) authors work hard on their books and 2) they stop people from buying the books, thus apparently ruining authors’ careers irrevocably.

For years, reviewers have pushed back on this, pointing out there’s a difference between a critical review and a truly snarky or mean one and noting that because reading is subjective, negative reviews can help people find books they like. If I say a book has too slow pacing, for instance, someone who likes slower pacing and tangents and savoring a story might think it’s the perfect book for them. (But even if a negative review does put someone off reading a book, that’s fine, too. Not every book is for everyone, and people have finite time to read. Allowing readers to choose books they think they will truly like is important!)

Today, however, I don’t want to talk about the importance of individual negative reviews; I want to talk about the importance of negative reviews existing at all, their importance as a group, regardless of what each review actually says. The idea that “no one” should write a negative review because it’s “mean” is absurd; positive reviews only have context when contrasted with negative reviews. Only having positive reviews renders all those reviews meaningless.

Why Negative Reviews Are Important Now

In today’s world, where negative reviews do exist and are routinely published across multiple platforms, including individual blogs, social media, and retailer sites, any book without negative reviews tends to immediately become suspect to readers. Readers know that there is no single book in the world that everyone likes. So if they see a book that has 15 five star reviews and nothing else, they have doubts. Did the author pay all their friends to write the reviews? Are they sock puppet accounts? Did they somehow get negative reviews erased from the site? Many readers would look into this further and try to find out what’s going on, or try to find a negative review, before fully committing to reading the book. In this scenario, having a couple negative reviews, no matter what they say, actually helps readers believe there is merit to the book and they should read it.

But What if NO ONE Wrote Negative Reviews?

However, let’s do a thought experiment and imagine a world that some influencers and authors are proposing: no one publishes a negative review ever. All reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and other platforms are positive, four or five stars. Sure, maybe they point out a flaw or two of the book, hidden in the praise, but overall it’s just glowing recommendations. For.every.single.book. My theory of the results? No one would read reviews, and most people would stop bothering to write them.

If everyone is just saying how wonderful a book is, there is no real point to reading reviews. Sure, theoretically the reviews are different: one might point out fast pacing while another praises the prose, but overall the recommendations are the same — the book is fabulous, so other people should read it. This would become really uninteresting, really fast.

This type of unmitigated praise already exists, though — as publisher marketing. If I want, I can go to a publisher’s or an author’s web site and read: a positive description of the book written by the publisher, a neutral summary of the plot, positive blurbs from other published authors, and snippets of positive reviews from outside publications. I literally never do. I never read these things, and I certainly don’t bother to seek them out. I have a suspicion very few people do, and that’s because a list of nothing put praise doesn’t actually help me decide whether or not to read the book. It’s great for the author; it does little for me as a reader or as someone deciding where to spend my money purchasing books.

Conclusion

I’m sure seeing negative reviews of one’s own book doesn’t feel great as a author, but the community’s mantra that “reviews are for readers, not writers” holds true. And the fact is that having negative reviews, even if they are truly mean or snarky, actually helps books; it helps the books find the right audience, and it helps readers trust that a wide variety of real people have actually read the book, not just the author’s family and friends. A world without any negative might sound pleasant, but it wouldn’t be helpful at all.

Briana

Might Librarians’ Vocational Awe Have Negative Effects on the Community?

Librarians' Vocational Awe

Regular readers of our blog know that we are huge library supporters here at Pages Unbound. Over the years, we have enthusiastically discussed all the wonderful work libraries do, from providing a safe space for those experiencing homelessness to hosting public forums to providing classes on everything from art to gardening. However, in my latest post, I mused that, despite all this, the library is still primarily associated in the public mind with books. Any TV show or movie, for example, is likely to portray libraries as book repositories and places to do research, not so much places for the local biking club to meet or for teens to try out the latest video games. And I suggested that this was not a bad thing, but something libraries could embrace to distinguish themselves from other community resources.

I understand the incentive for libraries to point out all their non-collections related activities (and here we can understand the collection to mean books, films, music, magazines, databases, etc.). Many public libraries in the U.S. have been struggling with funding for years (often since the recession around 2008, if not before). They feel the need to justify their existence by pointing out everything they do, from serving as a place for people to cool down in the summer to offering kickball games after school to offering free tutoring services and free Zumba classes. They proclaim that they provide computers, printers, WiFi, and fax machines to people who otherwise would have no access. They offer resume-writing and job search assistance to help people find work. They teach English to English language learners and other languages to the community. Libraries are truly the place for everything!

Usually, libraries and their supporters point out these expansive services as a good thing. Libraries have made themselves indispensable to the community. But what if it’s not good? What if all the services libraries have taken on over the years and the subsequent job roles librarians have had to take on, actually have large-scale repercussions that may be barely noticeable, but still important? And not good at all? Specifically, I want to talk about the idea of “vocational awe” and how this encourages libraries and their staff to take on increasing job duties, which they arguably may be ill-equipped for and should not be bearing the burden of in the first place.

In “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” Fobazi Ettarh describes vocational awe in the following manner: “’Vocational awe’ refers to the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” Ettarh goes on to explain that vocational awe leads to the expectation that library workers will “sacrifice” themselves to their jobs, often taking on additional job duties with no additional compensation. Workers who cannot perform to a high level due to personal or medical reasons may be viewed negatively, along with those who complain about the job, since the “sacred” work libraries do to provide safe spaces and serve democracy must be upheld at all costs. Vocational awe obviously can lead to things like burnout, as Ettarh notes, but might its negative consequences go even farther?

Ettarh mentions the existence of “job creep,” in which one’s job duties slowly expand, without recognition from the employer. Aspects of the job that were once voluntary, for example, become mandatory, with no additional compensation. Ettarh gives as an example how library workers once might have trained voluntarily to administer anti-overdose medication, but now are regularly simply expected to do it as part of the job, regardless of their comfort level. This is but one example, however. I believe that job creep has been occurring in libraries for years, to the extent that much of the work that libraries do now, is really an example of job creep.

Librarians once were–and are still described as–information professionals. In theory, the job of the librarian is to help guide individuals to the information they seek. So, for example, if someone has a legal question, a library worker can show that individual where to find the answer, although they cannot interpret the answer for the individual. If someone is looking for information on a certain moment of history, a library worker can show them the appropriate shelf in the stacks, show them how to use a relevant database, and explain to them how to use keywords to find relevant websites. If someone has lost their job and needs financial help, the library worker can give them addresses and phone numbers for the appropriate local agencies that can help. The librarian is not there to teach the person history or to get them a new job or an emergency loan, only to show them how to find more information about it. And this is because the librarian has been trained as an information professional, not as a lawyer or a historian or a social worker. They can’t be expected to do the jobs of other people, which they have not been trained to do and are not qualified to perform.

This job description has changed a lot. I have visited many libraries and I speak to a lot of library workers. Some of the job duties libraries now perform include:

  • Teaching yoga story time (even though they are not registered yoga instructors)
  • Tutoring children in writing and math (even though they are not certified tutors)
  • Teaching homeschooled children classes on science, art, and coding (even though they are not certified teachers)
  • Teaching children and adults Spanish and ASL (even though the librarian is still learning the languages themselves)
  • Assisting individuals to write their resumes and apply to jobs (even though they are not job coaches)
  • Providing anti-overdose medication, agency referrals, and a sympathetic, listening ear (even though they are not trained social workers)
  • Offering kids football and basketball games, video game tournaments, art activities, and more (even though they are not running the local community center).

Now, I understand that librarians are generally proud of this work, and that they want to do it. I understand that suggesting that they not do it goes against everything they have been trained to believe in. After all, they want to help people. They don’t want to walk away from that woman who needs a new job to feed her child, or that teenager who might end up on the streets if they can’t help him graduate. They are the saviors of the community. The ones who do all the work to give the community what it needs, to keep equal access available, and democracy afloat. But that’s vocational awe speaking.

The reality is that, in taking up all these extra job assignments, librarians are taking on the roles of other professionals who should be doing this work instead. Librarians are often (understandably) proud of their degrees and certifications, and they do not like when other people try to do their jobs for them. This is in part why using volunteers in lieu of paid staff is so controversial. While some see it as a way to keep the library doors open, others realize that having a volunteer do the job is not the same as having a paid professional. It’s the same in reverse, however. Having a librarian act as a tutor or a teacher or a social worker when they have not been trained to do so, is not the same. Worse, it gives local leaders an excuse not to fund initiatives that could help the community.

When librarians start tutoring on their own time, with no extra compensation, they are saying that the school system does not need to pay for more tutors. When librarians start offering kickball sessions and Ping Pong tables, they are saying the local council does not have to invest in a community center. When they begin acting as job coaches and social workers, they are saying the community does not need to fund other agencies to do this work. In taking on extra duties (for no additional compensation), libraries are usually responding to some sort of need in the community that is not currently being met. But, in so responding, they also suggest that the need has been fully met–when it hasn’t. Library staff are not the same as trained professionals in their chosen fields.

If libraries truly want to serve the community, partnerships are the answer. As one of the last few, public spaces where anyone can linger without paying, libraries are a natural gathering space. They also remain a trusted public institution, even when individuals do not really trust their governments anymore. This makes them an ideal space to provide all the services they provide from free lunches and showers to homework help. But if libraries want tutors, they need to ask the school system or a local college to provide them. If they want yoga, they need a registered instructor to teach it. If they want to provide social services, they need to get a trained social worker embedded in the building. Librarians should not be asked to take on all these roles. It is not their job. And they have not been trained to do it.

Suggesting that libraries go back to the focusing on how to access information may seem ridiculous, if not downright threatening to libraries and their staff. But it has always ostensibly been about the collection. That bike club? It’s supposed to introduce cyclists to resources on biking. The craft night? It’s supposed to circulate some of the crafting books or introduce people to the crafting database. It was never supposed to be about librarians learning how to cycle in a few weeks or teaching themselves a new DIY skill every month because they need a reason to attract people to the building, and the administration does not want to or cannot afford to pay an expert. It was never supposed to be about librarians “saving” people who might otherwise roam the streets looking for trouble, if there is no library program on Tuesdays. The fact that libraries and staff often do not even want to entertain the idea that libraries maybe should change is an effect of vocational awe, prohibiting critique of the system and its “sacred” work.

I understand that librarians are proud of the work they do, and that many do it voluntarily, out of the goodness of their hearts. They may even enjoy using that old math degree to tutor the children after school or getting to teach Zumba on Friday nights. But librarians need to ask themselves why they are being asked to take on additional roles–even the roles of other paid professionals–for no additional compensation. If the answer is, “But the community needs it!” Or “No one else will do it!” Or “I feel personally responsible for that woman who lost her apartment!” that is vocational awe speaking. And libraries and their supporters should think carefully before they keep asking staff to do more and more, without training or recognition. It is not the job of libraries to save the world. And they should certainly not be trying to save it alone.

Libraries’ Brand is Still Books

Libraries' Brand Is Still Books

Over the years, libraries have sought to fight increased budget cuts by proving their value as a community resource by moving beyond the books. Most, if not all, public libraries today in the U.S. now offer an assortment of services from public computer and internet access to 3D printing to recording studios to art classes to running clubs to gaming consoles to resume writing and job search assistance. They are community centers, meeting spaces, maker spaces, and job centers. It is not unheard of to hear about libraries considering moving their books off the public floor, to create more space for computers, studying, or hanging out. Despite all the enthusiasm for “transforming libraries” and “bringing them into the 21st century,” however, I believe that libraries are still primarily associated in the public mind with books–and that is not at all a bad thing.

Every so often, someone will begin to wring their hands and bewail the death of the printed word. Libraries are seen as obsolete since “the internet has everything” and “you can buy books on Amazon.” Libraries have, I think, been sensitive to this criticism, even when they insist on their continued relevance. But libraries do not need to pivot away from a focus on books because, in spite of everything, books are still popular, books are still the one thing they provide that is somewhat unique to them, and books are still the one thing most people think of when they hear the word, “library.” If people need a book, guess what? They’re headed to the library.

Having a library that provides meeting rooms, a gaming center, impromptu games of kickball, and yoga classes is great, but libraries need to be aware that, in many cases, such services are already being offered by other organizations. People may be able to go to a community center or a local park for athletics, an employment resource center for job help, or even their local bookshop for morning story time. Libraries are in constant competition for other organizations when trying to get people into the door. But the one thing that they have, that most other places don’t? Free books.

Book lovers looking for fellow readers, trusted recommendations, new releases, and bookish events are naturally going to be drawn to the library. Libraries should take advantage of that! Instead of bemoaning the lack of readers, libraries should work to engage the ones they have. And let’s be real. Maybe that doesn’t mean book clubs. Maybe it means more author visits or literary speed dating or literary trivia night or the ever-popular [insert title of bestseller here] book party. The possibilities are endless! But I believe libraries should continue to celebrate their books and the fact that they have them. Having and loaning books is not a shameful, outdated practice that needs to be hidden behind all the advertisements to try out the new VR equipment.

This is not to say that libraries should stop offering all the wonderful services they provide. Libraries are still a trusted public organization, a place people go to for information when they may be wary of other sources. And plenty of people appreciate being able to go to one location for their passport application, bicycling club, movie night, and audiobook rentals. Still, these things do not need to take away the emphasis of libraries on books. Books are still precious to the community! It doesn’t matter what century we are in. People still love books. And they still turn to the library to provide them.

I’m Okay with Not Being Paid to Book Blog

Okay with Not Being Paid to Book Blog

Book bloggers have debated the pros and cons of being paid for their work for years, with most of the bloggers opposed arguing that people cannot trust a review that was paid. Bloggers who advocate for publishers paying for them respond that many professional reviewers get paid for their time–and no one doubts those reviews–and that all the hard work bloggers put into their content and their sites deserves monetary compensation. While I appreciate the desire to be paid for one’s skills, I personally prefer not to be paid by publishers for book blogging–and it’s not because of the reviews.

When I first began book blogging nearly ten years ago, I understood from the start that this was a hobby I was choosing to put my time and effort into, and that I would not be paid for it. And that was great! Book blogging as a hobby means that I have complete control over my time and my content. That’s exactly the way I want it.

If I turned my hobby into a job, that means I would have to start treating it like a job. I would have to invest even more time (and probably money) into it, to make the blog look professional. I would have to work towards deadlines that publishers gave me. I would have to create content that publishers want, instead of content I am interested in. Finally, even if publishers did not demand I create a set list of content, I would have to change my content anyway, in order to generate more page views so I could remain competitive with other bloggers.

One aspect of getting paid that I do not ever see anyone mention, is that one usually has to spend money to make money. The influencers on YouTube and Instagram whom book bloggers envy most likely own professional cameras and may even hire professional photographers. To compete, book bloggers would probably have to start doing the same, paying for professional website design, professional graphics, professional cameras, and, of course, self hosting. Even bloggers who try to do all this on their own might have to invest money in a course, or, at least their time. And time is money, right? Now, obviously, plenty of bloggers already do this sort of thing–that’s why they want to get paid in return. But bloggers who are currently happy doing their hobby practically for free–like me–may think twice before investing in a venture that might not actually provide any compensation in return.

Additionally, getting paid by publishers would mean that I would no longer have the creative freedom I now enjoy. Currently, my blog is an eclectic mix of reviews (middle grade, YA, adult, classics, and nonfiction), lists, and discussion posts. Publishers, however, might very well want to work with a blog that has more of a “brand” so readers know what to expect: lots of middle grade love, all the latest on YA fantasy, etc. They might also provide me with a set list of content they want published: a cover reveal, an author interview, and a review. The posts I used to write discussing classics or asking readers to show some library love? Probably they won’t fit into the new brand.

Another likely outcome of book bloggers getting paid is that book bloggers would begin to see each other as competition. Publishers have a limited marketing budget, and they would understandably want to spend it on the bloggers who could give them the most views and interactions in return. To achieve higher stats, bloggers would have to become even more secretive about what they do to succeed–perhaps choosing to no longer publish free tutorials for beginners, hiding their statistics, and sharing fewer roundups or link backs. Bloggers might also have to change their content to generate higher views, perhaps focusing more on listicles, for example, than reviews or discussions. That’s not really a road I want to go down since I started blogging to discuss books with people, not merely to generate stats.

Finally, I am just not convinced that all the additional time, effort, and money I would have to put into a paid blog would generate meaningful income in return. It seems unlikely that I would be making enough to quit my day job (and, even if I did, the terror of doing so would prevent me since I wouldn’t believe that blogging gave me real financial stability long-term). Doing all this work, and changing everything I love, just for extra “beer money” would not be worth it for me.

I acknowledge and I appreciate all the hard work we book bloggers do! I understand that we possess unique skills, such as writing, photography, coding, web design, and more. And I can understand that people want to be paid for using those skills. For me, however, blogging is most enjoyable as a hobby. And, for now, that’s the way I would like to keep it.

Don’t Let School Shape Your Understanding of the Classics

Don't Let School Shape Your Understanding of the Classics

The classics cannot seem to catch a break these days. Some people argue that the classics are simply too old and boring for anyone to want to read, let alone a student. In fact, I once heard a librarian say that suggesting a child read a classic book would be to “traumatize” them because of the difficulty of the text! Others argue that having a list of “classic” books is naturally oppressive because the list has long included mostly “old, dead white men” and the books do not present an inclusive understanding of the world and humanity.

Such criticisms are valid. Many students in the U.S. are not reading on grade level, so suggesting they read a book with complex text might indeed be overwhelming for them–though I would argue that the problem here lies more with the educational system than with any particular book. And, for many years, society’s understanding of classics has indeed included predominantly old white men.

However, in the past decades, many scholars and other individuals have worked hard to expand our understanding of what a “classic” is. In many cases, this simply means an older work that has been determined to have some sort of literary value that means audiences still are interested in reading it and publishers want to keep it in print. This is a vague concept that could include any number of titles for any number of reasons such as: the book speaks to a specific historical moment, the book exemplifies a particular writing philosophy or movement, the book has beautiful prose, or the book raises interesting questions about the nature of humanity, society, love, or anything else. With such a broad definition, classic books can include titles written for children, genre fiction, prose, poetry, plays, and, yes, diversity!

So why do so many readers continue to associate classics with stuffy old white men with difficult prose (Dickens, Hawthorne, or Shakespeare, for example)? The problem is that many people tend to read classics in school, when they are assigned these books for homework, and never again. Their one encounter with the classics is defined by a handful of teachers who present to them a very small sample of books. And, in many cases, teachers are simply teaching what they themselves were taught. They have not caught up with the times, or realized themselves that the term “classic” is more expansive than the Western canon.

This does a disservice both to readers and to the classics. There are many worthy–and interesting–books out there that might appeal to student who have no idea they could like the classics, if they found the right one. So let’s explore some examples.

Classics include all age ranges.

When people think of “classics,” they often seem to conjure up an image of the Victorian novel or perhaps of the dreaded Shakespeare. However, teachers might be interested in assigning children’s books to students rather than works written for an adult audience. There are plenty of children’s classics that readers continue to enjoy today:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
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Classics encompass all genres.

People tend to associate classics with literary fiction. However, there are plenty of genre classics that readers continue to enjoy today! Here are some examples, including some authors and titles we might now recognize as “modern classics”:

Fantasy Classics

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Mystery Classics

  • Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
  • Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie
  • Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene

Sci-Fi Classics

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Patternist series by Octavia E. Butler
  • The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
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Classics cover a wide range of time periods, writing styles, and forms.

Not all classics are Victorian novels like Middlemarch or Bleak House (though both are well worth a read). Readers who do not wish to read a novel might wish to pick up a short story, a novella, a play or even a graphic novel. Likewise, readers who do not enjoy lengthy prose sentences such as Dickens’ may desire to pick up a writer like Ernest Hemingway, who writes in simple, direct sentences. No matter one’s reading preference, someone, somewhere in history probably wrote something that will be appealing. Some examples:

  • “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin (short story)
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin (novella)
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman (picture book)
  • “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison (short story)
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
  • Night by Elie Wiesel (memoir)
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Classics can be diverse!

Despite what school curricula might imply, there are plenty of amazing literary works out there that have been written by all kinds of people and that represent a myriad of experiences, expanding our understanding of “what it means to be human.” Here are some titles for your consideration, including some modern classics.

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

What titles would you add to the list?

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Conclusion

Classics are so much more than Victorian novels, Shakespeare plays, and books by “old white men,” but, for many of us, high school, the one place where we will be asked to read a classic book, fails to demonstrate this. This does a disservice to readers, who graduate believing that the past has nothing to offer and that any book written more than five years ago must be old, boring, and outdated. So don’t rely only what you learned in a handful of English classes to judge all the classics. Why not pick up a few more and see for yourself?

How Can Libraries Go Green?

How Can Libraries Go Green

Concern about the environment is gaining more mainstream attention as people begin to realize the effects pollution and waste have on not only wildlife, but also the health of humans. For example, we now know that much plastic is considered unrecyclable and that it is estimated only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. We also learning about how plastics can break down into microplastics that enter the water, earth, and air–and are then consumed or breathed in by humans. But, now knowing what we know, have we changed any of our habits?

Libraries are seen as community leaders, and I believe they play an integral role in providing the public with reliable and relevant information. Therefore, I believe libraries should be leading by example and attempting to go green. Of course, large-scale efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the building as a whole might need to be approved by administration, and may not be a realistic goal for the staff on the floor. Still, I think everyone at the library can do something to help the environment, and to encourage the public to do the same.

Here are some ideas I’ve come up with. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments! Of, if you work at a library, you can share how your workplace has been prioritizing the environment!

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Potential Strategies

  1. Instead of relying on recycling, reduce purchasing and consumption of unnecessary and one-use products.
  2. Try to print less.
  3. Rethink craft programs and other programs that create waste. Run more programs with reusable materials (ex. blocks, electronics, board games, etc.) or use upcycled materials. Or create an outdoors program like a scavenger hunt.
  4. Rethink the summer reading program and all the small plastic toys that get handed out as prizes. Some libraries do “Read and Bead” and hand out beads for bracelets or key chains. You could also hand out more environmentally-friendly options, though the cost per item will likely go up.
  5. Use paper bags instead of plastic.
  6. Install bike racks outside.
  7. Start a seed library.
  8. Start a community garden or community composting program.
  9. Run programs educating the public on how to go green by reducing their carbon footprint, learning about the zero-waste lifestyle, starting a garden, and more. This is a great chance to create community partnerships!
  10. If possible, provide resources that help patrons go green, since environmentally-friendly options often cost more and are therefore not as accessible to people with less spending money.
  11. Consider starting a “library of things”–an unconventional collection of items such as tolls, cake pans, toys, etc. that give patrons access to things they might need on occasion but do not want to buy. You can start by asking for donations from the community to promote “reuse.”
  12. Loan out electricity usage monitors so patrons can assess their energy usage at home and take steps to reduce it.
  13. Run programs that encourage patrons to walk or bike more. Maybe they can track their miles for a chance to win a prize!
  14. Encourage library patrons to bring their own reusable bag from home.
  15. Stop selling plastic water bottles in vending machines.
  16. Rethink programs that hand out snacks individually wrapped or bottled in plastic.
  17. Educate the public about what steps the library is taking to go green, and ask for community input and feedback.

What ideas would you add to the list?