Are Libraries Lacking Media Coverage?

Last year, I was present in the library when a local news reporter walked up to the desk and seemed stunned to realize that the library, every single year, offers a summer reading program along with a host of programming for children and adults.  But I’m sure he won’t be back this year to announce the library’s offerings to his readers.  Why?  Because the local news almost never covers the library and, when they do, it is, of course, typically after the event has ended.  And I’m starting to wonder–is the lack of media coverage a key reason why so many people remain unaware of common library programs and services?

Libraries, of course, offer a wealth of resources, far beyond lending books, magazines, music, videos, and more.  They provide Internet access and computer help for individuals searching for jobs, filling out government forms, or looking for local resources.  They teach early childhood literacy, provide tax help, and offer an abundance of workshops and classes.  If the community has a need, libraries are often among the first to step in.  And yet, it seems very often that people who do not regularly visit the library have no clue what the library does.

The problem here seems to be that libraries may often be stuck advertising internally.  They can post events to their social media, upload programs to their online calendar, and pass out flyers to people who walk in the door.  But, unless a person follows the library online or regularly goes to the library, they are very likely to have no clue what is happening there.  All the people who have never stepped foot in the library have no clue what they are missing. They have no clue that they may have been able to get free legal counseling or that they could have learned a new language or created a DIY project, or that their child, whom they can’t afford to send to summer camp, could have attended a music or reading or writing camp.  They have no way of knowing–not if no one tells them.

I’m not sure what the solution here is.  I’m not sure how newspapers determine which local organizations to cover.  I’m not even sure this is a common problem–maybe my local media is just singularly bad at remembering the library exists.  But I do think something interesting is going on here because it so often seems that the same local businesses and organizations get coverage.  And everything the media loves to cover seems to be geared towards people with money.  (People without it don’t patronize these businesses and probably don’t care about them.)  The library, on the other hand?  The library is inclusive.  It’s about equal access.  It’s even for people without money.  And the library is forgotten.

I’m not sure why this is.  Maybe the library isn’t sexy enough to warrant coverage.  Or maybe the people in the local media have no need to use the library themselves, so they simply forget that it exists.  But this is doing a disservice to their readers, who may not be interested in all the upscale events being advertised, but who may be interested in, or even desperately need, the services of the library.  So I’m left wondering.  How can libraries advertise their services to people who have never visited them?  And why doesn’t the media seem interested in covering them?

What do you think?  Does your local media cover the library?


Where Should You Begin with Marvel Comics?

Starting to read comics can feel very intimidating.  When I first began, I did not know where to start or what comics I could read without feeling like I had to start at the beginning of the story–perhaps decades ago!  Over time, however, I have found a few favorite comics.  And learned some titles that easier for beginners to access.  Here are my suggestions for readers new to Marvel.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North (Writer) and Erica Henderson (Illustrator)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has quickly become what is perhaps my favorite Marvel comic, even over Ms. Marvel.  (Thanks to Michael over at My Comic Relief!  Check out his blog for cool comic discussions and recommendations!)  Doreen Green’s preferred method of dealing with supervillains is by trying to rehabilitate them–a refreshing new take on the old “beat them up and hope they learn their lesson this time” routine.  She believes unfailingly in the goodness of people and in the power of second chances, meaning that, even though her squirrel abilities perhaps make her “unbeatable,” it is more likely her optimism and confidence.

But why start with Doreen Green aside from her winning personality?  Is it the humor?  The squirrel armies?  A hero who named himself Chipmunk Hunk?  Well, maybe, but, perhaps equally important is that you really don’t need to know much about Marvel history to read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  The comics fill you in on the pertinent parts, meaning you won’t feel overwhelmed or confused if you start reading here with limited (or no) knowledge of comics.

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Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson (Writer) and Adrian Alphona (Illustrator)

Like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel is great for new Marvel readers because the stories do not expect readers to be intimately familiar with Marvel history.  Kamala Khan’s story is just starting out, so it provides all the necessary background information you’ll need to feel comfortable diving in.  Aside from that, Ms. Marvel is a great comic because it features a relatable protagonist just trying to do her best and keep it all together.  School, family, friends, romance–and saving the world?  Kamala wants to be the best in every area of her life, but learns over the course of the series that sometimes you need a little help.  It’s a great message with a winning protagonist.

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Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Writer) and David Lopez (Illustrator)

When I first read the first volume of DeConnick’s run, I was admittedly confused.  However, I tried again and was immediately won over by Carol Danvers’ confidence and her desire to help others.  The new Captain Marvel movie and the excitement it generated makes this another great comic for new readers to take up, as I’m sure they’ll fall in love with Carol all over again.

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Runaways by Rainbow Rowell (Writer) and Kris Anka (Illustrator)

This series starts up some time after the original run by Brian K. Vaughan, but it supplies all the necessary background information for readers to dive into the story.  I did not need to know what happened to the characters previously to be invested in their current struggles, which focus a lot on their interpersonal relationships and their desire to find their place in the world, now that they have escaped from their supervillain parents.  Rowell writes with heart and humor, making me love her run even more than Vaughan’s, which I began reading after I read Rowell’s first two volumes.

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Spider-Man: Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), et al.

I actually began this series with volume two because my library did not have volume one–and I still ended up loving it.  Miles Morales is such a wonderful protagonist, concerned with doing the right thing and being a good person.  I loved the focus on school, friendships, and family.  Even though I found myself slightly more confused by references to past events,  this did not stop my enjoyment of the series.  I think Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a great place to start particularly for readers who are looking for some of the newer heroes or a teenage hero.

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Jumping into the world of comics can be scary, especially when you think of the decades of history behind some of the characters and the stories!  However, jumping in is really the best way to go because, the  more you read, the more comfortable you’ll become!  I still don’t know all the characters or what happened to them, but I’ve found that even seeing some cameos or references can help build up your knowledge and make you feel more comfortable the next time you see a character.  And, eventually, you start to realize that you belong!  Comics are for you!

Do you read Marvel comics?  Where do you thing new readers could begin?

Do We Appreciate the Work of Children’s Librarians?

In June 2018, Lindsey Krabbenhoft at Jbrary wrote on “Community Outreach and the Devaluation of Children’s Librarians.” She expressed concern over recommendations for volunteers to replace paid library workers as outreach librarians, story time leaders, and more.  Although some libraries may see volunteers as an easy (and free!) way to expand their services, I agree with Lindsey that replacing paid workers with volunteers can be harmful in the long run.  The implication behind such a move is, indeed, that paid library workers are not worth the money–they do not have any specialized skills or training that makes them valuable.  And part of the problem is most likely that women’s work–and women’s work with children–is usually under-valued.

In my own library, I have heard a number of teens and parents of teens ask if the teens could earn volunteer hours, not through the regular opportunities offered by the library, but instead by running story time.  Simply asking the question indicates that library patrons do not see story time as a program that requires skill or training to run.  Instead, anyone can do it.  You just show up, read a story, and throw out a craft or coloring pages, right?  Simply asking the question, simply assuming that anyone can perform the work of a children’s librarian, reveals that, in fact, the people asking should probably not be running story time–because they know little about it.

Story time involves a lot of knowledge about early childhood development–which books are age-appropriate and read-aloud friendly, what kinds of questions to ask to get children to interact with and anticipate the story, which songs to sing and how often to repeat them for learning.  It also requires presenters to know how to read and hold a book, how to control a crowd, and how to adapt if parents bring children who are too old or too young to be interested or stimulated by the program.  Additionally, story time librarians are now expected to go beyond a simple (age-appropriate) craft or coloring pages. Many now offer stations with sensory bins and hands-on learning activities that reinforce numerical literacy, fine motor skills, or any other number of skills.  Librarians think long and hard about these activities, and will often use a session of story times to have participants build upon skills they are learning.

Story time is never really only about the stories, however.  It is also about making connections with patrons. Patrons want to know that they are interacting with an early childhood expert who can discuss their child’s development and who can connect them with resources both in the library and in the community.  Often, relationships need to be built over time so patrons feel comfortable discussing their family situation or asking for help.  To achieve this, it helps to have regular staff whom patrons see on a regular basis.  And it helps to have staff who are knowledgeable about resources.

Patrons at my library have not only asked to run story time in the children’s room, however, but have also offered to do other parts of the job, such as circulation duties.  Again, the patrons fail to understand what is entailed in circulation.  It is far more than running books under a scanner.  First of all, it involves access to personal information–so not anyone can simply be given access to the computers.  But it also involves handling money, resolving patron complaints, and occasionally modifying patron or materials records.  All of this, again, requires training.  If it seems so easy anyone could walk up and do it, perhaps that is because it is largely a customer service job–a job associated with women.  So, of course, it can’t possibly require any skill!

I spend most of my time in the children’s room, so I have not overhead patrons asking the adult department if they can do their jobs, too.  But I cannot help but suspect that the average patron would not, in fact, offer to volunteer to take on an adult services position.  Because, of course, working with adults must require skill and training, while working with children is simple and fun.  There really is a lack of respect for children’s librarians and the work they do.  And I could not help but find Lindsey’s assessment of the situation accurate and telling.

Children’s librarians are really the foundation of a library.  It is through their expertise, their enthusiasm, and their passion that children are often first introduced to the library, taught to love reading, and encouraged to become library patrons and readers for life.  Disparaging the work they do is both offensive and damaging.  Children’s librarians are truly irreplaceable–no matter how lovely and helpful volunteers can be.  They are dedicated to the job for the long run, not just for a few hours or a day, and they are constantly searching for ways to improve their skills and their services.  It is high time their good work was recognized.

BookCon: Should Attendees Purchase Books or Get Free Books?

BookCon 2019 Discussion

I’ve noticed some discussion on Twitter around the idea of how many books attendees at BookCon should be expected to purchase vs. how many giveaways or ARC drops they should expect.  After mentioning that I personally had bought four books over the two-day event, thus spending $80 on books (ignoring the cost of the ticket to enter the convention and the cost of transportation to get there, which cost me roughly $100 total), I was told I ought to be glad to buy books and “support authors and publishers,” as if spending about $200 on a single weekend was not a big enough investment.

The debate over whether publishers/exhibitors should expect attendees to buy books vs. whether attendees should expect to be given free books is interesting because it mirrors conversations that occur in the online book community all the time.  Do publishers “owe” bloggers and other influencers ARCs?  Is it entitlement to expect them?  Do readers “owe” authors and publishers purchases?  Or should they realize that readers frequently have other, more pressing expenses on which to spend their income?  However, I think the question about buying things (or not) at BookCon differs slightly because, after purchasing a ticket to get in the door, I believe attendees expect some type of experience, something they “paid for” that isn’t just the opportunity to browse publishers’ offerings at booths and buy (mostly full price) books.  After all, buying books is something one can do from the comfort of one’s own home, and going into a building with the primary purpose of purchasing books is just a bookstore, not a con.

So, while it’s possible that some people really are just entitled and want to leave events like BookCon with armloads of ARCs and free swag, I think it’s equally possible that attendees just want something to do.  It’s not viable for most people to spend an eight hour day (or two eight hour days) only buying books; it’s not in their budget.  So what else is BookCon offering for the price of admission?

To be clear, there were free things to do at BookCon this year (though many of them came with long lines that attendees might have been unable to get in).  There were a variety of interesting panels.  There was a booktuber and bookstagrammer meet and greet.   There was a Babysitter’s Club-inspired lounge with things like a bedazzling station.  There were fun backdrops to take the perfect photo for your bookstagram feed.  But maybe participants wanted more.  I know I personally spent a lot of Saturday walking vaguely around, not doing much of anything as every line I tried to get into was capped (and many of those lines required you to purchase a book anyway).

For me, the question is really What can I do at BookCon that I can’t do anywhere else? If the answer really is “buy things to support authors and publishers,” then I think it would be cool if there were more exclusive items, whether limited editions of popular books or swag I can only get there.  There are OwlCrate or FairyLoot exclusive covers for popular YA books; why not a BookCon exclusive cover?  I’d also ask authors and publishers to realize that I am willing to buy books (I think many readers are), but I’m not able to spend $300 on them in a single two-day spree.

No reader “has” to buy anything, and no publisher “has” to give away free stuff, and, yes, there are tons of events where the modus operandus is that you pay an entry free for the privilege of simply buying more stuff.  (People gave other conventions as examples; for me, craft fairs came to mind.)  However, I think looking for ways to help con attendees feel as if they got a unique experience, as if attending was “worth it” (particularly for people who fly in, rent hotels, and generally do spend lots of money just to get there) is still an admirable goal and one we can probably generally agree upon.


Mixed Reactions After Attending BookCon 2019

BookCon 2019 Recap

As some of you may know from following me on Twitter, I attended BookCon in NYC for the first time this year.  After years of watching other people go and apparently have a fabulous time meeting up with friends, getting to see authors, and nabbing exciting upcoming ARCs and book swag, I was extremely excited to go.  However, my experience was a mixed bag, something I think stands in stark contrast to glowing, positive tweets that are once again filling the #bookcon hashtag—but which is not actually different from the experiences of other people I talked to while at the convention.

I simply was not prepared for how crowded the convention would be—and how aggressive that would make attendees.  The day started with people making a mad rush into the building once the con opened, desperate to get to start-of-day ticket drops or grab a free tote bag from Epic Reads.  It was eye-opening to see adults push, shove, and elbow each other out of the way to get what they wanted and even bowl over small children or whack violently into strollers with their bags, all without apology.  I didn’t enjoy being pushed around all day (I’m surprised I didn’t see anyone get hurt), and, as someone who was unwilling to push other people out of my way, I got practically no books on Saturday—besides two that I bought.

It also took me a long time to realize that when the BookCon schedule says something starts at, say, 3:00, people begin lining up at 1:00.  These lines are “unofficial” and according to BookCon’s rules, they’re technically not allowed.  Yet, inevitably, these become the official line.  This meant that any line I tried to get into for an event—an author signing, an ARC drop, a game, a giveaway, etc.—was already full and had been full for two hours before the start of the event.  Waiting this long, even for a book I’m excited about, seems a little not worth it to me, but it seemed to work for other people who decided to cut lines, leave the line and “come back” to their spot an hour later, have friends or family members hold their spot while they did something more interesting, etc.  Again, I was under the impression this is not allowed under BookCon’s rules, but because this was my first time attending, I didn’t realize it’s de facto allowed because a lot of people do it, and no one tells them they can’t.

My experience was not entirely negative.  Sunday was better than Saturday, due to the fact there seemed to be fewer people attending.  I did get into a line or two, though it was like competing in The Hunger Games trying to claim my spot.  So I met more authors, got more books, and did more things.  I hung out in the beautiful Babysitters Club lounge.  I saw a panel with Melissa Albert, Stephanie Garber, and Margaret Rogerson that was moderated by V. E.  Schwab.  I was able to get a book signed by Melissa Albert and get a photograph (on Saturday, Susan Dennard “ran out of time” for photographs with fans who had been waiting hours). And I talked to other book fans in line.  A few of them independently told me they had a better time this year because they had come before and learned to “lower their expectations.”  They recommended mainly attending panels and resigning yourself to the fact you’re not really going to get the coveted ARCs, swag, or author signings.

So would I go again?  Maybe.  On Saturday, my answer was a definitive no.  After the slightly chiller experience of Sunday, I’m on the fence.  I might be interested in buying just a Sunday ticket.  I might decide it’s worth shelling out the money for a VIP ticket to be let onto the show floor first, have guaranteed seating at panels, and have first dibs at getting author autograph tickets—all things I had no chance of getting without the VIP experience.  There are things I enjoyed, so I don’t want to rule out re-attending entirely.  I am surprised I haven’t seen more lukewarm reactions to the con (again, everyone on Twitter seems to be gushing), but maybe these are all people who also “lowered their expectations” or who had VIP tickets or, I don’t know, pushed others out of the way so they could get what they wanted.

I’m still processing my reaction to attending, weighing how much I enjoyed it and whether I think it was worth the time investment and the cost,  and I’d love to hear the thoughts of others who went or who attended in the past.


Fighting the Summer Slide with the Library Summer Reading Program

Each year, libraries across the U.S. encourage children (and sometimes adults, too!) to read over the summer through their summer reading programs.  Children typically are asked to complete learning challenges or to read for a certain length of time in order to work their way up through different prizes.  Many see summer reading as simply a fun activity, while others seem wary of it and will often decline to participate.  However, the summer reading program is more than librarians giving out prizes for reading.  The summer reading program is an integral part of the fight against summer slide–and a key reason why we should continue to support our community’s libraries.

Research has shown that children who do not read over the summer, and children who do not participate in learning opportunities such as attending camp or going to museums, return to school in the fall having lost many of the academic gains they made during the previous year.  Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two months’ of reading skills–and this loss is cumulative. Children from lower income households who have less access to books and to learning activities are particularly vulnerable to summer slide.

Because children from lower-income households are more likely to suffer the summer slide, the library summer reading program is an important equalizing force.  Some may have a problem with incentivizing reading–giving out prizes for amount of time read–but, it is important also to remember that the summer reading program is about free choice.  School assignments may make reading seem like a chore to children–even books people like can become disagreeable when given as homework.  Ultimately, the summer reading program encourages children to see reading as a fun, social activity that they can engage in, not only when being required to read for school, but also on their own for pleasure.

The summer reading program can easily be a success for even the most reluctant of readers, as even small amounts of reading during the summer can be effective in preventing the summer slide.  Research has indicated that reading four to six books over the summer can help prevent a reader’s skills from regressing.  (But, according to the latest Scholastic report, there has been an increase in children who read zero books over the summer.)  Sharing this knowledge with parents can be empowering, as it gives them a concrete and achievable goal to work towards.

However, even though the summer reading program is designed to combat the summer slide by getting children to read, my library never explicitly mentions the summer slide when they advertise the program.  I can understand that doing so would not be the best way to advertise the program to children.  Still, I think it is important for libraries to explain the reasoning behind their programming, both to support parents who may be unfamiliar with the summer slide (only 53% are) or how to combat it, and to advocate more successfully for funding.  Silence around the summer slide could be a part of why some parents do not give permission for their children to sign up for summer reading, or why they do not encourage their children to do so when the children resist.  Silence around summer reading can also make it seem like the library is simply holding a three-month party, obscuring the important work they are doing while making reading fun.

The summer reading program offered by the public library is an important initiative to combat summer slide and to give every child a chance to succeed.  As U.S. libraries continue to face budget cuts and financial struggles, reflecting on the work libraries do to raise up their communities becomes especially imperative.  Libraries are always working tirelessly to promote equal access to books and to learning opportunities.  The summer reading program, while fun, is a part of that mission.

Eight Ways Book Blogging Has Changed in the Last Eight Years

Briana and I began blogging at Pages Unbound in May 2011. In honor of our eighth anniversary, here are eight ways I’ve seen book blogging change over the years.

Book bloggers are now expected to do more than just blog.

Years ago, book bloggers often literally just blogged about books.  That is, they wrote book reviews.  Now, book bloggers are expected to take their own pictures, run social media accounts, design their own websites, and more.

Book bloggers have moved to prioritizing discussion posts over book reviews.

When we first began Pages Unbound, most book blogs primarily published book reviews.  However, bloggers began noticing that, for many, discussion posts generated more page views than book reviews.  And so, many bloggers now prefer not to write reviews, or not as many.

Discussion posts have evolved to become longer and more in-depth.

When book bloggers first began discussion posts, many were along the lines of “How many books are on your nightstand?”  These types of posts were often about a paragraph in length, as there is not much to say other than the number of books you have on your nightstand!  Over the years, however, bloggers have come up with a number of exciting discussions, talking about consumerism in the book blogosphere, the importance of libraries, and more.

Guest Posts Became less frequent.

I have no qualitative data for this, but it does seem like I am seeing fewer and fewer guest posts.  They used to be recommended all the time as a way to get new audiences and drive traffic to your blog.  My own experience, however, is that I don’t get any traffic from guest posting and my own readers generally do not click on my links to see my guest post on someone else’s blog.  Perhaps other bloggers noticed the same and stopped guest posting as much?

Discussions started happening on Twitter.

Book bloggers used to write discussion posts that responded to and linked back to one or more posts by other bloggers.  However, once book bloggers were expected to use social media to promote their blogs, more and more discussions started happening on Twitter.  The fast-paced nature of Twitter means that sometimes things happen in the book world, they blow up immediately, and then they are over before many bloggers even knew something was happening, so there is less discussion on blogs about these issues. However, it is also notable that, soon after many book bloggers joined Twitter a few years ago, a large number then left, many of them citing the negative atmosphere as their reason.

The discussions have changed.

Many early discussions focused on how to get ARCs, how to blog “correctly” (commenting back, following back, etc.), and how to avoid plagiarism in the book blogosphere (Can you write about something someone already wrote about?  Yes, of course, but some bloggers argued you couldn’t.).  Discussions, however, are now more focused on what types of books are published, whether they should be published and, if they are published, whether people should read or review them.

Book bloggers became Booktubers.

It seems like more people are watching videos rather than reading blogs. In response, many bloggers have moved to Youtube, where they are more likely to get more views and thus get more books, more brand offers, and more book deals.

Some Book bloggers stopped blogging.

Sadly, over the years, we have lost many blogging friends who simply stopped blogging.  Perhaps life got too busy or they simply were not interested any more.  But there are many blogs I used to love that are no more.  Fortunately, however, there are always new friends waiting to be found!

How long have you been blogging?  What changes have you seen in the book blogopshere?