My Favorite Time Periods for Classic Literature

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Do you have a favorite time period for classic literature?

Favorite Time Periods for Classic Literature

This question is really difficult. And, so, I chose TWO favorite time periods for classic literature.

The Renaissance

Everyone knows Shakespeare, but others were writing in the Renaissance, as well! And their work is fascinating. First of all, Renaissance drama is full of unbelievable plots that involve faked deaths, mistaken identifies, and political intrigue, as well more introspective works that challenge the audience. You can find everything from serious works that address the nature of kingship (such as Edward II by Christopher Marlowe) to comedies such as Arden of Faversham, which focuses on a woman who hires a string of murderers who can’t seem to kill her husband. You can even find works by women, such as Elizabeth Cary’s closet drama The Tragedy of Marian, which explores marriage, divorce, and female sexuality.

Secondly, Renaissance writings deal with complex questions that we still grapple with today. How can a woman assert her agency in a society that views her as a commodity? How can one obtain justice for one’s wrongs when the legal system fails? Can one ever justify taking arms up against one’s ruler? Though it is easy to assume that royal censorship silenced political and religious freedom and criticism, playwrights still found ways to ask tough questions and offer pointed commentary. These questions continue to resonate with readers and audiences.

Victorian England

Though I love Renaissance writings (drama in particular), I also love the Victorian novel! And this may be the type of classic I read the most. From Charles Dickens to George Eliot to Elizabeth Gaskell, the Victorian era is full of talented writers who manage to combine perceptive social commentary with complex plots, witty characterization, and a dash of morality. Some of my favorite titles include:

What time periods of literature are your favorites?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

Do You Like Blind Book Bundles?

As libraries around the U.S. remain closed, many have begun to offer blind book bundles as a way to help patrons discover new titles at a time when they are not able to browse the shelves. This service seems particularly useful for patrons who may not keep up with the publishing industry and so do not know what titles to request, and for parents, who may know series their children enjoy, but not other specific titles they should search for in the catalog. Still, even though I can appreciate the concept of the blind book bundle, I am hesitant to check one out for myself.

The concept of a mystery stack of books is, of course, not new. Many libraries and bookstores have had success in the past with the “blind date with a book” program, where people can check out or purchase books covered in paper. People seem to appreciate the surprise of the concept–who knows what magical book they might discover? Perhaps one they’ll love, but not one they have chosen for themselves. And book subscription boxes, where people receive a box with surprise titles and other goodies inside, are incredibly popular. But even though I see and appreciate the excitement people have receiving and opening their packages, I can never bring myself to purchase one.

The problem is, I know what kinds of books I like. Most of the books I read I choose because, over the years, I have developed an understanding of the types of books I enjoy. And, after looking at the cover, the title, the author, the summary, and the reviews, I can make an educated guess about how much I will like a book or not. I don’t tend to get very adventurous about reading books other people choose for me because there’s only so much time to read–and why would I want to waste it on something I am not fairly certain will be good? The idea of asking an unknown library employee to select a stack of random books for me is, well, kind of horrifying.

Part of me wishes that I were more adventurous, that I could check out that random stack of books and discover some hidden gems. Yet part of me thinks, but who could choose a book for myself better than myself? Maybe one day I’ll take that leap and check out a blind bundle–it’s not like I have to read whatever I end up with. For now, however, I’m content with selecting books for myself.

What do you think? Do you love blind book bundles? Have you tried a subscription box or a mystery bundle from your library? What was your experience?

Banned Books Week 2020: What is Censorship?

Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) celebrates Banned Book Week, an event that promotes the freedom to read. This year, Banned Book Week runs from September 27-October 3. The ALA typically releases a list of the top books that have have banned or challenged in schools and libraries across the U.S. But they caution people to remember that the majority of challenges go unreported.

So what is censorship? The ALA defines censorship as “the suppression of idea and information that certain persons–individuals, groups, or government officials–find objectionable or dangerous.” Though the idea of censorship may conjure up the image of an oppressive government, or perhaps people with certain political views, censorship can happen anywhere by anybody. Often the people who are trying to prevent others from reading a book do not see themselves as villainous censors, but just people trying to protect others from harmful material.

In their “Freedom to Read Statement,” the ALA calls the freedom to read “essential to democracy.” The right to the freedom to read rests on the belief that individuals are able make up their own minds about works, and do not need to be protected from books. The ALA explains:

“Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.”

ALA’s “Freedom to Read Statement”

It is perhaps no accident that the books that regularly make the ALA’s list of most banned or challenged are typically books for young people. Adults often feel the need to protect children and teens from certain ideas or materials because they do not trust their ability to “select the good and reject the bad.” Rather than allowing readers to make up their own minds, they decide for everyone that particular titles should be made inaccessible. As the ALA phrases it, “The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone.”

Individuals who attempt to prevent others from reading books may not see themselves as censors. They may believe that making books inaccessible is simply the “right thing to do” as it will prevent others from being harmed by “dangerous materials.” They may even believe censorship is wrong, but imagine that only people with different views from their own would ever censor books. However, it is important to remember that setting a precedent for making books inaccessible–even if someone believes they have a good reason–means that, in future, censorship could become more widespread. In future, people with opposing perspectives could point to the precedent set as a reason for materials they dislike to be removed.

Giving people access to books–all books–may seem like a scary thing. What if people end up reading books that contain dangerous ideas or perspectives that hurt them? What if someone reads a book and starts believing things many people think are wrong? This is the price we pay in a democracy for the right to access information, express ideas, and engage in discussion. We don’t have to agree with every book written, but allowing everyone freedom of express guarantees that we ourselves cannot be censored.

I Don’t Have the Secret to Reading More–Unless It’s Doing Other Things Less

I Don't Have the Secret to Finding More Time to Read

“How to Read More” is a popular topic. There are myriad articles and blog posts on the subject, all geared towards helping non-readers find time to fit reading into their schedules or even towards helping avid readers increase their already impressive book consumption. I’m sure the advice is useful to many people, but personally I’ve never found that there’s a “secret” to finding time to read. Any time I spend reading is simply time I’m not spending doing something else.

One of the number one tips to help people read more is to listen to listen to audiobooks and multitask. You’re supposed to read while you vacuum or do the dishes or drive to work. Personally, however, I am terrible at this. I cannot do chores and listen to a book because I start focusing on my task and miss part of the story. When I used to be able to walk to work, I tried listening to audiobooks during my commute–but I had the same problem. If I had to pay attention to cross a street safely or get around construction or watch for bicycles coming at me, I stopped listening to the story. And any noise, as simple as a car driving by, meant I couldn’t even hear the audiobook without turning the volume high enough to blast my eardrums. I stopped listening to audiobooks while walking.

And, for what it’s worth, polls have suggested that a majority of readers prefer to listen to their audiobooks while doing nothing else. I am not alone in this.

Other tips on “finding time to read,” then, amount to “sneaking reading into your schedule.” If you take a bus or a train, you can read on your commute. If you use a treadmill at the gym, you can read while running. You can just make time to read right before bed or right when you wake up or while waiting in line at the bank. These aren’t bad suggestions, but for me they come down to “choose to read.” If I choose to read on a bus, I am also choosing not to nap or to write a poem or to knit a scarf or to do anything else I might do on a bus. If I make time to read before bed, I am also choosing not to watch a movie or bake cookies or call my mother. If someone isn’t reading much or at all, brainstorming times they could begin to read is useful–but I just don’t think this is a secret. People who read a lot manage to do so because it’s one of their primary hobbies. (Though external circumstances like not working long hours, not having caretaking responsibilities, etc. can contribute to having free time, of course.)

I have seen tips that are more about creating the right atmosphere and mindset for reading–like having books readily available on your nightstand or finding books you are passionate about or joining a book club. So I think there are open questions about how to find motivation to read or to read more, but if the question is “how to find time to read,” I don’t know that there’s a magic solution. All of our time is finite, of course. Finding time to read might just mean giving up time doing something else.

Briana

How Do You Read a Board Book?

What Is a Board Book?

Though most people associate picture books with small children, board books are usually a better option for the smallest of readers due to their durable design. Board books are typically painted on a thick paperboard, making them hard to rip and able to endure chewing and biting. They are also usually small in size, making them easier for little hands to hold. Finally, they typically have rounded edges to prevent injury. Board books are most suitable for readers from birth to around age three.

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What Types of Board Books Should You Look For?

When choosing a board book, you should keep in mind the developmental needs of the young reader, not their caregiver. Board books that contain the full text of picture books are too long and unlikely to hold a young child’s interest. Likewise, board books that appeal to an adult’s knowledge of pop culture, history, literature, or science will probably be incomprehensible to a baby or a toddler.

In general, you should look for board books that have very little text, though the amount will change as a young reader grows. For example, board books for newborns often contain a simple image paired with a word. However, a two-year-old will probably appreciate a board book with a simple, rhyming text or a short story that is silly. Repetition is good for all ages, allowing them to anticipate an upcoming phrase and say it with the reader. When selecting books for newborns in particular, look for books in black-in-white or with high contrast images. Their eyesight is still developing, so books like this help them see the pictures better.

See our list of board books recommended for baby showers.

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How Do You Read a Board Book?

Many adults gravitate towards board books that are really picture books on paperboard because they are familiar with these stories. They remember them from their own childhood, they like them, and they know what to do with them–just read the story! In contrast, board books that are developmentally appropriate for little ones may seem confusing. How does one read a book that is just a series of images with a word next to it? Also, isn’t this boring?

The trick to remember is that babies and toddlers are not “reading” a book in the same way adults do. They are not sitting down with a book, flipping it in order, and looking at the text on every page. The littlest ones may really just be grabbing and biting a book. Older ones might grab the pages and flip through them out of order, even if an adult is in the middle of reading from a page. In some sense, sitting down to read with a child is really more about a creating a ritual where the caregiver and child spend quality time together, as well as creating a foundation of reading. Read every night before bed, and that habit is likely to stay with a child as they grow. Go to story time at the library every week, and a child begins to associate the library and reading with fun.

Reading to little ones is also about exposing them to a variety of words. Newborns, of course, probably do not really know what is happening when their caregiver starts reading to them. However, it is important that they hear a large number of words each day, as this will help them build their vocabulary and be the foundation of their early childhood literacy. Talking and singing to baby are just as important in this regard, which is why parents are encouraged to point out things to baby throughout the course of the day, saying things like, “Oh, I see a bluebird on the window there. Isn’t she pretty? Do you hear her song?” Or, “It’s time to change your diaper now! I’m going to pick you UP! And now I’m going to put you DOWN!” It may seem silly or uncomfortable, but baby needs to hear words–all kinds of words. Reading to little ones is another way to expose them to a more expansive vocabulary. After all, one does not necessarily normally talk about hippos or alligators in the course of daily life. Reading to little ones helps them learn about new concepts.

So how do you read a board book if you cannot just read it straight through, as you might read a story yourself? Spend a lot of time on the pictures–especially for the smallest ones–and ask plenty of questions, even if baby cannot talk or answer for themselves yet. If you have a board book that just has images paired with a word, you can say things like, “What do you see on this page? I see a butterfly! What color is the butterfly? Have you ever seen a butterfly?” Pause after each question and, then respond as if baby has answered.

Once baby has grown a bit, you can add simple movements to your reading. For example, you might say, “I see a butterfly! Can you wave your arms like a butterfly?” Or maybe, “The horse is running across the grass. Let’s all kick our legs like we are running!” If you are learning concepts like shapes, you might have them try to trace the shape on the page or in the air.

Once little ones can answer, you can start asking more complex questions. You could say, “The cat is sitting on the chair. What sound does a cat make?” Or, “What did the girl’s brother do? How do you think the girl is feeling? How do you know? ” You can also start to build literacy skills like prediction by saying something like, “What do you think will happen next? Oh? That’s a good guess! Let’s turn the page and find out!”

As you read, you may find that you have to substitute simpler words for complex ones that young readers will not know. Or you may choose to skip all or part of the text and simply focus on the pictures, asking little readers what they see happening. That’s okay. The point of reading to babies and toddlers is not to say every word on the page. It is to familiarize them with more words, teach them new concepts, and teach them reading skills like anticipating what might happen next. Reading every word out loud is not necessary for this to happen.

Reading board books aloud does not have to be a challenge. Simply remember to focus on the pictures and ask plenty of questions. And, as with any skill, practicing will help you feel improve and feel more confident!

Word of Mouth Marketing: One Easy (and Free!) Way to Support the Library

We are big supporters of public libraries here at Pages Unbound and we have previously suggested easy and free ways for our readers to support their own public libraries. However, one way we have not previously mentioned specifically draws upon the unique skill set of of book bloggers: word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is basically any type of recommendation received from a friend or another trusted individual, rather than an paid advertisement or a plug from an organization on their website, social media pages, etc. It is the type of marketing that happens when you need to buy something and you start asking friends and coworkers what they have, whether they like it, and if they would recommend it or buy it again. But marketing does not just have to happen for things we purchase; it can be relevant for services like the public library, as well.

Book bloggers are really good at this type of marketing because we routinely read and analyze books, then write up detailed reviews assessing the pros and cons, saying which target demographics that book might particularly appeal to, and weighing whether the book was good enough that we can see ourselves rereading it or purchasing the sequel. In short, we assess a material and then try to match it with the kinds of people who would like it most. Book bloggers who are dedicated library users and who wish to help support their libraries can do the same thing by recommending library materials and services to people they meet whom they think can benefit from these services.

Why bother doing work of mouth marketing for the library?

Word of mouth marketing is important for libraries in particular because many are not working with large budgets. This has lead some to reduce library hours, cut their purchasing budgets, and, in some cases, lay off staff or simply not fill a position once someone has retired. In addition, many libraries rely on the labor of part-time employees because they cannot afford to pay full-time librarians. Libraries would love to serve more people, and get more excited voters who can help pass legislation increasing their budgets, but they do not always have the money for large-scale advertising campaigns. This makes their library users one of their most important ways to get the word out about what they offer.

Additionally, word of mouth marketing is important because many people trust it more than they trust paid advertisements. They may not even see paid advertisements if they are using an ad blocker or no longer pay for cable or a physical newspaper. And, if they are not dedicated library users already, they are probably not following the library social media channels or subscribed to any library e-newsletters. Many libraries rely on these free or cheap channels for advertising, but they are not reaching people who are not already going to the library, anyway. But, in the end, hearing an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend is more powerful, anyway. It feels more authentic to people because someone gushing about the library is not getting paid to do it. They really mean it.

Of course, these are reasons word of mouth marketing is important to help out cash-strapped libraries. Not necessarily a reason YOU personally should start thinking about doing some marketing for them. Perhaps the best reason is that talking about the library benefits everyone. It benefits the person who learns about a new service they can use. It benefits the library who gets more usage, more statistics, and potentially more money. This helps the library expand its offerings, thereby helping the community further. Because when the library is able to help more people in the community apply for jobs, complete homework, pass career tests, or learn a new language, the community is lifted up as a whole. Basically, talking up the library is a free and easy way to help people find accessible materials and information to pursue their goals and follow their dreams.

But doesn’t everyone already know about the library?

Not at all! In fact, there are dedicated library users who potentially go there every week–and they still may not know about everything the library has to offer. But there are also some people who may not know where the local library is, that it is free to access, or that it offers more than books these days. Spreading the word is important because, although we may assume everyone knows as much as we do about libraries, that simply isn’t always the case.

How effective is word of mouth marketing?

I don’t have any statistics on this, but I do have some personal anecdotes about how I have found marketing the library to be effective:

1) I was talking to someone who attended the local community college. She knew about the college library, but not that she could access movies and books for entertainment from the public library. I ended up explaining to her how she could apply for a free library card.

2) I was talking to a friend who read books regularly, both physical books and e-books. I would often run into him at the library itself. One day I casually mentioned that I had borrowed an e-book from the library. Even though he was a frequent library user, he had no idea he could borrow e-books from there, as well. I told him how to access them from the website.

3) A teacher friend was talking about her students. I told her the library had free tutoring available after school. The library did not really advertise this, so she had not known, even though, she too, regularly used the library, often to check out books for her classes. She advertised the service to her students.

4) I was talking to a friend and mentioned that the library had an adult summer reading program. The library does not advertise this extensively, but focuses only on its children’s program. She goes to the library all the time and had no idea. She signed up and ended up winning a gift card to a local restaurant. She took me out to lunch.

5) I was looking at my library’s Facebook page. Someone was complaining about not being able to read anything during the pandemic. Another user asked it they had tried the e-books yet. They had not. This person was a dedicated enough library user to follow their social media, but somehow still had no idea that the library offers digital materials–even though the library has been advertising them aggressively during the entire pandemic.

6) A friend was talking to a coworker trying to find entertainment during the pandemic. She asked about streaming services. He said he checks out DVDs from the library and sometimes streams them from the digital resources like Hoopla. This person did not previously know the library offers DVDS.

In many of these cases, I was already talking to a dedicated and even enthusiastic library user. However, they still did not know everything the library has to offer. I successfully marketed the library to them by explaining how the library offered a service that could meet their needs. And that’s really the key. I didn’t have to go around randomly shouting about the awesomeness of the library to all and sundry. I simply had to mention a service that would solve a problem the person had already mentioned they had.

How can book bloggers spread the word about libraries?

Talking about libraries is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here a few ways you can try, based on your interest and comfort level:

Casually mention a library service you are using.

For example, “I’m playing this awesome video game I got from the library!” Or, “I’m so excited the summer reading program started! I hope I win a cool prize!” Or, “I got this book using interlibrary loan and it came all the way from New Mexico! Isn’t that amazing?”

Ask a friend or coworker if they know about a service you think they would like.

For example, “I know you love reading comics. Have you tried checking them out from the library using Hoopla?” Or, “You listen to music all the time. Did you know the library has this service called Freegal that lets you download a couple free songs each week, to keep?” Or, “I know you said you are concerned about Timmy’s development. The library has an early childhood expert coming next week, if you are interested. I grabbed a flyer for you.”

Invite someone to attend a program with you.

Going to a new place or a new program alone can be intimidating for some people! Why not have a free night out with friends by asking if they would like to join you for something like a board game night or a craft night at the library? Bonus if the library is also providing snacks. Or advertise some of the children’s programs to your parents’ group.

Blog about library services.

As I mentioned above, not even avid library users know everything about the library. I discover something new all the time! So I like to blog about resources others may not know about. For instance, every couple years I remind people that they can typically request books from anywhere in the U.S. using the magic of interlibrary loan. I have also blogged about libraries who allow people to apply for a card from home (more common since the Covid-19 pandemic) and about library services focused on accessibility such as cards for people who are homeless or delivery for people who are homebound.

Share on social media.

Most book bloggers also have social media channels. Don’t forget to talk up library services and your library stories there, as well! It may reach people who do not regularly read or follow your blog. You can even do something simple like mention on your Bookstagram picture that your books are from the library, since some bloggers are not sure if it is okay to use library books for Bookstagram.

On your personal pages, you can post a picture of you having fun at the library. Or you can update friends on how close you are to completing the summer reading program. Or you can simply “like,” share, or repost programs or services that the library is offering. You really don’t need to invest a lot of time in spreading the word.

Reach out to your personal and professional connections.

If you know about a library service that will benefit a group you are in, let them know. Share early childhood programs with your parents’ group. If you are an educator, share resources like any online or in-person tutoring services or class-specific reference databases with your students, as well as your colleagues. If you are in a group that would benefit from a specific library service or database, reach out to the library and ask if someone can come present on those resources.

Wear some library swag!

If you are shy about talking up libraries, some library swag can be a great conversation starter! Wear a button, T-shirt, or pin from the library or purchase a library-branded tote if they have some available! Then simply wait for people to ask you about them!

Conclusion

Word of mouth marketing is a really easy way to spread some library love and help people you know in the process! Many would be thrilled to take advantage of library services and save some money if only they what is available to them. Most bloggers like to talk about books and the library, anyway. So, if you are looking for a way to support your library more, be a little more intentional about sharing your library enthusiasm with the people around you. It’s as simple as that!

How do you spread library love? Have you successfully marketed the library or its services to someone before?

I Want to See YA Books Treat College Applications More Realistically

When I read YA books, I sometimes get the sense that authors are not very familiar with today’s college application process. So often, they make it seem incredibly easy, as if all the protagonist has to do is pick their top school and apply. There are few mentions of “safety schools” or stories of rejection. And money? Somehow, all the protagonists who mention needing financial aid or scholarships seem to magically achieve a full ride. Are authors and publishers out of touch with the changing college landscape? Or are they simply desirous of giving characters a happy ending, no matter how realistic is it? Either way, I am not on board. I want to see stories of high school seniors going through a college application process that more closely resembles what actual teens may be going through.

One of my main pet peeves with how the college application is generally depicted is that so many protagonists seem to be intent on applying to Ivy League schools. I do not have any statistics on this, but Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia seem to be featured heavily. Other prestigious schools like Georgetown sometimes also appear. I do not know why this is–perhaps authors are just choosing schools with name recognition? But I would love to see authors feature more local schools or community colleges or even just schools they made up. Because it is not realistic that all these YA characters seem to be getting into such high-ranking schools.

It is not easy to get into an Ivy League college. A student cannot simply “work hard” or “get good grades” or “ace the SAT” and automatically get admitted into a top school like YA makes it appear (assuming the books mention grades at all). 43,330 students applied to Harvard’s class of 2023 and the school admitted 4.6%. Yale admitted 6.3% of applicants to the class of 2022. And Princeton admitted 5.8% of applicants to their class of 2023. Someone could be valedictorian, president of six clubs, and a star athlete, and still not be admitted to their top college choice with those odds. But YA books continue to write plotlines where protagonists dream of going to Harvard–and they almost always make it.

YA books also tend to make it appear like getting scholarships and financial aid is rather easy–and that these scholarships will inevitably cover the full cost of tuition. I do not think I have ever read a YA book where the protagonist was agonizing over taking out student loans or sad that the scholarship they received would barely make a dent in their tuition. In real life, however, I know plenty of people who received scholarships–sometimes multiple ones–and still graduated with debt. For perspective, the data from the class of 2018 shows that about 69% of college students took out loans. And the average student loan for the class of 2018 debt was $29,200. This means about only 31% of students will be loan-free or debt-free, but YA protagonists somehow always seem to be among this minority.

YA books also tend to ignore the details of actually applying to college. There is the agony, of course, of taking standardized tests, writing the application essay, filling out a bunch of forms, and trying to figure out all the financial aid papers. There is also the issue of application fees. Students normally need to pay just for the privilege of having someone look at their materials. Harvard, for example, currently charges $75 to apply and Yale charges $80 to apply. It would be refreshing to see some YA protagonists get upset about these outrageous fees, or go through the process of trying to apply for a fee waiver. However, I have not yet seen a single book even mention that these fees exist.

I understand that authors probably want their books to end somewhat happily, for the most part–YA readers usually want this, too. However, I think it would be not only realistic but also helpful for YA books to depict the college application process more accurately. It would give teens a clearer idea of what to expect, which would be particularly helpful for those who do not know anyone who has recently applied. They would have a clearer idea of the chances of getting into a prestigious institution, the cost to apply to a lot of schools, and the cost of actually attending. Financial literacy is not really taught in schools and many students probably are not equipped to calculate the return on investment of their college educations. It would be good for them to at least start thinking a little bit about the possibility of having to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt–and about whether their career path will actually enable them to repay it. Because, for most students, the chances of getting a full ride to their top choice is not anywhere near as likely as YA books make it seem.

What do you think? Do YA books depict the college application process accurately or realistically?

Should Library Summer Reading Programs Stop Awarding Prizes?

Every year, most libraries across the U.S. offer summer reading programs. These initiatives are meant to help prevent the summer slide, which is the loss of academic gains students can sustain over the course of the summer if they do not keep reading or engage in learning activities. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be most at risk, since they are less likely to be able to participate in learning activities such as going to summer camps or museums. The hope of libraries is that they can encourage children and teens to continue to be excited about reading, even when school is out, by offering incentives: so many pages or minutes read typically results in the participant winning a prize or perhaps a raffle ticket for the chance to win a prize.

Some libraries, however, are beginning to question the wisdom of handing out summer reading prizes. Some worry that giving out hundreds of cheap plastic toys is harmful to the environment, or at least annoying to parents. Such concerns inspired the “Read and Bead” program, in which libraries hand out different types of beads over the course of the summer so participants can create a necklace or a brag tag. Others, however, are more concerned that rewarding children for reading sends the wrong message and prevents them from learning how to enjoy reading for its own sake.

Research on whether rewards are “bad” and can prevent individuals from finding intrinsic motivation to do something that is good for them is mixed. This article from Slate, for instance, explains how some of the early research on rewards is not necessarily applicable to the ways in which caregivers typically use them. Later research, however, suggests that rewards can work because they help form habits, which people are likely to keep up even after the reward system ends. This suggests that children and teens who initially begin to read just for a chance to win a prize might indeed keep reading for themselves after the summer reading program has ended.

Personally, I love library summer reading programs because I think they do do an excellent job of creating excitement around reading. Many start with parties to kick off the summer and then feature big paid performers who attract audiences who might otherwise not visit the library. These events make reading seem cool and even normal–everyone is showing up to the library! Additionally, advertising incentives gets kids to sign up who might otherwise never sign up. They do not already have intrinsic motivation to read on their own and they are not going to get it just because some librarian tells them they should. Sometimes, saying, “But you can win a gift card!” is really what it takes to get someone started reading. Once they are reading, they have the chance to encounter a book they will love or maybe even change their life. But they may never get that chance if adults believe they need to be avid readers to begin reading in the first place.

I do not think offering incentives ruins the reading experience, either. I loved reading growing up and would spend hours each day in the summer curled up with a book. I also looked forward to the summer reading program, both because I loved winning prizes, and because I found it satisfying to list all my titles and see my record sheet grow. It was kind of like a precursor to the Goodreads challenge, which many adults enjoy. Earning prizes for something I loved to do never changed how I perceived reading. I never thought I had to stop reading if I was not going to get something in return.

The people who fear that offering incentives will harm children are coming from a good place, where they simply want the best for those children. However, I think, in this case, as in many others, sometimes the fear may prove overblown. Children tend to turn out all right, regardless of the mistakes the adults in their lives are sure to make. Offering some incentives for reading will probably not ruin anyone for life, but it might open the door to reading for some who might otherwise not try it at all.

What do you think? Should libraries hand out prizes for summer reading programs?

How Do You Change the Library?

Book lovers tend to also love libraries. But, sometimes, we can also see opportunities for improvement. We wish that the library would offer more resources, more books, more programs. Often, of course, libraries wish this, too. They may be prevented from doing everything staff can dream of because of budget constraints and limited staffing. However, the wonderful thing about libraries is that they are meant to serve the community. And that means community members get to have a voice in how the library is run. So, how can you advocate for change? Here’s a list to get you started.

You Have Purchase Suggestions

Most libraries have a form on their website or on site that you can fill out with your purchase ideas. So if you are upset that the library never seems to have the latest releases you want, you can try filling out the form. (If you don’t see a form anywhere, simply make your request at the help desk.) Most libraries will try to purchase what they can–after all, they want their materials to circulate and you’ve just suggested that this title will since someone was interested enough in it to suggest it. To increase your chances of getting what you want, keep in mind reasons your request might be denied: the material is too niche, the material is too old, the material is out-of-print, or the material is offered exclusively through a particular service like Audible or Netflix and the library is not allowed to buy it.

If you are looking for an e-book through Overdrive, Overdrive also has a “recommend” button you can use to suggest purchases. Simply type in the title of the book you want in the search bar. If it is not available, scroll down to the bottom of the page. The book title should be listed there. You click on it to recommend it. That’s it!

As a final note, Hoopla and Kanopy build their own catalogs; library staff are not in charge of purchasing for services like these. So make sure any suggestions you send in can be realistically purchased in the format you are requesting.

You Have Program Suggestions

Some libraries also have forms you can fill out to suggest programs. If yours does not, however, you can make your request in person to the appropriate department or you can send an email to that department. For example, if you think a bilingual story time would be a great idea, contact the youth services department. If you think your library should start a summer reading program for adults, contact the adult services department.

Keep in mind that many libraries may have limited staff and resources. So they want to know that if they do the work and spend the money to offer a new program, people will show up. Ideally, if you have multiple people interested in an idea, share that along with your proposal. So if you can promote the program to your parents’ group or if you intend to bring your daycare, let the library know. If your friends also want to participate in an adult summer reading program, get them to contact the library, too.

You Have Other Great Ideas

Sometimes you might have an amazing idea you think the library can implement. In this case, you have to consider who your audience is–that is, who has the ability to make the change you are suggesting. You can contact the appropriate department, the director of the library, or the library board.

The library board is typically comprised of a group of community members who set library policy and have control over their budget. Their meetings are open to the public and there should be a time set aside during the meeting for public comment. This is the place where you can suggest big, system-wide changes. Think something like going fine free. Even the library director cannot make a policy change like that without approval from the board.

Showing up in person for a big proposal will likely be more effective than dropping a note in the suggestion box. It shows that someone cares enough to show up and that they are not likely to go away if they are simply ignored. (I’m sure we have all had our emails ignored.) However, everyone has time constraints, so you can also consider email, snail mail, or social media as other ways to contact the library. Just make sure you follow up!

Have you ever contacted your library with a suggestion? What was the response? What tips do you have?

Should Public Libraries Close Their Buildings During the Covid-19 Pandemic? I Think So.

When libraries began closing their buildings and transitioning to digital services in March of 2020, many library patrons were initially supportive. However, as the months go by, an increasing number of people are wondering why the libraries had to close while grocery stores could remain open. Aren’t libraries “essential,” too? However, I believe there are some key differences between retail stores and libraries that make library workers understandably reluctant to open their doors.

Library patrons tend to stay in the building for long periods of time.

When people go to the store, they typically walk in, get what they need, and leave. They are generally not in close contact with anyone for an extended period of time. In contrast, many library patrons stay in the library for hours, if not all day. Patrons who are homeless, for instance, will often arrive when the building opens and leave when it closes. Adults will spend hours using the computers, whether that means searching for and apply for jobs, watching YouTube videos, or playing a movie. Students will hang out after school for hours until their parents come pick them up. Schools remaining closed and going virtual would make it even more likely that a large number of students would be at the library all day, using it for free childcare or homework purposes, while their parents work.

Since we now have evidence that the coronavirus is primarily airborne, that it can stay in the air for up to three hours, and that it can potentially be spread by air conditioning, it is understandable that library employees would be concerned about opening their buildings. Even if they tell patrons they can only stay in the building for a short period of time, who is keeping track? And will a patron nicely get up and leave after an hour if, say, they are still in the middle of trying to apply for unemployment? It really does seem safer to keep offering curbside when possible.

Library materials get returned and used by different people.

Stores are a little different from libraries in that most people touch what they want, buy it, and keep it. Libraries, however, encourage browsing. They are also built on a model where a bunch of people share the same item. To account for this, libraries started quarantining returned materials, usually for three days, though I have friends who say their libraries will quarantine materials anywhere up to a week. New information, however, has led my library to start quarantining for four days instead of three. New studies tested glossy pages on things like board books and magazines, causing recommendations to change.

Libraries had to take time to consider how to handle issues like the safe return and circulation of materials. And they had to consider that our understanding of the science behind the virus is currently in flux. I think it is therefore valid that they would close their doors, if necessary, to keep the public safe while trying to figure out best new practices.

Libraries are communal spaces full of things patrons like to touch.

Libraries are basically built to be full of germs, if you think about it. Their whole purpose is to gather as many people as possible into the space and then encourage them to share equipment and resources. Libraries had to close to have time to do things like remove all their shared toys from the children’s play area, rearrange the furniture for social distancing, replace furniture with models that can be more easily cleaned, and so forth. They also need time to think about things like how public computers can be safely shared, if they can feasibly acquire enough cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer, and so forth. They also have to contend with the reality that, again, the virus is primarily airborne. Disinfecting surfaces and hands helps because people do have a tendency to want to touch their faces. But it is not really going to protect anyone from something floating about in the air.

It is not easy to rethink your entire business model in two weeks. I support libraries closing their buildings if it gives them the time they need to remodel for increased public safety. As libraries reopen, patrons may start to see new signage, sneeze guards, rearranged furniture, and more. That all takes time to put in place.

Conclusion

I admit that the closure of my public library has been difficult. The library is the main place where I acquire all the books I read and the movies I watch. Without it, I was left wondering how I was supposed to stay home and keep busy when I had few resources available to me. The e-books were not initially a help, since the waitlists on certain titles were reaching up to six months long. However, I don’t value my desire to read new releases or to watch movies as more important than the lives in my community. Keeping the library buildings closed helps protect not only the library employees, but also everyone who would naturally gather there, assuming it is safe to stay and browse or use the computer for hours, either because they do not see the pandemic as a real threat or because they that assume that, if the building is open, that must mean being there is safe. I am sad the library buildings are closed, of course, but I understand and support it.

What do you think? Should the library buildings have closed? Should they still be closed now?