Ways to Support the Public Library During National Library Card Sign-Up Month

How to Support the Public Library

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month in the U.S.! And that means it is the perfect time to discuss all the ways to help support your local public library, and all the ways that supporting the library also helps individuals. More support means more funding, which means even better libraries!

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At the Library

Sign up for a library card!

Libraries keep track of card sign ups and report on what percentage of eligible people are cardholders. These stats help them advocate for more funding. Plus, now you have a library card and can enjoy all that the public library has to offer!

Attend an event.

Libraries also keep track of how many programs they hold and how many people attended, to demonstrate their continued relevancy. Attend a program to help library stats. Plus, you will have the fun of having attending the event and meeting new people! Make sure to attend programs you are particularly interested in, since organizations are likely to look at attendance numbers to decide what types of programs to keep investing staff time and effort in.

Ask a question at the reference desk.

If you have ever asked a librarian a question and then seen them make a quick tally mark or open a Google doc, that’s because they also track how many reference questions they answer. So if you have a question you can’t answer, instead of leaving disappointed, ask a librarian! They will help you find what you need, and they’ll get the stats.

Donate books.

Not sure what to do with your old books? See if your library will take them either to add to the collection or to sell. Just make sure your books are in good condition, and that you are following their donation guidelines. Sadly, not every volume can be sold–if it is out of date or moldy, for example, no one is likely to want it.

Read: Is It Ever Okay to Get Rid of a Book?

Shop the used booksale.

Donate money to the library while buying yourself some cheap books!

Don’t reshelve the materials you viewed but chose not to check out.

This is, yes, partly because some people will put the books in the wrong place (even if they firmly believe they are putting them away correctly). But it is also because libraries count the books that were used in the building. Each time you put your books in the designated area, the staff scan them and collect the statistics. Every statistic helps libraries advocate for more funding, so don’t feel guilty about putting your books on the appropriate cart or table instead of back on the shelf.

Clean up the toys you used in the children’s section.

This may be confusing, but while you should not reshelve the books, you should put away any toys you and/or your children played with. I have heard some libraries count the number of people they see using the play area, but they are probably not sending stats to their local leaders on how many times they had to pick up the blocks each day. Help the staff out by keeping the area tidy, and help keep other patrons safe so they do not trip over any scattered toys.

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Online

Follow your public library on social media.

Boost your library’s follower count, while also keeping yourself informed about any fun programs or services they are offering!

Like or share the library’s posts, if you feel so inclined.

You can help boost the library’s stats and help your friends and family at the same time, by passing on information about materials or services others might find useful

Pass along any programs, giveaways, services, or events that you think friends or family might find useful.

You don’t need social media to pass on information about the library! If you know someone who is looking for a tutor, and you know the library has tutoring services, let them know. If you know someone who needs help with a resume or a cover letter, why not tell them about the databases that could help? Very often, supporting the library actually means supporting the people who could benefit from library services, but who don’t know about everything the library offers.

Take photos of yourself using the library so all your friends and family can see what they’re missing out on! Consider: you posing with a new library card, you getting a haul of books, you attending a fun program, and more!

Many people still think the library is “just books,” or that it is boring and not for them. Why not show people that the library is fun? And for everyone!

Invite a friend or family member to go to a library program with you.

Enjoy a free night out by going to a library program! As far as I can tell, the same few people attend all the library programs. But other people could benefit, as well! I love inviting friends and family to programs with me so that they can see what the library offers. Many people are hesitant to try new things alone, so inviting people allows them to experience the library, get comfortable there, and maybe go back later! They often could benefit from library resources; they just have not thought of using them until I showed them.

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While Blogging

Write about your favorite library memories.

Libraries sometimes get bad publicity from individuals who do not see their usefulness, or from people who are annoyed about their libraries being underfunded. Why not focus on the positive and remember some of the good things libraries provie?

Write about your favorite library resources.

People who use the library often sometimes assume that everyone knows about the library as much as they do. But this is not the case! Even avid library users may not be aware of everything the library has to offer. So talk up your favorite resources! You just might be giving the information to someone who needed to read it!

Share your secret library tips.

Many people go to the library, browse, and leave. But there is so much more the library has to offer! Share your tips for getting the most out of the library.

Post photos of any library swag you have.

Everyone loves book swag! Put a twist on this popular photo idea by showcasing some library swag.

Share your library holds list (a spin on the popular TBR list post).

Sometimes book blogging can feel very consumerist. But you don’t need to spend tons of money to participate in fun challenges or post photos. Use your library’s collection instead!

Write a book haul post featuring library books or books from the library book sale.

Again, you don’t need to drain your bank account to participate in popular book blogger post such as a haul video. Instead of buying twenty books, consider showing off your library haul! This can help, too, because some people still think libraries only house research books or classics. Let them know that popular books can be borrowed, too!

Tweet about a library service you have used lately (ex. Libby/Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Ancestry, etc.)

Even people who are aware of certain resources may not know how to use them, or may only know some of the basics. Share your expertise by explaining how to use a library resource. Or, you can do something fun like read a bunch of books suggested by NoveList–and then post about how well you think the algorithm worked. Spread the word so people who might need these services know not only to check to see if their local library offers them, but also know how to get started.

Share photos of crafts you have made at the library.

Crafts from the library are one thing I know that everyone seems really interested in. Craft materials are not cheap, so when I show off the cool things I have made at the library, people always want to know more.

Share tours of libraries you visit.

Every book lover wants to visit the library from Beauty and the Beast, right? Well, there are some real life libraries that feel like they are just as magical! I love reading posts about other libraries, and I’m sure many others do, as well!

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Conclusion

While this post is about to support the local library, the real magic is that supporting the library often really means supporting one’s self and others in the community. Libraries offer so much from books to homework help to research databases to computer classes to crafts and career help. Getting a library card, attending a program, or spreading the word gives the library more users and more stats so they can ask for more funding for these initiatives. But the real benefit is to the people using the services–the people who would not be able to complete their resume or do their homework or read a book without the public library. Supporting the public library means that everyone wins!

What are your suggestions on how to support the public library?

Some Research to Ponder about Book Piracy

Some Research to Ponder on Book Piracy

In the book blogosphere, on Book Twitter, and on BookTok, it has become common for people to argue that e-book piracy is not immoral or harmful, and that book lovers should actually support the practice since not everyone can afford books. The argument is often based on the assumptions that e-book piracy does not have an impact in the real world (like stealing a physical item would), that few people do it, and that the people who do engage in piracy are impoverished and incapable of acquiring books legally–either because they do not have access to libraries or because they cannot acquire ARCs. Most of these assumptions are demonstrably false, however, if one engages in a little research.

E-book piracy does have real world consequences that affect both the bottom line of publishers and authors, and their ability to produce more books. E-book piracy is estimated to cost U.S. publishers $300 million dollars each year, a 2019 Forbes article reports, noting that other countries face similar problems. The UK Intellectual Property Office reported in 2017, for instance, that 17% of e-books were consumed illegally. This is not an insignificant amount of stolen property!

And despite the popular take that no book pirates were going to purchase the book anyway, these pirated e-books are often lost sales, as YA fantasy author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrated in 2017 when she shared a personal example of how e-book piracy made her publishers believe her work was no longer popular. The result was a reduced print run for the final book in Stiefavater’s Raven Cycle, and the almost death of what is now the Dreamers Trilogy set in the same world. Stiefvater managed to show, however, that many of those who were unable to pirate copies were able and willing to buy the book. When pirated copies of The Raven King were not immediately available online, her fans complained about having to purchase the book instead, and the print run sold out practically overnight. The sales Stiefvater, suggests, were what convinced her publishers to give the Dreamers Trilogy a chance.

Many in the book blogging community argue that e-book piracy is performed only by teenagers with no spending cash or by the desperately poor, but research indicates otherwise. A Nielsen consumer study conducted in 2017 found that 70% of e-book pirates had a college degree or higher, that they were generally between the ages of 30 and 44, and that their incomes were between $60,000 and $99,000. In other words, the average e-book pirate is a highly educated adult making more than the U.S. average salary. The widespread assumption that e-book piracy is committed primarily by the poor is not only false, but also hurtful–those with less income should not automatically be assumed to be engaging in theft!

In a way, though, in sort of makes sense that people with higher incomes would be the ones engaging in book piracy, because they are the ones more likely to have the means to pirate books in the first place. Downloading e-books requires internet access, a device to read the e-books on, and the free time and stability to read the e-books. The 2021 Pew Research Center “Internet/Broadband Factsheet,” for instance, notes that about 75% of Americans have broadband internet access at home now, but those with less education and less income are less likely to have it. Their stats show that 87% of those making $50,000 to $74,999 have broadband access at home, and 92% of those making $75,000 and up have broadband at home. But only 57% of those making less than $30,000 have broadband access at home. Some people could, of course, be relying solely on their smartphone, but only 27% of those making under $30,000 said they used a smartphone despite not having broadband access at home.

People with lower incomes are not only less likely to have access to broadband access at home, but also less likely to own any sort of device that they could download e-books to. In June 2021, Emily A. Vogels reported on the Pew Research site in an article called Digital divide persists even as Americans with lower incomes make gains in tech adoption that of those making less than $30,000 a year, 24% said they do not own a smartphone, 41% do not own a laptop or desktop computer, and 59% do not own a tablet. In contrast, of those making between $30,000 and $99,000, 87% own a smartphone, 84% own a desktop or laptop, and 53% own a tablet. Those making $100,000 or more nearly all reported owning a digital device of some kind.

Finally, the data from the Pew Research Center on who is less likely/more likely to read also seems to align with the statistics on book piracy. The Pew Research Center’s 2021 article “Who Doesn’t Read Books in America?” shows that people who make under $30,000 a year and who did not earn a college degree are more likely to report not having read a book in the past month. So the research stating that book pirates tend to be highly educated individuals with higher incomes makes sense. These are the people with access to internet and digital devices, and who report that they are reading more often.

The narrative in the bookish community often says that book piracy is a necessity for those who cannot afford books. But the data suggests that the people doing the most book pirating are not the most impoverished and not teens, but rather adults with an annual income between $60,000 and $99,000. And Maggie Stiefvater’s experiment suggests that many book pirates would pay for a book they really wanted to read, if piracy were not so easy. The numbers given above pertain mostly to the U.S., but perhaps similar trends might be found globally, with those with less income finding it more difficult to obtain the internet access and digital devices necessary to download e-books illegally. It’s something to think about as book bloggers and influencers continue to promote book piracy.

Nine False “Facts” People Have Used to Explain Why They Don’t Use U.S. Public Libraries

False Reasons People Give to Not Use the Public Library

Oftentimes library lovers assume that everyone already knows about the library, and that everyone must use it and appreciate it as much as they do. But even though libraries are still a trusted and much-used part of life in the U.S., many people hold false ideas of what libraries are and how they operate, that prevent them from ever walking in the door. Below are a few reasons I have heard people give for why they do not use the library. If you have heard the same, consider finding ways to spread more information about libraries so more people can take advantage of these great resources!

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The library does not carry any new releases.

I hear this all the time. People think they need to go to a bookstore to acquire the latest releases. While budget concerns may restrict the number of books a library can buy, public libraries in the U.S. do, in fact, buy current titles and do not stock only classics and textbooks. These new books are even set aside on a special shelf labeled “NEW” so people can easily locate and browse them. Additionally, most libraries also offer a Purchase Request form that you can fill out to ask that the library buy any specific title you might want to check out.

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The library does not offer e-books to borrow.

I have met avid e-book readers who did not know that U.S. public libraries offer e-books that can be checked out. I even read online complaints during the height of the pandemic criticizing libraries for not offering e-books, even though most libraries were putting a lot of energy into advertising their e-book collections while library buildings were closed. Just go to the library website and you should be able to find the options available for e-book borrowing. Common apps are Libby/Overdrive and Hoopla.

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The library cannot beat streaming movies at home.

Many public libraries now offer online services/apps that enable patrons to borrow and stream movies at home. Go to the library website and look for apps like Kanopy and Hoopla. Because these platforms charge libraries for each borrow, patrons are typically allotted a certain number of borrows each month. The balance resets again the next month. But there are also some movies/content that users can borrow without it counting against their monthly allotment. And the Kanopy Kids content is unlimited.

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People must pay to get a library card.

It seems like common knowledge that getting a library card is free, yet I have to tell people all the time that there is no charge! Please, please do your friends and family a favor and let them know that setting up a card will cost them nothing. Just getting the card is often the first and biggest hurdle for people. But, once they have one, the possibilities of what they can do with it are nearly endless!

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People must have and show a valid library card to enter the front door/sit in the library.

I am truly baffled by the number of people I have seen enter the library door, march up to the front desk, and flash their card while announcing loudly, “I am a member! I have a card!” Public libraries in the U.S. do not card people to come in, browse, or sit. But I have friends of friends who have never set foot in a library because they truly believe someone is going to stop them and demand some sort of identification.

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Using the library is going to cost a lot of money.

Probably not. It is true that borrowing a large number of materials and never returning them will result in a hefty bill to replace said items. However, an increasing number of libraries are going fine free. This means that, once the items are overdue, there is usually some sort of grace period for the items to be returned. An overdue fine might appear on the account during that time, and card privileges could be suspended until that fine disappears (if the fine is high enough). To make the fine disappear, a person need only bring back the overdue materials–and the fine is waived. In short, before assuming that overdue fines are going to destroy you, check the library website or give the library a call to determine if overdue fines are even charged there.

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The library does not have a Summer Reading program for adults.

Many U.S. public libraries do! Not all, of course, and they are usually less elaborate than the programs for the children. But it is still worth checking the library website or asking at the desk to see if you might be eligible to win some prizes for reading over the summer.

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The librarians are silently judging one’s book choices.

A few people recently told me that they don’t like to use the library because people can see what they are reading. But most libraries I have been to are somewhat understaffed due to budget issues, and the library is busy enough that staff are often trying to help two or three people at the same time. It seems unlikely to me that what book someone is reading would be their biggest concern. But, of course, some people do like a bit more privacy. And they might be checking out some books on sensitive topics. In this case, many libraries now have a self check-out station, so you can get your books judgment free.

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College students cannot use the public library, only the school library.

False! Public libraries allow college and university students to get cards, even if they only live in the dorms part of the year. Some libraries have special student cards for this. Others just hand out their normal cards. Call ahead to ask what you need to bring, but it is usually a valid photo ID with your current address. If your ID shows a different address than the college address you are living at, also bring a piece of mail with that college address.

What are some misconceptions you have heard about the public the library?

I Don’t Find the Advertising Phrase “As Seen on BookTok” Meaningful

Advertising Phrase As Seen on Book Talk Not Meaningful to Me

The power of BookTok has become a publishing industry truism. As early as the start of 2021, news outlets have been celebrating the platform’s power to sell books.  The New York Times reported in March 2021 that short videos of people crying could make books go viral. Other articles about BookTok use phrases like “reshaping the book world” and “revitalizing the publishing industry.” There are even stories like Alex Aster’s, who pitched her rejected book concept to BookTok, and subsequently gained a six-figure book deal for her title Lightlark, as well as a movie deal–once publishers saw that BookTokkers were interested. The idea that BookTok can launch a book onto the bestseller list–even a backlist title–has caused publishers to rush to stamp their books as BookTok approved. Even Barnes & Noble has tables dedicated solely to advertising books popular on BookTok. But I still wish publishers and booksellers would stop using the phrase, “As Seen on BookTok” to market titles.

The issue that I see with the phrase, “As Seen on BookTok,” is that, to me, it does not fundamentally mean anything. Tiktok has millions of users. They all presumably have different tastes in books. They are not using any shared set of criteria to highlight books that they perceive to be “the best” (whatever that means). The phrase basically just means that a bunch of people liked a book. But we do not really know why they all liked it. NPR says BookTok likes books that are “passionate and emotional,” which seems kind of vague and like it could describe any number of books. I am not ultimately sure why I should read a book just because someone told me a bunch of people on a specific platform made videos about it.

Additionally, any number of other phrases could suggest the same thing–that a large amount of people liked a book. One could, in this vein, advertise books that are on the NYT bestseller list or that “have tons of Goodreads reviews” or that “are big on Instagram.” Publishers and booksellers do typically note bestsellers. But they do not use phrases like, “As seen on Bookstagram,” or, “As seen on Book Twitter.” Why pick just one platform to use as an advertising strategy? Presumably publishers think saying, “BookTok,” is magical in a way that referencing, “Bookstagram,” is not. And maybe it is. But, personally, I do not usually want to read a book just because a large number of people have recommended it. I might read a book because reviewers I trust recommend it. But numbers alone are not usually enough.

Finally, I do not find the phrase, “As seen on BookTok” meaningful because, as someone not on BookTok, I do not really know how many people actually recommended it/how popular it truly is. How is the data acquired to determined what is popular enough to go on a list of trending titles? Does one just go to the BookTok tag and count the number of times a certain title is mentioned? Could one just have a feeling about how often certain titles seem to pop up in one’s feed? Could the algorithm be promoting a bunch of the same titles in people’s feeds, but obscuring other titles because they did not use trending audio or something? And what’s stopping someone from making a table or list of “BookTok trending” titles that just has random books on it that they want to promote? Is anyone even going to check that the title is (or was) really trending somewhere?

Certainly there must be some metrics there–for instance we can see that popular BookTok titles often end up on the bestseller list. But I am truly confused as to how it all works. Does one need to be on BookTok to “get” it? And if one does need to on BookTok to understand the trends and how they happen, why is the, “As seen on BookTok,” advertising necessary? Would not have one already…seen it trending on actual BookTok?

Maybe I’m just not cool enough to understand why saying something is trending on one particular platform should make me buy a product. To me, there are all sorts of readers with all sorts of tastes out there, even on BookTok and it seems weird to suggest that the platform is a giant, unified entity with curation criteria and skills, when it’s really just a collection of people who presumably have different opinions. Yes, if I see a book that everyone seems to be talking about, my interest might be piqued. But a little sticker on a book or a sign on a display table assuring me that a bunch of people out there, somewhere, are making videos about a book is not enough to make me spend my money on that book. I would prefer to see the actual reviews, and read the actual summary, and have a sense of what the book is about and why people like it. I don’t find it helpful only to be told that an unspecified number of people are talking about it somewhere online.

What do you think? Does the phrase, “As seen on BookTok,” mean anything to you? Do you pick up titles solely because you have been told they are popular on BookTok?

Why I’m Excited about The Rings of Power–Even Though I Wasn’t Planning on Watching

The announcement that Amazon would be creating a sort of prequel to the Lord of the Rings films was met with a fair bit of controversy. Some fans were skeptical that a mega corporation could do justice to a beloved work. Others feared the rumors that the show was to be a competitor to Game of Thrones, with the same level of violence and sex. I had many reservations of my own, and was largely determined to ignore the show if it turned out a disappointment–not really difficult since I don’t pay for Prime! However, as many early reviews seem promising, and as many Tolkien scholars seem to think the show attempts to capture the spirit of Tolkien’s work, I find myself getting more excited about the show–even though I still don’t have Prime. Why? Because The Rings of Power has the world talking about Tolkien again!

The Rings of Power admittedly does seem to me like it will be some sort of Tolkien fan fiction. Although the show is supposed to depict the Second Age of Middle-Earth, the showrunners do not have the rights to the books that contain the bulk of Tolkien’s writings on this time period–The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-Earth. Instead, they have to rely on the references and summaries contained in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both set in the Third Age of Middle-Earth. In other words, the showrunners have an outline and rather have to make up the rest. I have longed for a TV series adaptation of The Silmarillion for years, so it is a bit of a disappointment that not all the events and characters may able to be represented in detail as Tolkien described them. And yet–the show has people interested in the Second Age. It has new readers opening up The Silmarillion. It has reignited a fandom.

Of course, for many of us, the Tolkien fandom never did go away. But one has to admit that, typically, enthusing wildly about Tolkien in public may or may not garner an equally enthusiastic response. When acquaintances get to talking about books, I always say that Tolkien is my favorite author in a too-casual kind of way, to gauge their response. No point in scaring people off by waxing poetically about how Tolkien’s works changed my life, right? Not until they have signaled that they might feel the same. But things are different now. Everyone is talking about Tolkien again. Or, if they are not, bringing up this new show everyone seems to be interested in is a good place to get people started talking.

Indeed, several of my friends and acquaintances in the past week or so have brought up Rings of Power themselves, even though they are not Tolkien fans. Some of their descriptions of what they think happened in The Lord of the Rings and how they think this new show relates to The Lord of the Rings are delightfully absurd, in a way that suggests that they actually have little or no interest in Tolkien and probably could not distinguish his work from any other author’s. I think that’s great! They are not avid Tolkien fans yet. But they are dipping their toes in. They see something that interests them. If we are fortunate, the Tolkien fandom will grow!

But it is not only entirely new fans who are learning more about Tolkien. Many avid Tolkien fans for various reasons are familiar mostly with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some Tolkien fans likely thought that was all Tolkien ever wrote. But The Rings of Power has created an enthusiasm for the Second Age. People are asking about how best to read The Silmarillion, and cracking it open for the first time. Reading groups and book discussions are being formed. Articles are being written to explain Tolkien’s legendarium. A part of Tolkien’s history that, for too long, was spoken of as inaccessible for the average reader is being made accessible.

So, of course, I’m excited for The Rings of Power–even though I have not watched it yet. The release marks a boom of interest in Tolkien. Articles. Discussions. Reviews. Merchandise–if we are lucky! The Tolkien fandom never went away. But it is always special to be able to share it with so many enthusiastic people at the same time. I will be using this moment to talk about Tolkien as much as I can.

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Is the “Library of the Future” One without Books?

On a recent trip, I visited one of the newest libraries in the area. I had heard others speak highly of this library, and had the general impression that it was comparatively large and equipped with all the latest technology and other cool features that could draw people in. To my surprise, then, I found myself in a largeish building that looked more like a conference center than a library. And, even though the summer reading program was in full swing, there seemed to be only three other people in the building–not counting the lone family who had shown up to what seemed to be a very high-energy children’s program. Most concerningly, the collection seemed rather small for the space.

I had many conflicting thoughts about this visit, but my prevailing emotions were disappointment tinged with a bit of dismay. When people had excitedly talked about this new library, I had envisioned something quite different. A modern building that would, of course, take into account the changing needs of the community and the changing role of the public library–an organization that often serves more as computer lab/community center/rec center/social services than it does as the time-honored repository of information. But also a building that would have what is arguably still the cornerstone of the public library, the one thing that other organizations do not tend to replicate in their own offerings–books.

Because the building itself seems comparatively large to other libraries, I think that community members might be under the impression that there really are a lot of books in this library. I would be interested to know, however, if there are actually more books than are housed in other libraries in the area. About a quarter of the building seemed dedicated to large meeting rooms, along with a conference center-style hallway and information booth (all empty). Then there were the two empty computer labs, the empty MakerSpace, and probably four different sitting areas designed to look cozy or modern, depending on one’s preference. The aisles were large and spacious. The books were…there. In the middle. On shorter than standard-sized shelves. I truly believe that if one were to count all the books, there would not be more than one would find in a tiny one-room neighborhood branch. Most of the space was empty, to give that modern-architecture feel.

Of course, many people–especially librarians–have a lot of thoughts about the role of libraries. Many people–even librarians–have argued that books no longer matter, and that books are not what people want. A lot of people would prefer to see libraries turn into social services centers, where people are provided with food, shelter, showers, and medicine. Books do not seem to be in vogue, do not seem to be trendy enough to get libraries the funding they so desperately need. And, so, libraries have become innovative at expanding beyond offering accessibility to knowledge and information and instead offering everything. If the library thinks a thing will get people in the door, they will do it.

I am one of those old-fashioned curmudgeons, however, who still believes that books matter and that equal access to knowledge and information is something to be celebrated. Meeting rooms for the public are nice, as are physical education classes, concerts, art classes, notaries, and passports. However, a lot of these services are offered by other organizations in the community. And, honestly, if I am thinking about taking a yoga class or attending a concert or getting something notarized, I usually think of other places first–the local parks and rec programs, concert halls, or just a plain old notary. I don’t check the library website first when I want live music or a painting class.

I check the library website for books, DVDs, CDs, and databases because these are specific things that I associate predominantly with the public library, and I know the library carries them and they carry them all the time. I view the programs calendar to see what is being offered, yes, but the selection tends to be random, and I just go to anything that happens to be of interest. I don’t check the library events calendar when I want something very specific like a concert because the odds of there being a concert that week or that month are low. And the odds are low because the library isn’t a concert hall, after all. If I want a wide variety of performance options–different dates, times, and genres–I need to look at an organization whose primary mission is promoting the arts. (And, yes, many organizations have these concerts free–so the library is not necessarily offering me anything I can’t find elsewhere.) That’s not to say the library is not doing something worthwhile, only that when libraries expand services, they sometimes end up replicating existing ones. And they arguably undergo a bit of an identity crisis.

Even as we celebrate all the wonderful services libraries provide, I believe that most people still associate the public library with books, magazines, DVDs, music, and databases–that is, with the library collection. A large number of people also associate the library with free computer and internet access. And a diminishing number of people probably still call the library with reference questions since librarians still market themselves as information professionals. Anything beyond that, however, is rather a bonus! The whole idea of a library, the very definition of a library, is a collection of materials. The books and other materials are the heart of the library! The collection is the thing that makes the public library different from every other local organization!

And the collection is not something that is useless or obsolete. Need to study for the SAT? Check out a book for the local school’s summer reading homework? Find information on the law? Research how to start a small business? Find credible sources for a paper? Learn how to start a new hobby? Read up on how to do a home improvement project? Try a new recipe or diet? Research a medical condition or prescription? Access free information on nearly any topic imaginable? Maybe unwind, destress, and relax with an entertaining book or movie? You can do that at the local library and you can do it with the collection. The collection still matters!

Yet, I visited this new, trendy library and I saw a building where the books seemed like an afterthought. Plenty of space was given to areas where people could meet up or hang out, and the general vibe was that the building really wanted to be a community center that kind of happened to have some books, too, if you’re into that sort of thing. And it’s worrisome! When even libraries do not believe that library collections matter, when even librarians seem to think that books just aren’t cool anymore, I believe the library as a library is in trouble. Yes, we might get an amazing new recreation center, but that is not the same thing.

So, is this where libraries are headed? Will more space be opened up for meeting rooms and computer labs, and less space given to books? Will collections shrink? I really hope not! I still love going to the library to check out books–and I don’t think I’m alone! Ideally, I would live in a world where recreation center and libraries both exist, and libraries do not disappear in favor of becoming something else.

What do you think? Should libraries shrink their book collections?

How I Judge and Review Books for Children (Discussion)

We love middle grade books here at Pages Unbound. Krysta and I both think novels in this age category are immensely creative and have a lot of range; they can be fun and quirky, but they can also address difficult issues ranging from bullying to parental drug use to the patriarchy. This category addresses issues with thought and care, but often isn’t as dark as YA or adult, and it also seems a bit less susceptible to authors writing to trends. For all my love of middle grade, however, I sometimes struggle with the balance of looking at the books as a adult vs. looking at them as a child (the actual target audience) might.

To that end, my reviews of middle grade books often lay out my struggle explicitly. I will say that I thought a point was underdeveloped or that part of the book didn’t make sense to me, and then I evaluate whether I think I as a child would have noticed or cared, or whether children in general would notice or care. Most of the time, I conclude the target audience would not see the same flaws I do as an adult, and it’s because I know from rereading books I loved as a child that I see them differently now that I’m older.

I was a voracious reader when I was young, and there are a lot of books I have picked up again and again. Some have withstood the test of time for me, while others have not. For instance, Anne of Green Gables was and still is one of my very, very favorite books. I have read it dozens of times, and I am struck by how good it is every time I read it. On the other hand, The Chronicles of Narnia have not held up for me (sorry for the sacrilege, C. S. Lewis fans). I reread the whole series (minus The Last Battle, which I could never really get into) many times as a child. I liked to play and pretend I was in Narnia. I watched the movies. I was obsessed. But when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a adult, the book felt very sparse! So much about the book and the world of Narnia was things I had imagined into it as a child, and I didn’t see those same things when I grew up. It’s a book I would have given 5 stars as ten year old but would likely give 3 if I’d first read it when I was older.

The Narnia example makes me particularly sensitive to middle grade books that seem “underdeveloped” to me as an adult, however. This always strikes me as a flaw, but I know with certainty I would not have cared as a child. I would have taken the characters and the world the author sketched out and thought and daydreamed and made them my own. I would not have thought the book was lacking.

Yet there are flaws I do think I would have seen as a child. For instance, I recently read a book where the characters are in a room that’s on fire. They manage to escape through a trap door, and then breathe a sigh of relief they are safe. This makes NO SENSE! If one room in a building is on fire, then the whole building is essentially on fire, and you need to leave the building, not just the room! Kids know this. They do fire drills and have presentations on fire safety in schools. Kids would probably be the first to leave a public space if a fire alarm when off somewhere, while the adults milled about wondering if there were really a fire and they really had to exit. So this is a plot point I think would strike both adult and child readers as illogical.

I don’t think there’s really a “perfect” way for me to judge books that are clearly targeted at readers much younger than I am (and I don’t even want to get into rating the book), but I do my best to think about not only what my reaction is now, but also what my reaction likely would have been as a child.

What do you think? How do you approach judging middle grade books (Or young adult or picture books?)

Briana

It’s Time to Stop Telling People They Aren’t “Real Readers”

It's Time to Stop Telling People They Aren't "Real Readers"

The bookish community often has strong opinions about what really “counts” as reading. Heated conversations emerge frequently on Twitter about whether listening to audiobooks is “real reading,” if graphic novels and comics are “really books,” and if graphic novels should be “allowed” to be counted towards one’s personal Goodreads challenge. These controversies seem to arise because some people feel that it is somehow inherently unfair for others to say they are reading if they think the book in question is easier than a book they have read, or shorter than a book they have read.

The question we need to ask ourselves, though, is why it would even matter if someone read a shorter or an easier book than someone else, or if a person “actually listened” to the book instead of reading it with their eyes. There is no prize for reading the most books or the hardest books or the books with the fewest pictures! There is literally nothing at stake here, nothing that someone who “read more” could be deprived of by someone who “wasn’t really reading.” When controversies over what “counts” as reading happen, I think it is beneficial to consider why we are reading at all. What is the end goal of our reading? What do we want to accomplish? Articulating why we read can shed light on why it typically does not matter what anyone else is reading, or what they count towards their reading goals.

Many of these attitudes about what really “counts” as reading arise, I fear, from how reading is taught in schools. Because teachers have an end goal that says students should be reading on grade level by the end of the school year, they may encourage students to try reading longer or harder books, so that the students can advance in their literacy skills. Or they may encourage students to try reading a book without pictures instead of only graphic novels. Or to try reading a book without the aid of audio. Some teachers might unthinkingly even try to encourage students to meet these goals by saying things like, “Read a real book! No more comics!” Statements that students might internalize and hold on to, even years after they graduate.

Teachers might also rank students as “good” or “bad” readers based on the types of books they are reading, how fast they are reading, and how many pages they are reading–and these assessments of reading skill are sometimes made semi-public through what is known as leveling readers. Some readers never seem to let go of the idea of leveling, needing to prove over and over again that they are a “good” reader, and that they are reading more, better, and faster than the competition.

There is, however, nothing inherently wrong with reading shorter or easier books, or reading books with pictures or listening to an audiobook. It is just that, when students are learning to read, they may sometimes need to be encouraged to try something new or harder, so they can master skills that will allow them to engage with more complex texts. Not everything in life comes with illustrations or an audio option, so teachers want to try to give students the tools they will need to understand the types of texts they might encounter later–college textbooks, prescriptions, legal documents, employment documents, etc. So, the end goal in school often is to challenge one’s self with harder and more complex texts for the sake of gaining important literacy skills that can help with real-world scenarios.

It is important to remember, though, that the adults in the bookish community are, for the most part, no longer in school, unless it is for college or a post-graduate degree. Every adult in the online bookish community can reasonably assumed to have already gained basic literacy skills. They know how to read! The end goal for adults reading is typically not to prove mastery of a certain text or certain literacy skills. Their purposes may vary, but they are probably along the lines of reading for entertainment and relaxation, culture, or information.

What an individual chooses to read for fun, or to keep up with the latest pop culture craze, does not really matter! It does not matter if they are reading “fluff” or short stories or comic books, or listening to audiobooks! If they are reading to acquire information, it also does not matter what format they use to acquire it. The end goal of engaging in an enjoyable hobby or learning something new is being met by whatever the individual chooses to read, and it is not anyone else’s place to tell them that their reading does not “count.” Count towards what?? There is no hierarchy of readers out in the real world, no gold-star readers, no readers moved up to the special “advanced class.” There is no leveling. There are just readers, and all are welcome!

Of course, it is true that sometimes adults do show that their reading comprehension could be improved. Finding instances of reviewers or Twitter users who completely misunderstood or misinterpreted a book is not hard to do. And we should not discount that negative real-world impacts can arise from reviewers who misinterpret a text. Ideally, however, this is an opportunity for literary discourse to work the way it is meant to work–with people respectfully advancing interpretations of the text rooted in actual textual evidence.

And yet, notably, when people on the internet accuse others on the internet of not “really reading,” most often, they are not referring to reading comprehension skills or critical thinking skills at all. The focus tends to remain on aspects of a book that do not necessarily reflect its complexity or depth: the page count, the inclusion (or not) of illustrations, and the format (audio or physical). Sometimes, people might get hung up on the age range of a book, saying for instance that adults should stop reading YA. To me, this suggests that many people have learned from school that the point of reading is just to…read a lot? The most? The heftiest tomes one can find? The books that will impress others? The idea that reading well might include things like be able to understand, explain, and analyze what one has read, and that the point of reading might go beyond being able to brag about the number of books on one’s Goodreads challenge are not ideas that seem in vogue, at least not on book Twitter.

The American education system has apparently, and most regrettably, taught a lot of readers that the main point of reading is to prove that one is on or above grade level, or at the very least, reading above one’s peers. This concept seems hard for many to let go of, even once they are out of school, are no longer being leveled, and have no reason to compare their reading achievements with anyone else’s. If this is the main takeaway from school–that reading is all about being better than someone else–I think we have to concede that the system has failed. Reading is not supposed to be externally motivated by the desire to triumph over someone else. Nor is reading supposed to be a competition where others are made to feel embarrassed over their book choices. Reading is meant to be fun and engaging–or at the very least, a skill one has acquired to function more easily in a society where the written word predominates. Making reading into a hierarchy with “good” and “bad” and “not real” readers fundamentally threatens the whole point of reading at all. It certainly is not going to inspire more people to become readers, or to join the bookish community.

As a community, I think we need to take a hard look at the way we understand reading, and who is a reader. What is the motivation behind telling someone that they “aren’t a real reader?” What does it accomplish? And what can we do to ensure that the bookish community is welcoming and open to all?

Bookish Confession: I’m Not Interested in Reading Blog Tours

Over the years, bloggers have worked hard to build relationships with publishers by reviewing ARCs, interviewing authors, doing cover reveals, and more. One common way for bloggers to work with publishers and authors is to participate in blog tours–events where a different promotional post about an author’s book will appear on a different blog each day for period of time (usually one or two weeks). However, although I understand that bloggers participate in these tours because it is a sign that publishers recognize their hard work, I have to admit that whenever I see a post is part of a blog tour, I click away. I read blogs because I want to know an individual’s personal thoughts on a work; reading a blog tour post feels like I am being advertised to instead.

For me, the joy of book blogging comes from joining a community where people can express their honest opinions about books. Sometimes a book works for a person and sometimes it does not. That’s just life! Hearing honest responses to books not only keeps the conversation interesting, but also provides me, the reader, with valuable information that will help me to decide if I want to invest my time and money in a particular title. That is why I love the independence of book blogs. Bloggers are not typically getting paid for their opinions, so they are free to admit when a book did not meet their expectations. They are not working for a company, so they can blog about whatever they like–not just what is company approved. Book blogs are successful currently, I would argue, because they have this independence and so readers feel like they can trust the reviews and the content. But blog tours take a bit of that away.

By nature, a blog tour is advertising. It is meant to sell books, not to provide an in-depth critique at the pros and cons of a work. So, when reviews are written for the sole purpose of being part of a tour, there is the expectation that the reviews are all going to be positive. That is, after all, what the author was implicitly asking when they organized the tour. They are doing the tour to promote their book, not to take the chance that their blogging partners will scare potential readers away.

Saying that blog tour reviewers may feel pressured to only highlight the good stuff is not to impugn the integrity of any reviewers. It is a natural response to want to do a favor for a partner, or to keep a good relationship with authors and publishers who have shown themselves willing to work with bloggers and maybe provide free books in the bargain. In fact, this response is so natural that the FTC requires influencers to note when they have received a book from an author or publisher for review because that information is valuable to readers of the review. It lets them know that an influencer, by nature of having received something from a company, may be biased to review the product favorably. That’s not something specific to book bloggers. It’s just human nature!

I avoid blog tours because I do not like being advertised at in general, but also because I can already assume that the blog tour reviews are going to be mere promotional copy, and not an engaging critique of the book. This may be an unpopular opinion to express, but I do not think I am alone in feeling this way. I read blogs for the independent content. When I start seeing a lot of sponsored content, I am no longer interested. This is a response that bloggers may wish to consider as discussions about being paid continue. Will turning into a fully sponsored blog take away aspects of the blog that drew readers to it in the first place?

Edited to Add:

Some bloggers and blog tour organizers have expressed that they feel my post says that bloggers who participate in blog tours and write reviews for the book being promoted are “dishonest.” This is not the case! As bloggers discuss the possibility of being paid partners with publishers, I simply mean to open up a discussion about how I, as a consumer, view promotional/sponsored/paid content versus more organic content. I think it is natural and prudent for consumers to consider the background and affiliations of a post or review. I myself carefully consider this kind of context for all products, not just books. My post is merely my personal feelings about promotional content, and how I as a consumer perceive it.

Additionally, it has been suggested that I clarify that not all book blog tours are the same. To that end, we should recognize that sometimes blog tour organizers get paid, but maybe not. Some blog tours might ask that only positive reviews be posted, but some do not. The specific rules and expectations of each tour will be different. You might have to ask around or do some research to learn the particular rules of every blog tour.

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My YA Book Wishlist

Here at Pages Unbound, we love reading YA! Still, there are some types of YA books I would love to see more of! Below is my list.

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Characters Who Pursue a Vocation

I see a lot of YA books about characters who are going to college, but I do not think I have ever read a YA book where the protagonist decided to pursue a trade. It would be really interesting–and powerful–to have more protagonists who attend vocational schools or participate in apprenticeships. I know authors probably want to celebrate higher education and encourage readers to attend college, but pursuing a vocation is a valid life decision, too! Why not reflect that in literature?

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Characters Who Do Not Get Into Their Dream College/an Ivy League School

I wrote in 2020 that I wanted to see YA book treat college applications more realistically by showing some of the process (applying for financial aid, worrying about the personal essay, etc.) and by showcasing some more protagonists who do not get into an Ivy League school. (Especially since many of these characters do not even seem to study that much, and surely would not be chosen out of all the more qualified applicants, when acceptance rates are so incredibly low!)

Some commentors suggested that having protagonists worry about the application process or financial aid, or having characters experience rejection would be too depressing for teens, but I don’t think that is the case. Most teens probably do worry about the process, and I am sure most also relate to worrying where the money will come from. It’s relatable! And being rejected from schools is a reality for probably most applicants. The book would only be depressing if it suggested that rejection from an Ivy League or a dream school is actually the end of the protagonist’s life. But the book could just as easily show the protagonist choosing to move forward after rejection and still finding success. Which is something plenty of people do in real life!

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Funny YA Books (NOT Dark Humor or Rom Coms)

Humorous middle grade books like Dog Man and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are extremely popular, but humor in YA books seems mainly to be relegated to either dark humor or romantic comedies. I would love to see YA books that treat the experience high school with humor! Why not have a Wimpy Kid-esque book for teens?

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More International Authors/Translations

I would love to see more international authors being published in the U.S.! I think voices from other countries would diversify the types of books on the market, not only because other countries might publish books that aren’t seen as marketable in the U.S.–and so these books would hopefully feel less formulaic–but also because readers would be exposed to ways of thinking that are not U.S.-centric. I talked about wanting to see more international authors back in 2019, and it seems not much has changed in terms of what is being offered.

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More Friendship, Less Romance

YA books are often associated with romance and middle grade books tend to focus more on friend and family relationships. But friendships are important for people of all ages, and not every teen is going to experience a whirlwind romance (and probably not a love triangle). I like a good romance in my stories, it is true. But I think it would be good to reflect more often the experiences of teens who are not dating and maybe are not even interested in dating yet!

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Illustrations

I have no idea why pictures are considered to be just for little kids. Illustrations are an art form, one that can be appreciated by all ages! I would love to see YA books that are illustrated–not just with little borders or decorative elements, but with full-page pictures. And I think it would appeal to teens, too! I know a lot of teens who seem to be just reading Wimpy Kid over and over again. And manga is increasingly popular with teens, as well. Why not make some sort of illustrated book series for those fans? Teens like pictures, too!

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Shorter YA Books

I enjoy longer books! I really do! But sometimes it feels like every YA book I pick up is 400 pages or more. I wouldn’t mind a few more teen books in the 300-page range. Sometimes having to edit a book down can really streamline the narrative, too, so it’s a win all around!

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More YA Books for Younger Teens

I have been talking about the lack of YA books for younger teens for years, and I still maintain there is a need! Most YA books certainly seem to be more mature and possibly aimed at an adult, not a teen audience. I would recommend the majority of YA to readers 16+. But we need books for younger teens! Books where the protagonists are 14 or 15, a freshman or a sophomore in high school. I think younger teen books are being marketed as middle grade these days, but that makes it harder for teens to find these books, especially as they desire to read up and enter the world of YA. It’s time for YA books to be written for teens of varying ages, not adults.

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More Extracurriculars

Sometimes I see YA books focused on sports like football or cheerleading, but I would love to see more stories focused around extracurriculars like band, math competitions, academic bowls, and more. Something like The View from Saturday for teens!

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More Standalone Fantasies

I love a good series! I also love a good standalone. I enjoy having that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when I finish a book–and also the knowledge that I will not have to dedicate the next seven years trying to keep up with all the new installments. Find our list of 17 YA Standalone Fantasies and our list of 20 Standalone YA Fantasies!

What would you like to see more of in YA?