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American Library Association

Oct 14 2008

“And this woman was singing my song”

by Heather S

Remember Lisa Loeb? She was the singer behind the hit single “Stay (I missed you)” that was featured in the movie, Reality Bites. Ms. Loeb talks about how important libraries are in the following video produced by the American Library Association.

As she sings, “Everybody feels this way, and I do.” I agree with the sentiments Ms. Loeb expresses and love the line about having “intellectual curiosity.” Hopefully, you feel this way too!

I discovered this video on Visibility @ Your Library, the blog of the American Library Association’s Public Information Office.


Oct 1 2008

Banned Children’s Books

by Ginny C

The previous posts this week have talked about Banned Books Week and mentioned some of the books that are among the most frequently banned or challenged.  (For the difference between a banned book and a challenged book, see here.)  ALA has several good lists of challenged books, both for this year and going back to 1990.

Did you look at any of those lists?  If you did, what did you notice?  If you’re like me, you noticed that a lot of them are children’s books.  Authors like Judy BlumeBarbara Park, J.K. Rowling, and Shel Silverstein all have books on these lists.

Books on these lists can also be good discussion starters with your child.  If you or your child has read any of the challenged or banned books, talk about why someone might have wanted it removed from the library.  Discuss the character’s actions and what you hope your child would do in a similar situation.  (Please remember that not all of the books on the list are appropriate for all children or for all ages.  Preview the books first to decide if it’s something you want your child to read.)

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Sep 23 2008


by Heather S

Have a concern that you want the presidential candidates to address? Raise your voice!

Jim Rettig, the president of the American Library Association, recently sent the following plea to librarians:

“On Tuesday, October 7, one of the three 2008 Presidential debates between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will be held at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. This debate will be a town hall format moderated by Tom Brokaw. The moderator will call on members of the audience as well as select questions submitted online.

During this election year, we are looking for librarians and library supporters from across the country to call attention to the value of today’s libraries in our communities, as well as the issues the library community is facing. We encourage all ALA members to submit questions. The Commission on Presidential Debates has partnered with MySpace to create a new Web site, www.MyDebates.org. This site will become available in the days leading up to the first Presidential debate on September 26.  The more questions submitted, the more likely a library question will be asked. This is an opportunity for the library voice to become an important part of the 2008 Presidential election.”

Starting on Thursday, September 25, you may submit your question. The website also lets you find the candidate you are most aligned with on the issues, such as education and homeland security. You will be able to watch the debates live on the site; or, if you miss the debates, you can watch them in their entirety or relevant clips of the candidates on specific issues later.


Jun 24 2008

The Smartest Card

by Heather S

Smartestcard_5 The Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, is an organization dedicated to serving public libraries and helping public library staff better serve their communities. Their current promotional campaign is “The Smartest Card. Get it. Use it. @ your library.

In a recent conversation, Michael S, a co-worker, reminded me why I whole-heartedly believe that the Public Library Association is right on with this campaign. Here is Michael’s story: 

A few months ago, my computer crashed and I was devastated. It took some time for me to realize that all of my precious information was lost forever. With the blue screen of death and one little code error, I realized that countless photos, mp3s, and writings were gone.  But, as those feelings of grief passed, I realized that I was at a crossroad with my e-life. I had to decide if I should fix my computer or buy a new one.

Not ready to part with this computer and realizing my limited knowledge of blue screens and code errors, I decided to seek a professional opinion. Off I went with my computer to a repair shop. The expert at the repair shop believed the problem to be a bad hard drive and that a new one should be installed. After a few estimates for a replacement hard drive that included the cost of labor, I decided I would try to replace the hard drive myself. What did I really have to lose if I could not repair the computer?

With the help of internet forums, such as lifehacker.com, a handy instructional video from YouTube, and books from the library – Repairing and upgrading your PC, Troubleshooting your PC for dummies, and Building a PC for dummies, I replaced the hard drive myself and have a functioning computer once again.

I am still working on retrieving all that was lost from my old hard drive, but I am now more comfortable with opening up my computer and trying to repair and upgrade it myself. This experience and all the information that the library offered has given me the “smarts” needed to fix my computer.  With this knowledge and the inspiration from another co-worker who happens to write blogs on open source software, I am thinking about building a computer from scratch.

His experience is a perfect example to me of why a library card is the smartest and most valuable card in a wallet. So, readers, how is a library card the smartest card in your wallet?

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School’s out for the summer and your child is looking for something to read.  Newbery and Caldecott Award winners are a good place to start, but if you’ve exhausted those lists or you’re looking for something more recent, I’ve listed a few of my favorite sites below.

TeenReads is a great site for new releases, book reviews and author interviews.  They feature only books that are written for the teen audience, and have special sections for graphic novels and Christian fiction.  You can also browse their archive as far back as 2002 for books you might have missed when they first came out.

KidsReads is a similar site, but geared toward children in preschool through middle school age.  They review picture books, beginning chapter books, as well as fiction books for elementary and middle school.  Their special features include a list of books that have been turned into movies, popular series, and books soon to be released.

The American Library Association also has lots of good lists.  YALSA, the division of ALA devoted to young adults has lists of popular paperbacks, good books for college bound teens, great graphic novels and more.  ALSC, the division of ALA devoted to children’s services, has many lists, including bilingual books, books about diversity, and books for preschoolers, middle schoolers, and elementary age children.

The last site doesn’t contain book reviews, but it’s helpful if you’re looking for all the books by a particular author or the list of books in a series.  The Mid-Continent Public Library has put together a site that keeps an updated list of just about every series written for children and teens that you can think of.  You can search by title, author or series.  New books are added as they come out.  Books in a series are listed in chronological order so you’ll always know which one comes next.

If you have a favorite site to look for children’s books, list it in the comments.


Apr 28 2008

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee

by Nolan R


Often cited by American readers as their favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than thirty million copies and has been translated into more than forty languages since its publication in 1960.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.  While it has shown up on ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books, To Kill a Mockingbird was also voted the Best Novel of the 20th Century by Library Journal, and was ranked second only to the Bible in a reader survey of most influential books. 

Today is the 82nd birthday of Nelle Harper Lee, who since the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird has sought a private life and makes few public appearances.  Ms. Lee was born and still lives in Monroeville, AL, which was also the childhood home of her longtime friend Truman Capote.  Every spring, thousands of tourists head to this small southwestern Alabama town–now known as the “Literary Capital of Alabama”–that inspired the fictional setting of the novel.  Monroeville presents an annual theater production of To Kill a Mockingbird in the historic courthouse and encourages visitors to tour the town.  Ms. Lee is seldom seen on these occasions, but does attend a high school To Kill a Mockingbird essay awards luncheon held each year at the University of Alabama.

In a rare public letter to O, the Oprah Magazine in 2006, Ms. Lee wrote about her love of books and reading: 

I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often–movies weren’t for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We’re talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression.

Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store’s books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another’s entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again.

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up–some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

Well said, Ms. Lee.  Happy birthday, and thank you for your wonderful book. 

Related articles:

Harper Lee Emerges for ‘Mockingbird’ Award (audio from NPR)

Harper Lee, Gregarious for a Day (New York Times)


Apr 14 2008

Book Awards for Children

by Ginny C

There are so many awards given out each year to children’s and young adult books that it can be difficult to keep them all separate.  The biggest awards in children’s literature are the Caldecott and the Newbery. The Caldecott Medal is awarded for outstanding illustrations in a picture book.  Generally, these books are written for preschool and elementary age children.  The Newbery Medal is awarded for outstanding writing in a chapter book.  Books that win the Newbery are often written for children in upper elementary through middle school, although some books written for the teen audience have won the award.

Although the Caldecott and the Newbery are the most well known, there are other awards to be aware of.  The Sibert Award is given to the best children’s informational book (i.e. non-fiction.)  The Pura Belpre Award is award to the author/illustrator of the book that best depicts the Latino culture.  The Michael L. Printz Award is given to the author of the best book for young adults. 

The above awards are sponsored by the American Library Association and are given on a national level.  On a statewide level, Georgia also gives awards to outstanding childrens books.   The University of Georgia’s College of Education sponsors the Georgia Book Awards.  Once a year they release a list of 20 nominees in two categories: Picture Storybooks (for k – 3rd grade) and Chapter Books (for 4th – 8th grade.)  Throughout the year, children read and vote on their favorites and the winner is announced the following year.

For Georgia teens, there is the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers.  Started in 2004, it highlights fiction and non-fiction books written for grades 9 through 12.  Teens can vote for their favorite titles in schools and public libraries.

Check out the websites for complete lists of current and past winners and nominees.  They are a great place to start if you’re looking for something for your child or teenager (or for yourself) to read.  And don’t forget that most of the titles are available in the library!


After working in a public library for nearly six years, it still strikes me the number of library users who are mystified by all those little numbers on our nonfiction books’ spine labels.  The Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) was invented by American library pioneer Melvil Dewey, a very odd but brilliant scholar and reformer.  Aside from his successful classification system and role in founding the American Library Association and the magazine Library Journal, Dewey was also a proponent of spelling reform, and attempted to change his birth name, “Melville Dewey” to “Melvil Dui” (only the first name’s spelling stuck).  His legacy to us, the public library users of the world, is a simple and effective system of classifying all human knowledge.  Here’s how it works:

Three Digits to Left, Up to Four Digits on the Right, or 364.1523 = True Crime

Every nonfiction book is assigned a number, known as a “call number.”  The three-digit number to the left of the decimal is associated with a certain subject.  For example, “005” is for computer programs, and “641” is for cooking (or “cookery” as the subject heading is known).  The numbers to the right of the decimal refine the subject, and allow you to get more specific about what type of computer program (“005.369” is where you would find Microsoft Office programs) or cooking (“641.595” is where you would find Chinese cookbooks).  Different library systems allow more decimal digits, which means you can further pinpoint what you’re searching for.  DCPL goes out to four digits, which works well for our needs.

What About the Letters Underneath?  or What does “Chi” mean?

While the call number gets you to the right subject area, some sections are so big that you need a little more information to get you to the exact book you’re looking for.  Let’s say you’re looking for The Way to Cook by Julia Child, and when you check the catalog, you just write down the number “641.5” and run to the shelf.  You would find that there are many (perhaps a hundred or more) titles filed under this number.  When you go back to the catalog you see that the full call number is “641.5 Chi.”  Yep, you guessed it – “Chi” is for “Child,” the first three letters of the author’s last name.  Lucky for you, we library staffers keep those letters in alphabetical order so that you can quickly find what you’re looking for.

Okay, Lets Review:

When you go to the catalog and find a specific call number (like 641.5 Chi), or you ask a staff member where cookbooks are and they tell you “in the 641s,” here’s how you find it:

  1. Find the three digit number to the left of the decimal (like 641).  The numbers are all in order from 001 to 999, so this part will be easy.
  2. Once you’re in the 641s, look at the numbers to the right of the decimal (also in order – 641.1, 641.2, etc.) until you find what you’re looking for.
  3. Once you’ve found the right number area, start looking for the letters, which are also filed alphabetically.

Voila!  You’ve found your book!  Happy searching!

Further Reading

Okay, if you’re actually interested in further reading about this, here’s a link to ways to begin a career in libraries!  For the simply curious, here are some good sources for Dewey Decimal information:

How to Use the Dewey Decimal System – a basic overview provided by the Monroe County (Indiana) Public Library.

Dewey Decimal Classification System – a user-friendly PowerPoint overview of the DDC provided by OCLC, the group that owns and manages the Dewey Decimal Classification system – Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 or higher (or a compatible program) required for viewing. 

Dewey decimal classification and relative index – why not read the current version of the whole thing?  (Four volumes, at Decatur Library reference department).  No, seriously – if you read this, you should really consider a career as a librarian!  🙂

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