Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is a Library Like a Garden?

This blog entry could be entitled "Weeding," an activity in which most librarians must engage. A library can't keep acquiring new and timely books year after year without getting rid of some; our bookshelves simply won't hold them all! The sad truth is: some books must be taken out of a library -- books that are just plain worn out, books that don't have reasonably current information in them, books that no one has signed out of the library for a long time and are generally unappealing.

So on a regular basis I take a deep breath and head for the bookshelves with a goal in mind. Late this afternoon I moved through our science section looking at books that were technically, per the years of their publication, "out of date" or had not been signed out for a long while. I find this difficult because I meet some of my favorite authors and long-familiar books that need to be weeded and I don't like saying goodbye. To prepare, I generate reports from the computer catalog that help me focus on likely prospects for weeding. Then I move along the shelves looking closely at each of those books. Actually, I look over all the books briefly to identify well-worn and damaged items needing to be removed. After I have a stack of "weeds" I check the copy history of each book to see if it has been especially popular, and that helps me determine whether to replace the weeded book with a similar but up-to-date title. It becomes pretty easy to see what topics need to be added back into the library. An elementary school library will never be without dinosaur books or books on strange and wonderful animals. And of course, we need books on biomes and weather and outer space!

Most librarians learn about good new books to buy from reading reviews in professional journals such as Booklist, School Library Journal and The Horn Book Magazine. That's what I do. Plus I love to go to bookstores to browse and get ideas. Always, we take cues from the school curriculum and teacher and student interests. The goal is to have as fresh and relevant a library collection as possible -- one that meets the needs and interests of the community.

The responsibility for acquiring new books and for removing out-of-date materials is enormous. It takes hours of time, usually when the library is not open because it takes real concentration. It is also very satisfying because the result will always be a better library. Weeding helps our library flourish, just like a garden.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Great Words from the Gods

Gifts from the Gods, by Lise Lunge-Larsen and illustrated by Gareth Hinds, is a fabulous new book about which I learned at a recent Cambridge Public Library symposium sponsored by Children's Literature New England.

A review in the New York Times stated: Gifts From the Gods, "an inventive blend of glossary and anthology, provides a fine introduction to one of the Greeks’ enduring legacies: their impact on the English language." And indeed we do get to learn, in an immensely enjoyable way, the story behind expressions like "Achilles' heel" and words like "fate" and "janitor" (related to the god Janus -- you'll need to explore further to know why!).

Yes, there has been a clear upsurge of interest in Greek mythology due to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books (The Lightning Thief is the first of the series). Time-honored classics such as the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths have enjoyed a steady readership through the years, and it's a pleasure to add another great collection to the mix: Donna Jo Napoli's Treasure of Greek Mythology. Mary Pope Osborne's Tales from the Odyssey are favorites for reading aloud -- or listening to in audiobook format. Any one of these may inspire you to plan your own literary odyssey!