Monthly Archives: October 2013

Books + Bars + Libraries?

Lit Lounge.

Photo from the Skokie Public Library,

One of the sessions I attended at the Indiana Library Federation Conference last week was a presentation on “the modern book discussion,” in which the speaker discussed her implementation of two successful book clubs that meet in bars at two different Illinois libraries.  I LOVED this presentation; Leah White is incredibly passionate about her work, and provided a detailed plan of attack for implementing a similar program at your own library.  (You can view her slides from the presentation here.)

These book clubs are not your grandmother’s book club, but that’s the whole point of their existence.  They target adults in their twenties and thirties, a population that is frequently under-served in public library programs.  As the main coordinator of adult programs at my library, where even events that I think will draw this audience see only older patrons, I’m especially interested in ways to attract what Leah refers to as “the 15%” of adults who don’t go to the library.

Let me be clear: these programs are not about getting drunk on library time.  They are about meeting a portion of the community that is interested in topics related to the library’s mission (literacy, community engagement, open discussions) but is not interested in going to the physical library.  Librarians do outreach at all sorts of venues, from schools to senior centers to prisons.  So why not add local restaurants to the agenda?

Why these programs are good for the library:

  1. They bring the library to an under-served population.  If that’s not convincing enough, this demographic is pretty active at the polls.  Someone who remembers discussing David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas over a cocktail with his local librarian is more likely to approve additional funding for the library.  (Also, notice that I said “his”?  These nontraditional book clubs tend to attract slightly more males than females — the opposite of most library book clubs.)
  2. They partner with a local business.  The nature of the partnership will vary from place to place, but ideally you’ll bring in more customers on their slow night, and they’ll provide another place to advertise your program.  What better way to reach someone who would hang out at a bar than at the bar itself?
  3. The coolness factor.  So many people, particularly Millennials, see libraries as repositories for books, places for storytimes, and/or senior hangouts.  Nontraditional book clubs can help re-brand the library as an organization that offers something for everyone in their community.

What do you think of book clubs in bars?  Have you tried any other programs that had high Millennial attendance?  If so, please share in the comments!


ILF Annual Conference Preview

ILF conference logo. This week I’ll be headed to the Indiana Library Federation’s Annual Conference, and I’m looking forward to the chance to network with and learn from other professionals.  As a member of this year’s conference planning committee, I’ve also had an inside look at some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into organizing the event.  (Look for better “tracking” this year, with programs relevant to all types of library workers spread out to cover every time slot.)  The theme is Everyday Superheroes in the Library, and I’m ready to don my cape and fly off to the convention center.  Some of the sessions I’m excited for are:

Superheroes Rosie & Eliot to the Rescue: Save Your Library from Ho-Hum Teen Titles.  This overview of the Eliot-Rosewater winners will help with reader’s advisory and will also serve as a refresher of what’s hot in YA literature these days.  Plus, am I the only one who still loves to hear a good book talk?

Avengers to Justice League: Turn Teens at Your Library into Their Own Superheroes.  Shameless plug: our teen librarian is one of the panelists, and she has an amazing teen program set up here.  I have learned so much about teen services from her, and I’m sure she’ll have great ideas to share at this session.

Teen Tech Spaces with Chicago Public Library’s YOUMedia.  YOUMedia has been on my radar since I first started volunteering with teen programs at the local public library during grad school.  I’m not ready to completely jump on the “library as makerspace” bandwagon, but if there is a bandwagon, I’m pedaling furiously just behind it, waiting to make sure the road doesn’t run off a cliff.  (I think makerspace equipment is too expensive to buy just because it’s “the next big thing”; while things like 3D printers and self-publishing presses are perfect for some communities, I’m not convinced they’re right for every library.  But that’s a topic for another post.)  I’d love to learn more about programs like YOUMedia, and see how they could apply to the spaces and technologies we offer both teens and adults at my library.

The Modern Book Club.  I started the adult book club at my library in the hopes that it would draw more people in their twenties and thirties to the library.  While we have great discussions, most of our book club members are older and already came to the library regularly.  I’m interested in ideas to draw the younger crowd to these or other programs.

Soaring Together: How Librarians and Authors Can Cultivate Partnerships.  I’m a librarian.  I’m a writer.  Need I say more?  (For my thoughts on author library visits, see my previous post.)

Outrageous Outreach: From Flash Mobs to Freeze Reads.  It’s always nice to hear new, unique program ideas.  I’d love to see how other libraries are getting out into the community and bringing people to the library.

This is just a sample of some of the workshops I’m looking forward to.  There will also be authors signing books and receiving awards throughout the conference.  I’m hoping to grab a signed copy of Mike Mullin’s Ashfall and chat with some fellow writers during the breaks between sessions.

Will you be at ILF?  If so, what sessions are you looking forward to?

Tips for breaking through writer’s block

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I’m battling anxiety and feeling stuck on my current project, so I thought I’d share some of the ways I combat writer’s block.  I prefer character-driven stories, so most of these exercises focus on character development, but I’ve found them helpful with setting and pacing as well.

Writer's block. Write scenes from you characters’ past.  I do this a lot when I’m frustrated with a scene or unable to write my way from point a to point b.  I’ll take anything from a strange quirk to something I know happened to a character before my novel begins and write that out.  It helps me to understand the character better, and gives her a chance to talk to me outside the confines and pressures of the book itself.  Often I’ll gain new insights about the character and setting by doing this, and the scenes usually seem to write themselves.

Write something you know you’ll delete.  Whether it’s a lengthy conversation between two characters that you’d love to write, but that has no place in your story; an info dump about a fantasy world; or development of a secondary character who plays a minor role, somehow knowing that those words will never make it into the final draft can be freeing.  It may seem unproductive, but I wind up better informed about the characters and setting, and sometimes I like the scene so much that I’ll work something from it into the final draft.

Put your characters into a tense situation.  This is especially helpful if you throw your protagonist and your antagonist together.  Other writers have suggested placing the two in a stuck elevator and letting them verbally — or even physically — duke it out.  It’s amazing what you’ll learn about them, and how they perceive one another, from the interaction.

If you’re still stuck, or if you’re completely fed up with all aspects of your work in progress, consider my last-resort trick to get your creative juices flowing:

Write bad poetry.  Or, better yet, write good poetry.  But even bad poetry (the only kind I consider myself capable of writing) gets you thinking about sounds and rhythms, and focusing on alliteration or assonance or those other literary terms your English teachers quizzed you about.  Good prose has its own rhythm, and the best prose often sounds poetic on some level.  Plus, even horrible, angsty poetry counts as words on the page, so at the end of the day you can still say you wrote something.

What are some of your tips for combating writer’s block?

How being a librarian has improved my writing career

Library sign. I am fortunate to have two careers that overlap and complement each other quite a bit.  As a public librarian, keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in literature is part of my day job.  To do this, I read professional publications like Library Journal and  Publisher’s Weekly, which not only discuss new trends in librarianship but also contain news about the publishing industry and reviews of upcoming books, audiobooks, and movies.  I also read blogs like the Young Adult Library Services Association’s The Hub, which contains reviews of teen books, recommended reading lists, author interviews, and more.  And if I still can’t come up with something good to read, I have a group of professional reader’s advisors in my co-workers.
I try to read a variety of genres so that I can make informed recommendations to patrons, which means that I get exposed to a lot of great books (and great writing) that I probably wouldn’t have chosen otherwise.  For example, my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads last week included an existential adult mystery (Eric Lundgren’s The Facades), a history of fourteenth century England (Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England), and a young adult fantasy audiobook (Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, read by Will Patton).  I encourage all writers to read widely — I’ve learned a lot about setting from Mortimer’s book, and a few mysteries (a genre I don’t typically read) have taught me a good deal about structure and pacing.
In addition to all this great reading (and therefore exposure to great writing), I have an “in” with the local libraries, as I interact professionally with librarians at other branches in the area.  I’ve helped out with and even organized author talks and author signings as part of my day job.  This means that I know the ropes from an organizational standpoint, so I’ll know how to approach local libraries when I’m ready to start giving talks of my own.  True, libraries may not be the best venues to sell books (especially when I’d donate at least one copy of my book to any library where I spoke), but library talks are great for generating interest in an author and her work.  Of course, I’d love for everyone who attends a talk or a signing to buy a copy of my book, plus copies for all of their friends; but I’m more interested in generating readers than generating sales.  And if you think library visits are a waste of time, just check out Mike Mullin’s blog post on his own library-generated success.
Writers who aren’t librarians needn’t despair; you too can reap these benefits.  You don’t need to be a librarian to read Library Journal or any of the American Library Association’s blogs.  And you can get the same “in” at your own library by developing a relationship with the librarians there now.  Stop by sometime and ask for help with your research (if you’re doing any right now) or a book recommendation.  If you’ve published a book, feel free to mention that, but please don’t try to sell it on the spot.  Instead, ask about the library’s policies for adding something to the collection.  Many libraries order materials from one or two major companies that deliver shelf-ready books (books already barcoded and complete with catalog records), so it’s highly unlikely that a library worker will buy your book directly from you the same day you walk in the door.  Donations have their own set of policies, not because we don’t like donations, but because we need to be consistent.  We have to treat you and your steampunk thriller (or whatever) the same way we would treat someone who wants to give us his self-published three-volume family history or the woman with a set of encyclopedias from 1960 that has been gathering dust in her basement.
If you’re polite and respectful, you could develop a valuable relationship with your local librarians.  We’ll remember you when we’re looking for someone to speak on a topic you write about, or when we’re organizing an author visit.  And who knows, we may just recommend your book the next time someone asks for a steampunk thriller.

Maintaining enthusiasm for a novel

Most writers have heard of the 40,000 word slump — that point about half-way through a novel when you find yourself weighed down by writer’s block and questioning whether the project is even worth finishing.  However, I find that I struggle more to maintain my enthusiasm later in the writing process than I do at 40,000 words.  Half-way through a book, I’m still excited about reaching the end, even if I am having trouble getting there.
My battle comes after the book is written, after I’ve heard back from my critique partners, after I’ve polished the manuscript and queried a number of agents.  Suddenly, I’m more excited about my next project and how I’ll pitch that once it’s done than I am about my finished manuscript.  I think it’s because I don’t want to let myself get too worked up about anything when I know I’m likely to get several rejections before anyone even requests the full manuscript — and then there’s another round of waiting and probably more rejections before someone finally offers representation.
Sure, I daydream about that call from Mr. or Ms. Agent saying he or she loved my book and wants to pitch it to top editors and big publishing houses.  But I’m also a realist, and I’ve heard enough from others who have gone through this process to know that it involves a lot of waiting, a lot of editing, and a lot of rejections.  So I try not to get too emotionally invested.  Instead, I focus on new projects so I won’t end up obsessing over whether I should have used a semicolon or a dash or whether it has been enough time for me to follow-up after sending a query letter.  (Usually, it hasn’t, and I don’t.  Agents get a lot of queries, and the last thing they want is more emails asking if they’ve looked at one specific email out of the hundreds in their inbox.)
But at the same time, I feel like I’ve lost enthusiasm for the project.  I tell myself, okay, there’s nothing I can do now but wait, and then I immerse myself in something new and exciting.  When people ask me how my book is, I’ll reply with something like, “Oh, yeah, I’m waiting to hear back from some agents, but meanwhile I’ve got this shiny new idea…”  So, folks who have been here before, how do you maintain enthusiasm for a novel after it’s finished?  Is there a trick to being cautiously optimistic that won’t make rejections seem completely soul-crushing?