Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Life Behind the Reference Desk featuring Liz of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Liz B of probably one of the most famous YA blogs on the internet, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy. She is also on Twitter under @LizB. She always has a wealth of information to share with her readers and let me just say, this time is no different. Liz works at a library for the blind and disabled and just reading this, I am inspired to want to make services for the disabled at my library much better. Like I said, every librarian featured here has been a high caliber, amazing librarian, and Liz definitely lives up to my definition of an amazing librarian. So enough of me babbling with excitement, here is Liz!
1. What makes you passionate about your job?
Making a difference in people's lives through books.
I just want to explain a bit about the nationwide system of library services for the blind and physically handicapped in the United States because I don't think many people understand it. I know I didn't when I was a public librarian!
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (www.loc.gov/nls) provides reading materials for those who cannot read a traditional print book for a physical reason. That includes: blind, low vision (where even with corrective glasses, a person cannot read regular print), physical handicap where they cannot hold a book or turn the pages of a book (say, arthritis in the hands), or a reading disability if the reading disability is physically based. NLS produces books in Braille and audiobooks, as well as recorded magazines. NLS also produces machines to listen to the audiobooks. NLS -- which is located in Washington DC -- doesn't provide these materials or services directly to the public; rather, they use a network of cooperating libraries. All of these services are at no cost to the patron.
I am at one of those regional libraries. I am the librarian for children and teens.
Our library has materials for people of all ages. Our service area is the entire state, so most of what we do is by mail, by telephone, by email, and by Internet. We mail out Braille books, audiobooks, and machines; we do readers advisory over the phone and email; and our audiobooks can be downloaded.
One misconception about our program is that our audiobooks are the same ones that are available in public libraries or bookstores. People think “oh I don’t need those books” because their library has audiobooks or they buy their own audiobooks. Our audiobooks are all professionally done with professional narrators, but (with a handful of exceptions) they are not commercial audiobooks. Yes, there is some overlap of titles (Hunger Games!) but there are other books on audio we have that, quite simply, are not available in a library or bookstore. Midlist titles that aren't made into audiobooks, older titles that are unavailable at public libraries, nonfiction books -- these are all examples of what we have that public libraries do not.
I was working at a public library in my state and was looking for an opportunity that would be both career advancement and also within the childrens/teen area. I was also looking for something that appealed to some of my favorite things about being a librarian: books, outreach, technology, making a difference. I was familiar with the job because a friend of mine had it, and was leaving because she got a better opportunity but she spoke very highly of the job. So I applied for it and have been here about three years now.
Because we have one physical location but serve an entire state, I don't have programs the way a public library has programs. Our summer reading program, for example, is all done through the mail. We offer support and assistance for public libraries who want to have inclusive programming and events; for example, we can send Braille books, Braille ABC cards and tactile sheets to libraries for specific programs. My story hour isn't held at this library, but instead I work with public libraries throughout the state and partner with them. These story hours is closer for some patrons, plus is also an interesting educational opportunity for other people to learn that there is more than one way to read a book.
3. What has been your path to librarianship? Have you always wanted to be a librarian?
In high school, I was a page at the local library. Then I went to college, got a Bachelor’s in Computer Science, went to Villanova Law School for my J.D., practiced corporate law for just under ten years, went to Rutgers for my MLIS and started working in public libraries.
My career path has not been straight. I’m always a bit intrigued by those people who work at only one place, at only one job, for their entire lives or careers. I cannot imagine working at the same place, the same job, for ten years. And I’m also a bit amused by the pressure put on students in high school and university to Pick A Major and Your Life’s Work.
Life changes, interests change, and it’s good to be open to possibilities. Plus, I can honestly say that every bit of my life and career experience has helped make me a better professional and better librarian.
The big question I usually get is “why did you leave the law.” Non lawyers tend to ask it. Honestly? I had stopped having fun and didn’t want a life of seventy hour work weeks. I looked to see what I could do based on those aspects of the law I loved – research, the ability to help people. I got my MLIS intending to go into law librarianship, viewing my interest in and love of children’s and teen books as something that was fun and not a career. Luckily, professors in my program convinced me otherwise and I went into children’s and teen services for a public library. So while it’s true that I make less now than what I made when I left the law over ten years ago, and I no longer buy Prada shoes, on a personal level my quality of life is better, on a professional level my commitment and dedication to what I do is much higher and more rewarding, and most importantly, what I do matters in a way that contract negotiations do not.
4. Can you briefly describe what a typical work day would be like for you?
Rarely do I get real, live, patrons in the library – it’s all on the phone and email. So the day starts with checking voicemail and email and returning calls and messages. Applications are processed to ensure that people are qualified for our services; a lot of readers advisory is done; and I have Facebook and Twitter accounts and an online Newsletter that need to be updated with information about the library or that our library patrons may be interested in knowing.
Outreach is incredibly important, so I look for opportunities and schedule events: transition fairs, school visits, library conferences or anything else that may connect me with people who could use our library. Because of the nature of our services, I usually am looking at ways to target the “gatekeepers” – parents, teachers, librarians – who know of children and teens who could use our services. So I am researching these events or preparing for them! Some outreach can be virtual – so I write articles and library updates for newsletters and associations.
I also keep up to date with other avenues for our patrons to get books – Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), Bookshare, what is happening with eReaders, how accessible eReaders are, that type of thing.
5. How did you become so involved in the world of YA lit, YALSA, and the YA blogging community?
Part of it was, I was used to working 70 hour weeks, was now working much less, and was looking to see what I could do with my time. No matter how much I like to think I’m lazy…. I always need a project, a to do list, an activity.
Part of it was, I was looking for an outlet to talk about books and TV and other things.
So, I started A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy. I had the dumb luck to begin book blogging back in 2005, when a small enough group of us had begun blogging about kids & YA that it was rather easy to know everyone and read everyone’s blogs almost daily. That would be impossible now.
At roughly the same time, I had begun to get involved with YALSA. My employer and my boss both encouraged me, and offered support for my involvement. So, like many people, I began with a process committee. I sometimes wonder, if they had put me on a selection committee right away and I had had that ability to talk to people about YA books, would I have started and kept on blogging?
I view professional development like blogging and YALSA as something that, well, it’s nice to have employer support but it’s something a person also does for their own career, regardless of what their current employer wants or supports. So, for the blog – it’s always been on my time and my personal resources. I like to think that it reflects well on my employer and that they benefit from the connections and knowledge I’ve gained from blogging.
What is great is how these three areas overlap and feed each other. I know people from blogging that I then meet at an ALA conference because of YALSA committees, and vice versa. Blogging about YA lit pushes me to read more and more, including reading professional resources, so that strengthens my knowledge and familiarity with YA lit. YALSA is an incredible resource for librarians and bloggers – you don’t have to be a librarian to join – and I hope to see more bloggers take advantage of what YALSA offers. YALSA values YA literature; YA bloggers value YA literature, what’s not to love?
6. What do you find so compelling about YA literature?
YA literature gets to the heart of the story. It doesn’t waste any words. I adore character growth in a story, and nine times out of ten, YA gives me that. I also like that YA is often about decisions made and not made.
YA, in a way, is like some of my favorite TV shows – because it gets ignored by the mainstream, authors can do more experimentation, take more chances, with style and story. See, in TV, Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural give a closer look at politics and religion and belief than mainstream TV but because they aren’t “serious” shows they never get the credit. Which also means they have done things which network television cannot.
Look at Melina Marchetta and what she expects from the reader. It’s brilliant but it’s also taking a huge chance because she doesn’t hand feed the reader.
M.T. Anderson is just flat out a genius and golden god of writing because he can write anything. He could write the phone book and make it literary.
Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series is stunning. I am the Chief Guesser of Endings of Books and never, ever, ever, do I guess her endings (unless I cheat and read the end of the book) (which I sometimes do) (but never with her books). It's also a terrific examination of politics
And then there is Jaclyn Moriarty and her very non-linear way of telling stories from multiple viewpoints using a variety of untraditional forms: emails, chats, essays.
7. What do you find to be a challenge for librarians, in today's very busy, information readily available world?
There are so many amazing possibilities, and so much potential, for libraries but not enough time or resources to do it all. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else, and that happens more and more as staff and hours are reduced.
Also, sometimes we may deliver the same services but need to have a different skill set to do it. Figuring that out is not easy, developing the skills to do it doesn’t happen overnight. For example, Readers Advisory online. Using your website for Readers Advisory is different than one-on-one conversations with library patrons, and it’s also more than putting a booklist on a webpage. Whether or virtual or real life, it’s still about connecting a reader to a book.
8. Do you have any words of advice for librarians interested in starting a blog?
When people say they want to write a book, authors always says, “read in that genre.” So first, I’d say start reading blogs – not only what blogs post right now, but also go back to look at what they were like when they started. Personally, while some parts of my blog remain the same (how I structure book reviews), others have changed – I think my writing is stronger and tighter.
Next, I’d suggest knowing why you are blogging. There can be many overlapping reasons – to participate in the conversation, to review books, to discuss books. It’s nice to have a focus – and then to realize not to be too tied to it. If a person wants to blog “to get free books and talk to authors,” think twice. Getting books to review and meeting authors comes after taking the time to establish an online presence. It’s probably cheaper to use those blogging hours to get a part time job, save your money, and go to a book conference such as BEA, ALA, or NCTE for free books and author meets.
I also suggest figuring out a way to balance your time. Blogging takes up time, but not any more time than other outside interests people have, such as sports, or knitting, or scrapbooking, or (fill in the blank with things other people do.) Figure out how much or how little time you want to invest and aim for a balance.
Finally, blogging and continuing to blog is about having fun so have fun with it! Don’t put pressure on yourself.
9. What is a challenge you face in your job in the pursuit of helping your library users?
Making people aware of what our library does! People are so sure of what are library is and isn’t. They think it’s only for people with full vision loss, that it’s the same audiobooks as in the public library. Getting around those misconceptions can be tough. It’s why I appreciate every opportunity, like this one, to chat up what my library does.
10. And of course, what are you reading?
Can you believe that out of the ten books on the Morris and Excellence in Young Adult Non Fiction Award shortlists, that I only read one? One! So I am busy reading those books. I just finished “The Freak Observer” and was so blown away by the book, the setting, the characters, that I am having a difficult time putting it all down on paper. Er, on computer screen. I just began “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing” and am enjoying learning more about a singer I love.
Huge, immense thanks to Liz for explaining all the way she serves this population, and just why she is dedicated to YA lit. And if you haven't visited her blog yet, go do so now!
(Life Behind the Reference Desk is a feature about librarians who blog. If YOU are a librarian who blogs, and I don't care if you have a hugely popular blog or are just starting out, I would love to interview you. Please email me at riddikulus.sarahATgmailETC.)
Life Behind the Reference Desk featuring Liz of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Life Behind the Reference Desk|