morris takeaways

I was cleaning out an old binder this morning and I discovered notes from January when I participated in the Bill Morris Seminar. It’s always a challenge reading my scribbles and deciphering meaning from my half-formed sentences and diagrams, but in reviewing my notes five months later I was able to reflect on my biggest takeaways from the experience. Here are the portions of my notes that especially had me thinking then (and rethinking now):

On evaluating books in general:

First, you need to know yourself (your genre and aesthetic biases as well as your priorities). This way you won’t let them blind you and you’ll be able to help point out what others might not see at a first glance/read/listen. Also, remember that the book is usually not intended FOR YOU.

On noticing errors/inaccuracies:

Even if you are an expert in the subject, the author (even a sloppy one) has probably done a lot more work than you. Triple check and always give the book the benefit of the doubt. If you do find an error, ask yourself: Does the mistake ruin the whole story? Don’t automatically write off an entire book because of one mistake. Every book has errors-you just don’t notice them. Don’t let your expertise get the best of you: you don’t know a lot more than you do know.

On the “is it offensive?” question:

Keep in mind that the term “offensive” creates an objective stance. “Offensive” is dependent on context. Instead, ask yourself: Does the book need to offend to do its job? Is the book doing what it does with integrity? Evaluate each book on its own standard (see: Jonathan Hunt’s dog show metaphor). Get to the heart about what its job is and then think through as many lenses as possible, but don’t approach a book looking for flaws. That’s not fair. Assume it is great until you feel otherwise. If you allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised, the evaluative experience will be lots more fun.

These tips came up mainly in discussions about writing professional reviews or serving on book award committees, but I think they extend that realm for sure. A big thank you to all of the evaluators, teachers, and librarians who volunteered to lead the Seminar in Philly. If anyone is thinking about attending next time, contact me and I’ll be happy to sell you on applying for it! You can also read other reflections from my fellow participants over at the ALSC blog.

book lists

For many school librarians, work-life balance is an issue. Most book list curation, lesson planning, website maintenance, collection development, professional reading (well, almost everything except face-to-face readers advisory or teaching) happens at home. So when I started organizing my annual summer reading list this spring, I had to stop myself. Why was I spending so much time creating something that I knew had already been created one hundred twelve times over-and well at that?

Then I had an idea: What if instead of creating a traditional summer book list for my community, I curated a list of my favorite recommended book lists? So that is what I did.

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I knew that my community would need more, but I was still committed to doing something different. Instead of listing recommended titles from all time, I decided to use the rest of the new Pinterest account to focus on 2014 spring and summer releases. In focusing on new releases, families will be more likely to find these books on the shelves at bookshops, and I’ll have a good reminder when I do collection development in the fall about which titles I considered must-haves for the community. Using Pinterest saved even more time than I initially thought, because I didn’t write annotations. Each pin linked to each publisher’s page, complete with book blurbs, illustration previews, and in many cases, book trailers.

I hope to continue posting my top picks for students by format and release date. (You’ll notice that I never organize anything by grade or age-level. This is very intentional.)  In time, we’ll have an archive that families can go back to if they’re looking to discover new reads. Just to keep things simple, I will continue to keep my topical book lists on a separate board. Usually the students using those lists are doing so with a more direct purpose, whereas the new LS Librarians account is more for browsing.

How do you all share books with families? Do you organize your lists by grade, by release date, by topic, or by something different? I’d love to hear from you and learn what is working well for your communities.