Books are just the beginning

Books are just the beginning.  They are one of many tools that your library offers in service to its larger mission: providing access to information and opportunities for education. The library is your classroom waiting to happen.

Public libraries, in particular, are committed to advancing knowledge through lifelong learning. Check out your library’s mission statement. It probably includes a sentence just like that or very similar.  Books are one tool, but there are many more.  Here’s a bit of what libraries offer:

  • Dragonfly's Box is a craft program for kids at the Hennepin County Library
    Dragonfly’s Box is a craft program for kids at the Hennepin County Library

    Early Literacy – We start with the very young with early literacy opportunities from story times (which are more than just stories—they are designed to help build school readiness skills of all sorts from reinforcing concepts to social skills like following directions), pretend play spaces, and other types of programming aimed at inspiring young learners. 

  • School Support – It might be just a quiet place to study for some, but for others a library means homework help centers, reference books, and other resources they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
  • Career Skills – With the job market the way it has been, many more people have been taking advantage of library assistance for job hunting, resume building, skill building.
  • Technology – Computer and Internet access are one thing, but most libraries also offer technology classes that may range from beginners web searching to introducing new software or hosting technology “petting zoos” for those looking to get beyond the tech they know.   I might also mention that there are all sorts of online research tools available through your library web site as well.  
  • Cultural Programming – Art exhibits?  Check.  Musical performances?  Check. Larger libraries might even have their own performance/exhibit space.  Part of this is the connection with the community that I wrote about yesterday, but it’s also about opening a cultural dialogue and facilitating access to the arts.

St. Paul Public Library director Kit Hadley shares her thoughts that the library has “always been in the learning business” in this video about the library’s role in the community.  She looks forward to a future in which libraries play a vital role in a network of formal and non-formal learning.  I can’t help but cheer her on.   I guess I’m probably biased, being a librarian and all, but I think libraries are pretty great–and they have books too.

Tomorrow: What do librarians do?  Mysteries revealed!

Community Matters at your library


No two libraries are alike.  I learned this young.  My family moved around a lot for my dad’s job when I was young, so we criss-crossed the country collecting library cards along the way–thanks to my mom’s deep love of reading combined with her frugal nature.

We mostly lived in smaller towns where the local public libraries had to do the best they could with small spaces. Even in a small building, it always felt like the library was the heart of the community.  It was where you could get a sense of a town.  Huge, new children’s area?  The town must have lots of young families.  Foreign language collections?  Immigrant population.  Look at what’s on display.  Those aren’t random choices.  The librarians pull out the books they think you’ll want to read.  We always visited our new library first–to see what we were getting into.  :)

Later we moved to the Chicago area, where the local library was much, much bigger than any I’d seen before.  I remember telling my out-of-town family about the library’s size with real awe in my voice.  There I discovered the real potential of a library to engage the community to a level I hadn’t realized possible.  In addition to the rows and rows of books that I had come to expect of a library, there were computer classes, children’s programs, book clubs, and all sorts of other opportunities to come together.

Here in Minneapolis, we are lucky to have a library system via Hennepin County that provides a gathering space for everyone–it’s one of the only places you can spend time without having to spend money–and a learning space that includes books and technology.  You can connect with local history via the library’s Tumblr or connect with readers via Bookspace.  Or you can get to know the librarian at your local branch.  He or she will be happy to tell you how they support the community.

Here are some cool stuff I’ve seen and done at the Hennepin County Library recently:shadowpuppets

  • Twice Told Tales – a family program about American legends brought to life by a local theater company
  • Nalah and the Pink Tiger – an interactive puppet show for kids a local puppeteer
  • Celebrate Minnesota Libraries – this event launched a library related book and featured local children’s writers speaking about their connection to libraries growing up
  • Wonderland Week – a week-long Alice in Wonderland celebration featured events for kids, families, and adults.

These events were more than fun things to do on a weekend afternoon.  They were opportunities to get to know my community.  We have writers, artists, and scholars in our area, and one of the main venues for them is the library–at least that’s how I usually find out about them and their work.

The library isn’t just about books.  It’s about us.


Tomorrow: Education & Libraries

All week long: National Library Week

Capturing Your Soul

In the year 1900, photographer Edward Curtis traveled from his home in Seattle to Montana to witness a Native American Sun Dance, which he and other members of the expedition believed would be the last event of its kind, ever.  Anne Makepeace writes about the effect this had on the man in her book Edward Curtis: Coming to Light:

“If some Indians believed that the camera could capture one’s soul, at this Sun Dance in 1900 it was Curtis’s soul that was captured.  This vision of a passing world would change Curtis’s life, uproot him from his home, and send him on an Odyssean journey that would consume him for the next 30 years.”

I personally did not know the name Edward Curtis until quite recently when a colleague talked about a recently published biography of him, but some of his photographs were familiar to me.  His haunting photographs of Native Americans around the country in the early twentieth century have become iconic.  You can see many of them on display at the Minneapolis Central Branch of the Hennepin County Library from now through January 6th in an exhibit called “Beauty, Heart and Spirit: The Sacred Legacy® of Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian.”  Photographers take note of the November 15th event at which master printers discuss Curtis’s ahead-of-his-time printing techniques.

I have yet to see the exhibit myself, but I’ve been reading about Curtis’s life:

Books about Edward Curtis


This photo of Chief Joseph (shown here from the children’s biography Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward Curtis) was the one that clicked with me:


Chief Joseph


While his work was not without controversy, it remains a significant legacy.  I know I can’t read about the dedication and empathy that Curtis put into this project without thinking about what might capture my soul in such a way.  

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Twice Told Tales

Use what you have.

Share what you have.

Respect nature.

Try to make peace where there is war.

You can reach your destination by taking small steps.

The above is the legacy of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.  This past weekend, we saw his story, along with Paul Bunyan’s, brought to life by Mixed Precipitation at the Hennepin County Library.  We also read the picture book biography of Mr. Chapman, Seed by Seed.

It has me thinking about slowing down, appreciating what we have, and doing what I can to create a better world.

More folktales will be brought to life at the library in November and December.  See the library’s web site for details.  You can check out more photographs of the event on my photoblog.

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Wonderland Week Begins

At the outset of this post, I should admit something: I have never read Alice in Wonderland.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly confession-worthy except that I own three different versions of the book.  Somehow every time I weed my personal book collection, I find myself paging through the books, marveling at the illustrations–one by Ralph Steadman, another by Alison Jay, and the last by Helen Oxenbury.  I always end up finding room in my collection for all three.


According to Alice scholar Michael Hancher, who spoke at Minneapolis Central Library on Saturday to kick off Wonderland Week, Alice has outgrown her own story.  “She has escaped her narration,” he says.  She is a part of pop culture.

People who have never read the book, like myself, know the story from various versions of the story that exist in movies, plays, picture books, etc.  Hancher pointed out that Lewis Carroll was not opposed to transforming the story.  He supervised several versions, including translations and dramatizations that didn’t hold strictly to his original.  Odd, since Carroll was so picky about the design of the first edition.  He wanted the illustrations and the text to align just so for dramatic impact in the scene where Alice passes through the mirror, for example.

Earlier that day, the library hosted a dramatized scene from Through the Looking-Glass as part of the Alice-themed storytime for families.  Local performance group Mixed Precipitation made the story come alive for kids. My little one loved the scene with Humpty Dumpty almost falling again and again.  The intensity of “Jabberwocky” went over her head, and she spent most of the show laughing.  Afterward, the kids were invited to a tea party where they decorated cookies and drank juice (not tea).

I guess this makes me wonder: Is Alice a children’s story? I don’t know.  There is something about it, though, that seems to speak to a wide variety of people as evidenced by its popularity over all these years.

Families who want more of Alice can get more Wonderland fun next Saturday, November 12th.  Grown-up fans may want to get tickets for the new ballet version of Alice at the Northrop that looks very interesting.

You can compare the many, many versions of Alice that are available online or delve into The Annotated Alice for all the clues to what you might be missing as you read.

As for me, I think I might choose one of the versions I have sitting on my shelf and actually read it.  After all, it’s a part of our culture.

In the Shadows…

Happy Halloween, everyone!  There is a lot going on this weekend–some great parties and concerts for grown-ups and fun events for families.  Check out Citypages Halloween for a pretty complete listing of what’s happening yet today and tomorrow.

As for us, we went to the library.  I hate to be predictable, but the Walker Branch of the Hennepin County Library held a shadow puppet program for kids yesterday during which we got to see lots of interesting puppets in the collection of local educator Shelley Itman.  The show, Hansel and Gretel, was pretty creepy without scaring the kids, and Ladybug was excited to make her own shadow puppet afterwards.

The library is also offering adults an opportunity to learn about shadow puppets in a “Library Lab” class about animation in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Next Saturday, November 5th.  Register here.

I have long been fascinated with cut-paper illustrations in picture books.  Nikki McClure is a particular favorite illustrator of mine.  Her work in Mama, Is It Summer Yet? is lovely.  I blogged about reading it last spring.

But a recent TED Talk took me beyond the world of picture books to a place where cut-paper becomes art & storytelling in many different contexts–from the cape the artist wears as she walks on stage to permanent installations around the world.  This is well worth watching for those interested in what you can do with scissors and paper.

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Reptile Edition

We went to the Minneapolis Central Library this weekend to see some reptiles courtesy of the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo in Owatonna.  Here are some memorable moments:

Ladybug wasn’t afraid of any of the animals.  She got to pet that python pictured above as well as the tortoise.  It was a great time.  I’ll have to get Nic Bishop’s Lizards from the library next time.  I bet she’d love it! :)

Happy anniversary, Hennepin County Libraries

What I like about the Hennepin County Library:

  • First of all, the library staff have responded to my suggestion, which makes me feel pretty good. :)
  • The Central Library in downtown Minneapolis is open seven days a week.  I wish more locations were open on Sundays and Mondays, but I’m quite grateful that there is one I can count on for my Sunday and Monday reading needs.
  • Speaking of the Central Library, it really is a cool building.  There is even a children’s book about the construction of the new library that came out in 2006.   You can get a free tour of the library on weekends.  I have yet to do this myself.  If anyone wants to take the tour sometime, let me know so I can join you. :)
  • The Central Library celebrates Minnesota’s rich literary history in its auditorium.  Each of the chairs in the auditorium has a name of a Minnesota author on it.  I, of course, love this connection to the community.
  • I’ve been to several cool events at the library in the past couple of years, such as the screening of a documentary about children’s books, and a celebration of Minnesota libraries.  In addition to the various storytimes I’ve attended with my little one.
  • An actor plays Gratia Countryman in an old library building at a local arts festival in 2010.

    Perhaps the coolest reason to like HC Lib is its history.  Gratia Countryman, in particular, is a notable figure in Minneapolis history as the first female director of the Minneapolis Public Library and the founder of the Hennepin County Library.  She was a strong advocate for women’s rights, and she was active in various organizations in the Twin Cities.   If you have an opportunity to catch a performance by a Minnesota Historical Society player, do it. Ms. Countryman is a fascinating historical figure that deserves wider name recognition.

Read more about Ms. Countryman and local library history in this brochure or visit the Central Library during the months of July, August, and September to view the exhibit on display in Cargill Hall, For Use: 125 Years of Library Service in Hennepin County.

I recently attended the opening celebration of the exhibit, which featured commentary from library figures about the nature of public service in Hennepin County (particularly in light of the current government shutdown) and the future of libraries in Hennepin County.  The exhibit will be open the same hours as the Central Library, so you can view it seven days a week through September 30th.

Explore how Minneapolis Public Library and Hennepin County Library have worked together to achieve the vision of Gratia Countryman, who said,

“The public library is an institution so pliable that it bends to every growing need of community life; so susceptible to social needs, so eager to render all possible service, that it must by virtue of its own nature reach out beyond the city borders.”

How has your public library responded to community needs?  How do you wish it would respond?

Love our Libraries

“If democracy were a religion, libraries would be its churches.”  Will Weaver was the first of the contributing authors of Libraries of Minnesota to relate his library love.  He spoke of the way libraries fit into our history and culture while others spoke of family and stories.  Marsha Wilson Chall spoke of “library eyes and library ears.”  David LaRochelle remembered his childhood library’s Summer Reading Club with fondness.  Pete Hautman recalled that “librarians scared the bejesus out of me.”  But my favorite story was from John Coy.  He spoke of growing up in a library family.  They were such a library family that when he eventually published his first children’s book, his mother was so proud of him that she told everyone to get her son’s book from the library.

Libraries of MinnesotaPhotographer Doug Ohman, who has photographed several books for the Minnesota Byways series, said that he has the best job: “I get paid to drive around Minnesota taking pictures.”  He spoke a bit of the interesting stories he gleaned from the librarians and community members as he photographed the libraries.  The most interesting of which was from the cover of the book.  The mural on the outside of the library in Houston, Minnesota was sketched out by a local artist then colored in by the community paint-by-numbers style.  What a great way to create a feeling of local pride in the library!

I am obviously a library person.  I imagine everyone in the audience tonight had a library story.  Maybe we could trace our love of reading back to a library or our career choice.  Maybe it was our home away from home.  Libraries can be anything, really.  Here are a few of the comments that Hennepin County Library received during National Library Week.  Just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to library love in Minneapolis, I’m sure.

Library of the Early Mind

“The best children’s stories are wisdom dipped in art and words.”  –Peter Reynolds in Library of the Early Mind

This afternoon, I attended a screening of the documentary Library of the Early Mind at the Minneapolis Central Library.  The sparsely filled auditorium held librarians, teachers, and other people affiliated with the business of children’s literature, but I would love to see this film move beyond that audience.  The film is a fascinating look into what we all remember about children’s books from the people who created them.  It is a celebration of what children’s book can do, the power they have, and the way they bring stories alive.  I particularly liked the Peter Reynolds quote above, which I hope I’m remembering properly since I didn’t take notes during the film, but there were so many great moments.  Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, is hilarious.  Jack Gantos talks about life as a writer in a way that makes you really get why he would choose to smuggle a bunch of hashish into the country (or try to, at least) and how his time in prison turned him into a writer.  I highly recommend his memoir, A Hole in My Life.  And I have added another book to my endless “to read list” thanks to this movie: David Small‘s Stiches.

In the panel discussion after the film, we learned from the director that inspiration for the documentary came from an article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik about Babar, which you can listen to here.  He also mentioned that right as the film was about to be released the New York Times started the discussion about picture books possible demise (read that here).  The members of the panel were of the opinion that picture books are not dead or dying.  The field is changing, but the love of story remains strong.  And picture books remain a powerful way of telling stories.

Here is the trailer:

This is a movie for anyone interested in stories. There is another screening tomorrow evening at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley. Check it out.