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.  

A portion of purchases made from links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support!

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.

Disclosure: links are affiliate links. A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

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! :)