Everything Librarian: 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Love James Lee Burke

If you like light, fluffy mysteries, James Lee Burke is not for you. If you like Dashiell Hammett and John Steinbeck, you may love the heck out of Burke. His detective novels have a dark and gritty style that one might call nouveau noir. Below are listed the top 10 reasons that I am completely and totally in love with the writing of American mystery writer James Lee Burke.

1. The writing. James Lee Burke is a masterful writer whose descriptions of nature and human nature are unparalleled. Burke writes as if he has had many lives from naturalist, to law enforcement officer, to psychologist, to rehab counselor, to addict--James Lee Burke has had a lot of experience in all of these areas. His writing is beautiful and powerful. His descriptions of light and landscape make him the literary equivalent of American landscape painter George Inness--Burke's images are quiet, intimate, and always related to the story. If you enjoy writers who can paint nature with words, James Lee Burke is the man.

2. Dave Robicheaux. Recovering alcoholic and law enforcement officer Dave Robicheaux is a seriously complicated and simple man. As the protagonist of many of Burke's novels, Robicheaux is part Sam Spade and part Jesse Stone, another alcoholic detective from the imagination of the great mystery writer Robert Parker. Dave's wife, Molly, is a former nun. Dave's best friend Cletus Purcel is another deeply complex and troubled man with a heart of gold. We also know that James Lee Burke, just like Dave Robicheaux, is a recovering alcoholic, so Robicheaux (like all writer's characters) is semi-autobiographical. Burke knows the dirty boogie of which he writes.

3. Country music. If you love the old-time country music of the Carter Family, Patsy Cline, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, you will love James Lee Burke. His writing is peppered with references to old-time country music and Cajun music. Old-time country music is the poignant, sad, and underlying soundtrack to many of Burke's books.

4. Human nature. If you are a fan of human nature, with our messy personal lives, our complicated back stories, whacked tendencies, and bad choices made on the fly, Dave Robicheaux and James Lee Burke are calling your name. There is always a thread of redemption that helps to bring Dave and Clete out of the gutter, but it's usually just a thin fiber of decency. Burke is a man clearly familiar with politics, deceit, nepotism, racism, poverty, and injustice.

5. Challenging stereotypes. Burke likes to present stereotypical characters that we think we know--the hooker with a heart of gold, the fugitive from law enforcement, the hardened criminal--and then he adds a twist and more characteristics that raise these players up to give them the feel of fully-realized human beings.

6. Great storytelling. I can almost never figure out whodunit in a James Lee Burke mystery. The skill of being able to suggest, conceal, and reveal the guilty party is perhaps one of the most-prized skills of a good mystery writer and Burke is the master. Like a magician, Burke can misdirect, redirect, and focus our attention where he wants it to be. Burke also has a great understanding of rural, small-town politics and law enforcement from his time in New Iberia, Louisiana and Lolo, Montana.

7. Award winning. Not only is James Lee Burke a best-selling author (which doesn't mean a whole lot qualitatively), he is an award winning author. Burke received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, a Louisiana Writer Award in 2002, and two Edgar Allen Poe writing awards in 1990 for "Black Cherry Blues" and 1998 for "Cimarron Rose".

8. Family. James Lee Burke is the cousin of American short story writer Andre Dubus II. Burke is father to American crime novelist and lawyer Alafair Burke who is also a very successful writer. Is there something in the Burke family that makes great writers? Maybe. Burke has also been married for 48 years to his wife Pearl, whom he met in graduate school at the University of Missouri.

9. FaceBook. I am friends with James Lee Burke on FaceBook and am often treated to spontaneous stories of the wild and domestic animals that live around his Montana ranch. Sometimes his daughter Pamala updates his FB page as well. It is always a pleasure and a treat to find a small sketch of Montana life in my FB feed. It reminds me that even though James Lee Burke is an award-winning and best-selling author, he is just a regular guy who appreciates nature. Burke also has an active message board through his website whereby readers may send a note or ask a question of the writer himself.

10. Collectible. I am a dedicated book hound. I scrounge for used books in every library, thrift shop, and book sale that I can find, and I have almost never found a James Lee Burke novel. Why? My theory is that people tend to hold onto these awesome mystery books or pass them on to people they love. People love books by James Lee Burke and don't tend to toss them so easily onto the pile with Clive Cussler and Danielle Steele.

So there you have it. Ten reasons to love James Lee Burke. But don't take my word for it. Burke has a couple of dozen books to his name and you can jump in on anyone of them at any time, there is no need to read the Robicheaux novels in order. And you can check out several James Lee Burke novels at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

E Equals Everyone: West Virginia Library Association Meets in Shepherdstown

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the West Virginia Library Association's annual fall conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. While the rainy and cold weather was uncooperative, it was still a great conference full of energy, ideas, and, of course, some wonderful librarians from all over the state.

Many librarians are concerned about the future of libraries. And it's no wonder since the printed word has gone through a huge loss, with many magazines and newspapers closing shop. So it was refreshing and fun to listen to Peggy Cadigan of the New Jersey State Library talk about the future of libraries. She talked about how libraries will have to be innovative and creative to survive and maintain loyal patrons. What I liked about Ms. Cadigan's presentation was that she compared her home state of New Jersey to West Virginia. New Jersey has the most diverse population in the US, while WV has the least diverse. (She had the sources to back up her facts, as well. Good librarian.) Ms. Cadigan is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists, which has intrigued me no end. Futurists are not about predicting the future, they are about anticipating changes. I like that too. Ms. Cadigan also gave out prizes based on answering trivia questions during her presentation which was charming and fun all at the same time. (The prizes were boxes of salt water taffy from the New Jersey shore.)

How To Get a Levy Passed

Later in the day I went to a talk by Brian Raitz of the Parkersburg and Wood County Library, and Erica Reed about how to Get Your Excess Levy Passed. An excess levy is a request for more funds from tax payers that is decided on by an election. In Randolph County, WV, our previous county superintendent was able to get a levy passed for the first time in decades. How did Dr. Phares get a levy passed? He held meetings at many schools in our county and answered every question about where the money would go and how it would be used. Dr. Phares is a natural politician who campaigned for the extra funds and was successful. Our Randolph County libraries receive $10,000 every year for the five years that the levy is enacted. Our levy expires in two more years and I am thinking about the future of our libraries. That $10k represents almost one-third of our operating budget. What will we do when that money runs out?

Mr. Raitz talked about the behind-the-scenes campaigning that is necessary to educate voters and cultivate library supporters. As librarians, we are limited by ethics and the law about how we campaign for our libraries. We are not allowed to ask people to vote for an excess library while we are in the library. We may not use library funds to promote the levy or legislation. We are not allowed to directly ask our politicians to vote for legislation that increases our funding. Librarians are allowed to talk about the benefits of libraries. We may talk about innovative programs that we are using to engage, empower, and educate our library patrons. If your library has a Friends of the Library organization, they may print and distribute signs and flyers. Nonprofit Friends of the Library groups may solicit politicians to vote on legislation to benefit libraries. The bottom line of this presentation was that librarians and avid library patrons need to toot their own horns about the power of libraries to change lives for the better.

There were a couple of events that I missed that night that included a "Banned Books, Bordeaux and Beer", sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable of the WVLA, and a movie and a pub crawl through historic Shepherdstown. (I had to go to class that night online...sigh.)

Data and Communication

The next day I went to a presentation by Dr. Majed Khader, director of the Morrow Library at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, entitled "Data On Demand: Federal Government Information at Your Fingertips." Sadly, because of the government shutdown many of the census bureau sites that he was going to use for his presentation had been shuttered as well. However, he had planned ahead and had some great references handouts for us courtesy of the United States Census Bureau. So, why is it important for librarians to have access to census data? The data can be used to write a grant, to inform our legislators, and to get a better picture of the makeup of our communities.

I also attended a presentation by West Virginia Library Commission Secretary Karen Goff, who spoke about "Communicating With Your Elected Officials". Even though we are librarians (not professional lobbyists) it is important to have a few details about what makes your library special ready to talk to your state and national representatives. When your representative says, "We love your little library", be sure to tell them how many children's programs you had last year. Or how much money you raised at a particular fundraiser. Or your annual attendance number. Make sure that your elected officials have real facts about the awesomeness of your library. ('Cause your library is Awesome!)

Later in the day, I had the honor of making my own presentation on "Developing Alternative Revenue Streams For Your Library." I had about 20 attendees who listened to me talk about how I sell books on Amazon to profit the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. I also talked about how you can create a blog, like the one you are reading, and monetize it through Google AdSense. It's really easy, free, kind of fun, and it's a great way to keep interested library patrons informed about goings on at your library. I also talked about joining Amazon Associates and writing book reviews on the blog with links to Amazon to buy the books, audio CDs, or e-books. I also included plugs for selling books via Better World Books, and for encouraging patrons to use Kroger cards to send money back to your library every time they shop. My goal is to use the Internet to bring in money to my library in every creative and clever way possible, as alternatives to bake sales, cake walks, and other typical fundraisers.

Later, we had a Library Director's Roundtable where I got to meet library directors from all over the state.

The Evening Buffet

That evening, we had a pleasant buffet dinner and listened to Dr. Sam K. Hastings of the University of South Carolina's School of Library and Information Science talk about the importance of professional, degreed librarianship in West Virginia. Dr. Hastings generously offered to match dollars with anyone who wanted to enroll in the University's distance education degree program. Entertaining and inspiring, Dr. Hastings made a lasting impression on many librarians that evening. I was also honored with a cash scholarship from the WVLA in acknowledgement of my enrollment in the Master's of Information Science program through the University of Tennessee. I am truly grateful for this scholarship. Even though I have my tuition paid for via the ITRL2 scholarship, I still have fees each semester and textbooks to buy. Several other library students were honored as well, and I am so proud of all of us who are working and going to school to pursue professional librarianship. Thank you, WVLA!

I left the West Virginia Library Association's fall conference with batteries charged and lots of ideas swimming in my head, some of which were showing off with colorful swim caps and doing synchronized swimming, but that is just my unusual imagination. I am looking forward to the next WVLA event, the Spring Fling in 2014. Will I see you there?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Top 10 Things I Have Learned About Rural Libraries

It has been a little over a year since I became the director of the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

While I have lots of library experience, it was primarily in urban areas. This is the first rural, remote library that I have ever worked in. While the size of our collection and our patronage might be small, I have learned some BIG library lessons here. Please allow me to list in descending order the Top Ten Things I Have Learned About Rural Libraries.

10. I cannot please all of our patrons. Although it may cause me sadness when I cannot find the book or material that a patron requests, I can feel good knowing that I have tried my best for them. If our library doesn't own a book, I can offer to buy the book (if it will appeal to others) or inter-library loan the book.

9. Being in charge of a library is a lot like owning your own home. You will always have projects on your "to do" list, and it is impossible to have everything perfect. Somedays, the hours fly by and I realize that I have been so busy helping patrons that I have had very little time to do other things, like cataloging, ordering library supplies, or eating lunch.

8. My best ideas for the library and for buying books come from the patrons. Don't let salespeople at publishing companies persuade you into previewing books. Your patrons are your best source of ideas for books to buy for your library.

7. The patron who is in front of you is more important than any task at hand, unless your library is on fire. Good customer service is the key to a successful small library. Listen carefully to every complaint and suggestion. This is better than any focus group or survey.

6. Know the difference between a teaching moment and when you can just provide a service for your patron. While it is great to try to teach someone how to use a word processing software, if they have limited reading and writing skills, you may both be better off if you just type and write for your patron who needs a flyer created or a letter written.

5. Keep an updated list of talking points for community members, members of the legislature, your board of trustees, and potential donors. Your library is important. Why is it important? Make a list, spell it out, make sure you have a few bullet points that you can tell someone else to remind them of the services offered by the library. An example, "This year, we are reading nonfiction books about animal habitats to help reinforce Content Standard Objectives for Pre-K to third grade."

4. Don't make any major changes for the first six months to one year. Take time to assess the culture of your library and to absorb the process that has evolved. After time, evaluate what works well in the library and what does not. Try changing or tweaking small aspects of your library to improve services or information organization. Evaluate your changes to make sure that they are in line with the mission of your library. (Also, remember that when you effect change you are also changed by the thing you are changing.)

3. Genealogy and tourism play an important part of the activity at a rural public library. At least once or twice a week, we receive visitors who are researching their family trees or copying their genealogies. We have many local genealogies that have been lovingly collected, typed, and hand-written by local researchers. Tourists use the library as a place to use the restroom, stretch legs, get directions, and check email.

2. Libraries have a long and loyal following. The wonderful thing about libraries is that so many people have a warm, and perhaps nostalgic, connection to public libraries. It's easy for me to sell the value of reading and libraries to this natural audience.

1. A small library in a small town may be more important than a big library in a big town. Why? Because in urban areas the general public has a variety of access points for the Internet or buying books, from Starbucks to Barnes & Noble. In a rural community, people may not have access to broadband Internet or bookstores. And it's not just my crazy theory--The Institute of Museum and Library Services conducted a recent report that says the same thing here.

I still have a lot to learn about Harman, West Virginia at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. Maybe I will report back in another year on the lessons I have learned in our sweet, rural library in Randolph County.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce is a 2012 work of fiction. Harold Fry is an older gentleman who receives a letter from an old friend who is dying. On a walk to the mail box to deliver a reply to Queenie, Harold decides to walk to the nursing home where his old friend is living out her final days. The rub is that Harold will have walk clear from southern England to Scotland, a trip of over 700 miles to visit his old friend. Harold makes it clear that his walking is meant to encourage Queenie to survive.

Harold's wife Maureen is not sure what to make of her perceived abandonment, even though Harold calls and sends postcards fairly regularly. Along Harold's journey he relies on others for food, makes some new friends, and creates a bit of a media sensation for himself. Harold's journey is, of course, more than just a walk. Fry is seeking answers to unresolved issues in his life of his former friend Queenie, his son David, and the issues of his own upbringing. What does it all mean? Where will Harold end up? What is the significance of Harold's relationship with Queenie? Faithful reader, you will have to find out for yourself.

Ultimately, every good work of fiction is a slowly unfolding mystery, and "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" is no exception. The beauty of this book lies in the effortless writing of Rachel Joyce. I dove into this book somewhat skeptical of the glowing praise on the cover by the likes of Nancy Horan and O: The Oprah Magazine. But I loved reading this book. I loved Harold Fry. I loved his wife, Maureen. The simple and unencumbered language of Rachel Fry is beautiful and so appropriate for the story and character of Harold Fry. I also enjoyed Joyce's descriptions of people and the beautiful English countryside that Harold walks through.

I found it interesting and pertinent that Rachel Joyce is a seasoned playwright for BBC radio. Her use of imagery is masterful and minimal, and she has the ability to propel a story forward with grace, and not too much schmaltz.

If you are looking for a good beach read, a good book club book, a soothing modern cautionary tale, a modern (yet timeless) work of fiction, look no further than "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry".

You can check out "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Midwives in West Virginia

I was helping a patron today at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library who was looking for some information about her Harman and Huffman ancestors in Randolph County and Pendleton County, West Virginia. In digging through our records of marriages, births, and deaths, I found an old photocopy about Aunt Sara Midwife (1853-1916). I have no idea where the piece of paper came from but the story of Aunt Sara is so typical of the strong frontier women of West Virginia. I have transcribed below what I found:

Aunt Sara Midwife

"Aunt Sara Murphy Wilmoth Phillips the second of thirteen children of Elder James and Mary (Polly) Stansbury Murphy. Her paternal grandparents were Jonah and Sarah Pride Stansbury.

She was born December 3, 1853 in their home on Haddix Mountain, Randolph County, near the Tucker County line.

She was married July 15, 1869 first to Abel Wilmoth, and to this union were born four children, Lloyd, Hinnie, Emma, and Evva [sic]. Later she married Albert Phillips, but they had no children. Besides her own four children Aunt Sarah helped to rear three other children who needed a home, Elam Cross, Charley Wamsley, and Gladys Vanscoy. After marriage she lived in a log house, but later they built the fine home that was located in the field near where the J and H market is now located. The home burned within the last year, and the burned remains can still be seen from the highway.

Perhaps the greatest contribution she made to her community was her services as a midwife which according to records began in 1889 when she was 36 years old, and ended in 1916 when she was 63. She died December 26, 1916. In her medical records the first births recorded were those of Cora Wilmoth, January 10, 1889, who later married her youngest brother, Hickman Murphy, and Columbus Rossey, July 19, 1889 who was the son of her oldest sister, Isabella. One of the last recordings in her book was Roscoe Murphy, January 16, 1916, a cousin. She worked very little the year of 1916.

Her son-in-law Austin Curtis, who married her daughter Hinnie said, "Her records were thorough, and promptly recorded at the court house."

In most of the reports we find the name of each child, the date of birth, and the number of the child. She gave the names of the parents, and many times their ages, the maiden name of the mother, and the county where they were born. It is interesting to note how many of the parents came into Randolph County from Barbour County.

In response to calls, in early years by the father's voice, and later years by phone, night or day, she mounted her sorrel mare, Maude, and away she went on a side saddle with her little black bag. In cold weather she wrapped her legs even though she wore long skirts and petticoats. She stayed as long as she was needed at each home until both mother and baby were alright.

She was not only a midwife, but she was a friend to help the mother care for the babies, and she did much work as a Doctor anytime she was called.

Aunt Sarah did her work well because of her God given talent, and experience. She was not required to have a practicing license, as did her niece, Bessie Ferguson, who was also a midwife in later years.

Aunt Sarah perhaps never charged more than five dollars to deliver a baby, yet she was a good manager in her home and accumulated considerable wealth. She found work for all members of her family as they raised, harvested, and sold farm products. The merchants in Montrose would buy, trade, and sell, anything the people in the community had extra.

Even though all the children worked for Aunt Sarah, she sent them to school and they all loved her.

Her records show that she delivered 36 babies in this community. Many of their names you will recognize as you read the following complete list as preserved by her grandson, the late Russell Curtis, and his wife Pauline, who loaned the fragile books and Aunt Sarah's picture to be copied. We hope that you will be able to find some names and dates that will help you in compiling your own family history.

In the front of one of Aunt Sarah's books we found this message:

"When these you see, Oh, think of me."

I am indeed thinking of you today, Aunt Sara Midwife of West Virginia.

Fiction From West Virginia

Which reminds me...Have you read the "The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife" (2012) by Patricia Harman? It is a story that may be a lot like that of Aunt Sarah Midwife.

Patience Murphy is a midwife who travels her community birthing babies and helping out new mothers. Murphy has come to Appalachia to escape a chequered past and to reinvent herself. (And honestly, a lot of people still come to WV to start over or to reinvent themselves.) Midwife Murphy distinguishes herself by serving both the white and black populations of West Virginia.

Probably also true to past times, Midwife Murphy accepts produce or livestock from patients unable to to pay cash.

Patricia Harman proves herself to be a top notch writer by delivering authentic mountain prose without resorting to hokey dialect. As a West Virginian and midwife, Harman's story has the distinct ring of truth and beauty. Each chapter tells the story of a birth and ends with the entry in her journal.

"The Midwife of Hope River" is one of those magical books that is written so seamlessly that it almost reads itself. Rewarding and rich, "The Midwife of Hope River" is a book that will please discerning readers of all ages.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Remembering September 11, and Explaining It to Kids

Earlier this spring a third grader at the next-door Harman School asked if the Pioneer Memorial Public Library had any books about September 11. In searching our online catalog I realized that we did not. I put this subject matter on my mental wish list -- where could I find a book that was suitable for kids about the attacks on America that occurred on September 11, 2001?

First, this is an important topic. For most adults we will never forget where we were when we heard the news about this great tragedy that effected so many. Many of us were effected personally by friends, family, or acquaintances who were at or near the sites. Even watching the events unfold on television was traumatizing for millions around the world. It is important that we be able to talk about this day, and it is important that there are books available to our children so that they might better understand September 11.

I am pleased to say that we recently acquired a book that may be considered a great introduction for kids about the events that took place on that fateful day.

"America Is Under Attack" (2011) by Don Brown is easy to read, but difficult to experience. I forgot how complicated the events were that took place on that day. Four separate airplanes were ultimately hijacked and used as weapons by al-Qaeda terrorists. The book uses attractive and slightly cartoonish illustrations to show the roles played by the firemen, the terrorists, and the thousands of innocent victims whose only mistake was boarding a plane, or showing up for work at the Pentagon in Washington DC, or the Twin Towers in New York City. Thankfully, the faces of the people in the book are abbreviated and let the words of the book shine through to tell this complicated tale that reveals the best and worst that humanity has to offer.

Brown also uses real stories of people who were on the scene in New York City. These individual stories of courage and tragedy help to make this story real and memorable. The bibliography that is a part of this book helps if you want to see source documents or check out other books and articles to read. This book is appropriate for ages 6-10 and grades one through five.

As a parent, I do suggest that you read this book first so that you know what your child is reading and that you are ready to answer questions. Also, you may want to make sure that this book is appropriate for your child. Some more sensitive and impressionable kids may find the events of September 11 disturbing, and honestly, they are quite right to feel this way. While many historical events may be upsetting or difficult for youngsters, knowledge is power. If your son or daughter is asking questions about September 11, "America Is Under Attack" by Don Brown is a great way to start a conversation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How To Sell Books, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon

I started selling books and CDs online ten years ago when I realized that I had too many and that I needed to part with some of my collection to make room for newer items. It has taken me a long time to become good at selling online. I have also made a lot of mistakes along the way. But below, in cheat sheet form, is how to sell stuff on Amazon.

Open an Account

If you have never bought anything on Amazon you need to start an account. If you have bought on Amazon, you already have an account that you can use as your seller account. Go to Amazon.com to get started.
Start Small
Start with a small stack of books, CDs, or DVDs that you would like to sell. Using the ISBN, author, or title, search (on Amazon) for the item that you would like to sell on Amazon. Once you find the record for it, if you look to the right of the page you will see a small button that says, "Have one to sell?" Click on this button and follow the prompts for listing your item. (This part is just like Level One cataloguing. You cannot create a new record on Amazon--you have to attach it to a record that already exists.)
Condition Take some time to examine each item so that you can accurately assess the condition of your book, CD, or DVD. Does the book have a dust jacket? Include a description of the condition of the dust jacket ("mild shelf wear", "a few small rips", "like mint"). How is the binding of the book? Are all the pages intact? Has someone written their name or notes in the book? Does your book info match up to the Amazon book info? If it has a different copyright or printing date, you want to include that. Does the book smell funny? Has it been kept in a smoke-free household? Is the cover scuffed? Is the CD lightly scratched but still playable? These are all aspects of each item that you should consider and include in an accurate description that will help you sell more easily. Be careful in your descriptions. Discerning book buyers will not hesitate to return an item that is not as described.
When evaluating condition, always err on the side of reducing the condition.
Condition choices include:
Like New - This item should look like it just came from a bookstore shelf. I have had books returned for minor scuffing on the dust jacket.
Very Good - This item might have minor cosmetic blemishes but is almost Like New.
Good - These are books that have writing someone's name on the inside cover, perhaps the pages are slightly yellowed, but the binding is tight and all the pages are intact and readable.
Acceptable - I almost never sell books that are rated at this level because it means a book has serious condition issues. If these books don't have substantial resale value these "acceptable" books are also great for lighting your fireplace in winter.
Pricing Take a look at the quantity of other copies that you are selling. If there are several hundred copies of a book for sale, chances are it is selling for not a lot of cash. It is up to you to decide what your financial threshold is for selling books. For example, I have decided that books that are worth less than $10 are probably not worth selling online personally. (These books probably go to the library book sale or Better World Books.) I try to price my books ten-cents below the lowest price on Amazon, therefore my listing gets picked first by the shopper looking for the cheapest price.
The price of a book is just like a stock or bond in that it's value may fluctuate regularly based on number of available copies. As a dedicated bookseller, I update my inventory pricing once a week to remain the lowest price seller on all of my items. I also usually tweak inventory on Fridays knowing that weekends are the busiest shopping time.
Shipping Consider which shipping options that you will offer to your sellers. The more options you have the more chances you have at making a sale. However, because of my location (in a remote state) I only offer "regular shipping". One-day and two-day shipping are just not viable options when you live in the hills of West Virginia.
Yay, You've Sold a Book! Once you sell a book you need to be diligent about shipping out within one to two days, otherwise customers will complain. When shipping books, CDs, or DVDs, I recommend shipping via Media Mail as this is usually the cheapest form of mailing. First Class mail may be cheaper for smaller and lighter items such as CDs and DVDs. Talk to your local postal employees and make those people your friends. They can be very helpful in recommending shipping choices that will save you cash.
Amazon makes order fulfillment easy by providing you with a shipping label (use it, it avoids typos) and a receipt, both of which you print out from your printer. Technically, if you include even a handwritten note of thanks on the invoice the post office can make you pay First Class. The Postmaster of any USPS center has the right to open and inspect any Media Mail package to confirm that you are sticking to the rules, but honestly, in all my years of selling and shipping this has never happened.
Make sure that you package your book, CD, or DVD for safe shipping. A cheap way to handle this is by buying bubble mailers in bulk at a place online called ULine. (There are many places and just like books, these prices fluctuate too. Do some research to find the best price.) Imagine that the item that you have sold is going to get thrown and tossed by the package handlers and pack accordingly.
Getting Paid Amazon pays out twice a month directly into your (or your library's) bank account. They hold cash out in case of refunds and they also take their cut. (You didn't think Amazon would help you sell for free, did you?) Amazon is purposefully vague about their percentage, but as best as I can figure, they take about a third of your profits. Amazon also reimburses you for shipping, but if you are shipping larger or heavier items you might lose money in this process. That is why it is more profitable to sell small things rather than big things. (Avoid heavy coffee table-sized books.)
That's pretty much all you need to know to get started. The real trick is being able to figure out quickly which books have resale value and which do not. This skill has taken me years.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's It Like to Attend Graduate School Online?

So what is it like to attend graduate school online?

First, let me say it is awesome.

The program: I will be taking two classes per semester for two years and hope to graduate with my Master's degree in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in Summer 2015. I was the recipient of a rural librarian scholarship, meant to boost professional librarianship in rural Appalachia. (It's called ITRL2 and was the brainchild of UTK and funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

The classes: The two classes I am taking this semester deal with reference services and a history of the information sciences. Sound boring? They are actually Very Interesting, thought-provoking, and engaging.

My classmates: I am part of a cohort that has 12 other ITRL2 scholarship recipients. Most of my classmates are younger, and we are mostly female. My classmates are from Tennessee and Virginia. They are all very kind, funny, and smart! I am thrilled to be a part of this group of fellow bibliophiles and professionals.

The technology: Some online degree programs allow a student to read and learn at their own pace and do the work on their own time. The classes I am taking are synchronous, meaning that I attend class two nights per week with my classmates and professor all present at the same time. I use a laptop (provided by the grant and UTK) to connect to a software called BlackBoard.

We all convene in a virtual classroom and can hear the professor speak and go through PowerPoint slides. I also have a headset and mic so I can interact with the class. There is also a chat board so we can choose to say comments or type comments. Sometimes, we have a classmate chat going on while the professor is lecturing which can be fun, stimulating, and over-stimulating all at the same time.

The reading: I have a textbook for each class as well as supplemental readings. I read a lot every week. Sometimes, I feel like the information I am reading is way over my head. I also kind of like this. I know from reading experience that this means I am learning and being challenged. If I am patient and persistent, I eventually comprehend what I am reading. Sometimes, it just takes time and digestion.

The homework: We have lots of homework every single week about the readings and lectures. I am probably spending at least 10 hours per week just on reading and homework, but I am not complaining. I actually...enjoy it. Our homework has to be uploaded to the same BlackBoard site where we attend classes.

So, Mary, how is this going to help the Pioneer Memorial Public Library? Hopefully, this whole program will enable me to be the best librarian possible for my community. I also realize that I am walking in some very big shoes. This library has been well-loved and utilized by the community since the 1980's and I hope to be able to serve the public as best I can. There are not many professional librarians in Randolph County, West Virginia, and I hope to be able to improve the local state of librarianship in general through my education.

In August, I will travel to Knoxville for orientation and to meet my advisors and classmates. I am looking forward to meeting everyone, to visiting Knoxville, and getting to walk around the University of Tennessee. I am so grateful that they took a chance on me and on the Pioneer Memorial Public Library!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Good News, Bad News

The Bad News

As most of you reading this already know, I was in a bad car accident on March 20, 2013, on my way to work at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. These weeks of recovery have been long and painful, but I am pleased to announce that I should be back to work and driving in the coming weeks. I am still recovering from a broken and dislocated ankle, several broken ribs, a broken sternum, bruised intestines, knee lacerations, and a head laceration. I still cannot walk but am beginning to put some weight on my ankle. Perhaps my greatest accomplishments so far are being able to go up a few steps (yay!) and taking a shower without risking my life.

I have never had a bad accident before but as a librarian who believes in lifelong learning I have learned A LOT from this experience. Here is what I have learned:

* The general world is not set up for handicapped people. I will never complain about parking lots with too many handicapped parking spaces ever again.

* It's very difficult to apply for and receive Medicaid. I will never complain about people who receive government subsidies as chances are good they have had to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops to get help.

* My friends and acquaintances care about me and have truly cared for me during this time. I received flowers, cards, phone calls, and food from many people. I will never doubt that I am cared for again.

* The body is an amazing piece of technology that knows just what to do in a crisis. I will never doubt the magical healing properties of the body.

* I will never complain about cleaning the house or emptying the cat litter box! I miss being able to do these things. Really.

* We have incredible medical technology and yet the body, with its glitches and ailments, is still quite mysterious.

The Good News!

Part of what has sustained me during this time is knowing that I was a recipient of a Rural Librarian scholarship through the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Thanks to UTK and the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, I am the only person in West Virginia to receive this scholarship in 2013. I am majoring in Information Sciences and if all goes well will receive my MS degree in two years. Accredited by the American Library Association, I learned about the availability of this scholarship opportunity from the Laura Bush Foundation, took the GREs in November, and applied for it in December.

I learned of my scholarship award just prior to my accident, and knowing that this was waiting for me has helped to sustain me through some dreary days. Most of my course work is online and in the evenings, so it's easy and convenient to attend classes. The goal of my degree is not only to educate myself and advance professionally, it is to custom tailor my studies to improve the Pioneer Memorial Library, which is near and dear to my heart. I could not have received this scholarship if it were not my position at PMPL.

Thank You!

I would like to thank a ton of groups for coming to my aid on the day of my accident including: The Elkins Fire Department, the Harman Fire Department, the Whitmer Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, and Phi Air, the med-evac helicopter that flew me to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV. I would also like to thank the Trauma Team and the Orthopedic Departments at Ruby, as well as the doctors and nurses who took great care of me.

I would also like to thank the 2nd and 3rd graders at Harman School for their cheery get well cards and messages. They made me cry.

Thank you to all the folks who called, sent cards, or brought food to my house. I have needed the help and truly appreciate all the kindnesses that have been shown to me. Thank you to Cheryl Brown who has kept the Pioneer Memorial Public Library up and running during my time in recovery. Thank you to library board president Judy Bucher for managing the installation and completion of our new addition, and the renovation of the rest of the library space. If you haven't been to the library in awhile you should stop by and check it out!

When I blog again, I hope to have more information about how my classes are going as they begin at the end of this month!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bookclubs Create Community

Recently on my morning commute to Pioneer Memorial Public Library I was in a terrible car crash. I was life flighted to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV, where I was treated for a horribly dislocated and broken ankle, severe knee lacerations, broken ribs and sternum, and a concussion with a head laceration. My faithful Subaru Legacy station wagon was totalled.

I was in intensive care for two days and then transferred to a regular bed. After four long days of pain, and relearning how to walk using a walker I came home to complete my recovery which will take months.

I live with my boyfriend and my 15 year old son. They had worked very hard to prepare a new bedroom downstairs for me as I am unable to climb stairs. My boyfriend is a great cook but most of his time is now taken up with taking care of me. This is where my bookclub comes in...

I have been a part of a local bookclub in Elkins, WV, for over 10 years. Once a month we take turns choosing books to read and then have a meeting and discussion of the book. There are always about a dozen of us in the bookclub at any given time. Members have come and gone over the years, but there is always a core group of nice ladies who like to get together to drink wine and talk about books. We all mostly live in the same neighborhood and we know each other's kids and families, sometimes peripherally, sometimes closely.

In my time of crisis, the ladies of my bookclub have made up a schedule and they are bringing food and meals to us most every single day. Earlier in the week we were treated to homemade bread and chili, split pea soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese. This expression of love, care, and nurturing has all been built upon a common love of books.

While we all might agree that books improve knowledge, which in turn creates power, books can also create community. I am truly grateful for the acts of these kind and empathetic women who over the years have become my friends. Thank you, ladies, for helping me and my family during this difficult time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Overdue: Getting Creative

OK, as a librarian, one of my pet peeves is overdue books and especially long-term overdue books. At the Pioneer Memorial Public Library we don't have a lot of cash to spend on mailing out overdue notices, but at the same time we also only have a $2,000 per year book buying budget. That means that even a few missing books or DVDs really means a lot to a small library.

The overdue notices are generated automatically by the library circulation software that we use, but these notices are very impersonal and not particularly friendly. So this month when I sent out overdue notices I decided to try to a new tactic. After all, I spent years designing direct mail marketing, aka junk mail, in which there is a whole science to getting the all important response.

So I decided to approach the overdue notice with a little light-hearted verse in the style of Dr. Seuss. Here is the result:

Dear friends and readers,
Please lend me your ears,
We’re looking for lost books,
From over the years.

They may be in your house,
Or under the bed,
We hope that you liked them,
We hope they were read.

But other folks need them,
These wonderful tomes,
For loaning and learning,
For reading at home.

Please look for the books,
Wherever they are,
We need them back pronto
Are they in your car?

For buying new books
We don’t have lots of cash
So please search your cupboards,
And your own bookshelf stash.

Just drop them off
In our trusty drop box for books
No questions asked,
No dirty looks.

If you have returned
the books in this note
Just give us a call,
We’re sorry we wrote. :-)

I also included a note staying that we are waiving all fines until the end of June. Honestly, we just want our books or DVDs back. In direct mail, a one or two-percent response rate is considered good. But in the small library world I am hoping for a larger return of long lost books and DVDs. We shall see how successful my new approach may be.

If you have any older, overdue books from the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, just bring them by until June 30, 2013, for a full fine forgiveness.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Libraries, Previewing Books, and Collection Development

When I first started working at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, I was surprised at how many sales calls we received from publishers, personalized goods, writers, and even snow removal salt companies. The majority of these sales calls come from publishers of kids fiction and nonfiction who want to mail me books to preview with return postage included if I decide not to buy. Does this business model still work in the age of the Internet?

I Don't Preview Books

Previewing books doesn't work for me in a small library. First of all, I know my audience. My kids love to read, especially the younger ones. I use a couple of great resources to choose books for my library, and I have to credit former librarian Stacy Kay with passing along her knowledge to me. (Thank you, Stacy!) I have a couple of younger, voracious readers who are about eight years old. I let them suggest titles to me to buy. When those books come in, they gobble them up and recommend them to all their friends. Not only is this a simple way to promote the library, but it also turns your patrons into active tastemakers in the community. We are all working in collaboration to create a better selection of books that inspire a love of reading and knowledge. I don't have time to preview books and then have to possibly schlep them back to the post office to mail them back. I'm also betting that these types of book companies make most of their money from customers who are just too busy to return books.

I let my teen readers choose books as well. They tell their friends who also have to read them. Read, rinse, repeat.

Main Line Books

I have worked one day a week at Main Line Books in Elkins and have gained a lot of knowledge in books that are popular with young people thanks to the excellent book selecting of store owner Vickie Roidt. From the vantage point of this independent bookstore I have followed the teen book trends of Twilight, House of Night, Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars. The adult fiction book trend has gone from Life of Pi, Three Cups of Tea, Cutting For Stone, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades of Grey. Market trends in books are important. Just being in touch with people who like to read in a retail environment has given me a feel for what people like to read.

Researching Collection Development aka Book Buying

Other places I research books include the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association, National Public Radio's annual Top 100 list, and Amazon. At Amazon you can find the most popular books for any given age or grade, and classified into fiction and nonfiction.

There is one publisher who won me over by being able to provide nonfiction science books for my middle schoolers. Junior Library Guild doesn't call me a lot to pitch new services. The books they provide are new, nicely illustrated, and always hardbacks. My one year subscription gets me 12 books, one per month, for about $195, that's $16.25 per book and shipping. I thought that was a great deal, and as a member I can buy their backlist titles for $7 per book. I like that too. The JLG tagline is "Collection development for every library," and they mean it. If you have a weak area in your library collection that needs a little expert help, do not hesitate to seek out the help of professionals. After all, in a small rural library with two staff members sometimes you need a little assistance in figuring out the best books to buy.

Please Don't Call Me, Book Salespeople

And, I have asked most of the salespeople to take me off of their calling list permanently. They may email me promotions and pitches so I can look at them all at one time or politely hit the delete key. For most salespeople, in calling to solicit they are going through a list of all United States libraries to try to make a sale. Salesfolk -- doesn't that sound nicer than salesperson? -- have no idea whether they are calling a large metropolitan library with a huge book-buying budget, or a tiny library with an equally diminutive book-buying budget. They are casting the widest marketing net hoping to hit a sale, and I get that and appreciate that. It's just mostly not a good fit for me and my smaller-sized library. When I explain this to the phone callers, they are mostly polite about it.

Westerfeld Series The Uglies

As an aside: I find it interesting that a series of books that is very popular at Main Line Books in Elkins, West Virginia, has not been so popular in Harman, about 23 miles away. At the bookstore I have sold many copies of the four books in the The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. At the library I recently bought these books and catalogued them. The first book went out and has not yet been returned. End of story. But what I have learned from this is that teachers in rural areas set reading trends. At Elkins Middle School one or two of the teachers use the Westerfeld books as part of their class bringing her students and their friends into the bookstore to buy copies of these contemporary classics. I have not had that experience at the library with tweens and teens. Perhaps some of the elementary school kids are much more influenced by the their teacher's reading selection, or the older kids are not reading many books in their classroom.

If you would like to purchase the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld you may click the links below. Or, come to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Two Crime Books by Janet Evanovich

If you have not read anything by American mystery writer Janet Evanovich, you might consider her series of books that feature Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter.

It all starts with "One For the Money", first published in 1994. We meet Stephanie Plum, the half-Czech, half-Italian bounty hunter and Jersey girl. In this book, we follow Stephanie as she is laid off from her job as lingerie buyer and seeks another job as bounty hunter from her cousin Vinnie.

There has been a murder in Trenton, New Jersey and Stephanie knows the man who is wanted in connection with the homocide, an ex-flame and cop named Joe Morelli. We also meet Stephanie's family. Her doting mother and her hilarious Grandma Lazur. (Grandma Lazur gets many of the best lines.) We also meet Benito Ramirez, a psychotic boxer who assults Stephanie, and a couple of prostitutes with hearts of gold.

Did Joe Morelli murder someone? Will Stephanie Plum catch the bad guy? Much hilarity ensues...

If you would like to purchase a copy of "One For the Money" by Janet Evanovich you can click here.

I also listened to "Two For the Dough" also by Janet Evanovich and published in 1996. There is no need to really read the Stephanie Plum books in sequential order, but there were a few references to the previous book. Also, Joe Morelli is around a lot more in this book, so it helps if you read "One For the Money".

In "Two For the Dough" a slightly more seasoned Stephanie is trying to solve the mystery of the missing caskets, and missing bail jumper Kenny Mancuso. Mancuso makes a great protagonist who we really want Stephanie to catch, especially when he messes with Grandma Mazur. If you would like to buy a copy of "Two For the Dough" you can click here.

Janet Evanovich has mastered the art of the comedic mystery. The humor is one of the best things about Evanovich's writing. Also, Stephanie Plum is no shrinking violet. We admire the chutzpah of this female protagonist who gets out and finds a job in the face of her car being repossessed and her refrigerator empty.

The bad stuff about Evanovich is the New Jersey clich├ęs that surround Plum and the other characters. There are lots of guido-types with half-baked Godfather dialogue, though, having lived in Philadelphia just outside NJ, I know this isn't always just a stereotype. There is nothing deep, or earth-shattering about the writing and books of Janet Evanovich. They are just fun and funny.

I also decided to listen to this book on audio CD, one that is available from the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. The woman who reads the books, C. J. Critt, has an amazing voice with a whole array of Jersey-accented folks who appear in the book. This is the first audiobook I have ever listened to and I really enjoyed it.

We have both books and audio CDs ready for checkout at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. We are located in Randolph County, West Virginia.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Creating Ad Revenue Through Amazon Associates and Google Adsense

Sounds like a fascinating topic, right? But, if this can generate more income for your library, why not?

Here's how it works.

1. Create a blog within your library website, or externally on a free blogging site.

2. Within that blog, write regular book or product reviews of items for sale on Amazon and include a link.

3. Register your blog for free with Amazon Associates.

4. Every time someone clicks on a blog link and purchases the item, your library gets a small chunk of that money, as a sort of referral fee.

If you have a large library patron population this is a great way to generate income for your library and promote reading through book reviews. Blog entries also encourage a dialogue with your patrons. How can your library better serve your community?

Amazon Associates makes it fairly easy to set up an account and to start to figure out how to link products from Amazon to your blog or website. They recommend that the products that you choose to promote should be in line with the general theme of your website. So, book reviews make a great fit for any library or bookstore website. It's also a great fit with Amazon, the number one bookseller, and online retailer in the universe. You can read more about the Amazon Associates Program here.

(In my next blog entry, I will review two audio books I recently listened to by Janet Evanovich. My reviews will include photographs of the book covers and links to buy the products on Amazon, just to give you a better idea of what I'm talking about.)

The Google Adsense program is also free to join. The only slightly tricky bit is placing a tracker code on your main page's html, really not that hard. Once you register your library and Google Adsense approves your account, ads will start appearing on your library's blog. At this point, you may want to go into your ad preferences and indicate which kinds of ads you want for your site. Because our library is associated with a K-12 school, I indicated that I didn't want ads for tobacco, alcohol, or ads of an adult nature on the site.

So, for example, the blog you are reading right now probably has ads on either side of the columns. That is part of the Google Adsense program. Site visitors who choose to click on these ads and then purchase something generate income for the site in the way of a referral fee. But whatever you do, DO NOT click for the purpose of generating income for your library. That is considered click fraud and Google takes this Very, Very seriously.

I've had our Google Adsense account active for about a month and have seen zero revenue. I am hoping that when I create linked book reviews with Amazon that our library will generate more income from this. With a well-written book review with correct SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I am hoping to attract a wider audience than just Randolph County, West Virginia. This is another great reason why using the Internet to promote your library is a natural and right thing to do. It only makes sense that if libraries are always living in the shadow of budget cuts that they invent and expand new ways to generate income.

You can read more about Google Adsense direct from the source here.