Stacey Abrams at ALA Virtual Conference

June 25th, 2020

A highlight of my experience of ALA Virtual Conference today was hearing Stacey Abrams speak in the President’s Program. Stacey Abrams’ mother was a librarian, so she’s part of the family!

Here are my notes from her talk, as I frantically tried to get down her major points. (She talks quickly.)

We’re in the midst of two massive conversations. One is about Covid-19, disease and how it disproportionately affects African Americans. The other is about systemic ineqalities.

We need to call out the injustice, and then be intentional about remembering it rather than just going on to the next thing.

Solutions: Reformation and Transformation

For Reformation, we need to follow best practices that work in other nations. For transformation, we need to channel public moneys to address inequities in healthcare and education.

Then the moderator asked about voting rights. Voting is the most fundamental power for citizens in a democracy.

Racism is a disease in our country. Voting is the treatment that actually makes (slow) progress. It’s not a panacea, but a treatment that must be repeated, like chemotherapy.

We can’t divorce the vote from the necessity of protest. We need protest in the street and the vote both. Voting doesn’t solve all our problems, but silence damns us all.

The act of voting is about persistence, not perfection.

For targeted communities, voting is an arduous challenge.

We need to pay attention to the system, not just to politicians. One person isn’t going to be a hero who saves us.

She also talked about the Census, because it’s also an equity issue. The census shapes the next decade of equity and political power. The census determines who is here and what we need. The neediest places are least likely to be seen or heard.

She supports Fair Fight for voting rights and Fair Count for census rights.

1) Libraries are essential for supporting the census, because they’re a trusted resource.
2) The resources for funding libraries comes from the census, so they feed themselves when they feed the census.
3) Libraries need to help tell the truth about who we are.

Then the conversation shifted to talk about her book. It talks about history and challenges, as well as what things look like today. It also talks about America’s role on the world stage.

We need to hold our leaders responsible, and we each need to make our country stronger. Libraries need to amplify voices that unite our nation. And we need to address systemic challenges.

As a profession, we need to work at reflecting the diversity of America. Diversity occurs because you remove barriers to entry and build strategies to overcome them.

Librarians should advertise ourselves! Be intentional about cultivating leadership.

The final question is what is she reading? (How refreshing when a politician can truthfully answer that question!) The answers were Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Herstory through Activism at ALA Virtual Conference

June 25th, 2020

Today I attended a session called Herstory through Activism: Women, Libraries, and Activism at ALA Virtual Conference. The moderator was Sherre Harrington, and panelists were Emily Drabinski, Dalena Hunter, and Teresa Y. Neely. The occasion is the 50th anniversary of ALA’s Feminist Task Force.

Each panelist spoke separately, then they answered some questions together. They pointed out that workers in the library field are mostly women, but the leadership is mostly men. And libraries are racialized spaces — overwhelmingly white. Women of color who do work in libraries tend to be in the lower-paid positions.

They talked abot the history of activism in libraries, and work of specific librarians to document African American history.

They talked about how Black women experience a doubling of oppressions. And neither feminist organizations nor black liberation movements really saw them. Teresa Neely talked about the Cumbahee River Collective of 1974-1980. They articulated that if you belong to both groups, you don’t belong at all. “Colorblind” attitudes violently remove people from the conversation.

We need to get rid of the idea that libraries are neutral spaces and acknowledge we’re part of a system, acknowledge our privileges.

This was recorded in May, but one of the panelists brought up the problem of black people murdered by the police. She was the only black librarian at her workplace, and when an incident happens, her colleagues didn’t even see it as an issue affecting them, while she was profoundly moved.

We need to be aware that libraries still need to do a lot of work.

Matthew Cordell – ALA Virtual Conference Featured Speaker

June 24th, 2020

The last session I attended today at ALA Virtual Conference was author Matthew Cordell talking about writing his first picture book biography, Hello, Neighbor about Fred Rogers.

I have the book sitting in my house ready to review (positively), and it was fun to get a peek behind the scenes.

He played the opening song for us, and we were all transported back to our childhoods.

He talked about the things he loved about the show as a child: Special guests, how people make things, Trolley, the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

In 2008, he became a father. When his daughter watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he noticed new things to love about it: Calm, quiet moments, crafts, feeding fish, showing warmth and wonder, music everywhere, appreciating the arts, love and admiration for children, and inclusion and diversity.

When he did a little research, he found out that was Fred Rogers’ true personality showing on his show and he wanted to write and illustrate a picture book biography about him.

It was his first nonfiction book, so he “looked for the helpers” to make it happen.

Through all of this, it was fun to see slides of his drawings and pictures of his research trips to Pittsburgh where he saw some things actually used on the show.

Figures like Fred can bring peace in these times.

Look out for each other!

ALA Virtual Conference – Serving the Transgender Community – It’s More than Just Bathrooms

June 24th, 2020

I attended a panel presentation at ALA Virtual Conference 2020 about libraries serving the transgender community. Here are some of the ideas I took away from the session:

How can we make libraries a more welcoming place for LGBTQ people?

Use gender neutral terms.
Wear a pin with your own pronouns. (Little things like that show you are approachable.)
Don’t ask invasive questions.
Be intentional about being welcoming.
Actively build connections with local organizations such as PFLAG, Pride, and more. They can help you bring in speakers, and then they will see the library as a resource.
Don’t silence trans stories.
Put Trans stories on book displays. Let people know they are there and available.
Go over institutional policies that are obstacles. Getting a library card — is it easy to change your name and gender? Are your only options for gender binary?
Do your own research — you don’t have to make the LGBTQ people you know educate you.
We hope the bathroom is a given at this point. It’s a basic starting point and a human right.
Those local organizations that you’ve gotten to know — have them come in and tell you if there are changes you should make.
Make resources more available — such as name change and gender change resources.
Have programs all year round, not only in June.
In an effort to present both sides, don’t give a place to denying trans people’s existence.
Find even small things to show the library is a safe place.

ALA Virtual Conference – Featured Speaker Sophia Thakur

June 24th, 2020

Listening to Sophia Thakur speak for ALA’s Virtual Conference was an inspirational event for me, despite the woodchipper running outside my window here at home.

Sophia Thakur is a performance poet from the United Kingdom. She’s got a lovely voice and a beautiful accent, and much of this session was her performing her poetry, some even with musical accompaniment.

But she was especially inspiring for this youth services librarian listener as she talked about giving young people a voice through writing and reflecting the experiences of young people. The whole talk was poetic and lovely. I’ll list some beautiful quotes I was able to jot down:

Libraries are sacred places. After fasting, it’s a full plate.
They are tools for escape.
They remind us the world is bigger than our own.
The escape she found at the library enriched her reality.
Books deposit the option to re-exist.
Libraries are big maternity wards.
She holds mirrors up for people with her poetry.
Quotes are like holding hands to keep us together.
Poetry in school is taught as a science, but poetry is in everything.
Writing is easy. Living is the hard part.
She wants you to read her poems and see yourself.
Literacy is this profound tool to explore ourselves.

ALA Virtual Conference 2020 – Opening Session

June 24th, 2020

The featured speaker for ALA Virtual Conference’s Opening Session was Misty Copeland, who was the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

She was talking about her new book, Bunheads, about her own experience starting in ballet at the “late age” of 13. The ballet studio where she began was a “little group of misfits” — not people of privilege, and not necessarily like people you usually see on the stage. She wants children to see that diversity and that everyone can be involved in ballet.

When she was a child, she was extremely introverted and didn’t really speak. Writing was how she expressed herself before movement came into her life. Speaking in front of people was a bigger transition than writing, but she does appreciate having a platform.

As an introverted child, she spent much time in the library, and it was a safe haven in every way.

The book introduces many diverse characters including a boy. She wants to give the message that dancers are athletic and powerful. There’s so much power in the images we see and power in representation.

She wants to bring ballet to a wider variety of people.

ALA Virtual Conference 2020 – Tracie Hall

June 24th, 2020

ALA Virtual Conference kicked off today with an inspirational talk from Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of ALA, talking before the featured speaker Misty Copeland. As usual at ALA conferences, both speakers got me excited and energized about being a librarian.

I can’t give you pictures of being there among hundreds of other librarians, of people waiting to be let into the Exhibit Hall. Me at my computer isn’t a terribly inspiring image. But I can tell you some highlights from their talks, beginning with Tracy Hall.

Right from the outset, she encouraged us as librarians to let our legacy be Justice.

Libraries play a pivotal role in bringing justice. She came to libraries after working in a homeless shelter. When she would bring folks from the shelter to the library, they would say, “I can’t believe this is free!” The right and access to resources leads to enfranchisement.

She wants ALA to focus on three goals and priorities:

1) Universal Broadband

Libraries have been wonderful in promoting literacy. Now we need to promote access.

2) Diversification of the Library Field

The communities we serve are diverse, so we who serve them need to be diverse as well. Having a mainly white profession limits our reach and credibility.

3) Deepen Investment in Libraries

We need to increase funding at the local and federal levels and from public and private sources. Libraries are first-stop community resources, but our funding doesn’t reflect that priority. We need to highlight the unparalleled work we do.

Embedded in these three calls is the overarching call for Justice.

ALA Virtual Conference Obstacles

June 24th, 2020

I’m attending ALA Virtual Annual Conference and agreed to liveblog the conference for ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children), to make sure that I pay attention and take notes!

I have to say that I wasn’t planning to go to the physical conference, so I hadn’t been paying much attention to virtual conference plans. Then last week I opened an email at 12:45 that said registration for the virtual conference closed at noon Central time – 15 minutes after I started reading the email. But it also said that the registration fee was drastically reduced for ALA members thanks to generous donations from sponsors. (Plus no hotel or flights!) I didn’t have time to think about it – I registered right away!

But today there have been a couple of bumps in the road. I looked at the schedule and saw the opening session was at 10:00. So I made sure I could get into the livestream about 15 minutes early. Oddly, a countdown clock said it was 45 minutes before it would start. I saw something on a different page about technical difficulties, so I thought that was it. I worked on something mindless on my computer so I could jump to the opening session whenever it did begin. I think it was about an hour later that I looked back at the schedule and saw all the times were Central Time. Oops! Oh well — now I know for the rest of the conference.

When the opening session started then it was the perils of working from home — a grounds crew that must have been hired by my condo’s management company began pruning branches off trees right outside my window and running a woodchipper. Seriously. For hours. If you’ve never been right next to a woodchipper, it turns out they are exceedingly loud. My windows are usually pretty good about cutting down on noise outside. But this is extreme.

Anyway, I’m glad I have something positive to listen to, to try not to think about this roaring in my ears! And I don’t have to figure out how to mail books back! Posts about today’s sessions to follow.

Review of Drawn from Nature, by Helen Ahpornsiri

June 24th, 2020

Drawn from Nature

by Helen Ahpornsiri

Big Picture Press (Candlewick), 2018. 60 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 29, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I don’t think this book is eligible for either the Newbery or the Caldecott Medal, because the author lives in the United Kingdom – but that’s too bad! The art in this book is incredible! (I’m going to wait to post this review until after the Newbery is announced, just to be careful.)

All of the art in this amazing book is made from actual plants. Here’s how the artist explains it in the back:

Everything you see in these pages – from the gleam in a fox’s eye to the delicate line of a cobweb – is made from a plant.

Flowers and foliage are always changing with the seasons, but here they have been paused in their life cycle, kindled with a new story. Ferns have been transformed into feathers, and the colorful wings of insects are formed from the very flowers they feed on.

Each collage is made from hundreds of leaves and flowers, which are responsibly grown or foraged in the wild and preserved with traditional flower-pressing methods. The plants are then delicately arranged into bold new shapes and forms. They are all brimming with the twists and tangles of the wilderness, all capturing a perfect moment in time.

The text is about nature as it goes through the seasons, beginning with Spring and birds building nests, through Summer in the meadow, through Autumn with falling leaves, and finishing with Winter and hibernation and bare branches. But that’s a very brief summary – besides the incredibly detailed illustrations, the words reveal a knowledge of details of life in the wild that show careful observation.

I could look at these illustrations for hours. They are the sort that prompt me to show everyone in the library. One co-worker said that she has ordered cards from this artist on Etsy. The beauty and detail of her work is simply astonishing.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Mathematical Colors and Codes

June 22nd, 2020

My Mathematical Virtual Program Series is up!

This program is a series of six videos with downloadable coloring pages. New videos will post on Mondays at 3 pm.

They will show kids how to use math to make colorful patterns and coded messages, learning about prime factorization and nondecimal bases along the way.

They’ll post on Fairfax County Public Library’s website, but I’ll post them here as well.

These will be best for kids who already understand multiplication.

And this week, Episode One is up! It covers Prime Factorization, with an explanation of my Prime Factorization Sweater. And it explains how you can color your own chart, using this downloadable coloring page.

I hope you enjoy it!

Here are links to the entire Mathematical Colors and Codes series:

Episode One, Prime Factorization
Episode Two, Prime Factorization Code