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Bloomington Reads: Annual Community Reading

By Olivia Buck

At Bloomington Public Library, we put together an annual community reading event in which we select a spotlight title and create a programming series based upon the themes within the book. The series culminates in an author visit taking place during National Library Week. We have done this annually for several years and past authors include Jamie Ford and Erik Larson.

I personally have had the privilege of working on the committee that plans our Bloomington Reads programming series both this year and last year. Selecting an author can be quite a process. First our committee discusses the budget for that year’s series and possible themes that we would like the spotlight title to incorporate. Once we know the kinds of titles we are looking for, we brainstorm potential titles and authors. Then, we send out speaking engagement inquiries to the authors or their agents. Sending inquiries felt awkward to me at first. You simultaneously have to ask about the availability of the author and their speaking fee, express your excitement about their work, and not make any promises until you have the information and the vote from the committee.

Once the book is selected, the committee moves on to planning a series of programs based on themes found within the book. For example, last year’s title Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. For this spotlight title, we hosted the following series of programs:

Letter Writing
In one of the short stories in the Heads of the Colored People collection, the story was
written in the form of letter correspondence between to parents of school-age students. In order to reflect the format of this story, we held a letter writing workshop in which participants learned about the art, gathered tips, and were encouraged to continue the craft. The workshop was lead by Michael Theune, an Illinois Wesleyan University professor and a co-editor of the Keats Letters Project.

The Hate U Give
We offered a showing of the movie The Hate U Give based on the book of the same title
by Angie Thomas.

● Book Discussions
Of course we also held book discussions for readers to participate in. We hosted two
separate groups, one at the library and the other as a part of our “Books on Tap” group
which meets at a local restaurant.

● Creating a Vision Board
A vision board is a guide to help attain a goal or set a life path to follow. Participants got
to learn about these boards and how to create one of their own. Supplies were provided
and attendees left with their own boards to take home.

● Next to Normal Story Slam
During the programming series, we wanted to reflect the prevalent theme of identity
found within the book. One of the ways we thought to do this was by partnering with a
local storytelling group. During Next to Normal Story Slams, people share with an audience personal stories that revolve around a chosen theme. Participants joined us to hear stories answering the question: “The Real You: Who Does the World See and Who is the Real You?”

● Self-Portrait Collages
Mixed-media artist Trish Williams shared and discussed her work before leading a
workshop in which each person created a self-portrait collage using various textiles. From Williams’ website: “I bring together the rhythm of hand dyed, painted, and commercially made fabrics with the syncopated lines of my quilting to tell stories about the African Diaspora and my community.”

● Graphic Novel Design
Within one of the short stories in the collection, one of the main characters was a graphic novel artist. As a result, we had local graphic novelist Anthony Feinman come in to lead a class about writing and designing graphic novels. Participants had a chance to look at his work and try out using WACOM tablets and various techniques discussed throughout.

● Social Justice and Racial Identity
Nathan Stephens, Director of the Nesbitt African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana offered a thought-provoking presentation regarding social justice, racial identity, racial stress, trauma, and Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.

● Portrait Drawing
Doug Johnson, Director of the McLean County Arts Center lead a skills class on sketching portraits.

● Short Story Writing
Since the selected book was a short story collection, we wanted to offer a short story writing workshop. Illinois Wesleyan University Prof. Brandi Reissenweber came to teach the art of writing short stories. Participants learned about the components of a great story and how to write one.

● Author Presentation by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Every year, the Bloomington Reads programming series finale is an author visit. During
the 2019 programming series, author Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Ph.D., came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to share her experiences writing the stories in the book, her inspiration for the book, and her writing process. Following her presentation, the library hosted a Q&A session and book signing. The library invited Barnes & Noble to sell Thompson-Spires’ book as well as other related titles.

During our Bloomington Reads programming series we have great turnouts and participation in our programs. We also buy 50 or so extra copies of the title to ensure that we have enough. During last year’s programming series, even with over 50 copies of the book, a couple copies of the audiobook, as well as having the title available on Libby and Hoopla, the books were flying off the shelf and had several hold requests.

Grant Writing Tips for Libraries

By Sarah Keister Armstrong

Libraries of all types are looking to diversify their revenue sources, and grant writing is an oft-cited option for securing funding. But how can you – perhaps a grant writing novice with many other tasks on your plate – best prepare to methodically and effectively seek grant funding for your library?

A few simple tips can help you improve your library’s grant writing process and secure grant funding that makes sense for your organization.

Before you start:

1. Make sure your library is ready to apply for grants.

Grant writing – and grant management, if your application is successful – takes time. Do not expect the process to be an easy fix to fill a gap in your operating budget or add a boost of capital funding. No matter the quality of your grant applications, awards will not be given to weak programs or superfluous asks.

Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly before diving into the grant writing process:

  • Does your program or service have a demonstrated track record of success? If it’s a new offering, can you clearly show rationale for its existence?
  • Has your library developed a thoughtful way to track its progress toward goals and improve its programs based on data?
  • Do you have the internal capacity to manage any grants that your organization may be awarded? Securing grant funding takes more than just writing an application. It also requires you to prove your ability to manage a grant from start to finish.

2. Apply for grants that align with your mission and what your library is doing, not the other way around.

“That sounds like something we could do…” This common refrain is a crux of many grant writers, especially those struggling to align available funding opportunities with what their organization would like to do or with audiences their library would like to target. Perhaps a funder only supports literacy programs for school-age children, which doesn’t quite match up with your goal of increasing your work with three- to five-year-olds. Should you change your program? Or find a different funding opportunity?

Repeatedly adjusting your work – or audiences, data collection tools, or staffing structures – to fit into the boxes defined by potential funders not only can complicate grant management, but also can diminish the effectiveness of the work you already do.

While you write your grant application:

3. Concisely communicate why your library matters to those you serve.

At a time when competition for corporate, foundation, and government grant funding is significant, it is easy to fall into a pattern of using your narrative to promote your library and the great benefits it is offering. However, it is essential that grant writers go beyond simple self-promotion and make the connection between an identified need, how your library is directly addressing that need, and why your library has the capacity to sustain its work in doing so.

4. Different funders require different narratives.

Just as you would not send the same cover letter to several prospective employers, you should not submit the same grant application to multiple funders. Of course, it’s likely that there will be sections and components of your applications that look the same. However, when discussing the needs your programs are meeting or how your organization’s work relates to the funder’s priorities, do not copy and paste the same responses every time.

Successful grant applications are ones that conscientiously communicate how a library’s work aligns with the funder’s mission, illustrate the library’s proven success in doing this type of work, and explain why a grant award will increase the organization’s capacity to continue to meet identified needs.

Explain why being a school, academic, public, or special library is important. Why is this particular funding opportunity of interest to you, and how can you connect what your library does with the funder’s priorities?

After receiving a funding decision:

5. Follow up and ask for feedback.

Do not shy away from negative reviews! If you hear from a funder, and it is not the news you were hoping for, respectfully ask for feedback. Great funders usually will provide thoughtful suggestions that will only help you improve for the next go-around. It is possible that your application was very close to meeting the funder’s criteria for award, and it is equally valuable to know if the funder is not a good fit to pursue in the future.

Happy writing!

Tips for Reading Even More Books This Year

By Allison Riggs

Whether you are on a reading committee, attempting to hit your Goodreads goal, trying to know your collection better for readers’ advisory, preparing for book talks, or reading just for fun, there never seems to be enough time in the day to get all your reading done. Even though some of the population thinks librarians just sit around and read all day–and while I must admit that would be a pretty sweet job–we all know that’s not the truth. So, if reading more books this year is one of your goals, here are some tips to help you read as many books as you can in 2020.

  1. Listen to Audiobooks – Worried I would not be able to pay attention while listening to audiobooks, I ignored this form of reading for years, and I was missing out. I now listen to audiobooks on my commute, while I’m cleaning around the house, and while I walk the dog.
  2. Set Aside Time for Reading – We all live busy lives, so perhaps if we set aside a specific time to read every day we will be more likely to actually take the time to sit down and read. You could schedule 30 minutes before bed every night to read, or read every morning while sipping your coffee.
  3. Always Carry a Book with You – I always have a book in my purse, and it has come in handy on several occasions. You just never know when you will be able to fit in a few minutes of reading! Perhaps you will find time to read while you wait for the dentist, during your lunch break, or while riding in the car.
  4. Don’t be Afraid to DNF (Do Not Finish) – Unless you must read the book for a specific reason, if you aren’t enjoying what you’re reading, I think you should set it aside and try something new. Our reading time is precious, and you probably don’t want to waste it on a book you don’t like.
  5. Read Multiple Books at Once – I’m usually reading three books at once. I am generally listening to an audiobook, reading an ebook since a Kindle is much lighter to carry around than an actual book, and then I also have my hardcover or paperback book that stays at home. This makes it easier for me to fit in reading time any chance that I get.
  6. Find a Reading Buddy – Gather a friend, a family member, or a co-worker, and agree on a book to read together. This commitment should be good encouragement to make time to sit down and read. Plus, it’s always fun to have someone to talk to about the book you just finished reading.

Reader Advisory For the Kid Who Has Read It All

By Olivia Buck

As a library employee, a recurring question that I get asked is “What should I read next?” There are all kinds of resources available to us to find the next book or readalikes. On Bloomington Public Library’s online catalog, we have similar titles and authors listed beneath the titles of books to give our readers an idea for their next book. There are resources available on our website like NoveList and a recommended books page. And of course, there’s always user-friendly Goodreads to help out. But what do you do when your avid reader has read all the books on Goodreads’ similar authors list and Novelist is coming up with the same suggestions?

I recently was in this particular situation, helping a parent find a new title for his twelve year old son to read. He had just finished reading I Am Number Four by Pitacus Lore and was looking for something to read, but all our copies of the next book in the series were checked out. I started with one of the most popular authors for kids his age: Rick Riordan. He’d read every book and loved them. How about Harry Potter? They owned the books, but he didn’t really seem to be interested in them. I was about to suggest the Ranger’s Apprentice, but his dad said that he’d read those too. Every suggestion I had offhand for new ideas that might interest him, he’d already read.

So, I turned to NoveList and Goodreads searching for his favorite authors and read alikes. I tossed out suggestions I pulled from the list, but one after the other, they were batted away. Always the same response: He’s already read it.

In other situations I might have asked a coworker what their thoughts were, but I was the only person there. I started digging into my own reading history and tried to remember the teen books that I’ve read. I pulled out The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, but fairy tale retellings weren’t his cup of tea. I suggested Renegades by Marissa Meyer as well, but all the copies were checked out due to the latest book having come out in November. I thought of the DC Icons series, suggesting Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo, but they were checked out too. How about the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini? He’d already read the entire series. His dad said that he liked historical fiction, so I suggested White Rose by Kip Wilson (our Bloomington Reads 2020 spotlight title) but all the copies were checked out. I suggested trying our ebook resources, but each of the titles were waitlisted on Libby as well. Striking out again and again, I felt at a loss. I’d reached the end of my ideas. Where else do you look if the kid has read it all?

After the fact, I asked a few of my coworkers, their thoughts. Had I missed some obvious reader’s advisory resource? Their ideas were much like my own. Check Goodreads and NoveList, suggest books you’ve read, ask other staff their reading suggestions. After speaking with our teen librarian, she suggested What Should I Read Next because it generates items by tags and you end up with a wider variety of titles based on your search. After having experimented with the website, I did find new titles and authors that neither NoveList or Goodreads suggested to me.

What resources do you use? Have you been in this situation before? How did you find the “next read” for the patron who has read it all?

Noteworthy 2020 YA Debut Authors

By Allison Riggs

While writing this blog post, I changed my mind about which books I wanted to highlight more times than I can count. There are just too many amazing-sounding YA books coming out this year! All I knew for sure was that I wanted to feature some upcoming 2020 young adult releases for collection development and readers’ advisory purposes. I was originally going to highlight some prequels and sequels, but I soon realized that those are already pretty well-known. Therefore, I finally decided on featuring some YA debut authors instead. I find that these titles are more likely to be missed and deserve the extra attention. Although I have not read any of these titles yet, I selected ones that sounded unique and that I think will be popular at my library.

For further reference, there is a website with a large list of YA and MG debut titles called Roaring 20s Debuts.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Release Date: January 7, 2020

“A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.” This Goodreads description along with the beautiful cover is enough to convince me that this needs to be on my shelf.

Nameless Queen by Rebecca McLaughlin

Release Date: January 7, 2020

An unknown citizen becomes the queen, and everyone wants her dead. I think fantasy readers, especially fans of Red Queen, will want to read this one.

No True Believers by Rabiah York Lumbard

Release Date: February 11, 2020

“Fans of the riveting mystery in Courtney Summers’s Sadie and the themes of race and religion in Samira Ahmed’s Internment will be captivated by this exploration of the intersection of Islamaphobia and white supremacy as an American Muslim teen is forced to confront hatred and hidden danger when she is framed for a terrorist act she did not commit.”

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

Release Date: April 7, 2020

“For fans of Thirteen Reasons Why, This Is How It Ends, and All the Bright Places, comes a new novel about life after. How do you put yourself back together when it seems like you’ve lost it all?”

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

Release Date: April 7, 2020

Nate and Kate hit it off when they meet at a zombie-themed escape room and then decided to participate in a survivalist competition together for a big cash prize. This title sounds unique and like it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Release Date: May 12, 2020

This title is promoting itself as a mix of When Dimple Met Rishi and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. What more could you want?

Libraries & Leaky Data: Part 2

By Aaron Skog

In my first post of the series “Libraries & Leaky Data,” I provided an overview of how libraries are accumulating patron information in a variety of “hidden” areas of the library. I noted that if a library were to be subject to a ransomware attack, it is possible that patron information could be stolen from machines dedicated to print release, computer reservation, or self-checkout. For the second part of this series, I will explain how libraries are passing data through their networks and through the internet insecurely.

First, it is important to understand that data traversing the internet from one server location to another are by default insecure unless measures are taken to secure those transactions. So a library patron logging onto their OverDrive account to search and get ebooks is in good shape because the OverDrive website utilizes HTTPS, correct?

Not necessarily. What many libraries are doing is providing this authentication on the back-end of this transaction without any security whatsoever. So the patron actually might submit their barcode and PIN via HTTPS, but the communication back to the library’s integrated library system (ILS) from the vendor, e.g. OverDrive, is likely using SIP2 to verify this barcode and PIN. The back-end communication does this without HTTPS or a VPN to protect that transmission. This creates the illusion of data security to the public, but the reality is the library’s go-to protocol (most likely SIP2) for 3rd party connections are usually deployed without any secure communication in place.

Description: Library Data Communication Diagram

What this means is that for every patron login with OverDrive, the OverDrive servers verify back to the library’s ILS using insecure methods (no HTTPS at all) and the ILS sends a trove of patron data back to OverDrive in plain text. Here are the 10 patron fields of information shared within a single SIP2 patron authentication query.

  1. User’s barcode
  2. User’s PIN/password
  3. User’s full name
  4. Address
  5. Email address
  6. Phone number
  7. Birthdate
  8. Gender
  9. Age category
  10. Fines owed

This problem isn’t just with OverDrive but it is with nearly every 3rd party hosted service a library is using. If your library is authenticating with SIP2, the chances are that your other hosted services such as room reservation are doing the same thing: showing a HTTPS on the patron/staff interface, but communicating without any security on the back-end.

Making matters worse, this insecure communication problem is also inherent with our ILS platforms. The ILS staff client communicating back to the ILS server is another source of data being sent back and forth with potential insecure means. Some ILS platforms handle this well from a security standpoint, e.g. Polaris utilizes encryption within a remote desktop client. Other staff ILS clients require additional layers of security to prevent the client from sending or requesting data from the server in an insecure transaction. ILS platforms such as Symphony or Sierra utilize a staff client that will pass data back to the ILS server in plain text. Some of the newer web-based staff clients such as SirsiDynix BLUEcloud, Polaris LEAP, Evergreen, or Ex Libris Alma utilize the HTTPS security on the staff client, which is the ideal secure communication as it is end-to-end and requires no intermediate network security such as the VPN or VLAN.

How can we improve our library data security? I will outline the various approaches to improve and protect library data transmission in part 3 of this series.

2019 Program Rewind

By Olivia Buck

One of my favorite things about working at a public library is that we do so much more than just books; we also offer so many amazing programs to our patrons! I love hearing about the creative ways that libraries are engaging with our communities. Reading about the cool programs that my other library friends are working on at their own libraries always brings a smile to my face. As 2019 draws to an end, I thought it might be a good chance to list some of the exciting programs that Bloomington Public Library has offered this year.

● Tales for Tails

Trained and certified therapy dogs are paired with children grades K-5 who want to practice reading aloud. The dogs are accompanied by their handlers at all times while enjoying the attention and listening to kids read to them.

Tales for Tails

● Booo-kmobile and Halloween Parade

Kids of all ages braved the cold and snow this Halloween during our annual Halloween Parade and Story Time. The parade took kids around the library and ended with a special Halloween Story Time in our Community Room. Crafts were available for kids to make in the Children’s Department. Kids journeyed outside and onto our Bookmobile which was decorated for Halloween including spooky music, spiders, bats, and cobwebs. On the Booo-kmobile kids met library staff (myself included) dressed up as the Three Little Pigs and played games like pin the tail on the Big Bad Wolf and a Halloween-themed I Spy.

● Beginner Spanish Language Classes

Patrons age 7 and up that were interested in learning Spanish joined us for free introductory Spanish classes taught by the Modern Language Culture Institute. Each class covered two topics and included hands-on activities. Topics included: Greetings, the alphabet/months/days, family members, and body parts.

● Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is a nationwide, nonprofit organization which aims to increase the number of women in computer science related fields. The organization promotes safe, fun environments to build computer programming skills and confidence. In a series of nine sessions, teens learned fundamental concepts of loops, variables, conditionals, and functions that form the basics of all computer programming languages. Participants grades 6 – 12 learned to work as a team.

Girls Who Code

● Spy vs. Spy

Bloomington Public Library and Normal Public Library teamed up to bring a fun program to teens in our area. Teens learned the basics of cryptography and code breaking while working with team members and competing against other teams to find clues, defeat a laser maze, and win prizes.

● Sparkling Grape Juice and a Masterpiece (for Teens)

In this highly popular program, teens attended a two-hour paint class in which an instructor creates a painting while the participants follow along to create similar paintings. As they painted, teens enjoyed light refreshments. All participants walked away with their own unique masterpiece.

Sparkling Grape Juice and a Masterpiece

● Dance the Nights Away

In this series of four events, dance instructors from a local studio offered free dance lessons in four different styles. Patrons have enjoyed dancing the waltz and salsa as well as learning the fox trot and how to swing dance.

Dance the Nights Away

● Bloomington Reads

In an annual programming series starting in March and ending during National Library Week, Bloomington Public Library held a community reading event for the spotlight title Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. Events included a short story writing workshop, a self portrait collage program led by a mixed-media artist, and an introduction to graphic novel design. As a part of this series, we partnered with Next to Normal Story Slam on a program where local storytellers shared their personal stories around the theme “The Real You: Who Does the World See and Who is the Real You?” The programming series ended with an author visit. Thompson-Spires, a professor at the University of Illinois, visited Bloomington Public Library to share about her short story collection, including a Q & A session and book signing.

Bloomington Reads

● How-To Festival

At this event, patrons had the opportunity to learn a variety of skills and crafts by stopping at stations set up throughout the library. A mixture of volunteers and library staff provided a range of topics for all ages. A firefighter taught hands-only CPR, the Music Shoppe taught how to play classical guitar and the ukulele, a volunteer taught kitchen knife skills, the Ecology Action Center taught how to recycle and compost, and I personally taught attendees how to create black out poetry and how to write short stories.

● Murder Mystery Party

In celebration of Halloween, registered participants gathered together in our Community Room in order to figure out who committed murder! When registering, patrons answered a questionnaire that asked questions like which gender (if any) character they would be interested in playing, as well as questions to help match them up with a role they would be interested in. An email with each participant’s role was sent out about two weeks ahead of time to give people time to think about their role and get excited about the program. Participants were encouraged to wear costumes to inspire them for their role throughout the party.

Murder Mystery Party

● Local Author Fair

Over twenty authors from McLean County were stationed throughout the library in celebration of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Patrons could stop by to speak with them about their books and the craft of writing. Authors presented various genres of books at the fair and were able to provide tips about the publishing process.