Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Librarian Post: The Cheapest SRP program ever!

     Let's face it, these days just about every library in the country is strapped for funds. I know librarians who tell me they have been working with a budget of zero for both collection development and programming supplies for YEARS.
     That's when all start getting super creative about doing programs like recycled crafts and movie nights that don't really cost much. This year, with our Collaborative Summer Reading program theme being Build A Better World, my library wanted to do some programs that actually took the "build" part literally, by reinforcing STEM through engineering and construction.
     Enter the humble index card. Super inexpensive - you probably have at least one pack of these guys in your office right now, and if not, they are readily available just about everywhere for around a dollar or less.
     So this was my program: I handed people (in teams of up to 4) a brand new, unopened pack of 100 index cards and gave them 2 challenges:
                   1) build the tallest structure you possibly can using nothing but index cards. Do not cut or tear them (folding is ok).
                   2) build a second structure and we will see how many books it can hold before it collapses. Again, no tearing, ripping or cutting, but folding is ok.

That was it. An hour-long program that appealed to people of all ages, got them to be creative, taught them some science, and was pretty much the cheapest thing I did this summer.

By the way, if you don't have index cards, playing cards work just fine too.

One pack of index cards = an hour of almost-free library fun!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: The Best We Could Do

     Thi Bui's biographical graphic novel The Best We Could Do explores a wide variety of themes and emotions. The story spans multiple generations of one Vietnamese-American family, from the good times in their homeland, through the war, to the modern day in the USA.
     At its root the story is not just a story of immigrants, but a story about family, and about what it really means to be the adult child of a parent. Bui raises the big questions: do we ever really know our parents? How do you know you're really an adult, and do we ever really "grow up?" What is a woman's role in life, and what does it mean to be an American, especially if you are not born in America?  Do we ever really find the answers to any of these questions?
     I have to say, as a first generation immigrant myself, this story hit very close to home. Granted I did not come from a war-torn country (though there is an enormous amount of violence in my homeland) and my parents moved us to a nice, safe, rural area and not a huge city. But I can definitely relate to the author's parents paranoia... never quite feeling safe, never quite feeling American, never quite trusting "white people" and never really giving up the hope that maybe someday things will change enough that they could go back home. I think my parents have always felt that way, even after 30 years in the USA. Of course I also relate to the author's struggles as their child... parents, family and culture pulling you in one direction, never wanting you to forget your roots and desperately wanting you to maintain the old ways while you try your hardest to fit in to the new culture... a culture that is so strange and different to them. Always feeling like you are an outsider to BOTH cultures and never really fitting in anywhere no matter how hard you try.
    Beautifully illustrated in shades of blue and orange throughout, honest and stark, the story is moving, at times amusing and very relate-able even for those who have never been through the immigrant experience.
    Final verdict: 4/5 bookmarks

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Librarian Post: Escape Room - the aftermath

     Alright, so, if you have read the blog in the past you all know that I had been working on an escape room created by me from the ground up. This was a sick and wrong decision on my part, and it almost killed me dead but I am happy to report the first full run of the room was on June 21st and we all survived to tell the tale.
    First, you all ought to know this program was MILES more popular than I ever would have expected. If you all are looking to bring millenials and 30-somethings into your library, DO AN ESCAPE ROOM PROGRAM and do it now.

Group #3 came the closest to escaping the room.
    Originally the plan was a one-day only run of the room, with 4 groups of up to 6 people. Normally getting 24 people to sign up for, let alone actually SHOW UP for a program at our little branch would take Harry Potter like-wizarding skills, but we had a total of 23 slots filled and of these 19 humans actually showed up, which for us is a massive win. Also, I am now going to have a second run of the room in July because I had 20 OTHER people who were too late to sign up for this run on a waiting list and eager to participate.
     Even though I had opened the registrations up to "all ages" I was warning parents that anyone under about age 8 would be horribly bored. I was 100% right about that. I had one mom who very much insisted on bringing her 6 year old and he lasted about 3 minutes before he started crying, demanding to go home, asking for candy and trying to destroy various items. Everyone else however, had a fabulous time!

Group #1 was almost all strangers. It took them longest to start working together. 
     The hardest part of the run was room setup, which I luckily had the opportunity to do the day before the program. Re-setting the room after each group was surprisingly easy. I had allotted myself 15 minutes for each reset and it took only about 10. Before I let anyone in the room for their time I did ask them very nicely to please try not to actively destroy the place, which they were all very good about. I also did not allow cell phone use, or writing utensils in the space. This made it so that no one was trying to google answers to things (which would have been hard anyway since all the puzzles came from out of my own head) and not to deface anything in the room. They had 30 minutes to attempt completion and none of them successfully "escaped."

    Here are some things I discovered while observing the teams in the rooms:
                  1) Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 were the best at this! The one team that came closest to completing the challenge had 3 kids and 3 adults in it.
                  2) Adults do not listen to kids, but they SHOULD. Several times a child would have a GREAT idea about how to solve a clue, would voice their opinion, then would be promptly ignored until it proved that their suggestion was completely awesome and valid and would have saved their team loads of time.
                  3) Teenagers really sucked at this game. One group was made up completely of teens, and this was the group that did the worst. In general the other teens who participated also got really confused really easily. I noticed that the all-teen group was the only group that chose to completely ignore the first clue they were given and simply looked for any puzzles in the room without trying to solve any of them. This was a VERY bad plan because then they got totally confused, could not remember where they had found the puzzles or clues and could not figure out how anything related to anything else.

My all-teen group, Group #4 had the hardest time. They also made the biggest mess.
                4) People fixate on REALLY weird stuff and ignore other REALLY obvious stuff. Of course, there were several red herrings in the room, but some people got really tied up in them. One person got completely obsessed with a small bowl full of gold buttons. They were 100% convinced that the buttons were important and spent at least 5 minutes trying to arrange them into some kind of pattern. Several people got very hung up on a few outdated newspapers in the room, and someone else on a tin filled with ribbon scraps which they were convinced held a message.
                    At the same time, it took every group shockingly long to realize that there were complete keys to each of the puzzles prominently displayed in the room. One person realized one clue was in Morse code, for example, and then spent several minutes looking through a pile of books trying to find one on Morse code, while there was a complete chart taped to a wall in plain view.
               5) Pressure makes fast friends. Most of my groups were made up of pairs of friends, parents with small kids or couples smooshed together into a team. It was great fun to see everyone being very shy at first, with friends sticking together on opposite ends of the room... but the closer the clock got to that end game, the more everyone worked together and made friends. By the time they were done and getting pictures, everyone was chatting and smiling and recounting their adventures.

Group 1. They did well once they loosened up. Only 2 knew each-other prior to the game.

Group 2: They did well, but our youngest player got bored very quickly. 

Group 3: They did the best. They came so close I gave them goody bags even though they lost. 

Group 4: They had fun even though they admitted their strategy was a big mistake in hindsight. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Letter 44 Volume 1

    The premise: it is the day after Inauguration Day and President-Elect Blades has just become our 44th president (in our world, this would be Barack Obama). In his new office is a letter (Letter 44) from President #43 (in our world George Bush Jr.) that reveals a horrifying secret: the president basically created the war in the Middle East in order to distract America from a much more horrible truth. The country has discovered evidence of alien life, and the aliens seem to be building a massive something in space, which is likely some sort of weapon.
   President 43 used the war as cover to train soldiers and pump money into defense in case these aliens really are planning to nuke us into oblivion. He has also sent a team of scientists and soldiers into space to retrieve intel on the contraption... on what everyone involved assumes is a suicide mission. Oh, and one of the ship's crew is pregnant. President Blades now has to figure out what to do: does he tell America the truth and risk a panic? Keep quiet and risk word leaking out and being labeled a liar? Prepare for war? Whatever he decides, the only thing that is certain is that everything is uncertain, but a decision needs to be made and quickly.
   The story alternates between Blade's point of view and the point of view of the crew on board the recon ship which adds a nice dimension to the story. The artwork (by Alberto Albuquerque) is excellent, except for the aliens, which when we finally see them are... let's just say underwhelming.
    I still haven't decided if I want to continue with the story, but it's an interesting take on politics at the very least.

Final Review: 3/5 bookmarks.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Mistress of the Art of Death

      Adelia Aguilar is an extreme oddity for her time: a woman, living in the 1100's who is a licensed Doctor. She is the titular Mistress of the Art of Death in Ariana Franklin's novel: someone who is skilled in figuring out how people died - what today might be called a forensic pathologist or a coroner. 
    Though she is Italian, and makes her home in Naples, she has been summoned to England as the king's last hope: to solve a series of brutal child murders that are being blamed on Cambrige's small but wealthy community of Jews. Being unmarried, and a Jew herself, Adelia must travel incognito, with her chaperones Simon (also a Jew) and Mansur (a Moorish eunuch) posing as the doctors and Adelia posing as their assistant. Adelia must maintain her secret or risk being accused of witchcraft (an accusation punishable by death) all the while hunting a twisted serial killer. Everyone she meets is a suspect - even the king himself. 
    The novel is an unusual amalgamation of genres - partly historical fiction, partly murder mystery, with just a smidge of unlikely romance tossed in for good measure. It's also the first book in a 4 book series. Though some aspects of the book are extremely unrealistic for the time period (the fact that the protagonist is a sassy, self-sufficient FEMALE DOCTOR in Medieval England being the most unrealistic) it is a great page turner and a really satisfying mystery. I didn't have any clue who the killer was until the very end when it was revealed, which I always appreciate in a mystery, and happens all too rarely. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Final Review: 3/5 bookmarks


Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: The Diva Rules

     Michelle Visage, for those not in the know, is a judge on the best show on television: RuPaul's Drag Race.  She is also a former member of a 90's girl group (Seduction), and a radio personality. Her book, The Diva Rules is part biography and part self-help book: a list of rules for living a super diva-esque life as well as tales from her youth in the club and ball scene in New York in the late 80's and early 90's.
     Despite the fact that Michelle is not my favorite personality (she is often mean and a bit abrasive to the competitors) I found the book a really fun read. Michelle writes exactly the way she talks, which made me happy, because often you can tell a ghost writer has tried really hard to make the person seem a lot smarter or more articulate than they are. Not so here, where Michelle's sassy New Jersey personality pops out of every single page. She is also extremely open and honest about her past, including her experiences with plastic surgery, bisexuality, depression and being adopted as well as finding her birth mother as an adult.
    The book reads quickly and it's peppered with really good, sensible advice as well as fin family pictures and pictures of Michelle with RuPaul and some of the other Drag Race girls. I definitely recommend it to fans of the show, as well as fans of sassy broads without a filter.

Final Review: 3/5 bookmarks.