Sullivan Free Library's Blog

September 29, 2010

Book Banning: Not a Good Idea

As a librarian, one of my favorite times of the year is the end of September when libraries, booksellers and publishers across the country join forces to celebrate Banned Books Week (BBW) This event was initiated in 1982 by the American Library Association (ALA)  in effort to promote awareness of the importance of  the First Amendment and intellectual freedom.  Each year, the ALA gathers information submitted by libraries across the country about efforts to remove or ban books and compiles a list of the most challenged books.

Opponents of BBW argue that books are rarely banned anymore and that too much is made of this subject.  While it is true that books are rarely banned in the sense of not being published or allowed to be sold (as was often the case in times past), unfortunately, books continue to be challenged and restricted all too often.  Most often, the challenges occur in school settings, by parents or community members who object to books being used as part of the classroom curriculum.

Perhaps the most recent and timely example is that of Stockton, Missouri where the Board of Education voted 7-0 earlier this month to remove “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie from both use in classrooms and the high school library.     The book was banned after a complaint by just one parent, even though educators and students argued for its retention.   Alexie is a well-respected author whose body of work has received numerous awards and critical acclaim.  This particular book has been labeled as upbeat and inspiring,  yet the BOE felt that all of that was cancelled out by the language and topics in the book. 

People who attempt to remove books from schools and libraries are usually well-intentioned, feeling that they are removing harmful influences.   In reality, the inability to  judge a book by it’s overall context and merit rather than by isolated examples and to accept different points of view are far more harmful trends.  As Henry Joseph Jackson so aptly said:  ” Did you ever hear anyone say, “That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?”

Attempting to restrict books is counter-productive.  Nothing gives a book more appeal than knowing there are people who don’t want you to read it.   Alexie’s book will now be more popular than ever.

The theme for this year’s BBW is “Think for yourself and allow others to do the same.”  Each of us has the right to choose what books we want to read and those we’d rather avoid.  Parent’s have the right to do that for their children as well.  No one has the right to decide what other people should not be able to read.

Exercise your freedom to read and pick up a book that has been banned or challenged!

Related Links:


August 23, 2010

Are Libraries Relevant?

Filed under: Library Issues — Sullivan Free Library @ 5:25 pm
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I was browsing through the comments in a newspaper article today and was struck by one that stated that public libraries are no longer needed, because “Who doesn’t have books and computers and the internet in their own home?”

My guess is that this person hasn’t visited a library in a very long time, if ever.  This very one-sided view shows a limited perception of the realities of the world around him/her.

Public libraries are filled daily with people who do not have computers and internet access in their homes.  And while I know that there are people who prefer to buy books rather than borrow them from the library, I don’t know of many people who can afford to buy every book they’d ever want to read.

This uninformed attitude about libraries is one of the factors that have kept libraries underfunded for decades, never more so than in recent times, when the economic recession is sending people to their public libraries in record numbers.

The majority of our funding comes from a local library tax which is voted on every year at the same time as the school budget.  We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a community that values and supports libraries; our budget has  passed by a wide margin for the past sixteen years.  Still, I get occasional calls and comments from people complaining that they don’t understand why THEY have to pay taxes to support the library when they never use it.

I would hazard a guess that, even if they’ve never stepped foot into their local library, they’ve benefited in some way from supporting it. A good library is a resource for everyone in the community, from school children to businesses to senior citizens.   It is far better to have a library available even if you don’t think you need it than to need it and not have the services available.

What do you think?  Do you have any library “sucess stories” to share?

August 4, 2010

Name That Book!

Filed under: Literature — Sullivan Free Library @ 5:22 pm
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Can you name this book by the cover alone?

A fun trivia quiz has been floating around Facebook and the internet, challenging  you to identify 24 books by a glimpse of their covers.  Some are easy; some are a bit trickier.  Give it a try and see how you do!  Feel free to share your results in the comment section below.

August 3, 2010

Please Don’t Steal Our Books!


For him that stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a
serpent in his hand & rend him.  Let him be struck with palsy, & all
his members blasted.  Let him languish in pain crying aloud for
mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink to
dissolution.  Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that
dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of
hell consume him forever & aye.

Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona

As evidenced by the above curse, the theft of library materials is a problem that has been around as long as books have existed.   According to E.C. Abbott, author of an article titled People Who Steal Books , curses were commonly used weapons against book thieves in the Middle Ages, when a book most likely only existed in one copy. Curses may not be as effective as more modern security systems, but there is a certain emotional satisfaction in casting a curse.

I’ve kept the above quote on my desk for many years, mostly for comic relief, but there are times when I wish I could make it actually work.  As a librarian with a finite budget for new book purchases, it is frustrating to have to buy materials more than once because the original item is lost, stolen or missing.   (On the other hand, I LOVE it when I have to replace a book because it just plain wore out.)

There are certain materials that are more likely to be stolen than others.

1)  Books on the occult, sexuality and homosexuality regularly disappear from library shelves–often  as a result of people trying to impose their own values and moralities on others.  Every year when I start to pull books for a “Banned Book Display” in September, I find that I have to replace copies of certain classic banned titles  because they are missing.  (Note to those who steal these particular books:  I am just going to replace them anyway, so don’t bother!)

2) Test preparation books and car repair manuals often go missing or are never returned.  The people who need/want to use these books are often not regular library users and come in just for these items and never return them. Unfortunately, these are expensive items to replace.  Fortunately, we now have an online resource, Learning Express, that allows people to access test preparation materials and take practice test.  Learning Express is available at:

3) Items that are small and easy to conceal in clothing in backpacks:  DVD’s, VHS tapes, music CD’s

Items that one might consider high on the most stolen list–bestsellers–are actually among the safest items in a library, because they have long request lists and are never actually ON the library shelves to be stolen,  they are held behind the desk until they are picked up by the next person on the list.

The introductions of online auction like Ebay and book-selling sites like Amazon have led to an increase in rare and valuable books being stolen from public and academic libraries.  Libraries have learned to evaluate older materials and adjust the inventory records to indicate the true value of items so that a book originally purchased in 1962 for $1.75 won’t be checked out by a patron who then can “lose” the book and pay only that replacement cost, while potentially making much more by selling it.

We do not yet have a security system in place in our two buildings.  We try to place easily stolen items within view of the circulation desk to help cut back on theft, but it’s frustrating to note the number of DVD’s and music CD’s that do go missing.   Especially frustrating are the series of popular television shows.  It is expensive to purchase the whole run of a series only to find a few months later that several seasons have disappeared.  Because of the length of time involved in watch a season of a show, patrons often have to wait several months to borrow the missing seasons from other libraries.

While I don’t really (most days) wish for the ability to cast curses, I do wish I could zap people with the insight to see the effects of their actions on others and the library as a whole.


Abbott, E.C. “People Who Steal Books”

July 18, 2010

This Book is Overdue

Libraries have an advocate in Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (Harper, 2010).   While some question the need for libraries with the development of the internet, Johnson, a former  editor and staff writer  for Life magazine, has written about the continuing importance of libraries and librarians as a way to bridge economic divides in our society.

To read an interview with Johnson and read excerpt from the book, visit:

The book is available through the MidYork Library System.

Johnson also wrote an editorial that appeared in today’s Utica Observer-Dispatch:

Nation’s libraries checking out?

THE U.S. is beginning an interesting experiment in democracy: We’re cutting public library funds, shrinking our public and school libraries, and in some places, shutting them altogether.

These actions have nothing to do with whether the libraries are any good or whether the staff provides useful service to the community. This country’s largest circulating library, in Queens, N.Y., was named the best system in the U.S. last year by Library Journal. Its budget is due to shrink by a third. Los Angeles libraries are being slashed, and the doors will be locked two days a week and at least 100 jobs cut. And until it got a six-month reprieve, Siskiyou County almost became California’s only county without a public library.

Such cuts and close calls are happening across the country. We won’t miss a third of our librarians and branch libraries the way we’d miss a third of our firefighters and firehouses, the rationale goes. But I wonder.

I’ve spent four years following librarians as they deal with the tremendous increase in information and the many ways we receive it. They’ve been adapting as capably as any profession, managing our public computers and serving growing numbers of patrons, but it seems that their work has been all but invisible to those in power.

I’ve talked to librarians whose jobs have expanded with the demand for computers and training, and because so many other government services are being cut. The people left in the lurch have looked to the library, where kind, knowledgeable professionals help them navigate the government bureaucracy, apply for benefits, access social services. Public officials will tell you they love libraries and are committed to them; they just don’t believe they constitute a “core” service.

But if you visit public libraries, you will see an essential service in action, as librarians help people who don’t have other ways to get online, can’t get the answers they urgently need or simply need a safe place to bring their children.

I’ve stood in the parking lot of the Topeka and Shawnee County Library in Kansas on a Sunday morning and watched families pour through doors and head in all directions to do homework or genealogical research, attend computer classes, read the newspapers. I’ve stood outside New York City libraries with other self-employed people, waiting for the doors to open and give us access to the computers and a warm and affordable place to work. I’ve met librarians who serve as interpreters and guides to communities of cancer survivors, Polish-speaking citizens, teenage filmmakers, veterans.

The people who welcome us to the library are idealists, who believe that accurate information leads to good decisions and that exposure to the intellectual riches of civilization leads to a better world. They represent the best civic value out there, an army of resourceful workers who can help us compete in the world.

But we’re handing them pink slips. The school libraries and public libraries in which we’ve invested decades and even centuries of resources will disappear unless we fight for them. The communities that treasure and support their libraries will have an undeniable competitive advantage. Those lucky enough to live in those towns, or those who own computers, or have high-speed Internet service and on-call technical assistance, will not notice the effects of a diminished public library system — not at first. Whizzes who can whittle down 15 million hits on a Google search to find the useful and accurate bits of info, and those able to buy any book or article or film they want, will escape the immediate consequences of these cuts.

Those in cities that haven’t preserved their libraries, those less fortunate and baffled by technology, and our children will be the first to suffer. But sooner or later, we’ll all feel the loss as one of the most effective levelers of privilege and avenues of reinvention — one of the great engines of democracy — begins to disappear.

Marilyn Johnson is the author of “This Book Is Overdue!” She wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times

July 12, 2010

The Popularity of Vampires

Vampire fiction has been around for a long time–Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897 and his famous Count was drawn from even earlier novels.

Anne Rice made vampires popular again in the 1970’s with her Interview with a Vampire series.  Casting Tom Cruise in the film version only added to their appeal.

The last decade  has seen a huge rise in the number of television shows and book series about corpses come to life to suck the blood of the living, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the infamous Twilight books and movies by young adult author Stephanie Meyer.  The HBO series True Blood is based on the novels of Charlaine Harris

Just what is the appeal?  I will admit to delving into romance novels once in awhile, but frankly, I like my sexy heroes to be….alive!  I’ve read Christopher Moore’s three books featuring vampires, but mostly because I love his twisted dark humor and would read anything he wrote.

Justin Cronin, author of  The Passage, one of the “must-read” books of the summer, summarizes the reason why he joined the rank of vampire authors in this interview:

Basically, Cronin says  the vampire story will never go away, because it asks an essential question: “What part of your humanity would you be trading away if you got to live forever? It’s ultimately a fable to reassure us that it’s better to be mortal.”

Librarian Karen Hilbert says, “In 2009 Romeo and Juliet would have no problem getting married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator. Love has no foil anymore (race, gender, religion, family feuds), therefore the only compelling modern day romance plot is if your intended is a monster literally.”  From: Why Are Vampires So Popular?: From Anne Rice to Charlaine Harris, the Undead Rule the Media

According to author J.R. Ward: “Vampires are this wonderful dangerous thing. It’s falling in love with something that is intrinsically deadly and dangerous and chooses to love you back.  From:  Vampire Romance Novels: Authors, Titles and Facts About Vampire Books

Whatever the reason, vampire fiction has people of all ages reading, and that can only be a good thing.   The following books are available through the Sullivan Free Libraries and the MidYork Library System.

Authors of Vampire Fiction

Keri Arthur                 Riley Jenson, Guardian series

L.A. Banks                   Vampire Huntress & Crimson Moon series

MaryJane Davidson  Undead series

Laurell Hamilton         Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer series

Charlaine Harris          Sookie Stackhouse series

Sherrilyn Kenyon Dark-Hunter series

Stephanie Meyer       Twilight, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Christopher Moore    Bloodsucking Fiends, You Bite, Love Sucks

July 6, 2010

More Summer Reading Recommendations

Author Stephen King weighs in with some suggestions:,,20355856_20399391,00.html

All titles in his book list are available through the MidYork Library System.

The July 12th issue of Time magazine (available in both libraries) has an article titled: What to Read This Summer in which popular authors and other movers & shakers list what they are reading this summer.  Some examples:

Janet Evanovich:   Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Charlaine Harris61 Hours by Lee Child and The Passage by Justin Cronin

James PattersonMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Carl Hiaasen: Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its’ Aftermath by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, and  Magnificent Bastards by Rich Hall.

For the complete list, stop by the library and see the issue.   All titles listed above are available through the MidYork Library System.

July 2, 2010

Oprah’s “What to Read Next” Quiz

Filed under: Literature — Sullivan Free Library @ 3:52 pm
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If you are having trouble deciding what to read next this summer, Oprah has a solution.

On her website, you can take a quiz of ten questions  to help you determine what to read next:

Taking the quiz will result in a recommendation of one book that is right for you, plus a list of additional titles to consider.   I took the quiz twice, changing my answers slightly and ended up with 25 titles from which to choose.  Some I had already read and liked, so there’s a good chance I’ll like the others.

Being the self-proclaimed queen of book clubs, Oprah also offers many other reading resources, lists of “Five Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once”, “Books to Steal from Your Teenager” and “O’s Favorite Books of 2010”.  There are also Reader’s Guides for books that the magazine has recommended.

Chances are, whatever Oprah recommends will be available through one of the 43 libraries in the MidYork Library System.  If you have trouble locating a title, stop at your local branch and ask a librarian for help.

July 1, 2010

What do you call people who use the library?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sullivan Free Library @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke.

There has been a lot of discussion about what term people who work in libraries should use for the people who use their services. Patron is probably the most commonly used term, but is that the best term? The definition of patron is:

1. One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.
2. A customer, especially a regular customer.

Both certainly apply. Library patrons tend to the best supporters of library services, and most are regular customers.  So why not just use the term customer?   Customer implies an exchange of money, and library services are for the most part, free.

User is another term that is often used, but that has some negative connotations, as in the sub-definition: a person who uses something or someone selfishly or unethically.

I recently attended a teleconference where it was suggested that the most appropriate term for those who frequent library services is member.   Member implies belonging, being a part of an organization.  In order to use the library, a person applies for a library card to become a member of the library community. Member implies having a say in how your library services are developed and delivered.  But then, what about people who visit the library but don’t have a library card?

In the end, it is all a matter of semantics,  but sometimes it is the nuances that make a difference in life.  Please take a moment to vote in the poll below and let us know what you prefer.  Comments are also welcome.

June 29, 2010

Libraries and Me by Greg Ellstrom

Reposted with permission from The Blue Moon Grille:

I can’t come up with my earliest library memory. I’m sure I went to the library in Penfield, the upstate village I lived in until I was six, but I can’t recall. I do recall being surrounded by and having my early years enriched by books read to me by my mom and dad.

And I do recall the first library we went to in Webster, the town I lived in from when I was six until I graduated from high school forty-five years ago right about now. Actually, the library wasn’t in Webster. It was in Irondequoit just across the bay from where we lived. Later, we would start going to the Webster Village library on the lower level of the town hall.

Those first memories of libraries are all about towering stacks of books. The Hardy Boys, Freddy the Pig, Landmark books, TOM SAWYER, and so many more books that I can’t immediately remember. And taking those books up to the high counter, where a lady, never a man, took my library card and my pile of books and checked them out for me. This required both the card in the little book pocket and the paper stuck under the book’s cover, to be stamped firmly, in two quick librarian strokes, with the date the books were due. A library card was very important, but I remember being rather careless with mine, and how I would misplace it, and how it got frayed in my pockets and washed in the washing machine. My mom always found it or saved it for me.

I have a vivid sixth grade library memory. That year, my teacher was Mr. B., and anyone who attended Bay Road Elementary School around then, will know that meant for a rather scary year. Going each week for a period in the library was always happily anticipated. I remember one Wednesday night, (I’m pretty sure we went to the library on Thursday), my mom discovered in my jeans pocket a crumpled up outline of the Dewey Decimal System number code. We had been told the week before by the school librarian to study this list for a quiz. It wasn’t a priority to us sixth graders, though, because, you don’t get a mark for library, after all. I had forgotten all about it, but my mom made me study before I went to bed. The next morning when we went to library period, the librarian passed out 10 question quizzes. Everyone else in class stared blankly at them. Not me. I whisked right through that quiz with the librarian beaming beside me. I got a 90%. Somehow, I missed one. The librarian was thrilled with me and announced to our class how special I was for actually doing library homework. She then allowed me to go choose my book first, while the rest of the class sat in hand-folded silence, glaring at me for what I had done. I remained smug and slowly chose my book. I remember the book, too! It was called GHOSTLY TALES TO BE TOLD, and in that volume I discovered Ambrose Bierce’s “The Wendigo,” the scariest story I have ever read. This short story collection was the germ of my lifelong love for horror fiction.

I have really fine memories of my high school library, too. Overseen by the thin and matronly stern Miss Growney, the R. L. Thomas High School library, was important in that it was the place I did my first serious research. I still recall receiving an A- on my 20 page senior essay, “George Bernard Shaw, Critic” in Mr. Castor’s Honors English class. In fact, I liked the topic so well, I used it as the topic of my freshman essay at SUNY Albany, where I received a B+, from a pinch-mouthed TA, whose name I have forgotten. I also remember the area under the high school library tables as the place I learned to play footsie, amazingly, right under the watch of Miss Growney. The library was also a nice place to watch the members of the library club, all girls, many attractive, rearranging magazines and such.

Of course, my college library was essential for an English education major. It was so huge. Three floors of stack after stack after file cabinet after study carrel. I was amazed by the sheer number of periodicals, and because this was before the computer age, multiple years of each periodical were stored in special periodical boxes. I remember reading theater reviews in a long gone magazine named CUE and in WOMEN’S WEAR DAILY. I remember a lengthy search I did to find information on the Faulkner novella, “The Wild Palms.” I also remember being curled up for hours in a carrel just before finals week as I tried to finish reading ABSOLOM, ABSOLOM, another Faulner challenge. It was nice, too, to take a break in the second floor lounge and do a little co-ed watching.

For thirty-three years as a teacher, I and my classes availed ourselves of the Chittenango High School library and watched it evolve into something called a “library media center.” Lots of great librarians helped me and my minions. Lorraine Aust was the first, Judy Waite, Betsy Keck, who led Folksmarches, Pamela Revercomb, who dressed in a tutu on days she got stressed, and Mary Klucznik, and I probably forgot someone. When I go into the comfortable, high tech, two-tiered high school library today, I am happily amazed, and I have a hard remembering what it looked like back in 1969, the year I first entered its doors.

I have become a buyer of books I am ashamed to say. I like my own paperbacks, purchased at Barnes and Noble, to curl up with during my major reading hour, which is before I fall asleep at night. I know I should save my money and borrow books from the Sullivan Free Library more often. This doesn’t mean our library isn’t important to me, though. It is my SUMMERPLAY rehearsal hall. Air-conditioned and large, the community room is perfect to rehearse my large cast plays. I’m really excited about a play for reader’s theater, which I am going to write as a fundraiser for the SFL. I believe the date is Thursday, October 14, 2010, in the high school auditorium. This aforementioned play will star a group of local folks from various walks of Chittenango/Bridgeport life. And just this morning, while our house was being renovated and my office was under construction, I borrowed the SFL Wifi to begin this blog. While I was there, I bumped in to a student from the past, class of 1991, who was there looking at books with her little boy. What a bright young woman! I have to start borrowing more books, too.

I’ve had fun remembering the libraries with which I’ve had relationships over time.  Now I have a great relationship with the new library in the old bank building. The people who steered the purchase and renovation of the Chittenango branch of the Sullivan Free Library, and who now administer and work in both branches of the SFL should be very proud. What wonderful places our libraries are.

Greg Ellstrom is a retired English teacher who lives in Chittenango with his wife Linda and dog Lucy.  His blog “The Blue Moon Grille: Thoughts on Many Things that Belong on Stan’s Wall” is published on the website of the Oneida Daily Dispatch.  Greg’s most recent play “The Girl Who Loved Romance Novels”  will be performed July 15-17th at 7:30 pm at Chittenango High School.

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