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!

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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 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 1, 2010

What do you call people who use the library?

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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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June 28, 2010

Memorial Gifts

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When a friend or family member passes away, it’s hard to know what to do to show how much you care.   Sending flowers and making food are time-honored ways of giving support, but often families are overwhelmed when receiving  many at once.

Some people  designate a charity to receive donations in lieu of flowers such as hospice or another organization that has been particularly helpful or meaningful in their lives.

When there are no specific  suggestions from the family, another way to celebrate and honor the life of a loved one is to make a donation to a local library in their name.  If the person had  interests or hobbies, the library can purchase books in those subject areas and place a bookplate memorializing the person.   Larger donations could purchase needed furniture or equipment with a plaque acknowledging the person in whose name the gift was made.  Most libraries have donor walls or plaques acknowledging gifts over a certain amount.

Public libraries received thousands of visitors every year;  what better way to memorialize an individual than through a book or item that will be seen and used by so many?

Our library has a rocking chair that has been in our children’s library for longer than I have been here.  It has a small tag identifying the donor, but until recently, I didn’t know the story behind it.  A former Board member told me last week about how this particular man came in the library one day (in a different building at the time), looked around and said “This place needs a comfortable chair where a man can come and get away from his wife from time to time!”.   In consultation with library staff, he bought the rocker and donated it to the library.    It has since been used by librarians reading stories to groups of children, by parents rocking their babies to sleep and occasionally, by an adult who needs a comfortable place to doze off.   That chair has a lot of history.

Many years ago, the library lost a treasured staff person to a heart condition.   Many people made donations in her name, which were used to purchase an upholstered platform rocker and ottoman.   It was placed in a quiet corner of our then tiny library.   A piece of embroidery made by that person was framed and hung behind the chair, and library patrons  had a comfortable place to read the newspaper or  just sit and relax.   When the library moved to a larger building, those were the first two pieces of furniture in a whole area devoted to quiet reading.   We like to think that E. would be happy to be in the new library with us.

At the library, we are always honored to be chosen a recipient for memorial gifts and do our best to work with the donor  to find something that is meaningful to all involved.

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June 25, 2010

The Importance of Summer Reading

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All around the country, libraries and bookstores are gearing up for extensive summer reading programs for children.   This is not just a marketing strategy to raise circulation and book sales, but based on hard evidence:  children who read over the long summer break are more likely to do well when they return to school in the fall.  Young readers who don’t continue to read over the summer — especially those who are reluctant or at-risk — are likely to lose crucial ground. One summer off can sometimes mean a whole school year of struggling academic performance.  Summer reading loss is cumulative. Children don’t “catch up” in fall because the other children are moving ahead with their skills. By the
end of 6th grade children who lose reading skills over the summer are two years behind their classmates.

Children need to read outside of school. Research clearly shows that the key to stemming summer reading loss is finding novel ways to get books into the hands of children during the summer break.   Studies suggest that children who read as few as six books over the summer maintain the level of reading skills they achieved during the preceding school year. Reading more books leads to even greater success.

The summer reading programs sponsored by public libraries offer an invaluable service to families by providing free programs and resources to help children maintain reading skills.  Libraries offer incentives to motivate children to read, a wide range of interesting titles at all reading levels and fun programs to get children in to the library involved.

The importance of summer reading is so widely recognized that bookstores and other establishments offer incentives to encourage children to read as well:

Barnes & Noble



New York State

Be sure to visit your local library or one of the links above to find ways to encourage your child to read this summer.  Remember: the best way to encourage skill development in your child is to be a good role model–so check out the Adult Summer Reading programs as well!   Both locations of the Sullivan Free Library have programs for both groups this summer.


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June 21, 2010

Librarian Steps Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sullivan Free Library @ 4:33 pm
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Libraries and librarians are the keepers of information.   Over the weekend, I heard an interview on National Public Radio that was a wonderful  example of a librarian stepping up to fill an information void.

The news in states along the border with Mexico is full of stories violence and death associated with the actions of drug cartels but there is no one agency, in the U.S. or Mexico,  that tracks those statistics.  Molly Molloy, a librarian at New Mexico State University decided to fill that void by compiling her own list of resources to track the problem.  Molloy has been cataloging information about the Mexican border since 2000, and realized that the statistics were on the rise, but there was no one reliable  source of information on the subject.  Molloy began collecting newspaper articles and records and keeping her own account.  By her records, drug-related deaths in  Mexico rose from 320 in 2007 to over 2,700 in 2009, an alarming trend.

I think this is an amazing example of how librarians positively impact our society.   Molloy saw a need that was within her specialty and decided to do something about it.  She put a name to a problem and came up with a way to track information that can hopefully be used to raise awareness of the problem and bring about solutions.

To listen to the NPR interview, visit:

To see Molloy’s work, visit:

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June 16, 2010

Hidden Gems

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I often wonder at the way  some writers become bestselling authors when others with equal or greater talent do not.   As with the field of acting, much of it is likely due to chance –making the right contacts, catching the attention of the right talk show host or getting on the book discussion circuit.

Here are a few novelists  that I consider to be underrated and deserving of wider readership:

Paul Torday:  is a  British novelist who is best known for his  satire “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (2006),  a hilarious look at British bureaucracy  and what can be accomplished when enough money is behind a project, no matter how far-fetched that project might be.   He has also written three other novels, which are not satires, but each compelling in its own right. The title of his second book,  “The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce” (2008) was changed to “Bordeaux” when published in the US and is the psychological study of a man who falls under the spell of a large collection of wine of questionable quality.  “The Girl on the Landing” (2009) is another psychological study.  His most recent novel, “The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers” (2010) is a compelling look at the disparity between social classes, set among the recent crash of financial markets around the world.

Andrea Barrett is an American writer of short stories and fiction who has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award in 1996 for her collection of short fiction titled:  “Ship Fever”.  She writes historical fiction with strong female characters.  Her 2007 novel “The Air We Breathe” is set in the Adirondacks in the early 1900’s when the area was widely known for sanitariums for curing tuberculosis.

Stephen McCauley is the author of “The Object of My Affection” upon which the movie of the same title (starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd) is based.  He is also the author of five other novels, most recently, “Insignificant Others”.  His novels fit the description of “comedy of manners” in which the author satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, in McCauley’s case, gay men.   He engages the reader in the ordinary lives of his characters and makes us all take a closer look at why we behave the way we do.

Joe Coomer:  I’ve always been intrigued by books with unusual titles, and discovered Joe Coomer by the title of his second  novel “Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God”, the story of three unlikely roommates living on a houseboat. He has written several other novels including “The Loop”, “Apologizing to Dogs” (2001)  “One Vacant Chair”(2003) and “A Pocketful of Names” (2005) and several  books of non-fiction, including an account of his sailing experiences “Sailing in a Spoonful of Water” (1997)

Tim Farrington has written a number of novels, including “The Monk Downstairs” (2006) and “The Monk Upstairs” (2008) about a priest who gives up his vocation and rents the downstairs apartment rented out by a single mother looking to supplement her household income.  “Lizzie’s War” (2005) is about the wife of a soldier serving during the Vietnam war, trying to cope on her own with a family and the growing protests about the war.

If you are looking for a different author  to read, try one of these hidden gems.  All of the titles mentioned here are available through the MidYork Library System.   Post your feedback here!

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June 14, 2010

The Librarian

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sullivan Free Library @ 8:04 pm
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Over the weekend, I caught part of a marathon of “The Librarian” movies starring Noah Wylie, the hunky doctor from ER.

The three movies in the series (Quest for the Spear, Return to King Solomon’s Mine, Curse of the Judas Chalice) were filmed for the TNT network but are available on DVD.  They are take-offs on the popular Indiana Jones “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movies and feature Finn Carsen, a geeky librarian with multiple degrees who seems to knows lots of  of trivial and arcane information but isn’t so adept when it comes to personal relationships. Carsen is employed by the Metropolitan library under the supervision of Jane Curtin and Bob Newhart.  The Metropolitan Library is not your typical public library; it houses history’s most mythic artifacts, including the Ark of the Covenant, Pandora’s Box, and the sword Excalibur.  As “THE librarian”, Carsen’s job takes him around the world to unearth and protect even  more precious artifacts.

In some ways, the movies pokes fun at  stereotypes of librarians but in others, they  bring glamor to the position.  Carsen may be full of seemingly useless information, but like MacGyver, he always comes up with a last-minute solution to save the day using his endless knowledge.  Brains triumph over brawn! The movies are filled with literary and historical references.   “Being a librarian is actually a cool job.”  says Carsen.

All three movies are family-friendly and available to borrow through the MidYork Library System.    What a great way to spend time on a rainy weekend or long car trip!

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