Sullivan Free Library's Blog

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.

June 16, 2010

Hidden Gems

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!

June 14, 2010

The Librarian

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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!

June 10, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Sullivan Free Library @ 12:56 am
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Last week I wrote about John Warner, the self-proclaimed “Biblioracle” who offered to recommend reading material to readers who sent him the titles of the last five books they’d read.

In today’s issue of The New Yorker magazine, the “Book Bench” column discusses the same topic.  I was pleased to read the reader comments at the end of the article commenting, as I did,  how libraries and librarians provide the same service for free.  To read the article and comments, go to:

One comment mentions the “Novelist” database that is available at many libraries, including those in our MidYork Library system.  “Novelist” is an amazing tool that can be accessed by patrons within the library or at home.  You can plug in the name of an author and find all of the books he/she has written, or get recomendations for authors with similar writing styles.

To access Novelist, go to, and select the “Resources” tab at the upper right of the screen.   Novelist is the third database in the list.  You will need your library card number  to access Novelist, but the service is free (funded by NYS)

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