Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NaBloPoMo: Cookies for the Library

In January, I was elected (sort of, anyway) to my town's newly-formed Friends of the Library Board. It happened in the way most things like this happen in a small town: one of my husband's co-workers, who helped to found the Friends group, knows that I frequent the library with the kids, that I have been active in other community organizations, that I tend to have a fairly well-reasoned opinion about things, and that I am a problem-solver. He approached me one day on one of his peripatetic walks through town, and asked me if I might come to one of their brainstorming meetings. I offered some suggestions, and before I knew it, he was asking me to consider serving as one of the first "at large" members of the board.

As I think I have established here before, I have a hard time saying no. And really love my little town library, which is within two blocks' walking distance of our house, and which became a great destination for hot days and rainy days with children; never mind that they often have the book I need, when the four copies theoretically available at our county mega-library have all been checked out. It's a little like Cheers there, too: go there often enough, and everyone knows your name and your kids' names, and the kinds of books you like, and all sorts of other random facts about you that only librarians and your regular checkout folks at the grocery store can figure out. They're a little like a monastic order, librarians: Keepers of the Book, keepers of your secrets, keepers--sometimes--of your guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures.

So I stood for election in an uncontested seat, and was voted in unanimously by people to whom I'd never spoken a word.

The Board is a good-hearted group of people. I am the youngest member by (I suspect) about 15 years, but that doesn't mean I have the most energy. And I admire their dedication, even if sometimes the conversation at meetings takes odd and less-productive detours.

Most of our discussions so far have focused on "friend-raising" events: ways to get the community involved and make them more aware of the library (because, it's true, some people in my town don't even know we have a library, due partly to the confusing county library system that surrounds us, but of which we are not technically a part). And there's been some discussion about a fund-raising event, because there are things our little library can use.

But tonight we advertised an "open meeting" (open to all of the Friends, that is) which would be a Q and A with the library director, complete with cookies for refreshments. (You see where this is going for me eventually, don't you?).

No one came for the cookies, unfortunately, besides the Board. It's still early in the life of our group, and we are struggling to build interest in the membership. I keep arguing that people won't show up to meetings unless they feel that they have a job to do, a role to play. And we are slowly creating those jobs and roles. It's too bad, really, because tonight's conversation turned to ebooks and open access computers, and I learned a lot about what's happening on the front lines of my little library's doorstep.

Like, for example, the difficulty in getting an ebook format that everyone's device can read, despite the fact that ePub is becoming more or less the industry standard. Like working with publishers who don't like to "sell" ebooks to libraries, and who will reluctantly do so sometimes on arbitrary-sounding terms, which could include things like an expiration code coded into the system: after 26 times (which, according to some publishers, is the number of times a paper book can be circulated before it begins to fall apart), the book will simply evaporate.  Like the fact that so many books get published not with publishers, and if a library wants to acquire them for a collection, they must do so under yet another set of unique terms.  Like working with aggregators (who become the middle-men, not even with publishers) to try to negotiate terms for a number of libraries and publishers together. Like the ways in which some libraries negotiate directly with large providers of ebooks (like Overdrive). The layers of complication for a library to provide ebooks to their patrons are more significant than I realized.

But the development that he is having a harder time coming to terms with, said our library director, was the expectation for libraries to provide open access computers. What does it mean, he asked us, that when the library opens in the morning, there are 15 people lined up to go in, and 12 of them go to the computers to sit down and check Facebook and listen to music? How does that fulfill the library's mission?

I speculated that just as the purpose of the humanities have changed in higher education over the past decade (shifting from the study of the "book" to the study of "texts"--or cultural productions writ broadly), so has the purpose of the library changed from circulator of books to the point of connection with the text, with information. And Facebook is as much a cultural production, a text, as The* Dubliners, even if we don't think much of its literary merit.  It's an interesting question, though, one that the library staff wrestles with on a daily basis.

Part of me wonders if libraries will ever go away, if the decline of the paper book and the barriers to creating equal access for patrons (who get varied access now according to the devices they can afford) in a BYOD world will change the face of libraries as we know them.  Or if libraries will become less about books and more about creating conversations around culture, providing centers for cultural community.  Whatever happens, I hope that they still hold meetings with the promise of cookies.

Are you a Friend of your local library?  Or just a friend?  What do you think the libraries of the future might look like?

(*thank you for the correction, (Not)Maud, watchful editorial heroine of mine.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Self-Rising Flour
Adapted from here, these are the cookies I made for the library's meeting tonight.  I had some self-rising flour in the cabinet, and have been working diligently to get rid of it; I finally emptied the box.

10 T. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. turbinado sugar
1 c. self-rising flour
3/4 c. whole wheat or spelt flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. baking powder
1 c. dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  In a small saucepan set over medium low heat, melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine sugars and butter into a large bowl and mix well with a whisk until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Pour butter into a large bowl and stir in brown sugar and caster sugar until smooth and sugar is mostly dissolved.  Add the egg and the vanilla, and continue to mix well.

Sift flours and baking powder together into a small bowl and then gradually mix into sugar mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop cookie mixture onto parchment-lined baking trays by rounded tablespoons and bake for 13 minutes or the cookies are just lightly golden.  Allow cookies to cool on trays for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Pin It


  1. My daughter and I frequent our neighborhood library once every three weeks. We check out 10 books (sometimes 9 books and one DVD), half of them are in English and half in Spanish. We enjoy our ten books for three weeks and then we turn them back in and get ten more. Isa loves her library books and we've added to our own personal collection when she's become especially fond of something.

    I also use the library by my school a lot. I tutor there (they have these amazing little study rooms you can rent for free) and I check things out with my teacher card (which allows me to keep them for very long periods of time) to use in my room. Both libraries seem to get a lot of use and it doesn't seem like either will become obsolete anytime soon. And yet I find I almost never get myself books personally as I prefer to read things on my Kindle apps (both on my phone and iPad). Even the books I buy for myself used of Amazon (because they aren't available on Kindle) are hard to read.

    I guess I don't know what libraries will eventually look like but I do believe they'll be around for a long time. And I think that's a very good thing.

    Cheers to you for being a part of your library's board. That is awesome. I look forward to other insides you glean there.

  2. I'm impressed because you used the word "peripatetic", which is so much fun to say but whose meaning I can never quite remember.

    (But you might want to note that Joyce's collection of short stories is just called "Dubliners," with no The.)

    I have nothing actually pertinent to say, though.

  3. This is a fascinating look into the world of libraries. I had no idea of some of the current challenges.

    So, um, how would an author get her book into your library? No reason ;-)

    Must make this recipe.

  4. Like Lori, I had no idea what the current challenges of libraries are. I hope they never go away. I am such a tactile person. I love my paper books and so do the kids. I love going there for story time and for the kids corner with puzzles and a puppet theater. And when we move, I am hoping that the small town library down there is just as cozy.

  5. Yes, you learned a lot about the problems public libraries face. Some large publishers have refused to have ebook versions of their books available for libraries and managing copyright and access is particularly challenging these days.

    I don't think libraries are going anywhere. Are you familiar with the concept of "third place"? The public library has always served such a purpose, and I definitely see that concept becoming even more obvious and prevalent as libraries continue to move away from print.

    Public libraries also serve a major role in helping to bridge the digital divide. Not every household has a computer or decent Internet connection and whether patrons are using libraries to job search or surf Facebook, they count on the Internet access there.

    How libraries use technology was a research project of mine in my public libraries class in library school :-)

    Now, off my public library soapbox! I work at NC State, and the new Hunt Library opened in the spring. It's a stunning, very modern library. The stacks aren't open for browsing. You request the books you want, and a robot retrieves them. The library was designed for students to work on projects together, study, etc. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it. I get the need for the library to evolve beyond "that place with books," but it is still weird to me to see so few books in a library!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...