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Glad to Be of Service

book-pages-in-shape-of-a-heartDuring the past few years that I’ve served as a librarian in Norwood, I’ve split my time between two very different departments: Literacy and Outreach. I choose this word – served – deliberately, as opposed to worked or something equally utilitarian, because it connotes an added layer of meaning and more fully captures the reason I gravitated to this profession. To me, service implies a certain sense of being a helpful person or, as denoted by Merriam-Webster online: contribution to the welfare of others. Books are lovely, reading is essential, and a steady paycheck is reason for gratitude, but until librarians are paid like bank executives simply to read, there must be a raison d’etre. For myself (and, I imagine, many others) this larger purpose is contributing to the welfare of our patrons. My dual role has provided a unique opportunity for doing just that across the widest spectrum imaginable; many participants in the Literacy program are just beginning their reading journey, while usage of the library by Outreach patrons can be measured in spans of time that eclipse decades and can better be described in terms of generations.

The Literacy program at the library was established in 1983 by the board of trustees. It targeted a group previously unserved by the library: non-readers. Then (as now) it offered free, confidential one-on-one tutoring to adult students seeking to learn or improve reading and writing skills, and to help ESL students develop conversational skills. Norwood’s annual report for that year described the program as: inestimable service at a miniscule cost. Now one of a dozen affiliate programs of Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts, its purpose today is unchanged, and it remains the only one of its kind initiated by library trustees. Although all in-person activities were suspended last March due to the pandemic, and some of our tutoring pairs have opted to wait until they can meet in person again, many of our tutors rose to the occasion and began tutoring their students online. Some even offered to help out by taking on an additional student. Interestingly, some tutoring pairs prefer meeting online due to issues such as transportation or childcare. The rest of the activities of the program have also been adapted to an online format – a tremendous undertaking, considering the scope of activities. These include: tutor orientations and multi-week trainings, testing students, matching new tutors and students, and holding numerous meetings and trainings for staff and existing tutors. I find it remarkable that over the past year and in spite of the fact that we have had no in-person interactions in the Literacy department, we’ve heard from about 40 people who want to volunteer as tutors. Service abounds!

Outreach efforts to Norwood’s homebound population started in 1939. The Town’s annual report for that year notes that delivery of books was made available to library patrons for a small fee. This amenity was apparently used numerous times by those who were ill. Two other keystones of the program – our collection of large print books and the deposit collections – surface in the 1969 annual report, which conveys the library’s goal of collaborating with local service agencies to offer book delivery to nursing homes; it also shares that readers appreciated having access to large-print editions of new titles. It is amazing to me that the services provided today were put into motion so long ago. Now, we also loan books on CD, CD players, and assistive technology such as Ruby handheld video magnifiers. In addition, the library keeps a small collection of Perkins Talking Books on hand. Over the years core offerings have been supplemented by programming such as offsite book groups, an annual essay contest and the Literary Lunch over which students and seniors discuss a selected title together. I hear regularly from patrons eager to resume these activities.

Happily, Outreach now offers delivery to homebound Norwood residents free of charge. Although the library closed along with the rest of the world last March due to the pandemic, when we reopened the building to the public in August we also resumed deliveries. Strict protocol was enacted to keep patrons safe: masked staff avoided interactions by leaving materials in bags outside homes. Still, when folks called to place requests they expressed their profound gratitude that we were able to bring them books during such an isolating time. One feisty reader quipped that our deliveries kept her off the street. I appreciated her humor all the more when I reflected that it had probably been quite some time since she had physically been able to be on said street. Another made me laugh out loud when I listened to a message he’d left imploring me to get back to him so he didn’t go crazy, staying in and looking at the idiot box. These anecdotes, and the personal stories others have shared with me over the years, reveal the power of the book to help people through life’s more harrowing times. I’ve witnessed people read themselves through loneliness, illness and loss; I’ve delivered books to people until the very end, and in this respect I have seen books act more like friends than distractions. I would like to dedicate this column, however unexceptional, to the extraordinary people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know through the library. My thanks to them for sharing their stories, their humor and their perspectives, all of which has greatly enriched my time here.

Interested in digging into past happenings in the town of Norwood from the comfort of your home? Simply visit our website and click on the Services tab, then select Reference & Research, and click on Digital History Archive, where you will find an extensive offering of documents that have been digitized and are keyword searchable, such as Town of Norwood Annual Reports, Norwood High School Tiot yearbooks, and selected years of Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. If you need help or have questions, give us a call at the library. We are glad to be of service.

Kirstie David is the Literacy/Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the April 8, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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The Blizzard of 1888

the-childrens-blizzard-book-coverAfter watching author Eric J. Dolin’s presentation of A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes at the Morrill Memorial Library this past February, I recalled my childhood fascination with blizzards (if you missed this fantastic program, you can catch it on YouTube here. This fascination really began with reading the Little House on the Prairie book series, which I read several times over from third grade on up. I recently re-read Wilder’s  blizzardy extravaganza The Long Winter, which I discovered to be the second title; I read somewhere that the original title was The Hard Winter, but the publishers didn’t want to make it too scary for the children. Perhaps they missed the part in the book where the cattle’s mouths froze to the ground and then smothered them. The book, as you can imagine, is rife with cold, storms, and the privations that go along with living in a frontier town. Growing up, I thought that these books were works of nonfiction; I have since learned that the series is considered a fictionalized memoir.

Coming to terms with the fact that the series was somewhat loosely autobiographical rather than gospel truth was like realizing for the first time that one’s parents are human. I read about how Laura’s dog Jack actually just went off into the sunset with their ponies Pet and Patty (they were so attached to one another) when Pa sold them to the cowboys, as opposed to Laura finding him stiff and cold in his doggy box next to Ma’s cookstove, as portrayed in the books. That scene always tore me apart, and it wasn’t even real! I admit, I felt somewhat cheated, but also kind of  relieved. Jack was such a good and faithful dog that he deserved a good ending.

It was this fictionalizing of the truth that led me to do some research on my own about the Blizzard of 1888 in the Northwest Plains of the United States. This storm was called “The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard,” because it claimed over 200 victims, most of whom were children. The storm seemingly came out of nowhere and was described as a “sheet of snow” going faster than a person could run, and “slamming into the building… shaking and almost tearing it to pieces.” Many mistook the roaring sound of the storm for a freight train. Some teachers (a lot of them barely teenagers themselves) made the children stay put, and some let them go home. This last decision was usually made out of necessity; the building was damaged by the storm, or they were out of coal (very little wood on hand to burn on the prairie – it was either coal or hay) and faced sure demise if they stayed where they were. It’s a horrifying thought, being responsible for making such a decision as an adult, never mind as a teenager! Alas, many made the wrong decision and paid with their lives and the lives of their students.

In my search for information about the Blizzard of 1888, I found two non-fiction books, one of which was David Laskin’s well-researched The Children’s Blizzard, and the other a book called In All Its Fury: the Great Blizzard of 1888 by W.H. O’Gara, which contains the  actual eyewitness testimony of folks living in Nebraska and the Dakota territories during the time of the blizzard. Laskin writes not only of the storm, but goes into great detail about why it was so deadly. He traces the storm through the book from beginning to end by studying old weather maps and predictions made by the Army Signal Corps, the precursors of the National Weather Service. Laskin unfolds a story of mistakes and finger-pointing, this history of weather prediction illustrating the terrible aftermath of an incorrect or delayed weather report. A truly chilling aspect of the story is manifested as Laskin follows several victims’ journey through hypothermia and its after effects. For some, this is amputation, and for others, death.

In the spirit of fictionalized memoirs, I can recommend Melanie Benjamin’s book, also titled The Children’s Blizzard, as a good historical fiction novel. Benjamin dips into the same information that Laskin wrote of, and cleverly focuses her story on just a few characters, enabling the story to flow. Benjamin gives a haunting portrayal of what life was like for the many immigrants that came to this country for “free land” and a chance to live the American Dream.

David Laskin ends his book The Children’s Blizzard with this appropriate quote: “The blizzard of January 12, 1888… came without warning, the pioneers learned that the land they had desired so fervently and had traveled so far to claim wasn’t free after all. Who could have predicted that the bill would arrive with a sudden shift of wind in the middle of a mild January morning?”

Carla Howard is the Senior Circulation and Media & Marketing Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the April 1, 2021 issue of the Transcript & Bulletin.

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A Lesson in Adapting

computer“When in doubt, go to the library.” This famous line from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets perfectly encapsulates how I feel about libraries. As a Library Teacher, and lifelong patron turned part-time employee of Morrill Memorial Library, I may be somewhat biased, but I have always felt that libraries have the power to meet so many different needs. But what happens when we can’t go to the library?

The COVID-19 pandemic pressed pause on almost everything in our lives. Restaurants, stores, offices and schools all closed in an effort to stop the spread and keep everyone safe. Businesses were forced to find creative ways to navigate this new world and libraries were no different. I had the unique opportunity to see these changes and innovations firsthand in both the public library and school library setting.

As a Library Teacher overseeing two elementary school libraries in Newton, my days are typically filled with teaching classes, checking books out to students and collaborating with school staff. In March of 2020 everything changed. As educators, we were tasked with creating a new virtual curriculum that could keep students engaged and learning through a computer screen. One colleague likened the challenge to building a plane as you fly it.

I was fortunate that my subject area translated well into this online medium, but it didn’t make the transition much easier. In many ways I felt like a first year educator again. Everything was new and overwhelming and I felt unsure of myself and my teaching abilities. Rather than welcoming students into the library and sitting together on our multicolor rug, I greet students with a wave and smile as their faces populate my laptop screen for our library class on Zoom. The concept of teaching elementary aged students online sounded impossible when the pandemic first began. I soon realized, however, that while I could not replicate the in-person library experience my students were accustomed to, I could still provide them with creative and engaging alternatives. In particular, browsing and borrowing books in a library has always been a hands-on and personal experience. Normally, my students come into the library and cannot wait for the opportunity to choose books for themselves. They look forward to pulling books off the shelf, holding them in their hands, flipping through the pages and making the decision about which to take home. That experience is very different now. Instead, I walk students through the steps of how to access e-books, place digital holds, and model how to download books directly to their devices.

Initially, I worried about what my students would be missing out on with virtual library class, but we have been able to accomplish many things I thought impossible last spring. Students in first grade are conducting research on their iPads and gathering information from library databases all while on Zoom. Fourth grade students are practicing website evaluation and learning how to cite sources. Learning and finding joy in reading is still happening; it just looks different right now. I teach close to thirty virtual classes a week and find that my time together with the students flies by. Before I know it I am saying goodbye and logging off to join my next Zoom.

My experience this last year is not unique. All educators have had to rise to the occasion and focus their efforts on reimagining education in these uncharted circumstances.

Similarly, public libraries faced the question of how to continue to provide services to their patrons when many locations were closed to the public. Working at Morrill Memorial Library during the pandemic, I had the opportunity to see a public library navigate the redesign of community outreach and delivery of library services. In the Children’s Department specifically, the staff quickly concluded that if the community could not come to the library, the library would go to the community, and with that, the Pop Up Library was born. Led by Kate Tigue, Head of Youth Services, the weekly Pop Up Library allowed the Children’s Department staff to travel to each school in Norwood with popular titles for children and teens to check out in a distanced outdoor setting. This ingenious endeavor was an enormous success in the summer and fall of 2020 and an amazing opportunity to witness library innovation at work. The library’s creativity has not stopped as librarians conduct regular Zoom story times, offer personalized book bundles for check out, provide virtual programming, and weekly make-and-take crafts.

This pandemic has taught me that libraries are more than just the physical space they inhabit, and that information and learning can be brought to people in ways we never contemplated before.

Maureen Riordan is a Part-time Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the March 25, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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Buying a New Car

new-car-in-parking-lotHave you ever been involved in the purchase of a car? I’m sure most of us can answer yes to that question. Recently I too had the opportunity to partake in such a purchase. Despite the uncertainty, I was excited to go through the process and end up with a new car, yet something was nagging at the back of my mind. The process of buying a car is known for being tortuous, filled with hoops you have to jump through. On top of that I’m a woman in her 60s trying to go up against the boys club of car salesmen, chomping at the bit to get me to part with as much money as possible. The fact remains, that the automotive industry is male dominated with men holding down about 71% of all sales jobs, as of 2019. For someone who dreads confrontation, this whole process was getting a bit daunting.  But, I told myself, this is the time of Covid when we are all going out of our comfort zone and trying new experiences. So, I got this. By that, I mean I got my negotiating savvy male family member to help me on this journey. Okay, so I did opt for reinforcements but I knew my limitations. Now we’re ready to tackle this beast!

As a veteran deal seeker, I always start my journey off with some thorough research. At the library we have numerous online guides when it comes time to choosing what type of automobile to buy, including Chilton Library and Consumer Reports.  They are easy to access from our homepage by selecting Digital Resources and then Databases in the dropdown menu. Various helpful websites are also available such as www.edmunds.com or www.cars.com.

Once I settled on the car make, I found a small dealership in a neighboring town. Ok, let the games begin. We went in with high hopes. Regrettably, their inventory was low and they were not flexible on price. Bruised but not beaten, we opted to bow out and take our fight to a new dealership. I was disappointed that we were unable to finalize a deal, but my companion reminded me that this experience was productive, as we now had a point of reference for pricing, which would give us confidence for future negotiations.

The next dealership had a vast inventory and a large staff of salespeople. Things were starting to look up! After test driving the vehicle I liked, we were prepared to take the ultimate plunge – we were ready to enter into negotiations! I sat back and began to observe the proceedings. We started out asking for the most equipped model for the least expensive cost. Start big – room for concessions. We proceeded from there. Each new figure was dutifully brought to the “manager” for so-called approval. Back and forth we went. Silence from us, bluster by them. The salesperson at one point even resorted to minor personal attacks on the sincerity of our offers – a tactic to  disarm us and make us more vulnerable. Every move is well rehearsed and honed to perfection. These and other sales tactics can be found in Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes, by Robert H. Mnookin, Scott R. Peppet, and Andres S. Tulumello. For a specific offering on buying a car, access our online service Hoopla, which you can download on our website under Digital Resources or directly at www.hoopladigital.com, and connect to The Secrets of Power Negotiating for Your Dream Car, by Roger Dawson. For a more general digital title, check out The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements : More $uccess with Less Stress, by Don Hutson and George Lucas.

Finally, in what seemed like hours, but in reality was only about 30 grueling minutes, an offer that was to my liking was presented. I responded to it eagerly, with great relief to be done, but my enthusiasm was short lived. My male negotiator went off script and tried to bargain down the price even further! This request was not met with amusement. We then asked for the manager!  The manager emerged from an undisclosed cubicle and was brought over; he would not budge on the price. I understood. I got way more than I expected for the price, and we walked away victorious.

In the days since this purchase, I have been reflecting on this situation. Although I did not trust my negotiating skills, I did have the astuteness to level the playing field by bringing in a man to fight a traditionally man’s fight. Unfortunately, a woman in her 60s is still perceived as timid and uninformed about cars. I am not proud to admit that I perpetuated the myth of male dominance by bringing a male, but if it served to get me the best deal, then I swallowed my pride and played the game. This was only for a car deal and I shudder to think of what women have had to endure in order to “close the deal” in the past. Hopefully, though, now we are rewriting societal wrongs with political and social movements that address these issues, as well as instilling strength and confidence in our children. But when the salesman did mention his mother, I thought “uh-oh now he’s appealing to my maternal side.” Yet another tactic in his arsenal of weapons!

Robin Kessler is a Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the March 18, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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What Do We Do With Dr. Seuss?

Dr. SeussOh the places you’ll go! Just one line instantly delves us into the world of Dr. Seuss, a world often synonymous with children’s literature. When doing a basic search for “popular picture books” in a search engine, titles like The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax immediately pop up alongside other classic titles such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harold and the Purple Crayon. It can’t be denied the cultural impact that Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, has had on the world of children’s literature. While he has reigned supreme in the world of children’s books for over 75 years, some of his works have recently come under fire for portraying racist images of people of different ethnicities. This controversy has led to the Geisel estate deciding to pull six of his titles from further publication. This decision, alongside Read Across America Week’s decision to distance itself from the works of Dr. Seuss, has librarians, readers, and educators now wondering: what do we do with Dr. Seuss?girl-reading-hop-on-pop
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The works of Dr. Seuss have had a long-standing tradition in children’s literature. Books like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham have delighted readers for generations, and Geisel was unique in creating an early literacy text that was both suitable for beginner readers, while also being entertaining (unlike the monotony of early literacy primers like Fun With Dick and Jane). The majority of his works have stood the test of time, with copies still being sold today, along with some of his works being turned into movies, stage musicals, and a TV series. While works such as The Sneetches and Other Stories, Horton Hears a Who, and The Lorax do contain very positive messages of acceptance and kindness, the same unfortunately cannot be said of works like And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo, which are two of the six titles that will no longer be published. These titles, along with four others, contain illustrations which depict people of color in ways that are not kind or acceptable by modern standards. These illustrations unfortunately reflect Dr. Seuss as a product of his time (which becomes even more apparent if we examine his career as a political cartoonist), which can cause problems when we try to read them to children today. One book that I highly recommend when thinking about Seuss’s controversial role in children’s literature is Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books by Philip Nel.

This controversy surrounding Seuss, and whether or not to continue to keep certain works in a library collection, does have a positive, in that we are working to become more aware of the prejudices that may exist in children’s classics, and how we approach them in a classroom or storytime. I believe that this reexamination of Seuss’s works also gives us the ability to rewrite the “canon” of children’s classics, by choosing to retire some problematic books that simply don’t have as much of a draw anymore. While Seuss has undeniably contributed a great deal to the world of children’s literature and easy readers, we should also highlight the amazing work that other authors have contributed to that field as well. One such author is Mo Willems, who has both won and received honors multiple times for the Geisel Award, which awards exemplary easy readers. I am constantly receiving requests from children for more Elephant and Piggy books, and his Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series has now achieved the same cultural status as The Cat in the Hat or The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Arnold Lobel is another classic children’s author whose Frog and Toad series still has appeal for an easy reader audience, and his works contain both hilarity and the importance of friendship in them. The Amelia Bedelia series by Herman Parish is another classic series that still entertains readers today, and more diverse easy readers series such as Ling and Ting by Grace Lin, the Katie Fry series by Katherine Cox, Don’t Throw It to Mo by David A. Adler, the Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules, and Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin add diverse representations of characters to a traditionally white literary canon.

Amidst all of this discussion surrounding the problematic works of Dr. Seuss, I do see a bright side for the future of children’s literature. Just as you would weed a garden to make room for new growth, or clean out the clutter to make space for a new room, I think it’s healthy to reexamine the works of literature that have made up the children’s literature canon of classics to see what kinds of ideas and stories we want to continue to pass on to future generations of readers. I love seeing the world of children’s literature evolving into a much more diverse field, with children of all backgrounds and cultures having the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books they read. Instead of bemoaning the fact that children might not be able to read If I Ran the Zoo, I see new spaces being made on the shelf and in the canon for kinder, more inclusive books that show characters of different ethnicities exploring the world around them. To hearken back to the start of this article, the future of children’s literature truly is a great time to think of “the places you’ll go!”

Dina Delic is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the March 11, 2021 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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