It's Monday morning, and I'm groggy and having a hard time getting myself in gear for the week. And almost first thing this morning I had to deal with gross stuff.

     First off, one of my library regulars came in, a boy who likes to hang out at the circ desk right by me, like Norm or Cliff from Cheers. With me being Sam the bartender, nodding and listening patiently. Unfortunately, this kid is from a family that doesn't value hygiene or cleanliness, and the poor kid even TOLD me that they finally did laundry just yesterday, and that before that, all last week he wore the same clothes every day. This kid has the potential to be an interesting, good guy, but he has some cognitive issues, plus a family that doesn't make sure he's clean. 

     He may have been wearing recently-washed clothes this morning, but HE still smells like he did last week. And it's not good. Sort of a biting urine smell, with a soupçon of sweat and must. I think I may have to talk to the health clerk, and see if she talks to kids with hygiene issues. I definitely don't want him to feel bad or embarrassed, so it needs to be handled delicately.

     I also had a load of about 12 textbooks stuffed into the return slot at the very end of the day last Friday, right before I left. The drop slot clearly says, "DO NOT RETURN TEXTBOOKS HERE," but maybe whoever left the books didn't notice the giant bold red letters. Anyway, this morning I saw them sitting there, and while the kid with the hygiene problem was talking to me, I started quickly going through them and slapping post-its with the department teachers' names to return them to.

     I also had other kids printing and checking books out, so it took me a few minutes, being distracted by multi-tasking, before my internal YUCK sensor started blaring. My hands were becoming coated in some kind of sticky film of grossness. I finally looked carefully at the lost-and-found textbooks, and realized they were all coated in the sticky film. It was sort of a dirty sludge, completely covering the front and back covers of ALL the textbooks that had been so kindly dropped into the library's return slot.

     I don't know if it was mold, or if something spilled all over them. For some reason, I picture the books sitting in a forgotten corner of the boys' locker room, slowly acquiring a layer of moist germs. I think this is most likely.

     I spent several frantic minutes digging in drawers for a bag large enough to hold all of them, then finally settled on a cardboard box, which I taped up very securely and labeled in bold black marker, "MOLDY TEXTBOOKS - TRASH" I don't want these books finding their way BACK to me, ever again.

     Then I washed my hands thoroughly, washed them AGAIN, and then used some hand sanitizer. But I still feel contaminated. 

NOTE: The textbooks were all old enough that none of them had the tracking barcodes we've been using for almost 3 years. One of them was from another school in the district, and yet another was from a completely different school district. So who knows how long they've been sitting... wherever. I'd love to offer a hearty FUCK YOU to the person who dumped them on ME.

BULLETIN BOARDS & DISPLAY : March Book Fair & Easter

This was my idea, with books on the Ferris Wheel, and books as roller coaster train. I just found a good simple carnival silhouette online, and replicated it with banner paper, prefab "books," copy paper, and a big black pen.

     We're having a Scholastic Book Fair the last week of March, so this month's bulletin board decor is a nauseating mix of carnival-y book fair imagery, Women's History (see previous post), and Easter & spring bunnies, etc.

     I did a Google image search for "carnival," and "fair," and found some nice & simple ideas. Primary colors, that circus-type font in Word, etc. We printed big fair ticket images on colored paper and cut them out, printed lettering on yellow paper, etc. SIMPLE. Because this is a busy month and shit's gotta get DONE.

This was my idea, too. Isn't it nice? Doesn't it tie the "fair" theme in nicely?

     And here's the circular glass display cabinet that some of my fellow library techs are jealous of. It is pretty cool. I don't know where it came from.

Countdown: "11 more days 'til the book fair!" (I update the number each morning)

     We got a cheap little round blackboard for less than $2 at Michael's for the countdown.

Various little bunny figurines and eggs donated by the previous Librarian who is still my friend, and by my mom. Who is also still my friend.

Tough to find rabbit or bunny books in a junior high/high school library. So we have the emotionally scarring Watership Down lurking at the bottom of the display, beneath cheerier titles like Peter Rabbit and Bunnicula.

Egg wheel from my mom. That ties Easter in with the fair theme! It's all cohesive. And before you say, "No, it's not! What about that Birding book?" let me interject that birds fit the spring part of our theme. COHESIVE.
Per reader request, here is the carnival ticket image, which I think I found online searching for free carnival/fair clip art:


     There are some really cute little 7th graders this year. Very sincere, and eager to use the Library. They're so EXCITED about it, which I love seeing.

     One of the super friendly ones came in during lunch today. As I was scanning the barcode on his student ID to check his books out, he said this:

"This card thing is fun, being able to come and check books out with it. ‘Cause my mom doesn’t like to go to the public library every day, but I can come to the SCHOOL library every day and return books and check more out! It makes me feel more grownup. Well, thanks, Mr. Kovac! Have a nice day!"

     I thought, Wow, are you kidding me? It’s like I SCRIPTED that for him and PAID him to say it! 

     Only I DIDN'T! I swear!


Week 1: The Silver Peep
     For the three weeks leading up to our Library Book Fair next week, we've had a Peeps Hunt Contest. Each Monday we've hidden a marshmallow Peep somewhere in the library, and the first student to find it wins a $10 gift certificate to the book fair.
     I anticipated the admin's objection to sugary candy lying around in the library and possibly drawing ants by painting each Peep with a layer of Elmer's glue to seal it. I also anticipated the way kids are sneaky and occasionally dishonest by spray-painting each Peep a different, secret color. (So a kid wouldn't be tempted to buy a package of Peeps, sneak one into the library, and say, "Look, I found it!")
Week 2: The Blue Peep
     The first Peep was found in about 5 minutes.
     The penultimate Peep was discovered after about 7 minutes.
     The final Peep, though, I inadvertently hid VERY well, apparently. It was sitting on a very bottom shelf in the corner, atop a book on Egypt. This was the black Peep, so it was harder to spot in its shadowed location.
Week 3: The Black Peep
     By the third week there were plenty of kids who were aware of the contest, and determined to get the last gift certificate. I counted at least 30 students who filled the library as soon as lunch started (that's when I said the hunt would begin) and immediately spread out and began frenziedly searching.
     After 10 minutes no one had found it, and they were all clamoring for hints. One of the girls eyed the two eraser hamsters that sit on my monitor and said, "I bet THEY know where it's hidden."
     I said, "Maybe I didn't tell them."
     She smirked, "I think they see EVERYTHING that goes on in here."
     After 15 minutes the Peep was still undiscovered. I started thinking I might have to let it stay there until after school, when they could search for it some more. But in the meantime they were racing up and down the aisles, peering under tables and chairs, knocking into each other, the panic building...
     One of the boys kept saying, "Found it!" even though he hadn't, just to screw with the other kids' heads. They kept yelling at him to stop saying that. I couldn't help snickering.
     More and more kids were coming up to me, eyes wild, begging for hints.
     "Is it in the locked cabinet?" (No, of course not.)
     "Is it up higher than where we can see?" (Duh, NO.)
     "What color is it this week?" (Not telling.)
     I had to tell them that it was definitely not anywhere behind my desk, so they didn't converge in my work space.
     I could see the artificial ficus trees at the back of the library thrashing and shaking like there was a hurricane blowing through the room.
     "Hey!" I yelled, "I did not hide it anywhere that requires DESTROYING anything!"
     I realized the library would never survive more hunting after school, so I had to start giving hints.
     "Okay, first hint: Neither of the eraser hamsters can see the Peep from where they're sitting."
Eraser hamsters
     One of the kids said, "The brown one is missing his left eye, is that important?!"
     "No," I sighed. "Just pretend he has both eyes."
     The kids began assessing the hamsters' lines of sight, which was pretty funny. But the clock was ticking away and still they weren't finding that stupid Peep. Meanwhile, there were a bunch of other kids working on the computers, printing stuff, and checking books out. I was ready for lunch to end.
     One of the Peep-hunters ran up to the desk and asked earnestly in a rush, "Do you have a ladder?"
     "Okay everybody!" I yelled, "Second hint: the Peep is LOW."
     All 30-some Peep-hunters dropped to all fours throughout the library, and it sort of looked like a covert military maneuver. One of the high schoolers hanging out by my desk shook his head in amusement. Most of the hunters were junior high kids.
     I thought for SURE they would find it after that hint, but a few more minutes passed.
     One of the kids asked, "What if somebody ATE it?"
     I said they'd be very sick because it's covered in a layer of glue and spray paint.
     The cleanup bell rang. 
     "Third hint: EGYPT!" I yelled.
     In the resulting chaos, one of the kids yelled, "What? Regis? Did he say Regis?"
     "Not Regis, EGYPT!" I clarified, wondering if that was a Regis Philbin reference. Do teenagers even know who Regis Philbin is?
     There was a chorus of exclamations and squeals, thundering of feet, etc. Finally the sounds of triumph and disappointment as an 8th grade girl claimed the prize.
     The cool thing is that because of the nature of this particular school (college-prep academy with high standards) the girl who found the Peep went through the Egypt section and straightened it up for me of her own volition, because she had noticed what a mess it was after the frenzy of the hunt.
     Incidentally, I ate a few stale Peeps last night. They really do taste like shit.


"Read, Know, Grow," plus a sneak peek at the upcoming book fair
     Okay, after processing a bunch of new books we were able to order with profits from our Amazon Associates Account, I finally added wording to the Library Pinwheel Bunnies board. The Librarian suggested the old stand-by, "Read, Know, Grow..." Simple and springy.
     I just printed the letters out using the "Curlz" font on green paper.
     I also printed out some sneak preview pages from the Mrs. Nelson's Book Fair website. We're hosting one of their fairs the last week this month, right before we all go on spring break.
     By the way, the background on this bulletin board is striped because I didn't have enough of any one of these colors. Time to hit the school supply store, again.
     After spring break the only things I'll have to change right away are the Easter Eggs and book fair preview pages. That'll buy me some time.
     Our district is planning to lay off all the credentialed Teacher Librarians again this year. They threatened that last year, but this year the general consensus is that it will really happen. By law the district has to keep ONE Teacher Librarian, but how effective is that going to be, for 18 school sites? Please. Anyway, this will mean all of us Library technicians will have almost no support at all, and have to establish new parameters as far as what we're willing to do, and what we're NOT. Some services will have to go by the wayside. One person can only do so much.
     Anyway, that's one of the reasons I'm thinking bulletin board decorations may be low on the priorities list when we get back. There's already lots of angst and drama and resentments brewing. Easter Bunny better bring me some f*cking Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs.

DAY OF THE DEAD : "Ofrenda" for Poe

     My friend Christine, the Art teacher, did all sorts of Day of the Dead decorating all over campus, and was kind enough to give us all the makings for an ofrenda for Edgar Allan Poe, complete with (plastic) skeletal remains.  She and her students are responsible for making all the cool stuff.  I assembled it on top of our graphic novels section.
Mr. Poe

      "Ofrendas are an essential part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. The word "ofrenda" means offering in Spanish. They are also called altares or altars, but they are not for worshiping.                
      Ofrendas are set up to remember and honor the memory of ancestors."
"Lenore" painted on the mysteriously squished side of his skull

I love the colorful tissue-paper flower garland
     When she was putting up all the decorations late Friday evening, she was on a ladder outside one of the classrooms and the ladder collapsed.  She felt into the wall and then dropped to the ground.  Her ankle is pretty f***ed up, she's sore all over, but at least we don't have to make an altar dedicated to HER memory.
     (I don't know why it is that we school employees tend to flaunt safety so much.  I don't even HAVE a ladder in the library, so I end up balancing precariously on book carts, or even stacking a little rolling library stool on top of a chair on top of a table to reach the higher bulletin boards.  We received a flyer by email a few weeks ago with the slogan, "A chair is not a ladder!" showing how to use a stepladder correctly to reach things, and reminding us to be very careful.  I tacked it to the wall in the back room and ignore it every day.)

Skulls, pictures of the deceased, offerings of food, candy, and drinking water, even flowers and ravens!
      She also did an altar dedicated to Frida Kahlo in the main office, and drew a unibrow on it.  Awesome, right?  And did you notice Mr. Poe has a mustache?  It's amazing it survived even after his skin and organs rotted away.  That is a seriously tough mustache.
      Mr. Poe is dressed in my own clothes, and it felt weird shoving his stiff, awkward limbs into my shirt and pants.  It felt sort of like dressing a child or an old person.  He was so uncooperative I had to pop his hands off and re-attach them after I got the sleeves on.  (I don't think you're allowed to do that with kids or old people.)


          BANNED BOOKS WEEK is September 26th - October 2nd.  I have a lot of cool stuff to display for it.  Last year it occurred to me that since I'm (unfortunately) in charge of lockers and combination locks, I might as well use some of the wayward locks in my displays, with an "Unlock Your Mind" theme.  I went a little nuts with it this year, and used copies of pictures of locks, blown up big, to form all the letters.  (The metal hook part was what I used for the letters.)  And I used a picture of a brain on pink paper to dot the "i" in "mind."  Isn't that adorable?
I was quite proud of this idea
          The bulletin board also included the dates (at first I put the 6 upside-down, but don't look at that!), a nice quote from Ben Franklin, and a bitchin' "Censorship causes blindness: READ!" poster.
The main bulletin board

Banned Books Week SIMPLIFIED
          I made this Banned Books Week comic strip when I was working at a junior high school with "less intellectual" students who needed a LOT more explaining before they began to grasp the concepts involved.  It was frequently painful (for us), but we just kept on trying, because it's important.
          In case you can't read the dialogue, it goes like this:

BOY:  I don' get it-- Are we banning books?!  Is that a good thing?!

GIRL:  No!  Banned Books Week is about exercising our FREEDOM to read.

GIRL (continued):  It's about CELEBRATING all the wonderful books that some people are trying to keep us from reading, just because they don't like the IDEAS expressed in them.

GIRL (won't shut up about it!):  Libraries believe in protecting INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM!

BOOK:  I'm just a lil' book with some BIG IDEAS!  Don't ban me just 'cause you don't agree with me!

GIRL:  Save the books!

BOY:  Read an "endangered" book today!

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself"
          In the circular glass display cabinet we displayed books from an American Library Association list of the most frequently challenged and/or banned books.  I scattered some opened padlocks on the shelves, and there are two signs on the back side, explaining the display.
          The first sign reads, "Some people are trying to keep you from reading these books...  These books have been challenged and/or banned from school and public libraries across the nation."
          And the second one says, "Celebrate your freedom to read!"
          The cabinet is unlocked, and I encourage students to check out any books they find interesting.

The Library Key!
          This is a close-up of my favorite part of the display, the "Library Key" which I made from clip-art and blue and chartreuse paper.  Isn't it fancy?!  It's symbolism, get it?  Because the LIBRARY is the KEY which unlocks your MIND.  Duuuude...

          I have one more (very wordy) hand-made poster about BBW, which I direct students to if I don't have time to explain it myself, or if I'm too frazzled and tongue-tied to be coherent about it.  I put it on red, white, and blue paper to make sure kids get the message that there's nothing un-American about intellectual freedom.  Here's the text of it, which I got mostly from the American Library Association, and paraphrased:


          Banned Books Week emphasizes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.


          A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove materials from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

          The positive message of Banned Books Week:  Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.


"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone from here,
either write things worth reading,
or do things worth writing about."
-Benjamin Franklin
          I drew this angsty teenager last year, and I rather like him.  You can't see it in the hazy cell phone pic, but the book he's holding is titled "This And That," and the title visible in his backpack is "Crazy Stuff."  He's sort of based on Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" character as far as the hair, but the rest of him is pure slouchy rail-thin teenager.  I see lots of those.
          The quote I borrowed is from one of our morning bulletins last year.  I usually just roll my eyes at the "quote of the day," but I really liked this one.
          I'm gearing up for Banned Books Week next week, so all the other displays are about that.  We just did 7th grade library orientations, and I braced myself for the onslaught of questions.  Sure enough:
          "What is Banned Books Week?"
          "What does 'censorship' mean?"
          "Are we banning these books in OUR school?!"
          "Why do we celebrate Banned Books Week?"

          (More later on that...)


The answer is yes.

          Our Back To School night is tonight, and just yesterday my principal emailed me to say, “The library will be open for Back To School Night, right?”
          I thought, “Crap...” But I wrote back, “Does that mean you’d LIKE it to be open?”
          So of course she wrote back, “Yes, I think that would be nice.”
          I sarcastically referred to myself as “Your Humble Library Servant,” and she responded by signing off as my, “Grateful Master.”
          The trade-off is that I get to leave early on Friday, which is a nice carrot to dangle before my scabby pink nose.
          But today I will have spent THIRTEEN HOURS at work by the time I leave. Hello, Baby Jesus? Are you watching? I hope so.
          So here I sit.
          Back To School is when the parents have to go class-to-class, meeting all their kids’ teachers, so there’s not really free time left for the library. But having said that, I’ve already had about 20 kids in here (mostly 7th graders), and several parents, and it’s not even half over. I’ve even been checking books out. So... you know, whatever. I guess being here won’t KILL me.
          I’m processing new books. A bunch of Kerouac one of the teachers donated. That was exciting because being a college prep school with some angsty philosophers, I’ve been asked for Kerouac before, and been empty-handed.
          Just had a chatty father in here. He’s a nice guy, and came to my last signing at a local comic shop (promoting issue #1 of The Royal Historian of Oz) with his daughter and son. His daughter is now my 3rd period Library Aide. He wanted to tell me he read my graphic novel, Skelebunnies, and thought it was really funny. That happens to be my filthiest work to date, and I WARNED him when his daughter came up to me at the signing with it, but he said it was okay. I signed it, “I’m terribly sorry for all the horrible things you’ll see in this book.” For example, my parody of Hello Kitty/My Little Pony, which is called “My Little Penis.”
          And now that poor girl is my Library Aide. But she’s cool enough not to be scared. Or scarred.
          Her father said she was excited to get to be my Library Aide. I had her doing non-fiction inventory today for a full hour, which is tedious, and she didn’t even complain. She gets bonus points for that.
          45 minutes left of Back To School Night.  Sigh...
          One of my teacher friends is telling her new little 7th graders that I’m a writer/artist, so they’re coming in and asking me about it. Since I’m not in self-promotion mode when I’m at work, and I’ve been at work for ALMOST 13 HOURS STRAIGHT, I’m kind of slow to respond. I’m like, “Oh, well, yeah. I write and sometimes illustrate comics.”
          The tiny 7th graders stare expectantly while I continue methodically putting clear contact paper covers on the new paperbacks. I finally catch on.
          “Oh! Did you want to see some of them?”
          So I show them Wonderland and Royal Historian, which are the only 2 school library appropriate things I’ve done. We do NOT have Skelebunnies in the school library.
          I notice a kid reading my hand-made poster explaining the “spine label” and “call number” of a library book. Good. Every child should learn what a call number is.
          The attendance clerk just called me, and apparently two of our parents' cars were broken into this evening, right across the street.  This shit just got real.  Is Back To School Night over, yet?!


          I received a Facebook message from a former student asking me for help on a presentation for one of her college classes. The subject was "School Question." The message read:

Hey Tommy! I have to do a short presentation on the future of public libraries for one of my classes on Wednesday. I wanted to just ask you what you thought about the current library situation (for example: cutting back on days, not providing as many books, etc) and what direction they will be going. Also, your views on the same situation but for school libraries.

The deformed narwal's inability to turn the book's pages,
due to its lack of appendages, represents... um...
the library's inability to provide adequate service due to
lack of funding & staffing.
          I wrote her back right away, typing furiously because of course it's something I really care about. I told her I think it's a shame that libraries are so under-valued. It doesn't matter how many books we check out, how busy we are, what an awesome program we have going, none of that seems to translate into funding. I know things are pretty much the same for public libraries, too.
          Julie and I were just talking about how neither of us (she's a public library Director) have an actual book budget, and have to depend on donations and grants, and any other "special funding" we can drum up to buy new books. Every year we have to get craftier and craftier. It's not like there aren't many new books being published! The Young Adult market is exploding all over the place. How are we supposed to keep up?
          We almost had some Librarian positions cut this year, but an old dude retired, so the district just left that position open, and didn't lay anybody off. But that means the Librarian I work with will now have THREE schools to bounce back-and-forth between, instead of just two. I'm by myself two to three days a week as it is.
          Oh, and even though they keep cutting library staffing and funding, they still expect the same level of service, and the same quality and quantity of materials. It's very frustrating.
          I know we're a vital part of the school. There are even times every week when we have to put out the "library full" sign. The most we can handle at one time is 40 students. (We have the smallest library in the whole school district)
          Tomorrow is Back To School night, and I've been asked to keep the library open for it. I guess I'll put a big box on the counter that says, "HELP! Please donate!" and beg for money all night. Maybe I should wear rags, and smear some coal on my face.
          As far as what direction I think libraries are GOING...
          I fear it will be more of the same over the next couple of years, if not worse.
          Maybe the problem is that we library workers are too solitary and too meek. Especially solitary in the public school system, since we're literally by ourselves most of the time, and others have little or no idea how much we actually do. And many library workers tend to be quiet and uncomplaining. Do we need to complain more? Do we need to continually march up to the office and loudly gripe about how many kids were in the library that morning, and how the phone kept ringing, and all our "other related duties" (lost-and-found, lockers, computers, copier, etc)?  Sometimes I get a little sick of hearing the 3 main office ladies bitch about how so-and-so doesn't want to help out on the phones, or so-and-so isn't good about taking her break on time, or whatever.  There's THREE of them up there, and ONE of me in here.
          It's like how the Republicans usually get their way because lots of them are louder and meaner than most Democrats.
          I have allowed myself to go on a bit of a tirade here, I guess.  I did not write all this in response to that former student's question, I swear!


          Because of our lack of any book budget I try to get my coworkers to donate their books to our library.  A teacher friend of mine just brought in two giant bags full of science fiction, all hardback.  Some of it was totally awesome vintage stuff, which I immediately covered with those nice mylar book jackets. 
          My favorite is Science Fiction of the 30's, compiled by Damon Knight, copyright 1975 Bobbs-Merrill. 

          It collects stories and illustrations originally published in the 1930's.  A lot of the illos are lame and/or too dark, but I found one that's a keeper.  It's from a story called "The Mad Moon," by Stanley G. Weinbaum.  Here 'tis:
The captions read: (L) "Get Out! Beat it! Scram!" he shouted at the giggling, gibbering creatures--
(R) The great, idiotic heads, the silly grins, and giggles--those giggles would drive him crazy.

          I'm keeping that one for myself.  It's too fragile and cool.