Monthly Archives: March 2011

What about those Libraries?

Libraries are under attack again. This always happens during troubled economic times. Those in the profession feel embattled, as politicians claim they need to cut funding in order to close budget gaps. Public librarians are encouraged to retire and then are not replaced. School librarians are cut and those remaining are forced to cover more than one building. In California for example, a state which, according to Debra Lau Whelan, “has the highest librarian-to-student ratio in the nation,” (one librarian for every 5,965 students), school librarian positions are being slashed. The state’s school libraries will either be closed or run by clerical staff. Collections are certain to deteriorate and library programs and students’ test scores will suffer. (School Library Journal, online, March 15, 2011). Similar cuts are happening all over the country.

I have worked in libraries for twenty-four years and am angered when I hear how we as a country spend too much money on libraries. The fat that needs to be trimmed has to be sliced from libraries. I’m always perplexed when I hear this stupid argument. What those in the position of putting together budgets never seem to understand is that when workers are laid off, business at public libraries picks up. These unemployed citizens seek out the resources at the library in order to become employed again. Often they have had to eliminate their home internet access because they barely have the money to buy food. They need the internet access that the public libraries provide in order to research and apply for jobs. They also – yes – borrow books, magazines, and videos. Again, these library users aren’t spending their limited unemployment benefits at bookstores. Even artists, such as lyricist Glenn Slater, use the library because of its resources and dependably quiet work space.

School libraries are havens for kids whose families are struggling. The school librarian (library media specialist, teacher-librarian, whichever you prefer) is often the one person with whom a student can interact on a regular basis on topics other than academics. My favorite request from a student is always, “I need a good book to read.” One of my students recently came to me to complain about the ending of Mockingjay. She was quite upset about what happened to the main characters, as if these were actual people in her life. She knew I cared as much as she did because I was the one who introduced her to the Hunger Games series. Many school librarians have these same conversations on a daily basis. Isn’t this the kind of enthusiasm we want to see our students having for books? How would they get this if they lose their school librarian? I feel sick for the students in California who will go through their school careers surrounded by aging library collections, if they even go to the library at all.

 The school librarian is also typically the first professional in the building who has a handle on the latest technologies, and is driven to teach their students 21st Century Skills and to help their classroom colleagues do the same. Classroom teachers are pressured to integrate technology into their lessons, but few have the gumption or time to investigate and learn educational uses of technology. When they turn to the school librarian, they know they have a teaching partner who has the knowledge to bring their students’ skills into the 21st century.

Now more than ever we need to support our libraries. All libraries. As writers, we can help by contacting the local public library and volunteering to do a read aloud. School librarians would love for you to offer to conduct a mini-workshop for  young authors. Another way to show support is to write a letter to your legislator or other representative expressing your concerns about funding cuts to libraries. Even a letter to the editor of you local newspaper would boost a librarian’s morale. Do what you can, but do something. You owe it to your readers!

Let me know how you have been influenced by libraries, either while growing up, or while pursuing your writing career. I’m also interested in your efforts to support your local library. Thanks for stopping by.

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Who I am as a reader

Thank you Dr. Sanford Sternlicht

I don’t recall being read to as a child, but my mother assures me I was. I do distinctly remember watching the older females in my family reading all the time, and wondering what the big deal was. I decided to give it a try.

The first book I fell in love with was Teetoncey by Theodore Taylor. It’s the story about a girl who washes up on shore and cannot speak. She is cared for by a boy and his mother. Aside from the compelling story, the real reason I liked it was because the girl ends up having the same name as me; something very uncommon for me.

I quickly moved on to Nancy Drew books. Yeah, by now I’ve heard all the comments that these books are formulaic and not great writing. So what? I was reading wasn’t I? (By the way, this argument still stands when I see my students reading graphic novels today). I took a short trip through the Flowers in the Attic series, and then on to The Clan of the Cave Bear saga. By now I was involved in the sharing of reading material among my mother, grandmother, and both aunts; I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. And I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Reading became my number one obsession (well, ok maybe number two, after my undying love for Shaun Cassidy).

During my teens I learned to love the horror fiction of the one and only Stephen King. I actually started reading him in 9th grade and didn’t even know it. Remember when he wrote as Richard Bachman? Well…..I read “The Longest Walk” and had to write a report on it for English. Loved it! I didn’t find out until years later that this amazing story was actually the work of Mr. King.

As you might remember from my previous post, my college days were spent majoring in English. LOTS of reading, mostly good stuff. Remember the teachers I mentioned? Well, one fantastic professor I had was Sanford Sternlicht. 19th Century fiction. John Galsworthy. LOVED it. (Hated James’ A Portrait of a Lady, but we won’t go there).

So, what am I reading these days? I’m going through the Harry Potter series again, this time I’m reading it aloud to my children. Fun! I’m reading books about starting and running a business, writing, copywriting, self-help, spirituality, and young adult fiction. I mostly read historical fiction, but any good story will grab me. I’m active on Goodreads, so I get good ideas from my group.

What are you reading these days? Who are you as a reader? What made you that way? Better yet, how does what you read influence your writing? I’d love to read your comments.

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Who I am as a writer

I believe that who I am as a writer is due in large part to the teachers I have had. I don’t mean all of my teachers necessarily, but certainly there are ones that stand out as heavily influencing my writing. When my fifth grade teacher, Mr. William Hickey, told us we had to write in a journal every day, I was less than happy. What drudgery (in 5th grade vocabulary: how boring). It’s not that I didn’t like writing, or even school for that matter. It’s just that…well… I didn’t think I had anything to say. Despite my lack of belief in myself I managed to churn out some content for each entry. I remember writing about friends, what was going on in school and at home, and sometimes Mr. Hickey would give a topic to respond to.  I wish I knew where that notebook was today; I could probably get some good material out of it!

I continued to write in Mrs. Andrea Marcus’ sixth grade class and even started liking it. At the end of the year, she asked me to help write the class’ “biography” so she could keep it in her archives. That was my first “work for hire” and I remember being both proud and satisfied that I was one of two kids chosen from the class for that all-important memoir.

My junior high years are a blur academic writing wise (must be the effects of the hormones), but I started a personal journal in which I wrote faithfully. The contents were mostly the stuff of teenage girl daydreams, but the habit of writing was there. I even managed to write a letter to the editor of a country music magazine and have it published. Boy did it feel good to see my name in print in a national magazine! I think that was when the real bug bit.

After settling down in high school, I made my way onto the student newspaper. I wrote about something I was engrossed in at the time: entertainment. As most teens did, and still do, I loved music, movies, and celebrity gossip, so that’s what I wrote about. (These days, I still love music, but as a mother of two young children, the most recent movie I’ve seen was Tangled, and as for celebrities, I just saw Paris Hilton for the first time on David Letterman the other night). Sometimes I wrote about news. In fact, a news story is what made me “famous” in my high school. My senior year I wrote an article about the Tylenol poisonings that monopolized the news that year. The yearbook faculty advisor asked me to write a lengthier piece, so I did. That article became a two-page spread in the yearbook, covering all the major events spanning the early eighties. Man, there was that good feeling! I was really starting to like this publication thing!

I was lost in college. I entered as a fine arts major, but bombed at that. So, I finally decided to do “something” with the writing; I was going to transfer into the journalism school. Only one obstacle; my grade point average was not up to their standards. I accepted that because I didn’t know enough to fight it. I happily enrolled in the College of Arts and Humanities and did a fine job as an English major.

I meandered through writing over the next several years. I worked a full-time job while going to grad school to become a school librarian. I dabbled in writing for the staff newsletter, even becoming the “editor” at one point, but never attempted anything serious. In my current full-time job as a high school librarian, I write a lot of school-related stuff; memos, lesson plans, emails, etc. Nothing too terribly exciting, but again, it keeps me writing. And about two and a half years ago I started reviewing historical young adult fiction for School Library Journal. There’s my name in print again!

So how did I end up here, writing this blog about writing (and other stuff)? Because I have to. I believe you know what I mean. If you have that thing, that desire, or that tiny seed of a desire inside of you that tells you that you have to write, you have no choice. Well, I suppose you can sit on the couch surfing channels or the web. Perhaps the dullness of your day job pushes that desire so deep down inside you that you don’t even recognize it for what it is. But I’m lucky because I never really lost the feeling. I did ask it to wait awhile so I could get my career (that I love) off the ground, and then so I could start my family and get them to school age, but I never buried it alive. Thank God.

So, I took that leap last August and filed my business certificate. My plan is to make some money at this writing gig, so I will delve into copywriting and article writing to bring in some cash. But I cannot abandon my non-business type writing. I love telling stories, so I have a few short pieces on the burners at the moment. I even took a creative writing class and was thrilled when the instructor told me I have a gift. (Thank you, Jerry Barker, yet another teacher). And there’s the personal essay I’ve started. Do I have a book in me? Definitely. I often think about writing about my grandmother’s life, but whether as a biography or a novel I haven’t decided. (There’s one of those dead relatives I told you about)!

But for now I won’t rush into doing too much at once. I’m building my renewed relationship with writing, nurturing it as I go day-to-day. Nothing feels as good to me as writing does. There’s a sense of power that comes with the ability to write, to move words around, tweak sentences, create characters and worlds that didn’t exist outside of my own imagination. I invite you along on my journey.

Dr. Wayne Dyer often paraphrases a Buddhist quote that states, “When the time is right, the right teacher will show up.” How true.  My teachers in Webster, NY schools and Syracuse University were always there when I was ready for their instruction.

 Who have your “right teachers” (or “write” teachers) been? How have they made you the writer you are today? How can you be the right teacher for someone else?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Learning to write

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Introduction – Just Who do I think I am?

Welcome to my blog. If you’ve found me here, I can only assume that you are interested in the same things that I am. Either that, or you already follow me on Twitter and you’re just dying to see if I have anything more substantial to say.

Whatever the case, I’m glad you’re here, and I look forward to your comments. Just for the record, I’ll be blogging about writing, reading, libraries/librarianship, and education. These topics go together nicely, don’t you think? I like to use anecdotes whenever possible, so you may occasionally read about my children, my students, the weather in Central New York, and my passion for genealogy. (If I mention a dead ancestor from time-to-time don’t be surprised)!

At this point you may be wondering who I am and what gives me the authority to write about these topics.  Well, here’s the lowdown: I have always dreamed of being a writer, and of making money from writing. You’ll see a future post about my long and winding road to making that dream approach reality.

I’ve been reading, well…forever it seems. I read all the time, no matter what it is. More on that later as well. I’ve managed to combine writing and reading by being a book reviewer for School Library Journal.

Which brings me to another area of expertise: libraries/librarianship (did you like that segue?). I’ve worked in libraries, in one capacity or another, for 24 years. I have been a high school librarian (library media specialist…teacher/librarian…choose your favorite term) for twelve years. I also moonlight as a substitute librarian for my local public library. I work mostly in the Local History/Genealogy department (other people’s dead ancestors!).

So, that’s it in a nutshell. Why don’t you post a comment and include a link to your blog. I’d love to check you out..er…your blog I mean!

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