Our library in The Guardian today

From fine amnesties, to boosting the prominence of digital offerings, to simply putting books in the post, libraries have drastically changed the way they operate to accommodate the massive social changes imposed by governments during the pandemic, often with heartwarming results.

Today The Guardian published When Covid closed the library: staff call every member of Victorian library to say hello, an article about what some Victorian libraries have been doing during the pandemic. It’s wonderful to have this testament to the work library staff have been doing.

While some people are facing reduced employment or unemployment right now, this pandemic has meant a significant increase in my work. Under the leadership of my manager, Lisa Dempster, who is quoted in the article, our team have worked hard to shift programming online and think creatively about how to help our community transition to lockdown.

From ensuring people are aware of our already existing digital offerings such as ebooks and audiobooks, to shifting in-person programs like Storytime online (three times per day, five days a week!), to entirely new programs like Caring Calls… it’s been quite a time.

Our staff have had to learn new skills, adapt to constantly changing work priorities and communicate constantly with our community. As soon as we find solutions to suit the current lockdown level and limitations, it all changes again and we readjust what we can do, trying to keep our patrons and their needs at the forefront the whole time.

When so many vulnerable members of our community find themselves even more marginalised by current circumstances, it feels good to be working in a community-orientated organisation that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives. Seeing feedback flood in through social media and our email inbox telling us what a difference it has made for people to feel less alone, or be able to access reading material, or have a familiar face for their kids to see every day during our Storytime videos has made the hard work worthwhile.

It’s worth reminding you that anyone in Victoria is welcome to join Yarra Plenty Regional Library as a digital member, which offers immediate access to our eLibrary. That means instant downloads of ebooks, audiobooks and streaming of films/television. We’ve got a bunch of exciting programs coming up soon, so now is a great time to become a member.

In the Good Books Episode 4

Episode Four is now ready for you to listen to! I felt extra responsibility to get this particular set of recommendations right because our listener, Tania, was looking for crime and thrillers. We all know how many of these I read, so I really wanted to find Tania the perfect books. Fingers crossed she enjoys them.

The YPRL website has all the full list of books we discussed on the podcast and any other information you need about the podcast (including how to submit your own survey for us to use on future episodes!).

In the Good Books Episode 3

A new episode of our podcast is out now in all the usual places (including Apple iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, Podtail). I’m particularly pleased with this episode, we got a lot out of it. You know you’re having fun with a podcast when the editing takes a really long time because you’re all laughing too much during recording.

You can find more information, including a full list of the books discussed in the episode, on the YPRL website.

In the Good Books Episode 1

Our first episode is live! Patrick, Sarah and I give you the first taste of how we work to find the best recommendations for library patrons looking to find new books.

Creating this podcast has been such a fun experience, mostly because Sarah, Patrick and I enjoy collaborating with each other. And, of course, because talking about books is pretty much the best way imaginable to spend your time.

I hope you enjoy our first episode. We’d love you to subscribe to the podcast through your usual podcast app, and leave us a rating and/or review if you’re so inclined.

Pop over to the YPRL website for more information, including the full list of books discussed in the episode.

In the Good Books – a podcast by Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Another podcast? Yes! I’ve teamed up with two of my fellow coordinators at Yarra Plenty Regional Library – Sarah Schmidt and Patrick Jovaras – to create a podcast all helping readers through their reading conundrums.

The project grew from our Book Valet service, where library members fill in a short survey about their current reading habits and likes/dislikes and one of the YPRL team recommends some books we think they would enjoy. Sarah, Patrick and I found ourself marvelling at how differently we each approached the surveys; not once did we select the same books for a person, but we all came up with a range of titles that met the criteria our patrons set for us. We started dissecting the process of book recommendations and realised that the most enjoyable part for us was the debates (both internally with ourselves and then externally with our coworkers in the office) on finding the perfect book. To us, these conversations were fascinating, and we thought other readers and librarians would enjoy exploring the art of recommending the perfect read. Thus, In the Good Books was born.

Our trailer for the podcast is available to listen to now, and you can subscribe to the podcast in all your regular podcast listening apps and websites including Apple iTunes, Spotify, Podbean and Podtail.

What I learned from analysing my 2019 reading highlights

Image by bdungeon76 used via CC License

My favourite books of the year all stand out for their exceptional writing, their ability to draw me in to the world they create or explore, the way they haunt me after I read them (that can be in a positive or negative way) and the desire I have to tell everyone I come across about them in detail. They are the books that make me want to pick up another book in the hopes of finding the same magic again. So why, when I read so much in the crime genre, are so few in my favourite reads of the year?

A good crime book can certainly do all of the above, but often they don’t. Often I enjoy them as I’m reading or listening, but once a crime book is finished I may not remember much about it. Does this mean it isn’t good? In my case I’d argue it’s still been worth reading because it serves its purpose. It helps me to unwind and relax. It gives me pleasure as I’m reading. It offers me escapism when my brain isn’t up to anything particularly challenging (a state I find myself in pretty frequently thanks to my ME/CFS).

I read as many books as I do per year because I use different books for different purposes at different times. Some I read in audiobook format to wind down at night, some I read in paperback to take me away from screens, some genres I read to help encourage me out of a reading rut, sometimes I switch to a different genre/format/style to cleanse my palate from the last book I read. I don’t believe in good/bad genres or formats. I think we should read what we want to, whatever serves our purpose at that particular point in time.

The book that bought me the purest joy this year was Red, White and Royal Blue. I texted people insisting they start reading it immediately before I’d even finished it. I laughed out loud and I couldn’t put it down. Some people think adults shouldn’t read YA. Some people would think the very lightness and fun of this book make it less worthy than some of the books I included in my highlights that are considered capital-L-Literature. That’s ridiculous. Sometimes we need lightness and laughter. That’s no less worthy than books that make us question our place in the natural world (which A Constant Hum did for me this year), or educate us on something we haven’t previously known (as Dark Emu did for me this year).

We shouldn’t focus purely on how many books we read per year, or on how many award-winning books we read, or how many were considered High Literature. We should aim to have a varied diet of books. Read widely across genres, authors, countries of origin and perspectives. Use books to meet your needs. And don’t let anyone judge your books by their covers.

2019 Reading Summary

This was a blockbuster year of reading for me. Over 100 books across most genres. But as we all know, it’s not how many you read that matters, it is whether you managed to find books that made your heart sing or kept you up late into the night or left an indelible impression on you. I definitely felt like this was a good year for me in finding some exceptional reads.

Highlights of 2019:

Australian fiction: Rain Birds by Harriet McKnight, A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop, Wintering by Krissy Kneen, Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woolett, The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey.

YA/MG: How to Make a Movie in Twelve Days by Fiona Hardy, Sick Bay by Nova Weetman, Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Sophia and the Corner Park Clubhouse by Davina Bell, The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble.

Fiction: The Plotters by Kim Un-su, Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Non-fiction: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, Only by Caroline Baum.

Notably, of the many, many crime books I read in 2019 I only added one to my highlights of the year (Sarah Bailey). I listen to a crime novel audiobook to fall asleep to nearly every night, but if it is a particularly good book I quickly switch to listening to it during the day so I can give it my full attention (or probably more accurately, so that it doesn’t keep me up at night!). You’d think that, statistically, reading more crime novels would mean it would feature more in my highlights. Does the fact it doesn’t mean I have higher standards for what makes a notable crime novel, or does it indicate I’m losing interest in the genre? A little of the former, probably, but not the latter.

We read different books for different reasons. For me, a good crime book is one that keeps me wanting to turn the pages and find out whodunnit. It also needs engaging characters, a setting that I enjoy and when it comes to audiobooks, a good narrator. I use crime books to unwind before sleep. The predictability of the genre is a big part of its appeal. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all of the books that fit in the genre also fit my criteria for what makes a good book. A good crime book needs to stand out from others in the genre, yes, but it also needs to fulfil my (rather nebulous) criteria for what makes a good book in general. I’m going to write a follow up post about this very thing and what it made me realise.

I’m now working at Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Eltham Library

When I finished up at the Centre for Youth Literature at State Library Victoria I promised myself (and my family) that I’d take six months off to recover from the burnout that came with doing a job where I had put 110% of myself into my work for so long (such is the joy of trying to balance working and managing a disability). The plan was to freelance while working from home, slowing down significantly and refocusing on my health.

I’m giving myself a mental high-five for lasting this long, but the right job at the right time has come up and now I find myself back in regular part-time employment. I’ve joined Yarra Plenty Regional Library working on a diverse range of events presented throughout their nine branches.

I’m chuffed to be working in a library service again as I really enjoy this area of literary programming. There’s a strong focus on delivering what is useful and valuable to the community, and I really enjoy audience-driven programming. The other reason I’m also pleased because this is the library service I grew up utilising. Eltham was my local library, and I spent a lot of time there after school, as well as at various other branches. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that one day my job would be all about books, writing, reading and ideas younger me would have been thrilled. Let’s face it, older me is still pretty thrilled that this is my life.

The role is a maternity leave fill, so I expect to spend the next year at YPRL and am looking forward to seeing what I will learn in that time.