Category Archives: by Erin


The time has come to move this blog over to my new domain:!

Please update your bookmarks, links, etc. and head on over to my new site!

reblog: The Library Sent me to Jail

After several months of neglect, I’m think I’m finally ready to resurrect my blog. Life is much less tumultuous now, my Mom has made a truly miraculous recovery, and I finally have time and energy for blogging again. Yay!

It’ll be a few weeks yet before this blog is fully resurrected. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share some old posts from when I was a library school student. Here’s one I wrote in 2009 when I was on co-op with Calgary Public Library:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Library Sent me to Jail

The Library sent me to jail this week. Yes. Seriously.Yesterday, I visited the Calgary Remand Centre. What is a Remand Centre, you ask? (I had to!) A Remand Centre is a pre-trial detention centre. It houses people who are waiting for court decisions on their charges or placement in correctional centres.The library I work at sends staff to visit female inmates at the Remand Centre once a month. My boss thought it would be a good experience for me, so she arranged to have me tag along.

The building itself was one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been—truly institutional. But the inmates themselves were much different that I’d expected. I was advised I should “be prepared to be uncomfortable.” But all of the women who attended our session were pleasant, friendly, and generally appreciative of our visit. My colleague, the librarian, explained that for many of the inmates, jail isn’t as a bad as where they’ve come from. They’re safe, they have a warm place to sleep, they’re being fed nutritious meals, and they’re not being abused or attacked. Also, in their eyes, “library time” equals “free time” and extra time out of their cells. No wonder they’re smiling.

We decided to read aloud a few children’s books as many of the women have children. I never imagined I’d be reading aloud The Pigeon Wants A Puppy in prison, but there I was. Next, we asked for volunteers to read aloud a few of the other picture books we’d brought with us. Literacy is typically low for women who are incarcerated. The librarian mentioned that she likes to have them read aloud because it helps them to build their confidence. Not only are the picture books easy to read, but it also encourages them to read aloud to their own children when they are released.Overall, it was a very eye-opening experience. It helped me understand better where these women are coming from, and to look at them with less judgmental eyes. Also, it reemphasized for me why I am so passionate about public libraries. I saw firsthand that the public library can and does make a difference in these women’s lives.

Back to the Blog

2011 has been kind of a bust when it comes to blogging. This year has been incredibly difficult and I just haven’t had the time or energy to devote to maintaining this blog the way I used to. In March, I left my casual youth services librarian position in a multi-library system for a new and more challenging full-time job as a children’s services librarian at a smaller town library. The position was newly created—they’d never had a dedicated children’s librarian on staff before. It’s been…er… interesting… carving out my role there over the last few months. One of my biggest challenges has been convincing fellow staff (and occasionally management) that I am a professional Librarian. I’m often referred to as “just the children’s librarian” in an almost derogatory way, as if I’m less qualified than the other reference staff. That really irks me. Does this happen to anyone else? *sigh*

With the new job, came a hour+ long daily commute. If you know me, you know how much I hate driving, so you can guess what I cranky person I was for those first few months. Fortunately, the new job meant that I could finally move out of my apartment of horrors. Unfortunately, finding a place close enough to work was more difficult than I thought. I eventually found a place, but it’s another basement (ick) and it’s a lot more money than I wanted to spend (double ick), but at least my new landlords are nice, reasonable people, the apartment is legit, and it takes me only 15 minutes to get to work.

I had every intention of getting back to blogging once I was settled into my new place. But the day after I moved in, life threw me a major curveball when my Mom underwent an emergency cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal). It was a major, high risk surgery for her. She went into septic shock. She did not wake up for eight days. Then we learned that there had been complications…Her lungs were severely damaged. She was being kept alive by mechanical ventilation. The infection was raging through body, attacking her other organs and systems.

This is the nightmare I have been living for three months now. I have been spending all of my spare time driving back and forth to the city my parents live in to visit my Mom in the ICU. This ordeal has brought me such emotional and physical strain. I’ve never been so exhausted in my entire life. Finally, this week, some good news: the infection is under control—no more fevers. She is regaining a bit of strength and is alert. And, they’ve even been able to reduce her dependency on the ventilator slightly. The road to recovery will be very, very long, but at least it seems she’s on her way. A couple of weeks ago, it sounded like her medical team was ready to give up on her. I’m grateful for small improvements like these.

I want to get back to blogging, but it will be a gradual return. I’ve also changed the focus of this blog. While previously, I focused on Young Adult literature and library services, I will now write about broader aspects of life and librarianship (though there will still be an emphasis on services and materials for children and teens).

YA Roundup

I apologize to my readers for neglecting this blog. I’ve been really busy with work (I took on a short term contract to supplement my library job), volunteer commitments, allergic reactions, and holiday parties. Oh boy!

It’s time for another YA links round-up. Some are a few weeks old now (sorry!) but I hope you will find them as interesting as I did:

  • There was an excellent interview with Suzanne Collins, author of The Huger Games trilogy in the Huffington Post recently. It’s well worth reading.
  • GreenBeanTeenQueen on running a Teen Library Council. I personally found this post very helpful as I’m thinking about starting a TRAC (Teen Reader’s Advisory Committee) at the library I work at.
  • is a new writing community for teens. It’s a free platform for young people to read and write fiction, both on their computers and on their cellphones. Check out this article about it from the New York Times.  It sounds quite similiar to the Canadian-based Wattpad, which has a sizeable community of teenaged writers.
  • Today, the Free Technology for Teachers blog highlighted a resource called Own Your Space, a free, ebook for tweens and teens on how to protect themselves and their stuff online. I’ve only had time to browse through it quickly, but it looks to be a very comprehensive and informative resource.  I really like the anime-style artwork.

Pretty Little Liars Read-alikes

Has the Pretty Little Liars TV show inspired you to read the books on which it is based?

Is the hold queue at your library a mile long?

No worries—One of my favourite YA bloggers, GreenBeanTeenQueen, has prepared a list of Pretty Little Liars read-alikes to tide you over while you wait.

Thanks for sharing,  GreenBeanTeenQueen!

YA Roundup (1)

Here are a few YA-related links that caught my eye this week:

  • From the annals of YA cliches: The Intern on her  fascination with the “very different (and shockingly consistent) version of highschool” she’s encountered in YA novels.

One CLASY event

On May 28th, 2010, Canadian Libraries are Serving Youth (CLASY) held its inaugural professional development event at the University of Western Ontario. CLASY is a newly established group dedicated to establishing a national network of  library staff who work with teens and young adults.

Running this event involved a lot of work in a very short time, but we managed to pull it off, in no small part to the energy and determination of one Stephanie Vollick (a.k.a. Library Steph). I’m especially impressed considering that while all of this was coming together, Stephanie was also packing up her apartment and preparing to move all the way across the country where she’ll be starting a new job as a youth services librarian later this month.

For more information about the event, head over to the to the CLASY blog for a recap, including notes from the day’s think tank sessions. Dr. Paulette Rothbauer has posted a draft of her introductory address entitled “Taking Our Place at the Table Today: Working with and for Youth in Canadian Libraries ” on her blog, and you can view slides from Stephen Abram’s keynote, “Kids and Teens, Are They Different?”  here.

Helaine Becker’s Open Letter to the National Post on School Librarians

Author Helaine Becker sent this letter to National Post columnist Lorne Gunter earlier this week. She’s given me permission to post it here. Blog-readers who are supporters of school libraries are sure to find it of interest.

Dear Mr. Gunter,

I was enjoying your analysis of Easy Rider in this morning’s National Post (“Getting over Easy Rider, ”June 2,2010) when I was caught short by this sentence: “The teens who were prompted by its anti-establishment message to pledge themselves to change the world are today school librarians and public broadcasting technicians living in suburban bungalows, looking around the next bend at pensionability and wondering whether to open a B&B in Niagara.”

Yikes! There’s a sweeping stereotype there!

I know you were trying to humorously make a point about becoming the essence of establishment self-focus. But clearly, you have not met many school librarians, nor do you fully appreciate what they do every day. (I can’t speak for the broadcasting technicians.)

I am not a school librarian, but in my career as a writer of children’s literature, I have had the great privilege of meeting and spending time with hundreds of school librarians across North America – from Nunavut to New Brunswick, from the Jane-Finch Corridor in the GTA to the rural communities of Manitoba, Alberta and Yukon; in Texas, California, New York and Lima (Peru). Virtually every single one of the people I met are still honoring that pledge to change the world.

Don’t be fooled by the prim reading-glasses-on-chains cartoon image. Teacher-librarians are true revolutionaries, trying to change and improve society by empowering the most vulnerable members of society: children.

Their working conditions: abysmal.

Their weapon: literacy.

Their opposition: entrenched bureaucracy that gives lip service to literacy and equity, but shows its true colors by gutting schools of books and trained staff.

Meet, for example, Nina W., a school-librarian in the great State of California who currently has responsibility for three inner city schools, virtually no support from administration (when I visited with her two weeks ago, nearly 600 teachers had just been let go and were engaged in costly and divisive legal hearings instead of teaching in the classroom). Yet despite being stretched nearly to the breaking point, Nina still managed to administer a Reading is Fundamental book program for Kindergarten and grade 1 students, organize author visits to inspire hundreds of children, and facilitate delivery of books to needy schools that were collected on an independent book drive.

Or meet Fabienne T., who works in a remote Northern community. Her student body contains a high number of kids who come to school hungry, tired and unprepared to learn because of upheaval at home and in their community. For these children, literacy is truly a foreign concept – their own culture did not even have a written language 40 years ago! Many elders there are actually suspicious of reading as a form of learning, since their own educational system involved a more active approach, being out on the land. Yet Fabienne cheerfully strides from school to school, bringing books and enthusiasm and a desire to help improve the opportunities available to her charges. Those opportunities will only open to them when they possess the skills needed to “make it” in the contemporary world, so with her copies of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Twilight” in hand, Fabienne is truly managing to change their worlds.

Or why not let me introduce you to Jenny E., who teaches in a tough primary school in one of Toronto’s most challenging neighborhoods. To see what she has done with these old-too-soon kids is nothing short of miraculous, and she’s been doing it for more than 20 years, day in and day out (I’m sure the number is higher than that, but I don’t want to embarrass her!).

The crisis facing school libraries today is an issue that has not yet surfaced in the Canadian consciousness. Yet let me assure you, it is very real, pervasive, and will have long-term consequences. Only a tiny percentage of Canadian school libraries meet the minimal standards (Set by the Canadian Library Association ) required to achieve learning objectives in all curricular areas, not just literacy.

A fully functional school library is the heart of a school, providing necessary sustenance and support for teachers and students. It is at the vanguard of “best practices,” incorporating information literacy into school culture, and it the avenue through which students learn how to do research, analyze sources and interpret media messaging.

School librarians are professionally committed to freedom of thought and speech, and to the notion that teaching kids how to learn is the root of all education. If that’s not progressive, I don’t know what is.

I know, I know, you didn’t really mean to disparage school librarians – yours was a throwaway comment designed for a laugh. But it perpetuated a lie, and was a disservice to some of the most revolutionary members of our society. But! Here’s the good news! You can easily correct that disservice!

Let me suggest that, next Fall, you accompany me to some representative school libraries in the GTA. Let me show you how we are letting down Canadian students by underfunding our school libraries. Let me show you how the mouth-noises that insist “we support literacy” are a lie when in fact the school libraries in our country are short of books and staff.

On a personal note, it was in a school library that I first fell in love with books. That early exposure and support has enabled me to live a full and productive life as a literate citizen.

When I speak to kids during my school presentations, I often ask them, “Why are you learning how to read?” The typical response is, “so I can get a job one day.” “So I can get good grades.” Or simply a shrug of shoulders – we are made to read and write because the grownups want us to.

I tell the kids that all of those answers are all acceptable ones, but are not the best reasons. Do you really want to learn to read just so you can grow up to become an obedient worker bee, or to boast a meaningless A on meaningless report card? No.

No, The real reason you should want to learn how to Read well, Write well and Speak well is because these are the tools that give you power – both the power over your own life, and the power to persuade others to make improvements to our world.

School librarians are bringing power to the people, every day. Please give them their due.


Helaine Becker

Sync YA Lit into Your Headphones

Oh how I love Twitter for pointing me to awesome happenings in YA and Library Lands.

Have you heard about Sync? Sync combines two of my favourite things: YA lit and audiobooks.

Sync is an online community that seeks to build the audience for audiobooks among “readers” 13 and up. All summer long, Sync will be giving away two free downloads a week (a popular YA title paired with a classic) which appear on Summer Reading lists. Listeners are invited to join a conversation about these titles with the authors, narrators, publishers, librarians, and other listeners.

Sync has created a special site for educators and librarians with a variety of tools for promoting the program and the use of audio books. Here you’ll also find the complete schedule of weekly giveaways, which includes YA titles by James Patterson, L.A. Meyer,  and Suzanne Collins. Oh, and there’s some Canadian content, too! Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston will be up for grabs  August 19 to 25th.

Educators and librarians are encouraged to create profiles for their institutions and reading initiatives.

Go check it out!

Bank Street College’s Best Books of the Year List

Each year the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College reviews over 6,000 children’s and young adult books and creates an annual list of the year’s best. The committee is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, and to celebrate, has made the list available free online for the first time.

I’ve shared links to the YA lists below:

Some Canadian YA mentions include:

  • Leftovers by Heather Waldorf
  • Pop by Gordon Korman
  • Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
  • Greener Grass by Caroline Pignat
  • My Name is Phillis Wheatley: A Story of Slavery and Freedom by Afua Cooper
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

For the complete list of titles, visit the Bank Street College of Education website.