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5 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Library Card

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September is Library Card Sign-up Month—do you have a library card yet? If not, it’s never too late to sign up: people of all ages can benefit from the free resources, media, and programs available at their library.

While many libraries are still closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still be able to register for a library card online. Then, you can access all kinds of free entertainment and information from the comfort of your home, all while safely maintain social distancing.

Here are a few of the coolest things about having a library card:

Free books galore

From mysteries and graphic novels to cookbooks and biographies, your library has something for readers of all ages and interests. The best part? In addition to physical copies, libraries offer instant online access to free ebooks and audiobooks, which you can download from home with the push of a button.

Movies, music, magazines, and more

Library card holders can check out way more than just books: many libraries also offer free access to streaming video and music as well as online versions of your favorite magazines and newspapers. These resources are great for staying entertained and can save you big money on media subscription fees.

Access to databases and courses

Libraries also offer extensive electronic resources for students, small business owners, job seekers, hobbyists, and lifelong learners. Whether you’re looking for free software to pick up a new language, coding tutorials to boost your resume, or patent records to develop a new invention, your library has free access to amazing databases and classes online.

Big savings on museums and cultural attractions

Some libraries also loan out free or discounted passes to local museums, National Parks, performance venues, and other cultural attractions. While you may not be able to spend time at a planetarium or art gallery during the pandemic, be sure to check out what opportunities are available from your library later on.

Supporting access to information for all

Libraries are among our country’s most democratic institutions, promoting free and open access to information for everyone. Registering for a library card is one of the easiest ways to support this mission, since libraries use their sign-up stats to prove their value to local policymakers and advocate for much-needed funding. When you sign up for a library card, you’re helping demonstrate that today’s libraries are more important than ever.

Visit the Library Card Sign-up Month website for ideas about how to get involved all September long.

Librarians Share Their Top Ten Feminist Books for Youth

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Looking for great kids’ and YA reads about gender equality and justice? Librarians from the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round Table have compiled a powerful list entitled “Rise: A Feminist Book Project for ages 0-18.”

Selections include fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels and highlight the work of diverse authors and illustrators. Here are the librarians’ top ten picks:

At the Mountain's Base, by Traci Sorell (writer) and Weshoyot Alvitre (illustrator)

A Boy Like You, by Frank Murphy (writer) and Kayla Harren (illustrator)

Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins  

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali (writers) and Hatem Aly (illustrator)

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou, by Bethany Hegedu (writer) and Tonya Engel (illustrator)

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson 

Surviving the City, Vol. 1, by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan 

Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All, by Laura Ruby

We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia  

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, by Chris Barton (writer) and Ekua Holmes (illustrator)

For additional recommendations and more information about the titles above, visit the Rise website.

Calling All Teens: Vote for Your Top YA Reads

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Love young adult literature? Now’s your chance to vote for your favorite YA books as part of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s annual Teens’ Top Ten.

Each year, votes from readers aged 12 through 18 determine which books make the cut. Voting for your favorite titles can help teens across the country discover and enjoy authors you love.

You have until October 15 to cast your votes; winners will be announced later that month. Participants can choose up to three titles from a group of 25 finalists curated by teen book clubs across the country. The pool includes fiction and non-fiction reads from a variety of genres, from sci-fi to historical fiction.

Here are the 25 finalists:

#MurderFunding (#MurderTrending #2), by Gretchen McNeil

Are You Listening?, by Tillie Walden

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi (writer) and Cathy Hirano (translator)

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland, by Kevin Crossley-Holland (writer) and Frances Castle (illustrator)

Broken Throne: A Red Queen Collection, by Victoria Aveyard

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, by Ben Philippe

Frankly in Love, by David Yoon

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett

Last Bus to Everland, by Sophie Cameron

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki

Lovely War, by Julie Berry

The Memory Thief, by Lauren Mansy

My Ideal Boyfriend is a Croissant, by Laura Dockrill

Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds

Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell (writer) and Faith Erin Hicks (illustrator)

Stolen Time (Dark Stars #1), by Danielle Rollins

Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon, by Mary Fan

These Witches Don’t Burn, by Isabel Sterling

Warhead: The True Story of One Teen Who Almost Saved the World, by Jeff Henigson

Wayward Son (Simon Snow, #2), by Rainbow Rowell

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya), by Hafsah Faizal

Wilder Girls, by Rory Power

With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Vote for your favorites by October 15.

For more librarian-recommended YA books, check out the Teen Book Finder Database.

What It’s Like to Be a Library Cat During the Pandemic

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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries across the country have closed their doors to the public—but what has that meant for the cats who call America’s libraries home?

Libraries have long been home to feline residents who keep patrons company, promote activities and programs, and assist with pest control. We checked in on four library cats (and their humans) to see how their lifestyles have changed during the pandemic.

Browser from Texas’s White Settlement Public Library may be one of the nation’s most famous library cats. In a viral story from 2016, a city council member tried to oust Browser from his position at the library; after a public outcry, Browser was reinstated for life while his political opponent lost his reelection campaign.

Browser has stuck around the library during the pandemic closure but seems to be missing the crowds.

“He is generally quite independent, but since the closure he always wants to be near people. We can usually find him in the lap of a staff member, or lying helpfully on their keyboard,” library staffer Kathryn King told I Love Libraries. “Now that we are offering curbside service, he posts himself at the window during curbside hours to watch the patrons come and go.”

Left: Browser from White Settlement Public Library. Right: Cosmo from Grand County Public Library.

Cosmo strolled into the kid’s room at Grand County Public Library (GCPL) in Utah two years ago and has been a beloved fixture of the community ever since. Today, staff see him as “the face of the library”: he appears in monthly library newsletters and even has a weekly “Cosmo’s Corner” feature in the local paper where he (and his human co-writers) highlight different library services.

He’s stayed at GCPL throughout the pandemic, and now that that the library is starting to resume in-person services, patrons have been thrilled to see him.

“He’s also a peacemaker,” library director Carrie Valdes shared. “We’ve found it incredibly effective to enforce rules (especially the mask mandate) by focusing on Cosmo’s health!”

Across the pond, the library cat at Ireland’s Maynooth University has also been adjusting to life during COVID-19. Known only as the MU Library Cat, he’s been a campus celebrity ever since he started hanging out by the school’s library building; since then, staff have installed a hut to make his spot extra comfortable and even created a Twitter account on his behalf.

“He has become something of an unofficial mascot,” said Fiona Morley, head of digital programs and information systems for the library. “He is a popular, informal, and positive feline ‘face’ of the university and the library.”

Library staff know him to be extremely self-sufficient, but during the pandemic people have still been sure to drop by his hut to check in and share snacks. He’s also remained active on social media (with help from Fiona and fellow librarian Hugh Murphy), which he uses to stay connected to the campus community and share reminders about the importance of social distancing.

Left: the MU Library Cat from Maynooth University. Right: Socks from Pinson Public Library.

Socks, the resident cat at Alabama’s Pinson Public Library, has been spending quality time with staff during the pandemic. A few years ago, he and his littermates were rescued by a city council member, who brought the kittens to the library hoping staff might be willing to adopt them. As it turned out, Socks ended up finding a home at the library instead, where he helps greet patrons and promotes the library on social media.

Library director Allison Scanlan thinks the COVID-19 closure may remind Socks of when the library moved to a new location in 2019. “We closed the old location for 3 months to pack everything up and move, so it was just the staff in the building with Socks at that time too. I think he was worried at first that we might be moving again!” she explained. “We have even scattered some boxes around for Socks. He will meow at patrons through the door if they approach. I know that he misses his adoring public.”

Have a library cat story you’d like to share? Email ilovelibraries@ala.org and we may feature you in an upcoming article.

For more unique stories about libraries and librarians, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

Librarians’ Favorite Sci-Fi Books for Kids and Teens

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Members of the Library and Information Technology Association (a division of the American Library Association) have put together an out-of-this-world list of recent science fiction books for young readers. Their picks include options for kids of all ages, with titles aimed at readers from pre-school through 12th grade.

Here are there 30+ picks:

Books for Early Readers

Field Trip to the Moon, by John Hare

Hello, by Aiko Ikegami

How to be on the Moon, by Viviane Schwarz

Out There, by Tom Sullivan

The Babysitter From Another Planet, by Stephen Savage

The Space Walk, by Brian Biggs

Ultrabot's First Playdate, by Josh Schneider

Good Boy, by Sergio Ruzzier

Llama Destroys the World, by Jonathan Stutzman (writer) and Heather Fox (illustrator)

Books for Kids Age 7 to 11

Awesome Dog 5000, by Justin Dean

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout

Field Trip (Sanity and Tallulah #2), by Molly Brooks

Friendroid, by M. M. Vaughan

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat, by Johnny Marciano & Emily Chenoweth

Maximillian Fly, by Angie Sage

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Ronald L. Smith

The Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

We're Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

The Unspeakable Unknown, by Eliot Sappingfield

Seventh Grade vs the Galaxy, by Joshua S. Levy

Books for Kids Age 12 to 17

Alien: Echo, by Mira Grant

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Girls With Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young

The Hive, by Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden

The Pioneer, by Bridget Tyler

How We Became Wicked, by Alexander Yates

The Waning Age, by S.E. Grove

The Fever King, by Victoria Lee

War Girls, by Tochi Onyebuchi

I Hope You Get This Message, by Farah Rishi

Honor Bound, by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

For more information about these titles, visit the Science Fiction Notables website.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for even more great book recommendations from librarians.

5 Reasons for Artists to Love Libraries

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Whether you’re dabbling in crafts or a professional artist, libraries offer extensive free resources to support your creative pursuits. Painters, musicians, writers, designers, and more rely on their libraries for access to information, inspiration, and a whole community of creators to collaborate with.

Here are a few of the most ways that artists and creatives use their libraries:

Honing their skills

Libraries give everyone free access to books, online tutorials, and classes for learning new artistic techniques. Library programs like writer’s workshops also enable creatives to exchange feedback and develop their craft in a friendly, welcoming environment. (While in-person library events are on hold due to the pandemic, many libraries are still offering virtual programs you can join online.)

Finding information and inspiration

Need to do some research for the novel you’re writing? Libraries’ vast arrays of books, databases, and archival materials can help you get up to speed; if you need help finding the right sources, librarians offer tailored one-on-one reference assistance to patrons. Many libraries also offer extensive online collections of public domain images, sounds, and video, which you can freely use in collages, song remixes, and more.

Growing their businesses

If you’re looking to turn your artistic passion into a career, libraries can help you get off the ground: they offer countless resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners. From databases of sample business plans and books about budgeting to intensive “small business bootcamp” courses, libraries offer valuable tools for succeeding as a professional creative.

Accessing cutting-edge technology

Many libraries have makerspaces and media labs with 3D printers, recording studios, laser cutters, and more, in addition to free hands-on training for making the most of these high-tech tools. While these physical spaces aren’t accessible during the pandemic, plan to check out what creative tools your library has to offer post-COVID.

Showcasing their creations

Many libraries host open mic nights, art shows, and more, allowing local artists to share what they’ve been working on with others in their community. While these in-person events aren’t possible during the pandemic, libraries are still finding ways to highlight local creators—for example, Virginia’s Arlington Public Library publishes a weekly “Quaranzine” featuring community photography, illustrations, poetry, and more.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more tips and ideas about using your library.

These Animated Shows Defy Library Stereotypes

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by Burkely Hermann

When people think about librarians and libraries, they may point to films, live-action TV shows, or even novels. However, one area is often missed: animation. In Hollywood, stereotypes are plentiful, as librarians are used as “shortcuts to propel the plot forward,” in the words of Jennifer Snoek-Brown, author of the Reel Librarians blog. While this generally applies to animation as well, two recent shows buck those stereotypes, depicting libraries and librarians positively.

The first of these shows is Cleopatra in Space, loosely based on Mike Maihack’s graphic novel series and currently streaming on Peacock. The show follows teenage princess Cleo, who has been transported 30,000 years through time and space from Ancient Egypt into the Nile Galaxy. Wrestling with the newfound responsibility of being the “savior of the galaxy” prophesied to defeat the evil tyrant Octavian, she attends an Egyptian-themed futuristic high school on the planet of Mayet to hone her skills. While Octavian has destroyed most of the recorded knowledge available in the galaxy, Cleo’s school library still contains vital information. In the show’s third episode, Cleo travels to the school library after hours with her mentor Khensu, and two of her friends, Akila and Brian. Khensu shows her to the library’s Ancient Egypt section, with only a few physical records contained in a trunk, all accessible in holographic form. (In real life, these artifacts would be housed in a library’s special collections.) This positive depiction is possibly offset by what Cleo does next: dismayed by the lack of records about her homeland, she thinks about her dad, floats in the air, glows pink, then sucks all the electricity of the school and nearby city into her body, causing a massive power outage. The message of this moment is that libraries need adequate resources and support to assist the communities they serve—otherwise there will be information deficits which put patrons at a disadvantage. Libraries are also mentioned throughout the series as a beloved hangout space for one of the main characters. Akila likes to spend her time in the library studying and insists “all the cool students” spend time there too in the show’s 12th episode. In some ways, Akila reminds me a bit of myself in college: while in college, I extensively used the well-endowed campus library to study, research, and relax, even when some of my friends disliked it.

Cleopatra in Space characters study in their school library.

Another animated show, the recently concluded Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, prominently features librarians in a few episodes. The season two finale focuses around two middle-aged gay Black librarians, George and Lance, and their library in a magical forest called the Whispering Woods. This portrayal contrasts with the original 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, where a stereotypical elderly white long-haired librarian aids the protagonists. George and Lance are fathers to Bow, one of the show’s protagonists; in the episode, Bow and his friends, Adora and Glimmer, work together with the librarians to translate an ancient message. Their efforts inadvertently release an elemental monster into the library, and in the havoc that ensues, Bow reluctantly reveals his true identity as an expert archer and rebellion fighter, a secret he has long concealed to his dads. While he expects his dads will rebuke him, they embrace him instead, accepting him for who he is—many viewers see this storyline as echoing family coming-out stories from the LGBTQ+ community. In the 10th episode of the show’s final season, Bow and Glimmer reconnect with the two librarians. Both recount their discoveries: an ancient rebellion against the planet’s first settlers and the existence of a fail-safe for the superweapon in the planet’s core. This information becomes vitally important in the effort by the show’s protagonists to stop the world (and universe) from being destroyed, setting the stage for the groundbreaking kiss in the final episode. On the whole, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power shows librarians as helpful, welcoming, and diverse, a refreshing antidote to more stereotypical media about libraries, which is all too common, even in animated series.

While these are only two examples, there are many more which I am continually reviewing on my blog, Libraries in Popular Culture. If you have any suggestions for popular media about or featuring libraries or librarians, feel free to email me at bhermann@mail.com.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more fascinating stories about libraries and librarians.

Curbside Larry Reminds Everyone to Check Out Their Library This Summer

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The internet is falling in love with Curbside Larry, the cowboy-hat–wearing, ultra-enthusiastic hype man for Texas’s Harris County Public Library (HCPL). In a viral promotional video from HCPL’s Barbara Bush Branch Library, Larry shares an irresistible pitch for using the branch’s curbside pickup services.

“We got shelves and shelves of books, Blu-rays, and DVDs, and we‘d like nothing better than to take care of all your reading, research, and entertainment needs,” Larry exclaims in the video. “What’s all this cost? Just three low payments of zero, zero, zero dollars! It’s crazy how much you get for free.”

Curbside Larry is the alter ego of library staffer John Schaffer, who’s won fans far beyond the HCPL service area with his spot-on parody of late-night used-car commercials. Texas Monthly dubbed the character an “instantly iconic” hero and Houstonia wrote that he’s “helping us be our best selves.” Author Catherynne M. Valente wrote on Twitter: “Please send this around the Internet in 80 seconds because it’s the only happy thing I’ve seen in months. Libraries are the heart of us.”

Check out the already-legendary video below:

Meet Curbside Larry

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Historical Backgrounds for Your Next Zoom Meeting

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Conference calls getting stale? It might be time to mix things up with a new webcam backdrop.

The Library of Congress digital collections contain countless options, offering a vast variety of historical images that are free to download and use. Just save your favorites and turn on Zoom’s Virtual Background feature to add some old-school flair to your meeting.

To get you started, here are ten of our favorite archival photographs, ranging from idyllic landscapes to glamorous city scenes:

On the beach, Palm Beach, Fla. (between 1900 and 1906)

Times Square north at night, New York City (1934)

An Adirondack mountain stream (1902)

Coney Island, in Luna Park (between 1910 and 1915)

Exposition grounds, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893)

Silverton and Sultan Mountain, Colorado (1901)

Hollywood, California. Sign and ticket window of a large dance palace (1942)

Railroad train (between 1900 and 1920)

York from City Walls (ca. 1890-1906)

Horses (1922)

Looking for even more video backdrops? We compiled some great library backgrounds earlier this year.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more fun finds from America’s libraries.

Why Libraries Are a Lifeline for Seniors During COVID

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The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on seniors, who face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and are often socially isolated as a result. Libraries, which have always played a crucial role in supporting older adults in their communities, have risen to the occasion: they’ve been providing information and human connection to the elderly while maintaining social distancing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, libraries have offered virtual book clubs and other programs over platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live—still, many seniors may not have internet access at home or feel comfortable navigating recent video chat technology. In order to welcome everyone in their communities, many libraries also offer programs over the phone, where anyone can dial in to a teleconference line and enjoy much needed social interaction.

Some libraries have also established pen pal programs to help local seniors connect with the outside world during this isolating time. Bryan-College Station Public Library System in Texas shares writing prompts that locals can use to write letters to residents in nearby senior living communities. These messages give the seniors “a way to see the world, since they can’t be visited and a lot of them can’t even leave their rooms,” Kate Wiemar, adult services and reference librarian, told NBC. "We’re hoping this is a window into outside life.” In addition to facilitating written correspondence, libraries like California’s Coronado Public Library are encouraging community members to submit artwork to share with residents of a local retirement village.

Park Ridge Public Library in Illinois has gotten particularly creative in working to lift the spirits of seniors and others in their community. They launched the Library Line, a phone number anyone can dial to hear a recorded song, riddle, or message from staff, with new recordings swapped in every day. Since many of their patrons are older adults who may not have access to a computer or smartphone at home, this unique call-in set-up allows everyone in the area can enjoy some daily cheer from the library.

For more stories of how libraries are transforming during the pandemic, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

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