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Be in the Room Where it Happened with this Hamilton Treasure Trove

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Now that Hamilton is streaming on the Disney+ app, history buffs and musical theater fans alike have been able to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical at home. Looking to learn more about the Founding Fathers after watching? The Library of Congress has extensive materials from the life of Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries, and many of these resources are free to explore online.

The Library of Congress collection includes more than 10,000 items extensively documenting Hamilton’s childhood, marriage, military service, and political career. You can find drafts of his writings as well as his correspondence with John Adams, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, George Washington, and more.

Navigating thousands of digital materials can be daunting, so the Library of Congress has compiled a resource guide featuring highlighting from their Alexander Hamilton collection as well as links to related resources and external websites. You can also use their Ask a Librarian feature for help with any research questions that arise during your deep dive.

If you’re still hungry for more Hamilton content, check to see if your local library has Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow—the biography that inspired the blockbuster musical—available to borrow as a free eBook. You can also check out Hamilton: The Revolution, an audiobook narrated by actress Mariska Hargitay that chronicles the making of the show.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter to learn more about the awesome resources available at America’s libraries.

Hunger Is on The Rise During COVID-19—Here’s What Libraries Are Doing to Help

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In addition to providing free access to books and media, libraries have long worked to provide hunger relief in their communities. With food insecurity on the rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have continued to work tirelessly to keep local families fed.

Many libraries across the country have been pursuing partnerships with local food banks and hunger relief organizations to distribute free meals to those in need. Curbside or drive-through pick-up has allowed library staff to pass out the food while maintaining social distancing, mitigating further spread of COVID-19.

Some libraries are distributing books or craft supplies alongside free meals. California’s Monterey County Free Libraries in California are including activity bags with each lunch for kids. “We want to get some nutritious food and fun stuff in the hands of families,” county librarian Hillary Theyer told King City Rustler.

High Point Public Library in North Carolina has managed to keep running their weekly farmers market, which helps local families access fresh groceries, during the pandemic. “Our community has serious food insecurity issues, and we have been involved in addressing that for the past several years. COVID-19 has made the situation even worse,” they reported in a recent American Library Association survey. Their staff have been engaging in outreach to make sure residents are aware that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) benefits can be used to shop at the market.

Ohio’s Columbus Metropolitan Library has been offering free summer lunches to local children for nearly two decades; this year, they’re offering grab and go meals in library branch parking lots. “So many children in our community rely on free or discounted school lunches,” Kathy Shahbodaghi, the library’s public services director, told Fox 28. “It is absolutely critical that students have access to healthy, nourishing lunches and snacks. It not only benefits the body, but the mind as well.”

For more powerful stories of how libraries have been responding to the pandemic, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

UK Librarians Record Audiobook for 102-Year-Old Patron

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Libraries go above and beyond for the communities they serve, providing far more than just free access to books and databases. One powerful recent example: staff at Ipswich County Library in Suffolk, UK recorded their own audiobook version of an out-of-print novel so that a local senior could relive cherished childhood memories.

Like many librarians, Ipswich County Library staff have been placing regular phone calls to members of their communities during the pandemic, providing much-needed companionship in this time of social distancing. During one call with a librarian, 102-year-old Ipswich resident Doris Bugg reminisced about her father reading aloud Portrait of Clare, a 1927 novel by Francis Brett Young.

Library staff hoped to brighten her day by finding an audiobook of the novel for her to reread, but nothing was available. Still, this didn’t stop the librarians from reuniting Bugg with the beloved story; instead, they located a digital copy and have been recording their own audio version.

Staff have been taking turns reading all 873 pages of the book out loud, sharing CDs with the recordings with Bugg along the way.

“The book was important to me because I had a wonderful father who taught me the value of books,” Bugg told BBC News. “I was absolutely amazed at the kindness of them."

For more incredible stories of what libraries do for their communities, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

Wayne State University Gives Free Books to Kids—With Help from Dolly Parton

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Being read to is crucial for early childhood development, but many low-income families have limited access to books to share with their kids. That’s why Michigan’s Wayne State University Library System is teaming up with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to distribute free books to Detroit families with children under five.

Over the past three decades, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has mailed more than 90 million free books to kids across the English-speaking world. Now, the Wayne State library is bringing the program to their local community. Any child in the 48201 and 48202 ZIP codes can opt to receive a free book in the mail every month from birth until their fifth birthday.

The program kicked off with a virtual readathon. Members of the Wayne State campus community—including students, faculty, and librarians—read children’s books aloud and encouraged families to sign up to participate. Throughout the course of the program, library staff will share tips and reading recommendations for promoting early literacy.

“We want to help support early literacy in our Wayne State community by getting books into the hands of kids who may not have easy access,” Betty Adams, chair of the Wayne State chapter of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, said in a news release. “Research shows that reading to kids has a huge impact on developing language and vocabulary. By the age of 5, kids who have never been read to have only heard around 4,600 words. Kids who are read to every day have heard almost 300,000.”

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Fight Censorship During Rainbow Book Month and Beyond

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Each June, readers across the country observe Rainbow Book Month, an opportunity to celebrate the authors and writings that reflect the lives and experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s also a time to advocate for free and widespread access to queer literature, which is censored all too frequently in libraries and schools.

An overwhelming proportion of the censorship attempts that the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked in 2019 were challenged for due to their inclusion of LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. Beyond just books, libraries also face censorship targeted toward queer programming like Drag Queen Story Hours as well as LGBTQIA+-related displays. Bans and challenges on queer materials might come from individual parents, school administrators, or organized anti-LGBTQIA+ groups; while some of these efforts make headlines in local and national media, experts say the vast majority of book banning goes unreported.

Librarians have long worked to protect everyone’s freedom to read, and preserving the right to access LGBTQIA+ materials is central to libraries’ core values.

“Libraries should be representative of our communities; our mission is to provide access to information and ideas free from bias or partisan influence. Libraries are centers for exploring the world around us, for expanding our understanding and engaging with stories—both our own narratives and those that are different that our own,” Tiffany Mautino, Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair for the Missouri Library Association, told I Love Libraries. “Access to LGBTQIA+ books and programs is important because we serve LGBTQIA+ patrons, and everyone should be able to see themselves represented in library collections. Censorship seeks to deny and repress parts of our collective narrative rather than celebrate the diversity of our story.”

You can support access to LGBTQIA+ resources in your own community simply by using your library.

“The best way is to attend the programs and check out the materials that are offered. If your library is not [providing these resources], request some that interest you,” Peter Coyl, director of New Jersey’s Montclair Public Library, shared with I Love Libraries. Queer people and allies alike can benefit from these materials: “What we offer is meant for everyone's entertainment and education, not just the LGBTQIA+ population. Feel free to join and participate so you can learn.”

Another way to get involved: research who makes decisions for your library and ask them to stand against anti-LGBTQIA+ censorship.

“Push to make sure representatives appointed to library boards are well educated in intellectual freedom, in collection development policies and procedures, and are in support of the library mission,” Tiffany Mautino shared. “Libraries need community members who understand our dedication to upholding the value of intellectual freedom, who celebrate our diverse cultures with us and advocate with us.”

For Rainbow Book Month recommended reading, check out the 2020 Stonewall Award winners and the Over the Rainbow Book List. For updates about how libraries are fighting censorship, follow Banned Books Week on Facebook and Twitter. And if you witness a censorship attempt in your library or school, report it to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

COVID-19 Won’t Stop Librarians from Promoting Summer Reading

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Summer reading helps kids stay engaged when school isn’t in session, ensuring that students are prepared and ready to learn when they return to the classroom in the fall. Libraries have long played a key role in hosting summer reading programs that are free and accessible to everyone in their communities, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in-person events aren’t possible this season. Still, libraries across the country are offering virtual summer reading programs that allow students to safely participate while maintaining social distancing.

Readers can stock up on free eBooks and audiobooks from their libraries’ websites to enjoy over the summer. Many libraries are using online systems that allow community members to track their reading progress over the course of the summer; participants can enter to win prizes for accomplishing their reading goals, with libraries offering everything from books and gift cards to tablets and e-readers. Librarians have also been hosting virtual storytimes and other programs so that kids can experience the fun of the library from home.

Some libraries are seeking out community partnerships to expand the reach of their summer reading efforts. Muskingum County Library System in Ohio teamed up with WOUB Public Media’s Learning Lab to kick off their summer reading program with a virtual scavenger hunt. Kids can pursue an educational online adventure themed around the PBS Kids series Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, learning about historical figures like Johann Sebastian Bach and Marie Curie along the way.

In addition to hosting expansive programming for children, some libraries are also providing summer reading opportunities for adults. Milwaukee Public Library has summer reading content for readers of all ages—adults can even take on special challenges focused on themes like history or poetry. Meanwhile, local kids can enjoy performances from guest educators like musicians and scientists to complement the learning they’re getting from books. “We know parents have been serving as teachers since school buildings closed, and some of them have done all the lesson planning they can stand,” the library's youth services coordinator, Kelly Wochinske, told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The reading program helps them out this year with a bunch of ways to keep learning that families can mix and match.”

Looking for awesome book recommendations for summer reading? Children’s librarians have compiled more than 100 recommendations for kids and families.

New Podcast Follows One Library’s Extraordinary Recovery from Hurricane Harvey

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America’s libraries are full of incredible stories—and a new podcast from the American Library Association (ALA) aims to share these amazing tales with the world.

Patron Driven, a podcast from Choice (a publishing unit from the Association of College & Research Libraries), launched its series premiere this week. Each season will explore a different library’s story over an in-depth, multi-episode arc. For season one, Choice staff asked community college librarians across the country to submit their stories, and one particular narrative blew the Patron Driven team away: how Texas’s Lone Star College – Kingwood (LSC-Kingwood) library transformed its services in the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of Louisiana and southeastern Texas, including Kingwood. Much of LSC-Kingwood was flooded, with the library hit the hardest—everything on the first floor was destroyed. With the school’s physical campus wrecked, library staff were instrumental in transitioning students and faculty to online learning. As they rebuilt the library over the years that followed, they seized the opportunity to build a better-than-ever space for the campus community.

The Patron Driven podcast follows this story from before the hurricane to the storm’s horrific aftermath. The narrative unfolds through first-person accounts from four library staff members—Allison Huffy, Anne McGittigan, Jennifer Martinez, and Mikha Mitchell—who worked together to weather the storm and rebuild a stronger library.

“For Anne, Allison, Mikha, and Jennifer, Hurricane Harvey is clearly one of those before-and-after events,” co-host Mark Derks explains. “Before the hurricane, they did their jobs. They went through their day-to-day. One long rainstorm would change all that.”

To hear more of this extraordinary story, subscribe to Patron Driven on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Dial This Number to Hear a Singing Librarian

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Libraries are hubs for their communities—while most libraries have had to close to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are working hard to keep people connected while maintaining social distancing. Park Ridge Public Library (PRPL) in Illinois has found a creative way to engage and entertain locals: the Library Line, a phone number anyone can call to hear a recorded song, riddle, or message from staff.

The project emerged organically over the course of the pandemic. Library director Heidi Smith is a trained singer in addition to being a librarian, so she started texting clips of herself singing to a colleague to thank him for his hard work. When other staff and Heidi’s relatives expressed interest in hearing the recordings too, she set up a Google Voice number that they could dial to listen in. The PRPL team realized this could go way beyond the staff and their families, and so the Library Line was born: each day, a different staff member creates a recording based around a topic of their choice. Their daily schedule reflects the diverse interests of the librarians and the community they serve:

Mondays: Movie Monday with Matt

Tuesdays: What Rosanne's Reading

Wednesdays: Local History with Lori

Thursdays: The Singing Librarian with Heidi

Fridays: Riddles with Larry

Saturdays: Book/Movies/TV with Cathy

Sundays: Inspirational Quotes with Laura M.

Thus far, the Library Line has been called more than 650 times. It’s proved to be a valuable way to keep community members connected, especially local seniors who may not have access to a computer or cell phone at home—they can get the full call-in experience all from a landline.

This initiative reflects the PRPL’s larger commitment to keeping in touch with patrons, even when they can’t spend time together face to face. Staff members have made hundreds of calls to check in on regular patrons and volunteers. “[Staff] were missing the connections they had with these folks, missed chatting with them when they came in the library, and wanted to check in and make sure they were doing OK,” Heidi Smith told I Love Libraries. “They have shared information about the Library Line with the folks they call, updated them on how library services evolving, and for some brave souls, helped them navigate the new world of eBooks.”

Even if you’re not in Park Ridge, you can dial in to the Library Line to hear their daily message—call 847-220-7053 for the latest recording.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more amazing stories from America’s libraries.

The Library of Congress Commissions Original Music Inspired by COVID-19

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Amid the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Library of Congress (LOC) has launched the Boccaccio Project, a series of original musical compositions inspired by coronavirus.

The project was inspired by 14th-century writer Giovanni Boccaccio and his famed work The Decameron. In the book, 10 Italians take shelter from the Black Death in a remote village and tell each other nightly stories to pass the time. “Given the global pandemic we all are facing, the modern parallels of isolation and the desire to reach out to one another artistically are striking,” LOC concert producer David Plylar explains in his introduction to the project.

With The Decameron in mind, the LOC has commissioned 10 composers to write brief solo works responding to coronavirus; each composition is then brought to life by a different performer. “Sequestered Thoughts was inspired by spending many days alone in solitude during the COVID-19 pandemic of Spring 2020,” composer Damien Sneed says of his contribution, which was performed by pianist Jeremy Jordan. “It opens with a virtuosic fluttering in the right hand juxtaposed against a strong and determined left-hand motif speaking to the many meandering thoughts that come to one when they find themselves devoid of human interaction and fellowship.” 

Miya Masaoka’s composition, Intuit (a way to stay in this world), was performed by cellist Kathryn Bates. “In this piece, there are limited modalities for the performer to control and negotiate the suggested and indicated delicate balance of these parameters in the score. Just as this musical balance is negotiated, so is the balance of our lives in lockdown,” Masaoka explains. “This piece is a positive and optimistic hope for a way to be present in the outside world of lockdown, and a wish to find a healthy balance between our own interiority and the outside world, which, under such extraordinary circumstances, we seek relief.”

The Library of Congress will continue to debut Boccaccio Project compositions on weekday evenings through Friday, June 26. Once the pandemic no longer poses a threat, they’ll resume hosting concerts in-person, but until then, people everywhere can enjoy these online performances. “We look forward to the day when we can share music again together in the same physical space,” David Plylar says. “In the meantime we hope that you stay safe and healthy.”

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more stories of how libraries are transforming during the pandemic.

Award-Winning Queer Literature to Read During Rainbow Book Month

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June is Rainbow Book Month—a nationwide celebration of authors and writings that reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, genderqueer, queer, intersex, agender, and asexual community.

Looking for some great LGBTQIA+ reads? The American Library Association’s annual Stonewall Book Awards recognize exemplary contributions to queer literature. Winners are selected by members of ALA’s Rainbow Round Table and include books for readers of all ages.

The annual Stonewall honors includes the Barbara Gittings Literature Award, given to Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis in 2020. “Cantoras is the moving story of five women, creating their own community, while living under a dictatorship. It is the result of years of research and, despite taking place primarily in the 70s in Uruguay, feels very relevant to our times,” Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, chair of this year’s Barbara Gittings Literature Award committee, told I Love Libraries. “They carved out their own places to gather, quite literally in the story, and made their own language. Readers will find themselves experiencing every emotion, every beat of the story as if they were present.”

This year’s Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award went to How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones. “How We Fight For Our Lives is an exceptional example of LGBTQ+ literature because it is a beautifully written and visceral account of facing the dangers of a racist and homophobic society. Jones's exquisite writing draws the reader in, and conveys many emotions in few words,” Eric Hanshaw, Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award committee chair, shared. “Reading How We Fight For Our Lives feels like having an intimate conversation with Jones, one that remains with the reader long after Jones' tale is finished.”

The Stonewall Awards also recognize exceptional LGBTQIA+ books for youth through the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award. In 2020, this award went to When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita and The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta with illustrations by Anshika Khullar.

Readers can support queer literature in libraries during Rainbow Book Month and beyond by spreading the word about the need for diverse books. “Make your voice heard. If there is a book challenge in your community, don't be afraid to stand up for the book,” Eric Hanshaw explained. Dontaná McPherson-Joseph adds: “Engage with and uplift stories by and about people outside of your experience, and recommend them to your friends and family. LGBTQ books are being written in every genre, so there really is something for every type of reader.”

Visit the Stonewall Awards website to view five decades of past award winners and honor books.

This year’s Stonewall winners will be honored as part of the American Library Association’s first-ever virtual Book Award Celebration. Tune in online at 12 p.m. CT on Sunday, June 28 to join the festivities.