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Booklist Names Their Top Reads of 2020

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Our friends at Booklist—the book review magazine of the American Library Association—have spent 2020 poring over countless titles for readers of all ages. As the year comes to a close, Booklist staff have announced nine of their favorite new reads from a variety of genres.

Their annual Top of the List picks represent their most highly recommended titles in nine categories: fiction, nonfiction, audiobooks, and graphic novels for adults, and fiction, nonfiction, picture books, audiobooks, and graphic novels, for youth.

Here are their top titles for 2020:

Books for Adults:

Top of the List in Graphic Novels:

Year of the Rabbit, by Tian Veasna

Top of the List Fiction:

These Ghosts Are Family, by Maisy Card

Top of the List Nonfiction:

Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration, by Morgan Jerkins

Top of the List Audio: 

The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré (writer) and Adjoa Andoh (audiobook narrator)

Books for Youth:

Top of the List in Graphic Novels:

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang (writer and illustrator) and Lark Pien illustrator)

Top of the List Picture Book:

Nana Akua Goes to School, by Tricia Elam Walker (writer) and April Harrison (illustrator)

Top of the List Nonfiction:

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat

Top of the List Fiction:

Burn, by Patrick Ness

Top of the List Audio:

Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo (writer and audiobook narrator) and Melania Luisa Marte (audiobook narrator)

For great book recommendations, author interviews, and more, subscribe to the Booklist Reader Update.

This Library-Themed Student Album Makes for A+ Study Music

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In these times of remote learning, many college students have found themselves missing the campus spaces they once called home, including their much-loved libraries. University of California, San Diego undergraduates Donald Liang and Terry Feng have gotten creative to stay connected to their school’s Geisel Library: composing an electronic album inspired by their favorite study spaces.

“I think the idea really hit more during spring quarter, when we were all just at home and it was just hours and hours of Zoom lectures,” Feng told thisweek@ucsandiego. “I missed so much of just being able to hang out with people, even just study together. That’s what college students do: spend long hours at the library.”

“Library of Dreams” features eight tracks, each one inspired by a different floor of the library. From “Floor 1: Memes and Chill” to “Floor 8: Nap Time,” each track musically evokes the unique atmosphere of the space it represents. Liang and Feng, both music majors, drew on their own memories of the library while crafting the album, as well as surveying their classmates on social media.

“It was nice to have those answers to further inform how we wanted to characterize each floor, and to give a little more information about how other people perceived the library,” Liang shared. “Something that I’m particularly interested about is how the music inside our…heads gets shifted onto either pieces of paper or onto a computer program.”

“it’s really interesting and enjoyable work,” said Erik Mitchell, UC San Diego’s University Librarian. “I continue to be amazed by the innovation and collaboration exhibited by our campus scholars, and its projects like this that tell the story of how the UC San Diego Library has remained a source of inspiration to our academic community for the last 50 years.”

2020 has been a surprisingly big year for libraries and music. This summer, Duke University’s “Library Takeout” music video went viral for its synth-pop explanation of COVID safety procedures. And earlier this year, the Library of Congress commissioned 10 original musical compositions inspired the pandemic; the resulting pieces serve as a sonic representation of life during COVID.


Photo by Erik Jepsen, courtesy of UC San Diego Communications. Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more great stories about America’s libraries.

Our Favorite Library Stories from 2020

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This has been a year like no other—but libraries have helped us get through it. From offering socially-distant services to bringing much-needed joy to our social media feeds, libraries and their staff have been a constant source of support for countless people.

As an unprecedented year comes to a close, we’re revisiting some of our favorite I Love Libraries articles from the past twelve months. Looking back, here’s how we’ll remember 2020:

Libraries stepped up during the pandemic. 

While COVID-19 meant closing library doors to the public, staff adapted their services to continue meeting community needs. From hosting virtual storytimes featuring celebrity guests and socially-distant outdoor programs to providing parking lot Wi-Fi access to those in need, libraries have truly risen to the occasion in these challenging times.

Libraries responded to Black Lives Matter.

2020 brought much-needed national attention to police brutality and racial injustice, and Black librarians were at the forefront of social justice conversations in their communities. Over the summer, librarians shared their picks for comics and graphic novels relating to Black Lives Matter, as well as social justice book recommendations for youth.

We found libraries in unexpected places.

Did you know there’s a library in the Galápagos Islands? We interviewed librarian Edgardo Civallero about what it’s like working alongside giant marine iguanas. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., we explored another unique library location: a former Indiana supermarket that’s housing biographies in the freezer section during a branch renovation.

Libraries broke the internet.

Libraries took social media by storm this year with creative viral videos promoting their services. Our favorites include Duke University’s absurdly catchy “Library Takeout” music video, Harris County Public Library’s used car ad–inspired “Curbside Larry” commercial, and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System’s “Elders of the Internet” skit starring Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman.

We learned animals love libraries too.

What is it like to be a library cat during a pandemic? We checked in with Cosmo, Socks, Browser, and the Maynooth University library cat (as well as their human colleagues) to find out. We also spoke with Virginia school librarian Rebecca Flowers, who has an adorable library-themed bird feeder in her yard, which she livestreams to thousands of bird lovers online.

We took a deep dive into fictional libraries.

Pop culture has provided a much-needed escape from a difficult year, and we’ve loved exploring the greatest (and not-so-great) depictions of librarians in media. Reel Librarians blogger Jennifer Snoek-Brown gave us the scoop on libraries in cinema, librarian Burkely Hermann analyzed two recent examples of libraries in animation, and Booklist editor Briana Shemroske rounded up great fiction and nonfiction reads about librarians.

Librarians helped us get through the day.

Amid the pandemic, we relied on librarians’ expertise about a vast array of topics, from having challenging conversations with kids and documenting life during COVID to finding great books when you can’t physically browse the shelves.

We heard from you.

Throughout the year, we invited I Love Libraries readers and the American Library Association’s social media followers to share stories and recommendations. Highlights include this inspiring list of reasons why people became librarians, a selection of readers’ favorite library memories, and a round-up of bibliophiles’ top books of 2020.

Don’t miss more amazing stories about libraries and librarians—subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

Why the Rock Icons from R.E.M. Love Libraries

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In a new PSA video, legendary multi-instrumentalist Mike Mills shares why he and his R.E.M. bandmates have always supported libraries.

“We love literacy,” he explains in the video. “Libraries provide free access to music, movies, and books.”

“Libraries provide a place for people of all backgrounds to discover their creative talents and nurture those creative abilities,” Mills continues.

R.E.M. fans can help spread the library love by purchasing this limited-edition jigsaw puzzle, which features artwork from the 1990 READ poster they created with the American Library Association. Proceeds from the puzzles support ALA’s advocacy for libraries as well as Books for Keeps, a Georgia-based grassroots literacy organization.

Check out Mike Mills’ PSA video below:

R.E.M.'s Mike Mills: Support your public library!


This Ultra-Green Library Offers Hands-On Environmental Learning

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Although the pandemic has temporarily stopped us from visiting new libraries in person, we can still appreciate their amazing architecture and creative amenities from afar. This fall, we’ve been geeking out over the newest branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), which is as innovative and sustainable as it is beautiful.

The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center will engage community members of all ages about science, nature, and environmental activism. The building has eco labs and rooftop gardens in addition to traditional library offerings like books, computers, and meeting rooms.

The Greenpoint neighborhood has a fraught environmental history: an oil spill in local Newton Creek is among the most devastating oil spills in United States history. In response to the disaster, ExxonMobil paid millions of dollars to New York State, much of which went to the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund—which funds projects like the groundbreaking new BPL branch.

“The hope is that the library can act as the hub of history, activism, science, and stewardship in protecting defending and remediating the environment in this extraordinary community,” Dewey Thompson, a member of the Greenpoint Library Community Advisory Committee, explained in a video from BPL.

The library’s design includes a cistern for capturing rainwater to use in the gardens and for lab experiments, windows that act as sundials, and an interactive screen that lists the library’s energy use and the energy generated by its solar panels in real time. Marble Fairbanks designed the building and are targeting a LEED Platinum certification; the landscape architecture was provided by SCAPE.

The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center’s cistern, bookstacks, and children’s area. Photos by Gregg Richards, courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library.

“Our goal was not just to make this building a model of sustainable building practices, but to have it be a teaching tool,” BPL project manager Ames O’Neill told Next City.

At more than 15,000 square feet, the library is twice as large as the branch that used to be at this location. Due to the pandemic, it’s currently operating with a grab-and-go checkout model, but staff and locals are excited to gather for gardening events, sustainability classes, and more once it’s safe to do so.

“The new Greenpoint Library models the enormous potential of public libraries in the 21st century,” Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, shared in a press release.  “In 2020, in Brooklyn and beyond, we need more libraries like this one: that make vital knowledge and beautiful design accessible to all, that empower people from all walks of life to come together and build a more sustainable, more just world.” 

Photos by Gregg Richards, courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library.

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Shop These Holiday Gifts to Support Libraries

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Searching for the perfect presents for the book lovers in your life? We’ve curated some of the coolest posters, accessories, activity books, and more for readers and librarians.

The best part: the profits from all of these items support the American Library Association (ALA)’s efforts to promote equity and access to information for all. Your purchase helps our nation’s libraries get the resources, training, and funding they need to help their communities thrive.

Here are our top gift picks for 2020:


The Child READ® Poster

Buy from the ALA Store

Well Said: The Library Lover's Coloring Book of Quotes

Buy from the ALA Store. 

R.E.M. READ Poster Puzzle

Buy from the R.E.M. Store. 

“Keep Calm and Read On” Mask

Buy from the ALA Graphics Gift Shop. 

“Make Orwell Fiction Again” Tote Bag

Buy from the ALA Store. 

This Journal is Overdue

Buy from the ALA Store. 

“I Love My Library” Tattoo Mason Jar

Buy from the ALA Graphics Gift Shop. 

"So Many Books" Poster

Buy from the ALA Store. 

"Carpe Librum" Dog Bandana

Buy from the ALA Graphics Gift Shop. 

"Born to Read" Baby Bodysuit

Buy from the ALA Graphics Gift Shop.

To find more great presents for readers, check out these librarian-recommended book lists and the American Libraries gift guide.

Library Lovers Share Their Favorite Books of 2020

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Great literature has been a bright spot in this challenging year, with an impressive slate of new releases offering thought-provoking perspectives, meticulously researched information, and much-needed entertainment.

We asked I Love Libraries readers and the American Library Association’s social media followers to share their favorite books from 2020. Responses included fiction and non-fiction titles for kids, teens, and adults, with promising debut authors mixed in with longtime favorites.

Here are the 10 books readers mentioned most often:

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Cow Boy Is NOT a Cowboy, by Greg Barrington

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

Plain Bad Heroines, by Emily M. Danforth

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T.J. Klune

Watch Over Me, by Nina LaCour

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

For more great books for you and your loved ones, check out this round-up of librarians’ recommendations.

Drop Everything and Look at This Adorable Baby Yoda READ® Poster

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For more than thirty years, actors, authors, and musicians have teamed up with the American Library Association’s READ® campaign to promote the joy of literacy. This week, The Mandalorian’s breakout star The Child—also known as Baby Yoda and Grogu—is joining their ranks with his very own celebrity READ® poster.

Back in the early 1980s, ALA’s Yoda READ® poster graced the walls of libraries and schools across the country, reminding Star Wars fans that The Force is strong in those who read books. Over the years, other franchise fan favorites like C-3PO, R2-D2, and Princess Leia also starred in posters promoting libraries. (Pro tip: while the original Yoda poster is no longer for sale, you can still buy it on shirts, mugs, and notebooks from Out of Print.)

In addition to the poster, you can also purchase bookmarks featuring The Child from the ALA Store. These items make perfect gifts for readers and Star Wars fans of all ages.

The best part? Proceeds from the items’ sales fund the American Library Association’s work supporting for our nation’s libraries. Your purchase helps ALA keep libraries strong through advocacy, grants, and training that promote access to information for all.

The poster and bookmark set featuring The Child are on sale now.

Here’s How You Can Support Internet Access for All

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere are turning to the web for school, work, and community—but for the 33 million U.S. households without a home internet connection, getting online isn’t so simple. Since lockdown began in March 2020, libraries have gotten creative to promote digital equity and access; supporting the American Library Association (ALA) is a powerful way to ensure that even more people in need can get online.

Americans have long relied on their libraries for access to the internet. When COVID-19 first hit the United States early this year, libraries sprung into action to keep their communities connected even when their doors were closed to the public. Many libraries loaned out mobile hotspot devices to those in need, and an amazing 93% of libraries reported leaving their Wi-Fi on so that people could connect to the internet from their parked cars. Plus, librarians have been sharing their technological expertise with their communities, offering personalized assistance to those who need help navigating digital access during the pandemic.

Throughout this unprecedented year, the American Library Association has been hard at work advocating for libraries to get the resources they need to continue bridging the digital divide. Thanks to ALA and other library advocates, the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act included $50 million of funding to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital inclusion projects. And looking ahead, ALA will continue to push for a federal COVID relief package that includes much-needed funding for our nation’s libraries.

You can help make internet access for all a reality by donating to ALA. Your gift will support training, resources, and advocacy for libraries to champion digital equity in their communities.

Turn History into Hip-Hop with the Library of Congress

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The Library of Congress is home to a vast collection of archival audio and video recordings—and now, thanks to the innovative Citizen DJ project, musicians of all skill levels can remix this extensive historical material into unique beats and songs.

After debuting as a demo in May, Citizen DJ is now fully launched and available to the public. The project website features an intuitive interface for combining video and audio samples: you can cue, solo, and mute tracks just with a click of a mouse.

In addition to an enormous library of archival music clips from a variety of genres, you can also sample from radio interviews, movie dialogue, political speeches, advertisements, oral histories, and more. Every audio clip on the site is free to use and distribute (even commercially), so the creative possibilities are truly endless.

Citizen DJ is brainchild of Library of Congress 2020 Innovator in Residence Brian Foo, who brought the project to life with help from LC Labs. A long-time fan of hip-hop, Foo calls the genre “an artform and culture that weaves together references, quotations, and history into something brand new and culturally significant in its own right.” Citizen DJ celebrates rap’s rich history of sampling, allowing creators to dive deep into the Library of Congress collections and recontextualize their findings into contemporary music.

While developing Citizen DJ, Foo worked closely with the experts at Library of Congress to identify copyright-free samples and develop a guide to intellectual property laws relating to sampling. He also partnered with hip-hop–focused non-profit organizations across the country, engaging the music community in vital conversations about identity, creativity, and social justice.

“I hope Citizen DJ can represent just one of many technologies in the long line of innovations that has pushed hip hop into new and exciting spaces throughout the decades,” Foo shared in a blog post. “I hope it inspires younger generations to ask what their Library, the Library of Congress, has that speaks to them.”

For more stories about innovation and creativity in libraries, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.