Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Summer Reading.
Just kidding. That never happened.
I somewhat recently moved from a small branch library where Summer Reading was pretty non-existent (most of the kids who go to the library disappear for the summer for a variety of reasons, one of which being they all go back to Poland for a while), to a massive library where Summer Reading is non-stop madness. I didn’t have much time to get acquainted here. I just kind of got dropped into the belly of the beast and now I’m waiting to find out what this place is really like once this insanity blows over (and daily class visits start. And I cry myself to sleep every night).
Just to be clear, I have great respect for the concept of Summer Reading. Kids and teens need to read during the summer to avoid the dreaded summer slide. In addition, I love to encourage kids and teens to read what they want to during the summer, whatever it may be (graphic novels, Captain Underpants, 50 Shades of CrayCray, fashion magazines, anything). The idea that someone will grow up thinking that reading is a punishment or a chore scares the bejeezus out of me. When I booktalk during the summer, I hope that I am introducing a title that someone will read for pure enjoyment and nothing else.
THAT SAID, Summer Reading, in practice, makes me achy, cranky, and not unlike a toddler than no one let nap for three months. I’m not complaining about hard work, I’m kvetching about never ending school assignment lists, demands that I can’t fulfill, fights over free pieces of plastic, and repetitive work that makes me feel like an automaton and not a librarian at all.
Kids, you know I love to list stuff. It gives me a feeling of control in a world gone mad. LISTS MAKE ME FEEL IN CHARGE.
Here are the things I won’t miss about Summer Reading:
☠ LISTS. Summer Reading lists. The library makes its own SR list every year, and we pitch it to the teachers so that kids ask us for titles that we actually own. Teachers tend to make their own lists, so even if we suggest our own titles, of course the final decision is up to them. However, I feel like they hate us a little, because some of the lists double as tiny torture devices. If you’re a teacher reading this, I BEG of you, please consider the following (and try not to hate me too much):
List the titles alphabetically by AUTHOR. PLEASE. For the love of Billy Bob Thorton, don’t list them by title. What library in the universe shelves its books by title? If you want to make Summer Reading less stressful for your students and their parents (never mind the librarians, we’re totally a lost cause), please don’t do this:
And if the Moon Could Talk, by Kate Banks
Buster, by Denise Fleming
Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Froggy Goes to Camp, by Jonathan London
Previously, by Allan Ahlberg
Do you see what’s happening here? If our books are shelved by author, that means your future student or the nice if not neurotic librarian is running from B to F to S to L to A, instead of just straight through the alphabet. If you make a list alphabetically by author, the student, parent, or I get to walk in a straight line, instead of in circles like a raving lunatic.
This might sound nit-picky and not that big of a deal. Sure, on a one time basis, walking in circles isn’t annoying. But how about dozens of times a day?
Spell the titles and the authors correctly (this goes for librarians, too). I know this makes me sound like a raging snob, but come on, now. It’s a cut and paste world, complete with spell check. Usually, a good librarian can guess the correct title or author, but what if your students or parents can’t? What if a misspelled title keeps a child from a book they need to read? Also, it makes a good impression and sets a good example. Also, you won’t make the librarian break up into snorty laughs when she reads titles like this: Butt I Wanted a Baby Brother. Yes, indeed. There was a teacher who substituted “butt” for “but” in every title. I’d like to think this was a joke, but the parent with the list didn’t seem very reassured. Other stellar misspellings: Island of the Blue Dauphin (yes, yes, it’s dolphin in French, but it’s also fancy French princes. It’s also not the title. This is also not France), Romono Forever (sort of a drag king Ramona Quimby?), and my personal favorite: Litter Critter by Mercer Mayer. GROSS. Why is there a critter in the litter?
When’s the last time you saw your assigned books on a shelf in a bookstore or a library? If your answer is 1972, you may have assigned a book that no one can get their hands on. We have pre-made “Dear Teacher” letters in which we notify a teacher that we don’t have any copies of the title they selected. The parent or child can bring the teacher one of these letters, so hopefully they won’t get in trouble for not being able to access the title. If a giant library system like mine doesn’t own ANY copies of your book, it’s time to update that Summer Reading list.
☠ Children’s Librarian Summer Reading Burnout. Endless programming. Non-stop lists. Packed libraries. Angry patrons. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sleep on a pillow made of your own tears.
☠ Free Plastic Stuff Bum Rush Not so much a problem anymore, as we don’t have much of a budget for free stuff or reading incentives. Still, the frenzy over tiny pieces of plastic…crap (there! I said it!) is just astounding. I pretty much understand it from the kids (OK, I don’t understand trying to walk off with 50 bookmarks), but from the adults? It’s just baffling. I was once giving away free library backpacks in a park (back when we could afford backpacks) and a woman was very mad that the backpacks were only for kids. She didn’t speak English, but I knew she was angry at me because SLAPPING A LIBRARIAN IN THE ARM IS TRANSLATABLE TO ANY LANGUAGE. That’s not cool.
☠ The Smiles of Adult Services Librarians.
I am in no way implying that Adult Services librarians don’t work hard. They do. Very hard. And Geedee bless them for putting up with adults, because adults are awful. They’re self-righteous and smelly and you can’t tell them what to do and then never listen to anyone because they think they’re always right. Believe me, Adult Librarians are saints. BUT, even though adult patrons are supposed to participate in Summer Reading too, I’ve never seen an Adult Librarian losing their freaking mind during the summer. It’s like the Children’s/YA Librarians claim temporary insanity all summer, every summer, but the Adult Librarians get to live in this magical bubble where they’re not tormented by the masses lining up for plastic library card cases and copies of Catch-22 we ran out of a month ago. They look so, so,…normal. It hurts to see their happiness. They should pretend to be crazy out of solidarity.
☠ Thinking of the phrase Summer Reading and then immediately getting Summer Nights from Grease stuck in your head. All. Summer. Long.
After chatting about this subject with the ALA Think Tank peeps, I realized that I’m not the only one that replaces the words Summer Lovin’ with Summer Reading.
Ah well ah well ah well ah uh.
☠ “But I need it. NOW. MY DAUGHTER NEEDS TO READ THIS BY TOMORROW” This is the worst part. HOLY HELL. About a month in, we run out of every book anyone could possibly need. Before people even start talking to me, I say, “I see you have a Summer Reading list. We’ve run out of many titles so please consider whether you’d like to put things on hold or not.” I try not to sound mean, but when the parents and kids start picking the titles that they really want, as opposed to what we actually have, I get nervous. I’ve often pointed to our empty, pathetic shelves and said, “As you can see, our cupboards are bare.”
As the summer wore on, it became my theory that if I’d heard of a title before, not even read it, but just heard about the book, even in passing, we didn’t have it. The book was gone and it wasn’t coming back until October. Our library suddenly only housed obscure unreadable nonsense.
I spent a lot of time foraging into the decks underneath the building, hovering like a vulture over a carcass that has long since been picked clean, scavenging for a wayward copy of To Kill a Mockingbird or The Tale of Despereaux. When I’d find a copy of a book like that, I was all:
Come August, you could smell the desperation in the air. Everyone was jonesing for that copy of Bridge to Terabithia that not a librarian had seen in weeks. “But,” they would say when I told them we didn’t have a copy and they’d be 9th on the list to receive it, “you’re such a big library! You have to have more copies.” I’d explain that we did own many copies, but that they were all checked out. “Imagine there are 30 kids in your son’s class. Now imagine they all want this book. Now imagine that other schools have assigned this book, as well. Now imagine all the kids get to keep the book for 3 weeks,” I’d explain, “You can imagine the demand we’re facing, especially this late in the summer.”
But then I’d get the worst Summer Reading why-we-didn’t-come-get-this-book-in-June-excuse: “We couldn’t come earlier because we were on vacation.”
First of all, rub it in, why don’t you? I’ve been here all summer. I didn’t get to go on vacation! Do you see my skin? I AM STILL PASTY AS HAY-ELL. I AM A BROKEN WOMAN. Second, that’s a weird excuse. I can’t even go into how that makes no sense, and yet I hear it again and again. Last: what? You think I have some special box of hidden Judy Blume books, reserved especially for ladies just coming back from the Cape?
Now, I realize, not every librarian has a hard time during the summer. In fact, some librarians have made Summer Reading look downright easy as pie (though Marge will always be more graceful in these situations than I. Take note). To you lucky librarians, I probably seem crazed and bitter and obsessive.
Well, I am. Summer Reading made me this way.
Viva la Autumn.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid