Spring is Sprung!


Here in Southern California it’s been garden time for awhile now. I’m already into my second wave of bulbs, and the forget-me-nots have shown that they have not yet forgotten me, spreading throughout my garden with their cheerful blue flowers. We’ve had AISL blog posts on weeding lately, and on tending our collections, and I find myself continuing the “Library as Garden” metaphor as I sit out in my back yard pondering possibilities.

Spring is our biggest research season at Harvard-Westlake Upper School. A solid 66% of our student body is actively working on serious research projects, and an additional 15% or so has research going on in some fashion. We love it– it really is exciting, and the interaction with students looking for one more primary source or additional material on Degenerate Art (oooh, fun!) is invigorating. But we can only manage this level of activity if we’ve done our own ‘homework’, if we’ve built the collection to support all these projects. Every year we have a number of repeat projects, so we are not surprised when all the Pope Pius XII books go out, or Stalin, or the aforementioned Degenerate Art in Germany titles are in high demand. If we’ve done our Collection Management well, we’re set.

Then there are the cycles. Topics that go out of fashion for one reason or other. For years we had very little research done on the Revolutionary War era. After a quiet spell, out of the blue (or sometimes, due to changes in curriculum or some big anniversary of an event) suddenly Revolutionary America is all the rage again.  Often all it takes is one really good Ken Burns Documentary Series and suddenly there is new interest in … Jazz! or Baseball!

Because most of the research done in our library is through the History department, we know there will always be interest in primary sources and good solid standard scholarship.  If something is on the list of suggested topics for sophomores, we know there will likely be interest. Where it gets trickier is the open ended topics chosen by juniors. Our job as librarians is to develop our collection, our garden as it were, to make sure it includes items that will be needed by our students. As with any garden, we can’t build just for this one year.

Here’s where the long view comes into play. Occasionally there’s a new wave in education, or (as they say in Country Music) The Next Big Thing. If the rising tide of momentum gets too powerful without having a focus on proper priorities, then you might end up with a long term solution to a short term problem. The issue might be space, for example. Some bright-eyed administrator might come sweeping in saying that since no one uses books anymore, you need to weed 50% of your collection and they’ll be using that space for… something important. So– major weeding project, loss of books and shelf space, reconfiguration. You might get rid of all those American Revolution books. Just wait 5 years, and you can be sure they’ll be back in demand. Only then you’ll need to fork out good money to build your collection again. Sure, you can weed the chaff (if you have any left after the previous weeding projects) but there are a lot of treasures by experts in the field that are a lot harder to replace than they were to get rid of.

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There was an article in American Libraries (January/February 2015) expanding on the Library as Garden motif in a very creative way. “Not Your Garden-Variety Library,” by Greg Landgraf, tells the story of the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield (Conn.) Public Library. They have developed a seed catalog where patrons can ‘check out’ seeds, complete with instructions for growing them, and can even ‘return’ seeds harvested from their crops. Apparently there are hundreds of seed libraries operating in the United States. Who knew?!? The Common Soil Seed Library in Nebraska organizes its seeds by how difficult they are to save, and their whole collection is housed in an old card catalog cabinet. How cool is that?

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Whether you’re planting, weeding, or still dreaming of golden garden hours in the warm spring sun (while you’re all cozy by your fire), gardens everywhere are an inspiration. Springtime in our library is inspiring as well, with all that youthful energy directed towards the treasure hunt that is a good research project. Spring is a time of renewal, fresh starts, new energy, and the return of the sun’s warmth.

Happy Spring, everyone!

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Keeping up with new resources!

Keeping up with the thousands of resources that are published each year is a challenge! As we run a library that serves students in grades 1 through 12, as well as staff, it can be difficult to keep up with new books, additions to series, new formats, as well as changes to the curriculum that demand new print and online resources.

There are a number of print and online sources that I use to stay up to date about new releases, and items that should be in our collection. Here are a couple of my favourites:


H.W. Wilson’s Core Collection

We subscribe to the Children’s edition, the Middle and Junior High edition and the High School edition. These are wonderful resources, which list recommended books by Dewey number, as well as fiction for different age groups. The recommendations are always excellent, and I use the volumes frequently. Updates come once a year for each of the editions, so I am always able to see what has been recently published in a certain area. This resource is also available online, but I far prefer the print version, which I can annotate, add sticky notes to, and photocopy to distribute to faculty. There are a couple of drawbacks to this source, however; sometimes the books they list are out of print or difficult to find, and it has a US focus (although, obviously, that is not quite such an issue for many readers of this blog). If a Canadian version were available, I would be thrilled!

Quill & Quire

Quill & Quire is ‘Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews.’ Published monthly, it features publishing industry news, and reviews for all ages. Their reviews of children’s books are particularly good.

Resource Links

Resource Links is published six times a year, and focuses solely on Canadian resources, both fiction and non-fiction. All of the reviewers are librarians; the reviews are informative, and always contain useful information about age-appropriateness / potential issues associated with a source. Resource Links also regularly publishes lists of award winning books from across Canada, so is a good source for staying up to date with popular material. Resource Links also reviews French materials, so if you are looking to build your French language collection, it is a good place to start.


I find Booklist superb for adult fiction and non-fiction, but less good for children’s books. They always review unusual books, however, and I do often one or two excellent recommendations in every issue.


We all have our favourite Kids Lit and YA Lit bloggers; here are a few that I subscribe to via my Feedly reader:

Kids Lit:

A Fuse #8 production

CanLit for Little Canadians

A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

100 Scope Notes

YA Lit:

Reading Rants

Chasing Ray

Teen Lit Rocks


Other excellent sources of book recommendations are our students (who are well-read and vocal about it!), browsing at the bookstore, booktalks at our regional library group meetings, awards announcements, meetings with vendors etc etc. It’s not surprising that it’s difficult to keep up!

What are your favourite sources for book recommendations? And are there any you avoid?