Friends of the Round Rock Public Library

Better living through Friends

Why I’m not a morning person:  the tendency to awaken with sudden realization of yesterday’s missteps.

The first conscious thought the day after our Book Buzz event:  Robert–our Penguin Random House rep and speaker–hadn’t been supplied with a bottle of water and probably hadn’t been urged to partake of the appetizers and cheesecake we served.   This is no way to treat someone who drove miles to get here, provided book bags and galley copies for a crowd, and did a great job talking up forthcoming books.  But our unusual task completely preoccupied us.

When Robert arrived, the four of us were decanting platters of gourmet appetizers just delivered by the caterer.  Beholding the elegance of the hors d’ oeuvres, we joked about the rarity of the experience (and indeed of an occasion to say “hors d’ oeuvres”).  For us, fancy catering resides squarely in the Not Part of My Life category.  We devised serving patterns, juggled trays, and dispensed goodies while Robert shared publishing back stories and plot hooks with the mocktail-sipping audience.

Ultimately, the food and presentation got rave reviews–and we avoided lobbing pesto-coated mozzarella skewers onto anyone’s favorite jacket or shoes.  Knowing the hazards of food service, we invited guests to pick up their own beverages.

The advantage of using reference librarians for wait staff is that, should spillage occur, we’d know where to find the best stain removal tips.  But without Friends of the Round Rock Public Library we’d have had no such worries.  We’d also have had no refreshments.

As one library patron commented, “Children’s programs are very important–I get that.  But we grownups like to have our share of the attention, too.”  With this in mind, and given attendee swag from Penguin Random House, we shared our vision of a memorable adult event with the Friends group.  They furnished the money for the rare catering treat.

In recent years, Friends of RRPL has funded summer reading program prizes (really good ones), a staff appreciation event, hired presenters for children’s programs, extra shelving, eBooks, movie licensing fees, the popular Book Page handouts, and many other enhancements that benefit youth, tweens, teens, and adults.  Thanks to FOL, these are made available to taxpayers without additional taxpayer expense.

FOL inspects, sorts, and carts thousands of donations up to the Book Nook, an enterprise furnishing new homes for books, fabulous bargains for savvy shoppers, and proceeds to improve the user experience at the library.  How they accomplish so much so quietly is beyond me.  While their profile is understated, their impact is anything but.

Actually, that’s a great premise for the next National Novel Writing Month—imagine a super-high-profile Friends organization emanating the glamour and power of a secret society (think Da Vinci Code) or covert operation.  They’d be whispered about, even feared!  Everyone would hope to infiltrate, or—better yet–join them!  I’ve read (and certainly written) worse.

In the meantime, RRPL’s nonfictional and thankfully mild-mannered Friends group is planning some very entertaining fundraisers for next month…

That ship has sailed. Hope there were books aboard…

Did you celebrate New Year’s last week?

Beginning October 1, City of Round Rock is operating in fiscal year 2014-15.  Friends of the Round Rock Public Library hosted a clever “End of Fiscal Year” event on September 30 for staffers with homemade goodies, non-alcoholic fruit “champagne” in glamorous bottles, and a cake.   Now, that’s how an annual wrap-up of acquisitions, deliveries, and accounting was meant to be observed!

As the sugar rush subsided, I realized that Banned Books Week had passed without much hoopla this year (see aforementioned FY deadline)–though Ron Pitchman’s photo with a copy of Captain Underpants on the library’s Facebook page was decidedly a highlight.

But we believe in honoring BBW’s principle—“freedom to read”—all year, every year.   Libraries ensure access to resources so that everyone can select (or not!) according to his/her own taste and needs while allowing others the same privilege.

Controversial literature has been with us always.  We’ve heard those back-in-the-day anecdotes about books kept behind the library counters or simply not acquired in some locales due to prevailing standards and tastes.   Now, many of those once-maligned titles occupy slots on recommended reading lists for college bound students.

Those lists come in handy (suggestions, not mandates) when customers ask to be shown “the classics section”– a shelving area that doesn’t exist physically but certainly occupies mental real estate.  We believe that classics represent enduring works–the best of the best.  But “best” in what regard—admirable prose, relevant theme, beloved characters?  For some, the “classic” designation is reserved solely for titles proven to be genteel or “safe”.

Of course, there are ways to avoid tricky literary judgments.  Some recent fiction offerings suggest that we can simply wait for circumstances to whittle down our options.

Citizens in Ally Condie’s young adult-level Matched trilogy are never overwhelmed when selecting works of art, poems, or books.  With only one hundred Society-approved choices for each, little deliberation is required.  All other options have been eliminated; the cultural landscape is devoid of “clutter”.

(As a librarian, I should regard this scenario with horror.  I do, after first pragmatically reflecting how simple it would be, with only 100 titles on offer, to stay within budget while supplying oodles of copies –print, large print, audio CD, MP3 player, downloadable audio, ebook…)

Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling imagines a society with medieval trappings existing after, not in advance of, a high-tech age.   Following a world-shattering event, this society’s ancestors set sail for a new land where books now exist, but only those salvaged from the earlier life.  The printing press has not yet been re-invented.

As the newly crowned young queen (a major fiction fan) encourages castle workers and their children to borrow her volumes freely, a royal guardsman unable to comprehend the readers’ enthusiasm comments “I don’t understand your fascination with the damned things.  They don’t feed or protect you.  They don’t keep you alive. But I see that they’re important to you”.

That’s a nice take on “freedom to read”; even better is Johansen’s observation that, while books by Tuchman, Rowling, and Tolkien are especially treasured in the royal library, “there seemed to be something for everyone.” 

Do you have a good reimagination?

Perhaps we should make TCM‘s Robert Osborne an honorary library staffer.  He enhanced a customer interaction this week.

The caller queried, “I don’t owe any fines, right?”  Extra-busy recently, she’d lost track of time and required confirmation that nothing was overdue.

Well, you know what can happen when a basketful of items are checked out and the date due sneaks by.   Little 20-cent late fees multiply–so she owed a few dollars.  (Any library insider will tell you that late fees exist only to incentivize returning so everyone can share
tax-funded materials equitably.  If all items came back on time, thus generating zero fines, we’d celebrate.  And so would everyone who’s ever been obliged to wait longer than necessary for his/her turn…)

“Not what I wanted to hear,” she admitted, “but then who could afford to buy all those things if the library didn’t have them?”

Here’s where Mr. Osborne comes in.  The customer brightened just then, remembering her brilliant acquisition from Friends of the Round Rock Public Library’s Book Nook.   She had chanced upon Osborne’s 75 Years of the Oscars: The Official History of the Academy Awards and snagged it for two dollars!  While that copy is outdated by library standards–we now offer Osborne’s 85 Years of the Oscars –that once-costly trove of photos, trivia, and insider reportage is still “sooo entertaining” for the new owner and her friends.

Traffic to the Book Nook continues to increase, due to word-of-mouth testimonials like this.  For $2 (paperbacks, $1) savvy customers walk away with items in at least good condition; some Nook donations are brand-new.   Book lovers indulge in low-cost collecting; deserving volumes get new homes.

One Book Nook customer transforms pages into eye-catching paper wreaths.

Vinyl record clockI believe it’s correct to classify her inventive art as upcycling or repurposing rather than recycling. defines upcycle as “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original”.  And upcycling has its own sub-tags, e.g. ,trashion.

In the introduction to his Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have, Danny Seo advocates for eco-friendly concepts utilizing materials already on hand and salvaging from thrift stores and flea markets for this “higher form of recycling”.  He should know:   his guide features tie-dye using Sharpies, robot figures made from pots and pans, and a potato chip bag mirror, for starters.

Delve into the library’s Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center with keywords upcycle* or repurpose*, and you’ll discover photos and how-to’s for designs like shelves, tables, and chairs devised from vintage suitcases; a chair fabricated from old CDs; a designer-look necklace strung from broken jewelry; a mid-century-inspired clock born of a vinyl record; and loads of other outside-the-box notions.

A sampling of more upcycling/repurposing brilliance online:

Upcycle That (founded on Earth Day 2012)
Ikea Hackers
Mother Earth News’ Reusing Things: 100 Ideas of How to Reuse Commonly Thrown Away Items
Bob Vila’s Repurposing for Creative Storage Solutions
HGTV’s 25 Ways to Use Your Old Stuff
Blogger Gail Wilson’s My Repurposed Life

Cashmere sweaters account for a surprising share of repurposing activity; cup holders, baby attire, pot holders, and bracelets represent the tip of the iceberg.

Do you fret about possessing too much of this pricey knitwear, underutilized due to slight damage or un-trendiness?    Me neither.

Second looks encouraged

“You were right!”  I told my husband Monday evening.  “You’re not the only person in the world who thinks Buckaroo Bonzai is a great movie.  I met the other guy today.”

That would be Ernest Cline, author of the acclaimed Ready Player One, October’s discussion choice for the Round Rock New Neighbors (Barnes and Noble) book group.  Cline’s ebullient commentary about his genre-bending novel, screenwriting, the cult film Fanboys (which he authored), publisher bidding wars, 80’s pop culture, and the writing life in general kept attendees vastly entertained. Cline’s appearance would have earned raves even had he not brought his DeLorean for attendees to explore and photograph themselves with — but he DID.

My enjoyment of this phenomenal author visit wavered just momentarily.  Claudia, who nominated Ready Player One in the first place, mentioned that Wil Wheaton read the audiobook — which, I realized to my horror, I’d overlooked when selecting titles for the library (we have the print version, of course).  Thanks to second chances and product inventory, both CD and Playaway versions are now on our October order lists.  (Mr. Cline will also appear at the library’s International Games Day festivities.)

Also worthy of a re-think: Just A Pinch, an online recipe trove forwarded by City Communications Director Will Hampton.  It seemed a nice enough recipe finder at first; then I tried several searches to appreciate its useful social networking functions as well (over 3.6 million site visits per month, more than 250,000 entries).  The chicken recipe that Will found there and home-tested is one that my own family would love.  I even found the exact brownie recipe — Speedy Brownies — that I swear by.  It produces perfect texture every time and invites all manner of experimentation with toppings (try Andes Mint chips).  The startling but endearing Halloween Spider Cookies were also “pinched” from Just A Pinch. 

Which reminds me (you’ll see why) of this overlooked and under-appreciated endeavor: Friends of the Round Rock Public Library.  If you read that FOL is  “an independent non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation that supports the city-funded library”, you’ll be administratively enlightened without any sense of the fun and energy embodied by this crew.

You’ve likely enjoyed some FOL-funded features at the library: teen room shelving, the eye-catching Children’s Desk, traveling exhibits, special adult programs, summer reading program prizes, etc.  Customers brag about the fabulous bargains they discover on second floor at the Book Nook—organized, re-stocked, and administered by FOL.  Recycling at its best, Book Nook enables volumes to find new homes while generating profits to spend enhancing library users’ experiences.

We staffers love encountering Friends as they sort, stock, sell, strategize, and generally do amazing work.  Precisely the kind of folks you’d want to hang out with, they are seeking talents you may possess—including but not limited to technical expertise for the website and assistance with Mystery night. Their special membership meeting, featuring Paige Morgan of Paige’s Bakehouse in Round Rock (she’ll demonstrate how to make and decorate holiday cake pops!) is coming up at 7 p.m. Nov. 12.

Come take a look (or two).

Poolside books: the other economic indicator

Our vacation is just winding down.  During this time, my husband and I have been hauling around two sorts of baggage.  There’s the bulky but uncomplicated variety encompassing scuba equipment (his) and heels for Formal Night (mine), also the cumbersome should-we-be-taking-a-vacation-in-this-economy? stigma.

Everyone knows that this season is a buyer’s market for cruises and other vacation packages, so why have we felt compelled to extol the fabulousness of the cruise deal we found, rehearsing the fact that “you couldn’t get entertainment, transportation, and food for this price anywhere else”, blah, blah?  Our friends and co-workers are aware that we both work for nonprofit entities and further know that we’re too cheap to pay any interest on our one credit card, so obviously this trip was a bargain.  

Apparently, our fellow vacationers also remain mindful of the economy (except, possibly, the folks with the balconied suites overlooking prime cruising vistas).  The subject arose frequently over dinner, and not just because it’s a safe but guaranteed conversation starter for a group of strangers.  Further evidence of concern was detected by my anecdotal and highly unscientific survey: Data for Reading Inventoried at Poolside (DRIP).

I adopted a simple but foolproof data collection method:  I asked my husband to help me keep an eye out for book titles/authors observed at poolside.  (A book chosen for noisy and distracting aquatic venues is, I feel, particularly reflective of the reader’s interests.)  You can probably guess what we observed during the exhaustive ten-minute canvass: lots of the usual suspects.  James Patterson, Daniel Silva, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Lynsay Sands, Charlaine Harris, Eckhart Tolle, and other heavy hitters were much in evidence.  A bit of variety was provided by my husband’s choice–my copy of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto–and my own pick, Jacqueline Winspear’s Birds of a Feather.

This part was interesting, however: while these books were all (unsurprisingly) paperbacks, in no case did they represent the author’s most recent title available in paperback.  Contrary to the trend I’ve seen previously, backlists were the order of the day, suggesting that more folks are now doing as we do–planning way ahead to ensure a plentiful, low-cost, low-risk vacation library.  Each selection must meet these guidelines:

  • It’s gotta be cheap: copies for which you spend $2.00 or less don’t upset you when an on-flight beverage or chlorine splash engulfs them.

  • Current bestsellers are out–too expensive for travel.  Besides, choosing something not on the top ten list requires more imagination.

  • It’s gotta look good.  Even when I’m rummaging through a garage sale box or a clearance bin, I demand smooth pages, stainless condition, and a pretty cover.  Call me shallow.

For this journey, I purchased our supply from Half Price Books’ clearance section and the Friends of the Round Rock Public Library book sale.  I knew that I’d collected an acceptable number when my daughter inquired whether I planned to do anything besides read the entire week.

Like us, our fellow vacationers are finding small but numerous ways to economize.  And, because everyone is affected in one way or another, it’s helpful to buy even bargain books on home turf in order to support libraries and local vendors.  One last tip:  did you know that, if you contract one of those nasty shipboard viruses and are quarantined to your cabin, your cruise line will probably offer to give you a prorated credit for that time?  Don’t ask why I know that.