Thursday, September 30, 2010


            In case you don’t know, I work in the library at a college prep academy, grades 7 through 12.  I’m the ONLY library technician in our school district that also has to be in charge of lockers.  It sucks, but I try to take it like a man because overall this is the best school in the district, the kids are super-smart and respectful, and I would die if I had to go back to working at some ghetto-ass gangbanger school. 
            But dealing with locker issues and complaints really sucks.  Primarily because I am a total book person, my head is 100% in the library, and I don’t give a monkey’s left nut about anybody’s stupid locker. 
            I don’t care if a 4-foot tall 7th grader can’t reach the top locker they were assigned, I don’t care if someone’s locker is infested with fire ants, I don’t care if some rogue student put their lock on someone else’s locker, etc. 
            I.  Do.  Not.  Care.
            Just to give you a little idea of what it’s like, I’ll cite a few recent examples of locker issues:

Example 1)  Numerological Complaint
            A concerned and visibly nervous mother came in shortly after 7th grade registration was over.  She asked if she could exchange her daughter’s combination lock for a different one.  I asked her why, and she said the combination “wasn’t good.”
            I was a little perplexed, but since I mostly don’t care I just handed her a new lock and took the original one back.  She proceeded to take the new lock out of its box and check the little card with the combo.  She frowned.
            “Um...  This one seems bad, too.  I’m so sorry, but may I have a different one?”
            Warily, catching a whiff of neurosis in the air, I handed her a different lock.
            “What... exactly... is wrong with the numbers?” I asked tentatively.  “Is it that you think they won’t be easy for your daughter to remember?  You want simpler numbers?”
            “Oh, no—it’s not that.  It’s just... well, these numbers just seem bad.  I’m so sorry!  I know it sounds crazy!” she apologized, handing me back the newest lock, which was obviously very bad, perhaps even worse than the first couple, judging by her  discomfort.
            At that point I got it.  Realizing the particular type of freak this woman was, I hefted the whole box of almost 100 combination locks onto the counter, and told her to have at it.
            “Here, you can go through as many of these as you’d like, and find one that feels right to you,” I said, as nicely as I could manage, watching her in fascination.  I was very aware of the fact that I had already been at work for almost 8 hours, my feet hurt, and I’d spent about 4 hours straight doing registration, which is grueling. 
            She rifled through the box, opening locks and checking the numbers, frowning, moving on to the next.  If I could have handed her a lock with the combination “6-6-6,” I totally would have, just to observe her reaction.
            Finally she succumbed to my clock-checking finger-tapping hints, and just settled on a lock with a combination that apparently wasn’t completely Satanic.  As soon as she walked out I looked up her daughter’s name in my library checkout system, and tried to memorize the girl’s face.  I thought, “I’d better look out for that poor girl.  If she isn’t totally F’ed up, it’ll be a miracle.”

Example 2)  Permanent Brain Damage
            One afternoon shortly after school began in September, a 7th grade girl and her very intense mother (it’s always those 7th grade parents...) came bursting in the library door, arguing.
            GIRL:  Mom, stop it!  It’s no big deal!
            MOM:  Yes it is, and I’m sure he will understand how important this is!
            GIRL:  Mom, I don’t wanna—
            MOM:  TELL HIM!  Tell him about getting hit in the head!
            MOM (stabbing me with her scary Helicopter Mom eyes):  Are you the one we come to with locker problems?
            ME:  (Pause, looking around for some excuse, anything, maybe a tidal wave)  Actually, I’m the LIBRARY TECHNICIAN, but...  Yeah.  (Sigh)  Yeah, I do lockers.
            The embarrassed girl explained that she has a bottom locker, and since she happens to be tall for her age, sometimes the boy with the locker above hers accidentally hits her head with the door of his locker.
            The mother jumped in, insisting that of course I must know how much DAMAGE that could do, and that I need to give her daughter a top locker instead.  I explained that there are no extra lockers, in fact we have a SHORTAGE of lockers, so I can’t just give her a top locker.  They’re all taken.  I suggested she find some shrimpy kid with a top locker to trade with.
            The mother then launched into a tirade that was baffling and convoluted and seemed to center around her working in the medical profession in India, before she moved to this country, so she’s an expert on medical matters and has seen many things.  I believe that was the gist of it, but she was sort of babbling in an agitated endless loop, and all I could do was stare and try to figure out if she was mad at ME, or what.
            When she finally wore herself out, she thanked me (for what?) and started to hustle her daughter out of the library. 
            The daughter broke free of her, and surged toward my desk.
            GIRL:  I won’t really have brain damage will I? 
            ME:  What?  You mean from getting hit in the head with the locker door?
            GIRL:  Yes!  Because my mother said I could have PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE from it, and I told her that’s stupid, but she keeps insisting!
             ME (glaring at the mother):  Did you really tell her that?!  Why are you telling your daughter that?!
            ME (turning back to the poor kid):  NO, you will NOT have permanent brain damage from getting hit in the head with the locker door a few times.  But I’ll try to find a top locker you can use as soon as possible.
            GIRL:  Thank you!
            Why do these things always happen at the ass-end of a long day?  After they left I locked the door, shut off the lights, and got the hell outta there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


          BANNED BOOKS WEEK is September 26th - October 2nd.  I have a lot of cool stuff to display for it.  Last year it occurred to me that since I'm (unfortunately) in charge of lockers and combination locks, I might as well use some of the wayward locks in my displays, with an "Unlock Your Mind" theme.  I went a little nuts with it this year, and used copies of pictures of locks, blown up big, to form all the letters.  (The metal hook part was what I used for the letters.)  And I used a picture of a brain on pink paper to dot the "i" in "mind."  Isn't that adorable?
I was quite proud of this idea
          The bulletin board also included the dates (at first I put the 6 upside-down, but don't look at that!), a nice quote from Ben Franklin, and a bitchin' "Censorship causes blindness: READ!" poster.
The main bulletin board

Banned Books Week SIMPLIFIED
          I made this Banned Books Week comic strip when I was working at a junior high school with "less intellectual" students who needed a LOT more explaining before they began to grasp the concepts involved.  It was frequently painful (for us), but we just kept on trying, because it's important.
          In case you can't read the dialogue, it goes like this:

BOY:  I don' get it-- Are we banning books?!  Is that a good thing?!

GIRL:  No!  Banned Books Week is about exercising our FREEDOM to read.

GIRL (continued):  It's about CELEBRATING all the wonderful books that some people are trying to keep us from reading, just because they don't like the IDEAS expressed in them.

GIRL (won't shut up about it!):  Libraries believe in protecting INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM!

BOOK:  I'm just a lil' book with some BIG IDEAS!  Don't ban me just 'cause you don't agree with me!

GIRL:  Save the books!

BOY:  Read an "endangered" book today!

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself"
          In the circular glass display cabinet we displayed books from an American Library Association list of the most frequently challenged and/or banned books.  I scattered some opened padlocks on the shelves, and there are two signs on the back side, explaining the display.
          The first sign reads, "Some people are trying to keep you from reading these books...  These books have been challenged and/or banned from school and public libraries across the nation."
          And the second one says, "Celebrate your freedom to read!"
          The cabinet is unlocked, and I encourage students to check out any books they find interesting.

The Library Key!
          This is a close-up of my favorite part of the display, the "Library Key" which I made from clip-art and blue and chartreuse paper.  Isn't it fancy?!  It's symbolism, get it?  Because the LIBRARY is the KEY which unlocks your MIND.  Duuuude...

          I have one more (very wordy) hand-made poster about BBW, which I direct students to if I don't have time to explain it myself, or if I'm too frazzled and tongue-tied to be coherent about it.  I put it on red, white, and blue paper to make sure kids get the message that there's nothing un-American about intellectual freedom.  Here's the text of it, which I got mostly from the American Library Association, and paraphrased:


          Banned Books Week emphasizes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.


          A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove materials from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

          The positive message of Banned Books Week:  Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.


"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone from here,
either write things worth reading,
or do things worth writing about."
-Benjamin Franklin
          I drew this angsty teenager last year, and I rather like him.  You can't see it in the hazy cell phone pic, but the book he's holding is titled "This And That," and the title visible in his backpack is "Crazy Stuff."  He's sort of based on Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" character as far as the hair, but the rest of him is pure slouchy rail-thin teenager.  I see lots of those.
          The quote I borrowed is from one of our morning bulletins last year.  I usually just roll my eyes at the "quote of the day," but I really liked this one.
          I'm gearing up for Banned Books Week next week, so all the other displays are about that.  We just did 7th grade library orientations, and I braced myself for the onslaught of questions.  Sure enough:
          "What is Banned Books Week?"
          "What does 'censorship' mean?"
          "Are we banning these books in OUR school?!"
          "Why do we celebrate Banned Books Week?"

          (More later on that...)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


          Here are some of the displays I put up in September, with new 7th graders in mind.
          I really hope nobody thinks this first one says "FAG" at first glance.  If so, I'm hoping the happy squirrel will offset it.  Because that squirrel is DEFINITELY queer.
          The conversation is thus, in case you cannot read it:
SQUIRREL:  How many books may I check out?
LIBRARY:  You may have 3 books on loan from the library at one time.
SQUIRREL:  How long may I keep them?
LIBRARY:  Books are always due 2 weeks from when they are borrowed.
                    You may renew your books if you need more time.
SQUIRREL:  'Kay, thanks!
FAQ Squirrel
           For the circular display case I was kind of in a hurry, so the yellow construction paper and blue wrapping paper is supposed to look like sand and sky, like you're at the beach or something.  Hence the sunglasses from the Lost-And-Found.
          Oh, and I like promoting the idea of reading JUST FOR FUN, since there's so much assigned reading heaped on these poor kids.  Especially in a college prep academy.  I don't want them to forget that reading can be a leisure activity!
"What I read just for fun over summer break"
          This year our Library Book Club was granted "official" club status, although they DENIED it as a curriculum-based club.  Which is totally retarded, and I still don't understand.  For one thing because the Library is an actual department, and this club supports OUR curriculum.  For another thing, how does READING not address any other curriculum on campus?!  Lame.
          Not being a curriculum-based club means we can't raise money.  Way to go, district, for making sure the Library has as few sources of funding as possible!
Book club meeting dates
           This next one is right behind the circulation desk.  I'm quite proud of all the themed reading lists we've created, using only books from our collection.  Mystery, Romance, Humor, Define Normal (gay and other atypical families), Dystopian Fiction, etc.  I update them with new titles whenever we acquire new books that fit one of our lists.
"Need a reading suggestion???"
          I left my Summer display on the big bulletin board, just because I thought it was pretty and it wasn't quite time for Banned Books Week, yet.
"Summer... reflect, rejuvenate, & have fun!"
          We didn't have a student search station before, so I redesignated two of our student computers.  Our current circ system, "Alexandria," is web-based or something like that, so there's an actual URL for our library catalog search.  It's pretty cool, man.  I'm hoping all the huge lettering and red borders around the screen will make them notice that these computers are ONLY FOR LIBRARY CATALOG SEARCH.  Should I add, "No games, no porn?"
          Oh, and yeah those are Dewey Decimal posters on the windows.  One in English, one in Spanish.
New Student Search Station!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


          I just finished reading Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward, which served as “inspiration” for the television series.  I love the series, and I really enjoyed the book, but the differences between the two are even more pronounced than is usually the case when books are made into film.  The book is much less about the mystery of what caused the blackout and visions, and more about the psychological effects and ramifications, and intellectual extrapolation on what it all means.  Then at the end it gets pretty cosmic and shoots off WAY into the far-distant future.  Fascinating.
          But the one page I dog-eared (I’m not proud of it!  I’m sorry!) so I’d be able to find it later was a scene set in the author’s vision of what book stores would be like ten years into the future.  But he wrote it in 1999, so his future was actually last year!
          It’s interesting, so I shall provide the passage here:
I wish this edition's cover didn't so heavily
reflect the TV series. But I'm just being picky.

(Following excerpt from Flashforward, by Robert J. Sawyer, copyright 1999)

Day Eight: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jake and Carly Tompkins could have met at TRIUMF, but they decided not to.  Instead, they met at the Chapters superstore in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.  This one still devoted about half its space to actual pre-printed books that were for sale: guaranteed bestsellers by Stephen King, John Grisham, and Coyote Rolf.  But the rest of the facility was taken up by individual display copies of titles that could be printed on demand.  It took only fifteen minutes to produce a single copy of any book, either in mass-market paperback or as an octavo hardcover.  Large-print editions could be had, as well, and computer-translated editions in any one of twenty-four languages could be produced in only an additional few minutes.  And, of course, no title was ever out of stock.
          In a brilliant bit of preadaptive evolution, book superstores had been building coffee shops into their facilities for twenty years now—giving people the perfect place to spend some pleasant time while their custom books were printed.  Jake got to Chapters early, entered the attached Starbucks, ordered himself a tall decaffeinated Sumatra, and found a seat.

Friday, September 10, 2010


"Apply critical thinking, students will!"

          Every day in the school bulletin there's an "ESLR," which stands for something like, "Expected... Student... Learning?  Rutabaga?"  I don't know, some public educational doubletalk like that.  ANYWAY, the ESLR of the day is always worded in this awkward way that makes it seem like Yoda is saying it.  Bugs the crap outta me.  For example, the latest one:

(Yoda's version)  "ESLR of the Day: Apply Critical Thinking and Communication Skills Students will: ready, write, listen and speak with comprehension and clarity"

          If I were to correct it with my red pen, I might put a semi-colon before "students will," and eliminate the colon AFTER "students will.  Plus I would change "ready" to "read," because that's obviously a typo.  Then it would read:

(My corrected version)  "ESLR of the Day:  Apply Critical Thinking and Communication Skills; students will read, write, listen, and speak with comprehension and clarity."

          That's better, right?  Not that I have anything against Yoda.  Really, he's a sweetheart.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


#1 in the "Song of Ice & Fire" series
          I have a weakness for epic fantasy of the Medieval kind.  Kingdoms at war, court intrigue, all of that.  Of course I LOVE George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire, but since the next book in that series is taking FOREVER to be completed, I've been on the hunt for other big honkin' door-stopper dark Medieval fantasy novels.
#1 in "Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone" series
          Gregory Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone had me on the edge of my seat.  I read all 4 books in the series one after the other.  Then I discovered Tad Williams' Shadowmarch, and read the first 2 books, now waiting eagerly for the 3rd in paperback.
#1 in "Shadowmarch" series
          I'm such a sucker for stories that begin with brutal royal assassinations, followed by the heirs of the kingdom having to go on the run as fugitives.  All the better if one of the princesses, not some douchebag prince, reveals herself to be tough as nails and most fit to eventually rule the kingdom.  The antithesis of the Disney Princess syndrome.  And I like magic in SMALL doses, thank you.  Nothing crass or hokey, please.
#1 in the "Acacia" trilogy
          Which brings me to Anthony Durham's Acacia trilogy.  Probably the closest thing I've found to Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and I don't mean that it's a rip-off.  It's epic and masterful and I can't wait to get my hands on the 2nd book, The Other Lands.  By the way, each of the books I'm talking about here average 800 pages, which is a requirement for me when it comes to dark fantasy epics. 
#2 in the "Eyes of God" series, but the BEST cover illustration ever, right?
          Now I'm totally engrossed in John Marco's trilogy: The Eyes of God, The Devil's Armor, and The Sword of Angels.  I've finished the first two, and will have to obtain the last one soon.  I know it's super nerdy, but I find it really awesome that the focal point of the kingdom in Marco's series is a giant LIBRARY.  Wars are fought over it, partially because of what a library stands for, and partially because of a mysterious and revolutionary "cataloging machine" built by the Librarian.  (It just figures that even in fantasy fiction people only get pro-active about the library when technology is involved.)  Plus there's a magic city across the desert where the crippled and deformed obtain miraculous powers from long-dead spirits with the help of a midget called The Witch of Grimhold.  How cool is that?  Well, I mean it's cool if you're a fantasy nerd like me.
          Toward the end of the second book in the series I ran across the following line that sells the whole thing, as far as I'm concerned.
          "I think you've brought poison into my library, Baron Glass."
          That one line is all I need to be totally hooked.  And I wish MY name was "Baron Glass."

Thursday, September 2, 2010


          In the Santa Ana Public Library Children's Room way back in the sepia-toned 1990s, I discovered an old copy of Rosemary's Witch by Ann Turner, published in 1991.
          I was instantly entranced by the lyrical, melancholy poetry of this small yet powerful novel.  It's really beautifully written. Turner portrays the witch, Mathilda, with a keen sense of aching loneliness.  Almost every line is graceful. For example, the first few lines of the book:

In the smoky blue-green hills of summer, where the phoebe calls and hawks sail lazily overhead, is a town called Woodhaven.  That is where it began.
   It was a town like a hat someone had thrown away for being too plain, for not having bird wings on it or bobbing strawberries.

          Then in the following chapter, when we're introduced to the witch:

She found the cottage one day as she flew low over her woods.  Mathilda almost missed it, the black, rotting roof hidden by two pines.  She settled slowly to earth and walked in.
   "Home."  The word squeezed out.  The edges of her mouth flaked.  "Home," she creaked.  Not a cave.  Not a dark, wet hole in a rock.  She sighed.

          Later, Mathilda finds an old ragged doll by the stream, under a rock.  It's faceless, and the stuffing is mostly gone.  Mathilda cradles it, cleans it, and stuffs it full of moss and pine needles.

   "Doll."  Her mouth hurt.  "Who left you-- there?"  Abandoned.  Left alone.  Cold winds and cold rain on the doll's face.  Dogs nosing her.  A cold rock her roof.

          How could I not love this book?!  It sent chills through me, and I never forgot it.  Flipping through it now, I even think it influenced my own writing.  At least it made me want to TRY to write something that nuanced and evocative.
          The copy I read was hardback, and had a moody cover that I wish I could remember better.  I think it had a ragged, faceless doll, and maybe the hazy form of a withered old woman behind a dirty window. I KNOW it was better than the picture on the stupid paperback, which I recently picked up for $1 in a used book store.
          I had brought book donations in for credit, which is the sad way we get most of my library's "new" books now.  I was so excited to find this subtle diamond of a book that I bought it even though the paperback cover looks like this:
Totally looks like The Babysitter's Club Halloween Special #368
          This craptastic Scholastic cover in NO WAY reflects what this book is really like.  It pains me.  I even searched online for a picture of the old hardback cover illustration, just to make myself feel better, but couldn't find it anywhere.  Maybe it's not even as cool as I remember, but it's certainly better than the one above.
          I plan to really push this book now that it's ready for checkout.  I will keep displaying it, and talking it up to the kids I think will appreciate it. 
          Especially during October.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The answer is yes.

          Our Back To School night is tonight, and just yesterday my principal emailed me to say, “The library will be open for Back To School Night, right?”
          I thought, “Crap...” But I wrote back, “Does that mean you’d LIKE it to be open?”
          So of course she wrote back, “Yes, I think that would be nice.”
          I sarcastically referred to myself as “Your Humble Library Servant,” and she responded by signing off as my, “Grateful Master.”
          The trade-off is that I get to leave early on Friday, which is a nice carrot to dangle before my scabby pink nose.
          But today I will have spent THIRTEEN HOURS at work by the time I leave. Hello, Baby Jesus? Are you watching? I hope so.
          So here I sit.
          Back To School is when the parents have to go class-to-class, meeting all their kids’ teachers, so there’s not really free time left for the library. But having said that, I’ve already had about 20 kids in here (mostly 7th graders), and several parents, and it’s not even half over. I’ve even been checking books out. So... you know, whatever. I guess being here won’t KILL me.
          I’m processing new books. A bunch of Kerouac one of the teachers donated. That was exciting because being a college prep school with some angsty philosophers, I’ve been asked for Kerouac before, and been empty-handed.
          Just had a chatty father in here. He’s a nice guy, and came to my last signing at a local comic shop (promoting issue #1 of The Royal Historian of Oz) with his daughter and son. His daughter is now my 3rd period Library Aide. He wanted to tell me he read my graphic novel, Skelebunnies, and thought it was really funny. That happens to be my filthiest work to date, and I WARNED him when his daughter came up to me at the signing with it, but he said it was okay. I signed it, “I’m terribly sorry for all the horrible things you’ll see in this book.” For example, my parody of Hello Kitty/My Little Pony, which is called “My Little Penis.”
          And now that poor girl is my Library Aide. But she’s cool enough not to be scared. Or scarred.
          Her father said she was excited to get to be my Library Aide. I had her doing non-fiction inventory today for a full hour, which is tedious, and she didn’t even complain. She gets bonus points for that.
          45 minutes left of Back To School Night.  Sigh...
          One of my teacher friends is telling her new little 7th graders that I’m a writer/artist, so they’re coming in and asking me about it. Since I’m not in self-promotion mode when I’m at work, and I’ve been at work for ALMOST 13 HOURS STRAIGHT, I’m kind of slow to respond. I’m like, “Oh, well, yeah. I write and sometimes illustrate comics.”
          The tiny 7th graders stare expectantly while I continue methodically putting clear contact paper covers on the new paperbacks. I finally catch on.
          “Oh! Did you want to see some of them?”
          So I show them Wonderland and Royal Historian, which are the only 2 school library appropriate things I’ve done. We do NOT have Skelebunnies in the school library.
          I notice a kid reading my hand-made poster explaining the “spine label” and “call number” of a library book. Good. Every child should learn what a call number is.
          The attendance clerk just called me, and apparently two of our parents' cars were broken into this evening, right across the street.  This shit just got real.  Is Back To School Night over, yet?!


          In the 1990s I worked in the Children's Room of the Santa Ana Public Library.  I LOVED it there.  One of my favorite author/artists I discovered in the picture book section was William Steig.  (He created the original Shrek picture book, which looks nothing like the movie)
          The Amazing Bone was my favorite of Steig's works.  It's the story of Pearl, a dainty piglet in a cheery spring frock who finds a magical talking bone that's fallen out of a witch's basket.  The bone is so awesome it manages to save Pearl from robbers, and a hungry fox.  But I won't tell you how, you'll have to read the book.
(Keep your mind out of the gutter)

          Sometimes I ended up in charge of Children's activities, such as showing the old (barely-)animated film of The Amazing Bone to a bunch of kids in our Storytime Room.  The entrance to the Storytime Room was painted to look like the drawbridge of a medieval castle.  Bitchin', right?  Anyway, this old film cracked me up because Pearl the pig was obviously voiced by a man, and the pacing was very slooow and drawn out.  The best line was some part where Pearl is in peril and moans, "Oh, Bone..." in this really overwrought way.
          My best friend Julie (our Young Adult Librarian) and I used to make fun of that a lot.  Actually, we still do, when applicable.  Julie even made me a special bookmark from the cover of a discarded copy of The Amazing Bone.
          But "The Amazing Bone" has a dual meaning for me (I thought I said to keep your mind out of the gutter, that's not what I'm talking about!) because I also think of my favorite library tool as "The Amazing Bone."
          What is this marvelous library tool?  Why, it's a "bone folder," used when putting the mylar covers on hardback dustjackets, and also & especially used to smooth out air bubbles when applying clear contact paper to paperbacks to make them sturdier and more impervious to wear.  This simple bone folder is amazing and mysterious.  Is it really made from whale bone?  No one knows.  (Well, I don't know, and I'm the only one here.)
"Oh, Bone..."
          The Library Bone makes the most perfect, crisp folds, and makes contact paper glide on like silk.  Sometimes I can't find my Library Bone, and I curse and rail at God until it appears again.
          This brings me to another fond memory from those public library Children's Room years.  An older librarian, Jane, had been working on something that required a bone folder, but apparently she couldn't find it.  So, being from an older generation and rather naive, she moved slowly back and forth in our work area, asking everyone, "Have you seen the boner?  I can't find the boner.  Does anyone know where it is?"