Books Behind Bars

Posted on February 21, 2018 in Documents Delivered, General  |  0 Comments

Our last blog featured just a brief book review of Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books: the Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. Check it out here. The concept of a prison librarian is rather foreign to the general public. “What, a library in prison?! Why do inmates need to read?…” You can imagine how a conversation about it might go. Regardless of the type of question, there will almost certainly be questions.

As readers learned from Steinberg’s book, being a prison librarian is about librarianship as much as it is about other humane duties. The author did not have any library experience whatsoever, yet he was selected for the job. What does a typical day look like in this profession? Well, thanks to a recent article by Andrew Hart, aptly titled “A Day in the Life of a Prison Librarian,” we can get a pretty good idea. A lot of this was also covered in Steinberg’s non-fiction read too.

Some people don’t even realize prisons have libraries. Naturally, they might be curious what a prison librarian would do. (I know I was.) In any given day, a prison librarian:

  • Puts on an authoritative air in order to maintain the security hierarchy and safety (safety is the most important!)
  • Deals with inmate altercations
  • Endures impromptu lock-downs in times of compromised safety
  • Catalogs donated books (which sometimes come from the inmates or inmates’ families, or the librarians themselves)
  • Seeks out and destroys “kites” (contraband notes left in books)
  • Establishes either a place for respite for inmates’ sanity (something to do), or a place for them to perform law research in hopes of overturning their convictions, or both
  • Treats the patrons with respect and courtesy, but does not befriend them (maintaining professional boundaries is critical)
  • Responds to requests and needs that the library can fulfill, such as procuring books on topics of interest (author James Patterson is very popular among inmates)
  • Plans and oversees constructive side projects, such as creative writing classes and community service projects for inmates

After reading up on the subject, it’s hard not to agree with Hart, that “a book can literally change a life in prison.” Libraries are magical places out in the free world, and it would seem only appropriate that they are even more special for incarcerated folks. Moreover, the job of prison librarian, though challenging and scary at times, is undoubtedly just as uniquely special.

Running the Books: the Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian (book review)

Posted on February 19, 2018 in Documents Delivered, General  |  0 Comments

In researching for a blog recently, I found mention of a book that I knew I would have to read: Running the Books: the Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg. See, document delivery might be my day job, but if you haven’t noticed, we really do eat, breathe, and sleep documents in this office. We are always on the lookout for good industry-related reading material. And this title, well, it definitely captured my interest. I have just a short book review for you. Let me know if you have read it, too, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

At first glance, the content just seems plain interesting, to read about a subculture that many of us have been affected by but have not experienced directly. Prisons exist in parallel to mainstream culture, with inmates mimicking “normal” everyday activities like meals, exercise, social dynamics, jobs (for the well-behaved), and free time, which for many includes trips to the store or library. Ah, the library, full of books, also known as “mailboxes.” The library became a place for many things in this Boston prison.

At times I felt conflicted about the irony, of me curling up to this book about imprisoned people and their relationship to the outside world via their library, while I myself, a free person, caught a glimpse of life “on the inside” through a book I checked out at my public library. Sometimes I felt guilty; often I felt saddened by the injustices endured by the inmates and then moved by their collective resilience. Granted, they are convicted criminals, but thriving in prison is tough. Sitting at my work desk, I would wish I were reading and catching up with the cast of characters and their restricted shenanigans. Would CC Too Sweet ever get to produce his cooking show, “Thug Sizzle”? Would Jessica be reunited with the son she abandoned as a baby but saw in the same prison? Who would self-help-book his way to a re-trial or exoneration?

In the end, this book was about so much more than just a prison library. There’s an entire story of reflection, growth, and change happening with the author, Steinberg, that is almost as penetrating and moving as the stories of the inmates. Steinberg had a strict Jewish upbringing and worked as an obituary writer before haphazardly applying for a job as a prison librarian with zero experience. Can you imagine the butcherings of the Jewish author’s name, Avi Steinberg? Yep, that happens, among other things…

I had to pull out my dictionary a handful of times to look up some words, which is always appreciated. Overall, this was an important and meaningful book, a solid B in my humble reader’s opinion. On my list of complaints: I did feel like some side stories were longer than they needed to be; some editing, paring down, and/or better structure could have benefited the book; and a lot of the geographical information didn’t quite capture my interest (I never even felt the urge to pull out a map, but maybe that’s just me). The book did leave me feeling uplifted, though, by seeing the little personal victories of the incarcerated souls. One might even argue that their lives were better in prison. In any case, I’ve gained some perspective and insight into this foreign world, which always makes a book a worthy read.

-Melissa Freeman, Director of Delivery

Professional Book Review Entities

Posted on February 16, 2018 in General  |  0 Comments

I always thought it would be a neat job to write the blurbs on the backs of books—you know, those brief but important paragraphs that are designed to give the reader some insight about the book, but not too much, or else they won’t want to read it. Sometimes in lieu of those descriptions, there are just reviews, and sometimes a review is actually exactly what you need. Backside blurbs are good for casual readers browsing shelves at, say, Barnes and Noble. Media agents, bookstore buyers, and various editors utilize more in-depth, professional reviews in order to make promotion decisions. Within this realm, there are 4 main entities whose professional reviews you have likely read without realizing who wrote them.

Publishers Weekly is a very popular weekly trade news magazine, publishing since 1872. Its tagline is “The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling.” Freelance reviewers provide short reviews, usually about 200-250 words, and rarely are already published books included in the mix. Mostly they cover books that are set to be released in the next 2-4 months. Reviews generally fill the majority of pages in each issue and they are worth roughly $200 a year for thousands of subscribers. Other tidbits include business news, bestseller lists, and other information relative to publishers, booksellers, librarians and media agents. PW’s website also offers a podcast.

Kirkus Reviews mean business. They are all reviews and no gossip. They’ve been “an authoritative voice in book discovery for 80 years,” providing “a sneak peek at the most notable books being published weeks before they’re released.” The “Kirkus Star” is a prestigious designation in the book industry (you can see examples here). Kirkus reviews 7,000+ titles a year and releases reviews twice a month. Kirkus offers “Kirkus Prizes” to various authors of fiction and nonfiction, totaling around $50,000 annually.

Library Journal was founded by none other than the inventor of the Dewey decimal system, Melvil Dewery. LJ is classified as an American trade publication for librarians, so it does not just focus on reviews, although it does publish 8,000+ of them each year, covering ebooks, audiobooks, videos/DVDs, databases, systems and websites. So you can see that the journal covers a practical and wide range of topics from the library world, with an emphasis on public libraries and the practice of librarianship. It also reviews library-related equipment.

Booklist is another biggie, published by the respectable American Library Association for the past 100+ years. Booklist is a reliable source of information catering to library buyers and readers. A quarterly supplement, Book Links, offers content for teachers, youth librarians, school library media specialists, and curriculum coordinators, in order to facilitate successful literature-based connections. As expected, Booklist publishes reviews for books whose release dates are at least 15 weeks out. Annual online subscriptions cost about $170. The website offers free e-newsletters and webinars.

The longstanding history of all these entities is impressive, a solid measurement of their quality. So, while we can’t all have the privilege of creating the back cover content of a new book, you could become a contributing reviewer to one of these publications, and get paid for it! There really is an art to crafting a winning, concise, and informative write-up, so if that’s your special talent, you’re set.

Do you have a different favorite book review publication or source? If so, please do share.

Puzzle On

Posted on February 14, 2018 in Documents Delivered, General  |  0 Comments

There’s something about a crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee to get the morning going. Maybe it’s the challenge that wakes the brain up. Maybe it’s the instant gratification of filling in all those boxes. Or maybe it’s just the coffee. In any case, crossword on! Here’s a document delivery-inspired crossword we created just for you. Feel free to save and print it, and share it with your colleagues. Let us know if you need an answer key, but we are confident you can tackle all these clues, just like we tackle your toughest document requests.

Did you know that the first crossword puzzle was published in 1913?? The New York World’s Sunday paper printed what is widely recognized as the first crossword puzzle, attributed to a journalist named Arthur Wynne. The book, The Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now, published in 2013 for the centennial celebration of crosswords, probes the topic in depth. Check it out if you get a chance.



Literary Salon vs Book Club

Posted on February 12, 2018 in General  |  0 Comments

The concept of a literary salon seems relatively modern, but did you know that it harks back to older times? In which would you rather participate, a literary salon or a book club? To help answer that question, the folks over at booksparks created this funny infographic. (click to enlarge)

Happy Monday, fellow book lovers!

They’ve Come Unhinged, er, Unshelved

Posted on February 9, 2018 in Comics, Documents Delivered, General  |  0 Comments

Librarians know how to have fun, that’s for sure. Just one glance at the cover artwork for Library Mascot Cage Match, and you’ll understand why. Even the synopsis is pretty great:

What’s so funny about a library? Just about everything, as you’ll find out in Library Mascot Cage Match, the third Unshelved collection. In addition to a year’s worth of comic strips featuring library mascots duking it out and the return of the masked mystery man known only as “the Shusher,” LMCM features the all-new full-color graphic novelette Empire County Strikes Back. Can Mallville’s librarians defeat the mother of all bookmobiles?

Unshelved is a daily comic strip set in a library, the Mallville (a play on Superman’s Smallville) Public Library, to be precise. Co-authors and illustrator Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum (not his real name) shared their view of what it’s like to exist in a library space, from 2002-2016. Guest illustrator Chris Hallbeck replaced Gene Ambaum in the final days of new comic production, and the strip published its final new comic on November 9, 2016. Lucky for us, they reuse their material, so when you visit their website or sign up for their feed, you can still re-live the 14 years’ worth of gems.

Just take a look at some of these characters! One can only imagine the shenanigans they encounter:

Dewey is a teen services librarian. When confronted with rude or crazy customers, he says the things we’d like say, but we don’t because it would get us fired. He’s got a way with teens because he’d rather be reading comics or playing video games. Coffee and a sense of irony see him through new library polices, and help him deal with bad behavior.

Tamara is a children’s librarian. She enjoys Aikido, storytime, vegan cookbooks, and rainbows. Tamara is cheery and idealistic, but don’t cross her. Her favorite letter is “T.”

Colleen is an old school reference librarian. She often feigns feigning computer illiteracy, and will defend the print reference collection to the death, if need be. She recently retired under the best possible circumstances and is set to become a nightmare patron (she knows where all the skeletons are buried AND what rules they broke). Doreen is her daughter.

Mel is the library’s beleaguered manager. Caught between an unreasonable administration and noncompliant staff, she tries to keep the chaos to a minimum. Her great passions are fly fishing and office supplies. Mel can’t state an opinion that isn’t immediately contradicted by events.

Buddy is a former summer reading mascot who was hired as a library page. He still wears his costume every day. Despite a colorful past and a weak grip on reality, Buddy single-handedly keeps the books on the shelves.

Elsie is the Mallville Public Library System’s cataloger. No one ever sees her do anything except knit, but the work all magically gets done. She rarely leaves the admin building’s basement.

Merv spends a lot of time in the library for someone who doesn’t like to read. He enjoys action figures, web surfing, and video games. Dewey is either his idol, the only person who will talk to him, or both.

Ned is Mallville’s media-savvy attorney. He is also a civil libertarian who exercises his freedom of expression in a unique way.

If you find yourself in need of some hilarious, relevant, and perhaps all too relatable reading material, take a gander at the collection of Unshelved book title collections at Goodreads.

Specialized Help for Those Tricky Tasks

Posted on February 7, 2018 in Documents Delivered, General  |  0 Comments

Custom projects are the wildcards of our work days. Each one is different and sometimes we don’t know what we’re getting into until we’re knee deep. Surely at some point or another, you will have a need for one of the various services that we call Custom Projects, so let’s cover a few of the basics.

What qualifies as a custom project?

  • Dictionary Definitions (multiple entries/sources)
  • Citation Searches
  • General Keyword Searches
  • Authorship Searches
  • Physician’s Desk Reference entries (multiple entries/years)
  • Microfilm/microfiche Searches

One thing that is important to remember is that, due to the nature of the custom project, standard turnaround times don’t always apply. If you need results in a rush, we’ll process the project faster than our standard turnaround, but the ASAP turnaround time of just a few hours isn’t quite feasible with these projects.

We do not complete these in-house. We have contracted researchers with years of experience in their field who provide us with their specialized knowledge and expertise. Though our researchers are fantastic, these projects simply take more time to complete than our standard orders.

When it comes to billing, we charge by the hour, with a half-hour minimum charge. We must bill for all time spent on the project, even if we do not produce the results you are hoping for, or we do not find any results at all. Our rates are $130/hr for regular turnaround, and $190/hr for expedited service. You can specify a time and/or cost cap for us to not exceed.

Maybe you have a need that isn’t covered here, or you need more questions answered? We’re always open to discuss your custom projects, so don’t be afraid to get in touch.

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