Book Riot Live 2016

In November 2016 I was lucky enough to be in New York for Book Riot Live, a book convention for Book Rioters and the general reading community. And by lucky enough I mean I bought my ticket in April to make sure I had no excuse not to go in 2016 having missed the inaugural 2015 convention. You can check out the link above or simply Google it, but suffice it to say there was a smorgasboard of authors in attendance. I got me a selfie with Mara Wilson (Yes, she was Matilda and has recently written Where am I now?) and chatted with Meg Medina (Burn Baby Burn)and Charlie Jane Anders (All the birds in the sky) at the Strand Rare Book Room party! I listened to Walter Mosley drop some amazing lines in his conversation with Book Riot’s own Rebecca Schinsky: “I believe in the soul because it feels like I have one”, “All writing is political”. His commentary on Trump winning the election was gold, as were his thoughts about how to get more people into the New York Public Library: “We should just call it how it sounds … The nipple! People would come.” I bet they would!

Me and Mara ;)

And, to my everlasting joy, there were also two panels with librarians!

Rethinking Justice was a highly interesting panel discussing the complexities of the prison system and it was so good to hear from a correctional services librarian, Emily Jacobsen, about her experiences on Rikers Island, New York. Prisons are a symbol of apathy and Emily spoke about how writing in prisons is well-documented in terms of how it helps prisoners activate, communicate and have agency. She spoke of how reading was described by a prisoner as a ‘sanity lifeline’, that being able to pick your own book was a powerful thing when choices in general are limited and she also mentioned how prison librarians can be very silo’d with no internet and often greatly limited resources.

Baz Dreisinger was also on this panel and spoke eloquently about the philosophical concept of ‘restorative justice’ which focuses on who was harmed and how we can help restore justice through reparations and reconciliation. She also spent time in Australia for her book Incarceration Nations, a book which is now high on my tbr list!

The third panelist was Valentine De Landro, Canadian comic book artist and illustrator, and co-creator of Bitch Planet, a fabulous series portraying a dystopian reality where non-compliant women are sent to an off-planet prison. Valentine was a quiet speaker on this panel but one thing he said stuck with me and it was this: Many voices coming together to make one LOUD voice is important. It is important to raise our voices now in order to be sure that the vision Bitch Planet portrays is never close to becoming a reality.

Rethinking Justice panel

For me though, the best panel was Libraries, Beyond The Books (coincidentally the new library strategy for Melbourne Library Service is called Books and Beyond …!) which featured three amazing librarians and discussed the ways that libraries support their communities beyond simply providing books for loan.

Shakira Smalls is currently the Queens Library’s Job & Business Academy Job Search Training Coordinator. She was engaging and articulate and spoke about a number of really fascinating programs and initiatives including their flagship Jobs Certification program which, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, has proven especially useful and effective for the community. She also spoke about the Queens Hip Hop Librarian (what a job title!) and how Queens Library staff recognised that they were struggling to attract teenagers so thought about what would be engaging to that demographic and purposefully went about developing their Hip Hop collection, at the back of the library (so the young people would have to walk past everything else they could borrow!) and with a staff member to run events and programs which celebrate the positive evolution of Hip Hop culture. So cool!

Nicholas Higgins is the Director of Outreach Services for Brooklyn Public Library Service (BPL). Nick was incredibly inspiring and spoke about a number of amazing programs running at BPL such as their Citizenship classes, TeleStory (which is such an unbelievably wonderful initiative, check it out if you don’t know about it already!) and how they have social workers in the library. When he told us how long it took to get some of these programs up and running I was gob smacked — 4 years for a social worker in the library, 5 years for TeleStory. His determination and focus on serving his community shone through. When asked about his thoughts on what a ‘modern library’ is Nick spoke about libraries as sanctuary, now more than ever. (FYI, this was the week after the election and a lot of people were feeling stressed and scared.) He argued for more diverse leadership and spoke about the need to leverage our values of access and inclusion and create spaces for critical thinking and reflection. I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Nick after the convention and that interview will go live on CardiCast later in 2017.

Sara Quiroz is a Culinary Librarian at The International Culinary Center and writes the newsletter Snacks in the Stacks. What a fascinating thing it is to be a Culinary Librarian! Sara spoke about working in a special library and the various programs she has introduced such as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food sharing program, cooking demonstrations and classes in writing and publishing cookbooks! She was also kind enough to speak with me after the convention and that interview will be available mid January 2017 via CardiCast.

Beyond the books panel

Each of these wonderful librarians spoke about being empathetic — knowing who our community is and trying to discover what it is they need from their library service. They also had common themes around using technology to enable serving more patrons, or serving more of their needs, whether that is through utilising databases, videoconferencing or other tech.

I also mananaged to get to three, that’s right, THREE live podcast recordings! As one-half of Dear Reader and the producer of CardiCast you may think that I have a bit of a thing for podcasts … and you’d be right! All The Books by Book Riot was the podcast which inspired me to attempt something similar here in Melbourne and it was wonderful to be part of the live audience!

All the books live recording at BRLive

Overall, it was a truly brilliant weekend spent with readers and writers and just some pretty amazing people really! I was exhausted after so much talking, but profoundly inspired and am looking forward to taking what I learnt and incorporating what I can in my work here in Melbourne.

Lastly, I think one of the chief things I learnt was that librarians are pretty similar the world over … we are passionate, hard-working, inclusive and diverse folk and we do whatever we can (even if it takes years) to give our communities the services they need.

And we can talk an awful lot too!

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