A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Sy Montgomery Author Photo

There’s Going to be Enough Splendor to Dazzle You: A Conversation with Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery’s books crack open the interior lives of animals and provoke readers to look at their world from a new perspective, whether it’s The Good, Good Pig, a loving tribute to her pet pig Christopher Harwood, or The Soul of an Octopus, where she immersed herself into the world of octopi to explore their emotional intelligence. With her latest book, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, she turns that remarkable focus onto herself. In wide-ranging essays marked by her matter-of-fact candor, she examines her relationship with thirteen very different animals and the myriad lessons they taught her. Publishers Weekly praised the book, stating, “Montgomery’s lyrical storytelling and resonant lessons on how animals can enhance our humanity result in a tender, intelligent literary memoir,” while Nick Jans raved that it “stands as a vivid reminder of the deep and necessary connection we share with all living things.”

Lynn Truss Author Photo

Lynne Truss on Not Giving Everything Away, Big Characters, and Being the Cleverest Person in the Room

Lynne Truss is perhaps best known in the U.S. for her lauded book on grammar, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but with A Shot in the Dark she establishes herself as a gifted comic mystery writer, mixing equal parts Christie with Wodehouse. Based on characters Truss originally created for a series of successful radio dramas, A Shot in the Dark takes place in the seemingly idyllic resort town of Brighton. When a fatuous theater critic is murdered on opening night of a touring theatrical troupe’s play, the idealistic Constable Twitten finds himself embroiled in a crime that stretches back to an infamous bank robbery decades prior. Joined by his lovestruck colleague, Sergeant Brunswick, and the station’s sagacious charlady, Mrs. Groynes, Twitten uses his wits to solve not only the murder, but also ferret out a criminal mastermind who has been hiding in plain sight for years. A darkly comic romp, A Shot in the Dark has been widely met with praise. The Guardian raved, “with plenty of brightly coloured bucket-and-spadery, including ghost trains and Punch and Judy and variety acts, this clever, tongue-in-cheek escapade is a perfect summer read.”

Constructive Confrontation: Being Decisive Rather than Nice

After a training presentation on dealing with challenging patrons, a young woman who works in our youth services department asked me, “How should I respond when a man says to me, ‘I’m glad I brought my library card today because I’m checking you out?’” Interesting question: I suppose it depends on the context. If she didn’t mind the comment, then fine. If, however, she found the situation frightening or she felt offended, I suggested that she tell him how what he said made her feel. She needn’t smile or worry about hurting his feelings. Being nice about it will only get her more of the same sort of comments.

Ransomware at the Library: Time to Boost Your Cybersecurity

Your computer has been locked! Computer blocked! Your personal files are encrypted! Oops your personal files are encrypted! These are the nightmare ransomware messages libraries, hospitals, and communities are seeing across the country. Whole municipalities and major state departments are seeing attacks. Mecklenburg County in Charlotte (NC), the city of Atlanta, and the Colorado Department of Transportation are recent victims. Public libraries in Spartanburg County (SC), St. Louis (MO), and Brownsburg (IN) have also fallen prey.

Reaching for Memories: Expanding Services and Programming to Patrons Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease has personally affected millions of Americans and their families. Someone you know has likely suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or will in the future. Whether having served as a caretaker, provided monetary support, or offered comfort and guidance to those in need, your life will be touched by Alzheimer’s. Libraries are uniquely able to provide essential support and services to patrons living with memory loss and their caretakers.

Journey to a Makerspace

When the primary focus of our school districts became reading and math scores, art and STEM classes were the first to get cut from the daily curriculum. My library saw this as an opportunity to provide supplemental programming to fill this gap. In fall 2016, the Zion-Benton (IL) Library District (ZBLD) opened the Sandbox makerspace for patrons of all ages to create masterpieces, explore new things, and do something amazing. ZBLD is comprised of three communities in the Northeast corner of Illinois. We serve a diverse working-class population. Our mission is simply to broaden horizons and expose patrons to the universe of knowledge and ideas for discovery, enrichment, and lifelong learning.

Successful Beginnings

When I was asked to stand for election as PLA president, I remarked that I had never served on the PLA board and maybe that would be a barrier to serving. The nominating committee representative reminded me that I had served on other boards and certainly knew what might be expected. Had I ever led a meeting? Well, yes, many. Then there will be no problem, was the answer. Having served on PLA committees, I understood the organization, which should be helpful. So I ran. I appreciate being elected—thank you all who voted for me. Little did I know that I would be joining a group of some of the finest library superheroes I have ever known and would be dedicating my time, this new start, to a wonderful team experience.

Many Hands Make for Better Work: Enhancing the Library with Entry-Level Workers

My first library job was working as a page in a mid-sized public library. At that time pages had three main duties- check books in, shelve them, and shelf-read the shelves. There were odd jobs we’d occasionally do, but by-and-large those three tasks comprised the job. Years later, now with a master’s degree and in my first professional librarian position, I found myself in an academic library with a similar structure. Now called student aides, this entry level position had a core set of duties though this time they also included staffing the circulation desk and performing other additional duties. However, over the past three years, the Fulton Library at Utah Valley University has expanded the way it uses student workers with great success. Originally working almost entirely in the Circulation department, the student aides’ jobs were expanded first to include Technical Services, and following that success, to other departments as well. Looking back to my time at a public library, I believe many public libraries could profit from a similar expansion. How this evolved at Fulton Library may help you to integrate entry-level positions to new locations in your own library.

Bullet Journaling: Putting Pen to Paper

To-do lists that don’t get done. Perfect planners that go untouched for days or months at a time. Important information jotted on scraps of paper and promptly misplaced. Notes-to-self that are incomprehensible. If that describes your current organization system, it might be time for you to try Bullet Journaling. This latest trend in organization and planning is an immersive experience that combines productivity and mindfulness to help you discover the optimum system that works best for you. The best thing about it? Anyone can pick up a pen and paper and get started right away.

Innovation Revolution at Gwinnett County Library

Getting out into the community, participating and partnering with other organizations and institutions, requires considerable staff time. As you’ll read later in this article, the reward is most definitely worth the effort. But finding that staff time is not easy, and some libraries will need to get inventive in order to allocate scarce staff resources efficiently.

Cool Tech I Didn’t Hear About at PLA

A few months back, while planning for the next few issues of this column, I penciled in the topic “Cool Things I Heard About at PLA.” Then a snowstorm, a full day in the Houston airport (I started in Chicago), and no PLA conference for me. Instead of things I heard, here are some tech trends that I imagine would have come up in conversation.

Telling Our Story

One of my responsibilities as PLA president is to represent public libraries when we receive inquiries from the press. To be the voice for 25,000 libraries can be a bit daunting. However, as the year has progressed, it has turned out to be one of my favorite responsibilities. It is a privilege and a joy to represent this beloved, essential institution.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Author Photo

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah on Redemption, Unlearning Things, and the Patience of Working Retail

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black is sure to be one of 2018’s most significant books. This stunning collection of short stories thrusts the reader into bizarre and frightening territories, from an all-too-real theme park that commercializes racism to a big box superstore in the throes of Black Friday madness. In each story, Adjei-Brenyah compassionately examines his characters’ plights, fully exploring their humanity with wit and precision. Friday Black has already been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Fiction, and The New York Times Book Review hailed it as “an unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice.”

Ling Ma Author Photo

Ling Ma on Mob Mentalities, Boring Typography, and the Apocalypse

Candace Chen is a dedicated office drone in the publicity department of a big-time publishing house, deftly negotiating contracts for the novelty Bibles her company churns out year after year. Only when a society-erasing plague, a mysterious fever that rends its victims into a zombie-like existence, wipes out most of her co-workers does Candace reluctantly […]

Neal Bascomb Author Photo

Neal Bascomb on the Incredible Escape from Holzminden Prison

Neal Bascomb brings the harrowing escape from Holzminden prison to thrilling life in The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. Holzminden prison was Gemany’s seemingly inescapable POW prison, run by the tyrannical commandant Karl Niemeyer. Yet through meticulous planning and ingenious subterfuge, nearly a dozen […]