Monday, December 22, 2014

Moving a Library, Stage 3

I guess the trials of life bring common phrases to mind. I began the last update with "the devil is in the details," and another common saying rolling around my head in this next phase of moving is, "the best laid plans," the origin of which is a poem by Robert Burns, as well as a remark of Ma Ingalls', "no loss without some small gain," both of which exemplify our next step in moving a monster, otherwise known as our beloved library.

{All packed and ready to load}

Last week we were a wee bit ahead of schedule as my husband finished painting, cleared debris, glued carpet seams. Gleefully we rented the biggest moving truck we could secure for our purposes, knowing that a second trip was inevitable as our math assured us that 50 bookcases, five tables, the book carts, and who knows how many boxes (we still haven't a final count on those) would not all make it into the truck. Two nights before the big day, a friend whom we haven't seen in months and is not a member of the library, e-mailed to ask if we could use a trailer for the big event. Since we live in an area where the weather is more likely to rain than not, we were reluctant to use an open vehicle, but, oh joy, we were told it was a covered trailer. The truth of the Christmas message "God with us," and unexpected angels sent with good news is an extra cause for thanks.

{Moving boxes to get to the bookcases}

{A giant puzzle of bookcases and boxes of books}

So, with my two young sons and another boy who is a library member, my husband set off to tackle the emptying of the old library room. Emily insisted upon overseeing the loading, "I'm too much of a control freak to let them do it without me," her defense. I gladly undertook the task of minding her baby at home. It took between three and four hours to load all the furniture and boxes onto the truck and into the trailer and, ready for some lunch, they set out to make the 25 mile journey to our new home.
{Big Truck is almost full}

Our original plan was to remove the bookcases first, arrange them, then bring in the boxes last so that we would not be hampered by their formidable stacks or have to move them out of the way repeatedly. Since we were fortunate in not having to make two trips, one for bookcases, a second for the boxes, this did not work out quite satisfactorily. In order to stabilize the upright bookcases on the vehicle and pack as efficiently as possible, boxes were the first things that needed to be unloaded. As I said, we still have no idea how many of these hefty boxes there are, but stacking them along one 25 foot long wall in three tiers was not sufficient to keep them out of the way. Two men and three boys were fatiguing by mid afternoon when our discovery that our plan on paper for the arrangement of the shelving was not working.

Apparently, minor measurement discrepancies of our variously-sized bookcase dimensions was enough to throw off the entire plan. The patience of all the lifters was tried as Emily and I suggested that first one, then another heavy bookcase be removed from one spot to another, then others pushed and pulled into position to maximize shelf and floor space, again and again.

By 5:00 p.m., after nine hours of backbreaking lifting, hauling, carrying, and shoving, we called a halt. Everyone was exhausted, hungry, and Emily's baby was protesting, "enough!" - in so many wails.

The good news is that no bookcases, many of which have seen hard service for many years, and most of which are not of great construction quality, fell apart. Everything was moved. All books and furniture were in their new home. The space we had in the previous library has been increased by 33%. In spite of the misjudged accommodations (let this be a living math lesson for our children), we still get to acquire six new bookcases to hold the 20 boxes of books we have not had room to bring into the library before. Furthermore, there were no injuries or accidents as a result of all the exertions.

{Starting to set up the new space}

The site is not pretty yet. There is much work ahead to rearrange a suitable flow of traffic in and out and around the new space. Lights need to be installed before we can begin unpacking and shelving, bookcases need to be anchored in place, and my boys have lots of lifting and stacking of heavy cartons ahead of them. Most daunting of all, Emily has the task of replacing nearly 17 thousand books one by one on the shelves. In order. In her spare time.

But these are tasks for another day, after some much needed rest. The books are "home for Christmas." We asked our angel with the trailer why he thought of offering his time and trailer and he said, "because I wish all libraries were privately owned so there would be quality literature to read."

One book at a time, we will keep making that dream a reality.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, December 15, 2014

Reading with the Ear

I have written before about the atmosphere of reading, how the presence of books in the home, parents who read, and reading aloud to children influence our children's embracing of reading as a way of life, so I don't know why I am chagrined when my grown children, when some offhand remark about audio books occurs, comment, "The sound of my childhood." I suppose it is due to my fear that the droning of my cassette player was a barrier to my availability to them. In my husband's childhood home, the norm was instead the background noise of the television, but our own children grew up hearing the voices of my favorite narrators as I cooked in the kitchen or did housework. I do offer in self-defense, that I never had earphones or headsets on. That would have been negligence as, for a blind mother, ears are most crucial for "keeping an eye" on the children.

Listening to books has been a way of life for me, long, long before their recent popularity arose. A very early childhood memory is listening to long-play vinyl records of fairy tales and classic storybooks my parents provided for entertainment. Then there was the landmark day when my "talking book machine" arrived in the mail from the state Library for the Blind - an enormous boxy machine that played records on three speeds for special longer playing records. I think my parents were more excited than I was, because I hadn't yet understood just what an enormous world was about to unfold for me with this access to literature.

I do, however, vividly recall sitting cross-legged on my bed, utterly entranced as I listened to the opening pages of Heidi, my first long audio book, my mind creating pictures of a little peasant child bundled up in several layers of clothing to avoid hefting a trunk up the Alm. Having grown up in the flatlands of Michigan, I had never climbed such a steep ascent, but that day, I did arrive at the grandfather's hut, hot and panting, exhilarated and giddy at the expansive vista spread out before me from that height - because I had become Heidi. I lived inside Heidi throughout all her adventures and cannot now recall how many times I read and reread that book, still my all-time favorite children's book.

Thus it was that I became a reader of books through the ear, though, gratefully, I later learned to read Braille and prefer that format. Probably four-fifths of the books I read in a year, however, are still recorded books. For me, as an insatiable reader, it is a matter of survival since relatively few books are printed in Braille anymore.

While I had grown up with audio books, it was a huge adjustment for me in college to accustom myself to listening to textbooks. I paid "readers" to read aloud hundreds of pages of assigned reading and research material and absorbing all those facts was extremely challenging. I wish I could say my auditory comprehension was as proficient as that of our non-reading ancestors, but I managed only by
developing my own Braille shorthand and taking copious notes from which to study.

When I read The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr, I was amazed to learn that the neural pathways in the brain that are formed by the reading of print material are the same in blind readers of Braille. The tracks formed by those who read aurally, on the other hand, are not the same. Though I'm delighted with the proliferation of audio books and their wide use, this does concern me a little, especially their use with children. Children are natural story lovers, and listening to books in the car, at bedtime, or as they play is one way of infusing them with nourishing ideas. Yet the alarming decline in reading for pleasure is not being offset by this kind of reading, I'm afraid. The two kinds of reading are not alike, as I mentioned, and it concerns me that children will not develop true habits of reading if they are primarily consuming books through the ear.

Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, intrigued me with his description of earlier eras when the masses were accustomed to listen to long orations of two to four hours length, whether sermons or political speeches. In the Old Testament we read of gatherings where The Book of the Law was read aloud, and that must have taken a considerable length of time. Then there is the Sermon on the Mount and the thousands listening to Jesus' teaching all day long so that they were about to perish from hunger. Nowadays, to listen to more than a 20 minute lecture or sermon wearies the audience. This seems to indicate that our aural skills have diminished. Most people readily admit that they do not comprehend or retain information nearly as well when the format is aural rather than from printed writing.

Our children need hours and hours of practice reading with their eyes if they are to truly become readers of books. In our fast-paced lifestyle, having books in the car's CD player is convenient, and I would never discourage children from listening to books for pleasure anytime, (a definite improvement over screen time) but simply want to point out that the different formats do use different areas of the brain, and listening to books is not necessarily a substitute for holding one in the hand and reading it. 

Visual reading is a skill and a habit that takes constant practice to develop proficiency. Listening to books is akin to standing in a river while the current flows around you; reading the book for yourself is like swimming that river. Charlotte Mason said that once children could read for themselves, they ought to do so, else they would become lazy. She was not dismissing the obvious benefits and pleasure of reading aloud to one another, but simply pointing out the necessity of having children read for themselves as much as possible. In fact, I would add, though I have not searched for scientific data to back me up, that a physical person reading to a child increases their interest and absorption far more than a recorded voice. Though recorded books have their place, there is no qualitative substitute for the time and attention of sitting down to read together. Children benefit from this interaction both intellectually and emotionally.

These are just some thoughts I have had on this subject of audio books for children. I am not advocating dispensing with them, just offering some cautionary considerations for the wise and discriminate use of them. Reading is wonderful in all ways.

"He who has ears to hear," let him understand that eyes are a gift that should not be neglected.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, December 8, 2014

Moving a Library, Stage Two

The devil is in the details, it is said, I suppose because details can be overwhelming and confusing. For some, however, details are the bearings which make life roll along smoothly, and by taking care of the little things, find the big things fall into place.

This is perhaps our perspective in managing to haul 17 thousand books from one location to another. Our last move was simply up a driveway and around a corner. This time there will be vehicles involved. Discerning the details, and determining their order, in this case is crucial to success. It is crucial in not getting ahead of ourselves and thus tripping ourselves up.

To continue our library-moving-saga... After we had settled on a place for the library, and outlined its space, and began to prepare the walls and floor, we had to think about how to move the books and keep them in order. As I have said here, order is everything, and especially when it comes to thousands of books. They cannot just be packed up in crates and unpacked and stacked on shelves. One of the beauties of our library is the Dewey Decimal system by which it is ordered, uniform little labels designating each book its own special spot. (May I note here that some people have been known to gasp in awe and wonder, even shed tears over the beauty of Emily's uniform labels marching tidily along the rows of books? Those are our kindred spirits. You know who you are.) Woe be to the child in our library who has no respect for those labels and shoves books in wherever a convenient spot appears. The primary rule in the library is, "Look all you want, remove any book you want, but whatever you do, do not put any book back on the shelf." Since we don't have paid employees who will read the shelves and pounce on any out of order book and restore it to its proper spot, the librarian is responsible and she takes that responsibility very seriously. There is only one thing sadder than not having a book that could be useful in the library, and that is, having the book in the library and not being able to find it.

Thus it behooved the librarian and her mother to put their heads together as to how to safely and carefully pack these treasured books so they will arrive undamaged to their new home and still keep some semblance of order so that re-shelving them would not take a year-and-a-half. We consulted other fellow homeschool librarians who have moved their libraries for help. One of them had packed her books exactly in order in identical boxes, numbered the boxes, and then simply lifted them out of the boxes and replaced them on their original shelves.

We had a problem here as our new space is larger and will be configured differently, so books will likely not be returning to their same bookshelves. Ingenious organizer that she is, and it goes without
saying that these kind of challenges are Emily's particular strong point, came up with a labeling system to put on the outside of each box. The books were to be packed securely and each box designated with the order it should be set on its new shelf.


If I haven't already bored you to tears, let me just say that last Monday was our first day to pack. We decided to close the library for December and the first part of January to give us time to move. The last visit each family made to the library was to precede a 10 week break, so we encouraged them all to bring extra covered bins and boxes to stock up well. They complied beautifully and we literally checked out a couple of thousand books. Thanks to their cooperation, we now had less boxes of books to pack.

We could not imagine how long it would take to move all these books, but Emily and I managed to get 31 boxes packed in the first three hours. We estimate that this is about 15% of the collection needed to be packed. While the rest of you are hustling and bustling to shop and wrap Christmas gifts, we will be snatching every opportunity to return again and again and continue till every single book is in its box. We plan to have a moving day for all the bookcases first, figuring that they will easily fill a moving truck. We will then arrange all the bookcases in their new home to our satisfaction and return another day to begin moving the boxes of books, bring them to the new library, and then tackle the daunting task of re-shelving thousands of volumes.


The sunny side of this task is that Emily will rest easily at night knowing all our books are put exactly right once before they are again in circulation.

Why do we do all this? Are we some kind of fanatics who have an absurd way of spending our life? Well undoubtedly there is truth in that accusation. We do it for the families who have discovered and continue to discover the incredible joy learning through living literature is; we do it out of respect for the authors who labored to write beautiful literature for others to live on long after they had put down their pens for the last time; we do it for the children whose lives lay before them with untold possibilities; and, most of all, we do it for the glory of God.

For the joy of reading,