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Thursday, September 16, 2021

A Letter from Your Friendly MLC Archivist

Miranda Vaughn
Reference/Archives Librarian

Dear Reader,

While organizing the MLC archives, I’ve come across a number of letters, reports, etc. regarding programs and services the Library Commission has offered over the years. Some of these were standard library services, while others were quirky and creative. Since September is Library Card Sign Up Month (and since those magical library cards get you all kinds of amazing FREE services), I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of the programs and services MLC has offered over the years.

Throughout MLC’s history, we have collaborated with other organizations in the state to provide programs and services to library patrons across Mississippi. Beginning in the 1950s, the Library Commission offered training and resources to Mississippi’s Choctaw schools. MLC also assisted the Choctaw Indian Agency in setting up a bookmobile, pictured below. 

Mississippi Library News, September 1963

Thank you letter from Pearl River Indian School student

Thank you letter from Pearl River Indian School student

Through grants and partnerships, MLC has offered films, slide shows, and special performances to our public libraries. In the late 1970s, MLC partnered with Mississippians for Educational Television to offer puppet show performances by Puppet Arts Theatre’s Peter Zapletal to some of Mississippi’s public libraries. I came across some photos of these puppets. I think they could definitely be used for the next Tim Burton movie. What do you think? 



If you want to know more about the cool services and programs the Library Commission and Mississippi public libraries offered in the 70s and 80s, check out our digitized copies of The Packet.

Did you know that MLC had a catfish mascot? In the mid-1990s, MLC partnered with the Catfish Farmers of Mississippi to hold a “name the catfish” contest. The winner was Reada the Catfish. Reada made visits to Summer Library Programs across the state and was greeted with looks of astonishment and delight.

Clarion Ledger, November 12, 1994, p. 19

The 1990s brought another important service to Mississippi libraries: the internet. Not quite as imaginative but certainly more useful, the Mississippi Information Network (called MissIN) was created by the Library Commission to give internet access to libraries across the state.

The Library Commission continues to offer a variety of services and programs, which you can check out here. To learn more about the services we offer to public libraries, as well as unique services and programs that individual libraries offer, visit your local public library. Don’t forget to sign up for a library card, so you can access all these great services and programs for FREE!


All the best,

Your friendly MLC archivist

Friday, August 27, 2021

Summer Screams

Kayla Martin-Gant
Continuing Education Coordinator

Anyone who speaks to me for more than five minutes comes away with three immutable facts: I love being a librarian, I love my goofy little dog, and I love spooky stuff. This last fact has been true since I was little; I used to watch Dark Shadows and Are You Afraid of the Dark? religiously. I wrote my first story, titled “The Haunted Dollhouse,” when I was seven years old and stuck inside at recess due to rain. I’m certainly not the only one—horror, a genre often maligned for being too low-brow to have any real literary and artistic merit, is immensely popular.

The question, though, is why?

The general scientific consensus seems to be that, for many of us, horror is cathartic in a way that many other genres aren’t. It gives us the illusion of danger without putting us in any actual risk and, once the adrenaline has built and the tension snaps, we get that sweet rush of dopamine as the credits roll.

This isn’t true only of horror movies, but of horror stories in general, and terrifying real-life tales lend themselves to those impulses as well. Whether fictional or not, horror can allow us to experience and process trauma in a safe, controlled environment.

It’s not just the physical effects that keep us coming back, though. At its core, horror also taps directly into our basest emotions in unexpectedly telling ways. We can examine the popular horror trends and titles in a particular decade or region to understand its people’s greatest fears at the time. Sometimes these fears are tangible, such as the explosion of sci-fi horror in the 1950s in reaction to the atomic bomb, or even our ongoing anxieties about climate change and the corresponding rise of apocalyptic narratives. The trappings of horror often have deeper roots, though, using tragedy and monsters as allegories for societal ills rumbling just under the surface.

Some of the best, most memorable examples of the genre have always been subversive in nature. Horror shines a light on some of the darkest parts of our histories and behaviors and, in doing so, calls our cultural mores into question. It holds a mirror up to us and asks, pointedly, if we’re truly happy with what we see. Horror fills us with fear and revulsion because it is, whether directly or through a warped, funhouse-style mirror, a reflection of us.

In that vein, one of the most interesting aspects of the horror genre is how it has, for some of us, become a home. For many marginalized groups, the monsters we grew up with are more relatable than they were probably meant to be. For those of us who feel the constant weight of bigotry, prejudice, racism and misogyny, whose brains and bodies don’t look or operate in expected ways? We empathize with the monsters we were taught to fear, and we know that other people are often more dangerous than any creature.

It’s no wonder then that the horror genre has become increasingly diverse in both the stories being told and those telling them. This has led to some fantastically innovative storytelling, and people are noticing. Not only are more horror films garnering critical acclaim, but the genre has also found a new avenue to explore in podcasts. The rise of the true crime podcast genre is well-documented, but also gaining rapid popularity are the myriad of horror fiction podcasts available for anyone and everyone.

The accessibility of podcasts for both consumer and creator, coupled with the medium’s inherent independence of outside production influence, has allowed for some incredibly complex and inclusive stories to flourish (for more on this, check out an article I wrote for Divination Hollow Reviews on some of my favorite queer horror fiction podcasts here).

Horror fiction podcasts also provide a window into one of my favorite things about horror, which is how easily it overlaps with other genres. Horror is an extraordinarily versatile genre and is therefore somewhat nebulous in how it is defined. What elements, themes, or settings are required to constitute horror over sci-fi and fantasy? What about the crossovers between horror and romance, or even horror and comedy? Horror literature has cheerfully straddled these lines for centuries, now more than ever. While this may frustrate some readers, listeners, and viewers who prefer simpler categorizations, it provides for an ever-changing landscape in which to tell our stories. Certain horror conventions may get stale, but the human imagination is a powerful thing, and fear is the most primal and universal instinct we all share.

One could say that horror, more than any other genre, connects us. We don’t all love being afraid, but if we must be? We’d prefer to be afraid together.

Be on the lookout next month for my webinar on recently released and upcoming horror titles to look forward to! In the meantime, if you want to read more about the psychology of horror, check out some of these resources:

Monday, August 23, 2021

Meet MLC Monday: John Shaman

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator
 

Meet John Shaman, Reference Librarian at the Mississippi Library Commission! John has a variety of job duties, including shelving, assisting with reference questions, and taking care of MLC's large print extended loan program. He holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. 


John began work at MLC at the beginning of June, and so far really enjoys answering the variety of reference questions that come his way. He says that his coworkers have helped ease the transition into his new position. When asked why he thinks libraries are important, John responds, "Libraries are vital social infrastructure. Everyone deserves free access to books, the internet, and a quiet place outside of home and work." It seems that one of the reasons John got an English degree is his love for reading. He enjoys literary fiction and philosophy, and his favorite books are My Ántonia by Willa Cather and Dubliners by James Joyce. John also likes to write, watch anime, ride his penny board, and take an occasional road trip.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Meet MLC Monday: Keith Thompson

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Keith Thompson, a Circulation Librarian in the Talking Book Services Department here at the Mississippi Library Commission. Keith does everything from checking in digital books, and cleaning and repairing Talking Book Players to maintaining our braille collection and readying introductory packets for new patrons. He holds a bachelor's degree in Information Technology (Networking) from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Keith started back in June, and says that so far, his favorite part of his job is preparing information for people new to the service. He says, "Libraries are important because they can be a gateway for people to experience new ideas through books. They also provide internet access to their communities, which is key." Keith enjoys reading. His favorite book of all time is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and the last book he read was Anthem by Ayn Rand. When he isn't hard at work or relaxing with a book, you can find Keith exploring one of his favorite hobbies: digital drawing, traditional landscape drawing, and listening to Jazz.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

New to Book Clubs? Not for Long!

Charlie Simpkins
Digital Consultant
 
Have you ever considered joining or starting a book club? There are so many benefits for participating in them! First, they help promote a love of literature and learning in a safe environment. Second, they allow you to gain new perspectives by nudging you out of your comfort zones of preferred subjects or genres. Third, they promote a sense of community by bringing together participants with varied backgrounds to discuss nuanced, complex issues with different insights. So, how can you participate in a book club, especially when a pandemic has limited in-person meetings?

 
MLC had a short-lived book club in 2016, so by October of 2020, a group of MLC staff was ready to start it up again. It was going to be a bit different, though, since we could not meet in person. We opted to meet via the cloud-based video conference software called Zoom, and we chose a date that worked for everybody. I’ll give you some pointers from what we learned while getting our book club going.

One main thing to remember when starting or joining a book club is that each group and meeting is different. Some book clubs like to stick with a specific genre or subject matter. Others prefer to pick a theme for each meeting, and members can read anything related to it. Some even like to choose a specific award, such as the Pulitzer Prize or the Hugo Awards, and work together towards reading all the winners. In a similar vein, some like to work through a reading challenge, such as the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge or Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, together. Our book club uses Google Forms to vote on what to read next with a wide range of choices to pick from each time. If you are interested in starting a book club, talk with the potential members and see what type of books they are interested in and when/how often they are willing to meet.

From our first meeting in November 2020 to our most recent in June 2021, we have discussed seven books. You may think to yourself, “But wait. That’s eight months. Shouldn’t y’all have discussed eight books?” If we met every month, then yes, we should have already discussed eight books. But we skipped the month of December because of so many people taking time off and holidays and whatnot. This is perfectly fine. While a book club is a way to expand your view and learn new things, please remember to be flexible, as it still needs to be fun and low-pressure.

Also, remember everybody is not going to love the book that is being discussed. Some may not even finish it. For example, two books that come to mind that we have discussed are Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead. Some of our participants had already read these works and loved them. Some, on the other hand, could not get into either book. That’s okay. It may have simply been that it wasn’t the right time for them to read those books. However, listening to the discussion might inspire them to read them in the future.

There may even come a time when no one in the group reads the selected book. This is what happened to us once. Everyone in the group kept putting off reading it until it was a week before the meeting. We all decided to forgo the selection (for the time being). Instead, we decided to meet, but people who wanted to talk could discuss any books they have recently read and enjoyed. To show how varied our group’s reading interests are, titles that we discussed included the wonderful picture book Nia and the New Free Library by Ian Lendler (illustrated by Mark Pett), the nonfiction work Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton, the magical realism novel The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, and the literary fiction novel Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. (There may be an unofficial Taylor Jenkins Reid fan club in our group.)

As I mentioned before, we take turns making book suggestions, and then we vote on the selection for the next meeting. Because of our diverse tastes, our book club has sampled a wide array of genres. We’ve read (well, most of us) a classic in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. We’ve also read contemporary fiction with Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette and John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead, who won a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Underground Railroad. Even though some of our group members are more comfortable with fiction, we’ve read two nonfiction titles that everyone enjoyed. One was Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. The other was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which we selected to coincide with PBS’s new three-part, six-hour documentary film Hemingway, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. We’ve even dabbled in horror/science-fiction when we read Megan Giddings Lakewood, which has been my favorite book club selection so far.

By now, my words should have you yearning for a great book and an even better discussion about it. But where can you join a book club? Try your local public library. They may already have one established. If not, they may be willing to work with you to get one started. Once you have picked a time, a place, and a book, you are ready to read. But what if everyone wants to read the same book, and you are having trouble finding enough copies of the same book? MLC has book club kits Mississippi libraries can check out for three months. Each kit contains ten copies of the same title and a discussion guide. At the time I’m writing this, MLC has over 150 Book Club Kits to choose from! If you are interested in finding out more details, visit https://mlc.lib.ms.us/programming-hub/ or email me at csimpkins@mlc.lib.ms.us. Here are some of the newest selections I’m most excited about: 

I have enjoyed my time participating in a book club and hope you can benefit from the same joy. Best of luck with your readings. Which book do you think would be a good selection to discuss and why? Sound off in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Letter from your Friendly MLC Intern

Rose Pendleton
Archives Intern
 

Dear Reader,

My name is Rose and I am currently working towards a master's degree in Library and Information Science and a graduate certificate in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Southern Mississippi. As part of the program, I had to do an internship at a library with a special collection or an archival records repository. For my internship, the Mississippi Library Commission was gracious enough to be my host facility. 

These blue vinyl discs were used with a Gray Audograph
machine to make recordings. They were introduced in 1945.
 

The staff was very friendly and generous with their time and assistance. I learned a lot about processing and handling archival items on both a physical and a digital scale, preparing metadata to be accessed by digital collections, and even a little bit of cataloging! I found a lot of amazing photographs and correspondence, from photos of Cicely Tyson and Eudora Welty, to early printing and recording items like stereotypes and audographs.

The project I worked on during this internship was to identify, document, and rehouse correspondence and construction documents that were kept in-house in the archives. In the end, there were 106 boxes in total. I felt very accomplished to be able to finish such an undertaking during my time here. One of my favorite parts of working on this project was to be able to watch a library grow on paper: from humble beginnings as a plot of land to a fully realized and constructed library!

As part of the curriculum of the class, I was tasked with maintaining an online blog with weekly update posts about my progress and what I found that week. You can check it out at: hurricanerose.wordpress.com.

All the best,

Your friendly MLC intern

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Be Joyful and Read How You Like

Shellie Zeigler
Library Consultant

There is a debate going on about how we read that seems to be a competition of sorts. You have your purists that swear by the standard paper print book. Then you have e-book readers, who swear by the convenience of having 20+ books in their hand at any time. In come audiobooks, which happen to be the fastest growing market in the publishing industry. However, that’s only for digital audio: readers love the convenience of downloading their audiobooks onto their phones and other devices. I say: isn’t there room for all of us? Aren’t we all readers?

All of us love the power of the written word. All of us would rather be reading a well-written novel than watching some bad television (Note: there is some really good television out there that I would not want to miss). Why do we have to squash fellow book lovers who prefer to read in a different format?

I personally am a reader that transcends the lines—I’ll read print, audio, or e-books…it depends on the type of book and it very much depends on my mood. I’m willing to bet there are many readers out there just like me. A good thriller on audio is a perfect pairing, but a slow burning literary novel might be best in print or e-book—for me. Reading is a very personal, solitary activity.

June is National Audiobook Month. I have noticed that some readers feel the need to make a distinction when discussing a book as to whether they read a print copy or listened to the audio version. Did your brain not receive the same information? Why is there a “lesser than” stigma attached to audio readers? I see articles online and questions posed on social media with the underlying question, does the book count if I listened to it? You comprehended the story. If your brain is processing the plot, the characters, the dilemma etc., how does an audiobook not count? Just because you processed the information with your ears and not your eyes does not mean that the book doesn’t count. It does not mean that your soul doesn’t rage just as much at the social injustice depicted in To Kill A Mockingbird as the person who read the print version. I feel that saying an audiobook “doesn’t count” is just as much a slight against the book being discussed as the person listening to the book.

So please enjoy the books that you love in any format that is most convenient for you. And let’s stop judging others for their reading choices.

Happy reading, my friends!

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