By Mary Boone
Sisters in Crime participated in last week's Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Philadelphia with a very popular exhibit booth and a well-received panel titled "Perfect Partners in Crime" celebrating public libraries and the books we read.
Presentation proposals for PLA must be submitted two years in advance of the conference (which is only held every two years), which can make writing a proposal, and then following up with a panel proposal written so far in advance, a real challenge.
I had a front row seat for the proceedings and, from my perspective, the panel was a hit. A 600-seat auditorium appeared to me to be close to a third to half full of librarians there to hear to SinC board members Frankie Bailey, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Cathy Pickens, and Nancy Martin talk to librarian "rock star" Nancy Pearl about books, libraries, a love of reading, and Sisters in Crime.
The conversation flowed from the practical (a little background about SinC and its resources including info about the continuing We Love Libraries drawings and what makes a good author visit program) to the theoretical (how best to connect readers to books and how helpful are genre and sub genre classifications) and back again.
Hank moderated the panel, and started with a "stump the librarian" quiz, which served to bring the audience immediately into all aspects of the conversation that followed. She'd asked the panelists in advance what books had a profound influence on them growing up. She read a few sentences from the opening of each and challenged the audience to identify the book and match it to the panelist. The audience identified Nancy Pearl’s and Cathy Pickens's books, but were stumped by Frankie Bailey’s and Nancy Martin's.
Early in the panel, Hank made Nancy Pearl an honorary member of Sisters in Crime. Nancy P. played a key role in last summer's SinC Summit Team project, when the team went to the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans to talk with librarians about how readers find books.
Later in the conversation, Nancy P., who pioneered the one city/one book movement, commented that one of the things she valued most about SinC is the organization's commitment to building community around books and reading and its commitment to libraries. She said, in that respect, librarians and Sisters in Crime had common goals.
Nancy Martin wanted to know how Nancy Pearl, who has been called "America's Librarian" and has come to be known as a literary "tastemaker," finds the books she reviews and recommends in her popular Book Lust series and on National Public Radio.
Nancy P. said she receives numerous copies of books from publishers and other sources and that she will try to read any book but, if she isn't engaged within the first 50 pages, she stops reading. This is a strategy she recommends to all readers.
"Life is short, and the library is large," she's often said.
The time may not be right, and she will put aside a book, and come back to it later. But, having said that, she went on to say that she believes that most of us (herself included) find the books we read and love from recommendations from friends.
I watched the audience for its reactions, and saw librarians furiously taking notes and listening with concentration to the discussion. A number of librarians approached panel members afterward to say they thought this was one of the best panels of the conference. Bear in mind the time slot was late Friday afternoon, the last full day of the conference, so folks were conference-weary, thinking about getting to dinner or packing for the trip home, etc.; in short, not necessarily an easy audience to please.
Another measure of the success of the panel is that our PLA panel/conference programming liaison, Ronald Block, approached me after the session to say that PLA was looking forward to making a panel from Sisters in Crime an on-going part of its conference programming.
As plans for this panel were coming together before the conference, we began thinking of it as a "dream book discussion group." Every indication Friday afternoon was that the audience thought of it this way, too.
Mary Boone, Library Liaison for Sisters in Crime, says she is happy to be a reader and lucky that, as a librarian, she gets paid to turn readers on to books. She encourages everyone to make sure their library or libraries have entered the Sisters in Crime "We Love Libraries" book grant lottery. Information and a registration form can be found on the SinC website page linked here.