Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Notes from the Key West Library

President Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib, Librarian/Administrator Michael Nelson, Treasurer Tom Clements

LUCY BURDETTE: One of the organizations I have been involved with for the past number of years in Key West is the Friends of the Key West library. And I am delighted to say that this year I will be serving as the president. The Friends is an active organization which holds used book sales during the high season, along with a lecture series and a number of other events.  All of the money raised by the friends goes directly to the library to purchase things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, including books! 

Michael Nelson is our new library administrator and librarian and he agreed to visit with us today. He’s a huge reader and music lover and has been providing an amazing lineup of speakers for a small library.  Welcome Michael!

 It’s been such an impossible spring in every way, but I think this group of readers would be interested to hear about what the library has been able to provide even though it’s closed, and what services have been most popular?

MICHAEL NELSON: I don’t imagine it will surprise anyone that our digital content became increasingly popular as the “safer at home” mandate closed the library doors to in-person visits. We immediately put extra funding into building our eBook and eAudiobook collections. Our streaming service, Kanopy, which features independent films, world cinema, classic movies, and documentaries, also saw a marked surge in usage. Similar increases occurred with the library’s learning languages software and digital access to the New York Times and other papers and magazines. We made it possible for our patrons to register for a library card online and staff has remained available for questions and assistance via the phone, online chat, and email ever since the doors closed. It was our “more library, less public” initiative, and we tried to be as useful as possible. Like many libraries across the country, we began virtual programming, which has included multiple story times and easy crafting to a NASA Ambassador presenting a talk on the possibility of living on Mars. (Side note: I am not going).  We’ve also stocked various tax and unemployment forms on our outside shelving and continue to stock free books for patrons to take. For the last two weeks, we’ve starting allowing patrons to pickup materials placed on hold (then placed outside) at an appointed time. As I’m writing this, we’re planning to reopen in June with new safety measures in place. It’s an evolving process.

LUCY: In some ways all libraries are alike, but in others not so much. I’m thinking of how the KW library serves a diverse population ranging from snowbirds to homeless. I wonder if you could talk a bit about the special challenges of running a library in Key West.





MICHAEL: Well, we do have a library rooster. He doesn’t come in, but he does admire his reflection in the front doors on a daily basis. (Or maybe he’s just getting a little cool air seeping out from under the entrance, but I prefer to think he’s just wildly vain. The staff call him, “Red,” but I call him “Warren Beatty Bird.”) Libraries, by their nature, are welcoming places and why I love these institutions, wherever they may be, but Key West is certainly a great locale and a destination for people of all backgrounds and income-levels. It’s also a library that’s had Tennessee Williams and Shel Silverstein as patrons. Thomas McGuane wrote a book or two in the library and Jimmy Buffett hung out here for the air-conditioning in the 70’s. Judy Blume did research for her most recent novel at our library and Meg Cabot talked to a full auditorium of fifth-graders about graphic novels. And I’m being completely honest when I say that I could list another two dozen or so extraordinary writers who’ve stopped in or been long-time patrons.

LUCY: One of the special things about the Key West library is our Florida history collection. I thought you would like to hear something about that and also how you can access some of these wonderful photos.

MICHAEL: Key West has a remarkable Florida History Department. The library’s archival vault holds the original order from Commodore David Porter that formally established Key West in 1823. It also has a galley proof of To Have and Have Not with Hemingway’s notes in the margins as well as a vast collection of local historical documents from maps to diaries to photographic images. Many of these photographic images have been scanned and can be found here. Earlier this year, the photographic archive surpassed thirty million views. You can find out more about our Florida History Department at this address, including some recent visual recordings of our venerable historian, Tom Hambright, talking about various aspects of Keys history from wrecking and salvage to the cigar industry in Key West. (Note from Lucy: Tom Hambright is such a treasure--do not miss a chance to hear him talk about the history of Key West!)

LUCY: All writers I think are curious about what makes a book land on the to-be-ordered list for a library. Can you tell us how you go about making these choices?

MICHAEL
: We do have a lot of resources for selecting books, but I particularly enjoy the Indiebound Next List, which spotlights recommended titles and reviews from independent booksellers from around the country. You’ll always find solid recommendations there. Publishers Weekly, of course, is an excellent resource and the starred reviews usually end up on our list to order. I’m also quite fond of the New York Times Book Review, and of course, patrons are constantly bringing in clippings from the paper and requesting titles they’ve read about. I will say, and I don’t know if it usually works or not with bigger library systems, but I do see a lot of new authors using the “purchase suggestion” option on our website and recommend their own work. Many times, it’s independently published and our primary vendor doesn’t carry it, but once in a great while, I’ve purchased it if it has some connection to the Keys.

LUCY: What have you read recently and what are you looking forward to?


MICHAEL: I just finished, “Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth” by Benjamin Taylor. Taylor's love of Roth's work and the man himself makes this slender remembrance of the legendary author a complete charmer. The book covers late-stage Roth, retiring and then dying, but Taylor's vivid portrait makes us see a man who never lost his immense intelligence and wit and talent. Taylor was lucky to be Roth's friend, and Roth was lucky to be his.


LUCY: And finally this is just a nosy question, but I wondered how you decided to become a librarian and when you knew this was your career path?

MICHAEL: I started volunteering at the public library in high school. Later, at the University of Florida, I worked in their Special Collections library as a student worker. I think that experience stayed in the back of mind and later sparked my interest in collecting books (rare and signed). After getting a Communications degree, and a little later an English degree, library school seemed like the next best step. I was lucky to get my first librarian position in Daytona Beach and a few years later, got into library management at the New Smyrna Beach branch. Like Key West, New Smyrna is a small beach town with a big cultural scene, including the Atlantic Center for the Arts, which brought in artists, authors and musicians from all over the country. Programming quickly became the most rewarding part of my job. A little over five years ago, I got the exceptional opportunity to join the staff at the Key West Library and then took over as Administrator in March of 2019. 


LUCY: Aren't we lucky to have Michael in Key West? He'll be stopping in today to look for questions. And if you'd like to become a Friend of the Key West library, all are warmly welcome!

50 comments:

  1. It’s interesting . . . and amazing . . . to learn about all the wonderful opportunities that the staff was able to provide in order to meet the need of library patrons even when they weren’t able to come into the library. I, for one, can’t wait for our libraries to be open once again.
    [I love the rooster and I find the possibility of living on Mars quite fascinating . . . I’d go in a heartbeat.]

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    1. Joan, my mind went immediately to what the rootser would want to borrow. A Tail of Two Cities?

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    2. Perhaps “A Rooster Once Crowed” or maybe “Rooster’s Off to See the World”??

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  2. Thanks, Michael. That was very interesting to read about.

    I'll admit to being addicted to my library's offerings of audiobooks - most of the time. Since I listen in my car, that's out at the moment. Can't wait to dive into an audio books again soon, although I am reading the end of some of the series I've been rotating through so I'm going to have to figure out what to listen to next. Unfortunately, all the series I come up with, my library doesn't have very many titles in audio.

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    1. Mark, do you have a larger library near-ish by that might have a larger selection? Lots of libraries offer an out-of-town card for a small fee. When my kids were small, I used to pay $30 a year for a membership in the Scarborough Library(ME) because their kids collection was SO much better than our small local library's.

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    2. I have access to two different systems already (city and county). There maybe a third option. I will have to try to invest in some others.

      If we go with digital audio books, I can sign up from anywhere. And digital is so nice since I listen in my car. No discs to change.

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  3. I love Key West, but I haven't visited there for about five years. Time for a trip. My daughter lived there for a year and taught at the elementary school, and that was what first brought me to visit there. She lived on Duval Street, right across from LeTeDa's. I prefer to stay in Old Town, but I have stayed on the Navy base, too, as my husband was in the military. I have walked and walked and walked the streets of Old Town, and I've walked past the library, but I can't believe that I never went inside. I kept after Lucy to eat the Key Lime Cake at Fireflies on Petronia. I hope the chef who fixed it is still there (it was his grandmother's recipe) and that you, too, will try it, Michael, if you haven't.

    It sounds like you've certainly taken care of your library patrons during the library's closed period. What a great history of writers the library has, too. And, Lucy, is the perfect author to be president of the Friends of the Library, with her fantastic Key West series. I love the library rooster. Not that there's anything wrong with a library cat for a mascot, I just think for the Key West library, a rooster is perfect. I hope all goes smoothly with the library's reopening. Oh, and I'm going to look up the book about Philip Roth. Thanks.

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  4. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your library journey and how Key West is providing services during the pandemic. I love "Red" ...he is perfect for Key West's library and different than the typical library mascot.

    Congratulations Lucy on being appointed the president of the Friends of the Key West Library.

    I normally go to our public library every week so I do miss it. Fortunately, I have signed out some ebooks, and there were some online webinars that I participated in last month, but it is not the same. I was glad to hear that curbside pickup of holds by appointment will start here in 2 weeks. I have had 3 holds "ready" for pickup since mid-March.

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    1. I'm just going to do a rooster pun book title every time someone mentions him: The Old Man and the Egg.

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  5. Wonderful! Ans aren't you lucky to have Lucy as an active local author!

    When you reopen, how will you keep the books clean? We've been pondering this for our own library, as yet still closed. Do you plan to wipe them down as they come in? How will you keep browsing the shelves safe? It seems like a magnitude of difference from just wiping down doorknobs and computers. Thanks so much.

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    1. Edith, I asked the same question of the Walker Memorial librarian (in Westbrook, ME) after what turned out to be their last event before quarantine. He said you can't effectively disinfect books without causing damage, so at that time (pre-March 15) they were setting aside all returns for three days before processing and reshelving them.

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  6. No to Mars living for me (too unknown), but a yes to the rooster (so exotic!) and a big yes to libraries (so important). Yours in Key West sounds just lovely, Michael and Lucy. I miss my frequent Saturday visits to mine, it's the Cornish Branch just across the bridge from my home community -- the librarians know me and we talk about books and spin-off TV series: Shetland, for example, based on Ann Cleves' books. The librarian told me about a trip she had taken to that island for a felting workshop. How fascinating is that? I sure look forward to my own trips back to my library.

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    1. Rooster: "Do you have Far From the Maddening Crow?"

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  7. Amazing things you are putting on in spite of being only virtual. Great job! Always interesting to learn of the Library's part in so many of America's favorite authors.

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    1. John, honestly, I don't know a single author who's not a passionate library lover. It's where most of us got a start on our reading addiction.

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  8. Thank you for speaking about your library and congratulations for the work you did to accommodate your patrons.
    When I travel, I always visit libraries as I love them so much
    My little city's library opened this week, only on appointment to take books that you have to ask from the online catalog. When books are returned , they are disinfected and put in confinement for three days.

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    1. Danielle, I see lots of libraries as I'm speaking at them, but I love the idea of visiting while traveling!

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  9. What a fascinating place to have a library! Red is lovely, and who wouldn't want a library rooster, vain or not? I have a couple of questions: How do you encourage the documentation and preservation of Key West history? And what do you do to protect the library if/when a hurricane hits? Thank you for being creative when it comes to serving your community at times like these.

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    1. Great questions. The Florida History Department actually has an old-timey bank vault, a large rectangular room made of concrete and very cold (as is the protocol for archival materials) and it contains the core of the history collection. The Library is actually one of the highest spots on the island, which isn't saying much honestly, but it would be one of the last places to flood if there was a serious storm surge. Our Florida History Department is part of the Digital Public Library of America, and our volunteers and staff are constantly scanning in documents, photographs and archiving diaries of past residents of the island. Recently, the department has been digitizing old 8mm and 16mm films and even some VHS. The community is always bringing materials by for our venerable historian, Tom Hambright, to consider adding to the collection.

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  10. Just a quick thansk, Michael, for doing the good work that you do. Key West is such a magnet for writers and readers and the library and its events are leegendary!

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  11. Michael, welcome to JRW. It sounds as though you have been super busy during the pandemic and congratulations are in order for all the things your staff and volunteers made available to patrons during this time. Thanks also for giving us your background. The Key West library sounds like a very interesting place to be working.

    Also, thanks for the insight into selecting books. I do wonder about why libraries purchase certain books or why they maintain whole collections of one author or another. Doing a pre-order at a library seems to be a good way to get some of one's favorite books onto the shelves.

    I miss my library. Most of the towns near here are part of a consortium. If you want to read a book, you can look on line on the library website to see if it is available and in which library. In some cases, I'll just order the books to be brought to the library that's 2 blocks from my house, but in others, I'll simply drive to the next town and pick them up. I have rarely struck out completely on finding the books I want to read.

    What now? They just opened the drop boxes last Friday and I returned the 8 books that have been sitting here since mid-March. Will it ever be that easy to read all of an author's works again without buying them? Oh, my.

    Lucy/Roberta, it's perfect that you have such a strong connection to the Key West Library. Maybe you can put in a good word for you JRW friends when it is time for Michael to order new books;-)

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  12. The Library at the End of the Country! Complete with Warren Beatty the rooster, perfect. Who needs six-toed cats, anyway?

    Our local Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library has been invaluable during the isolation period, and at all other times, too. My book club relies heavily on all the possible reading opportunities: lent paper books, e-books, audiobooks, large print books, and those in Braille. We choose our next book with several criteria, the most important being its availability at our library. There is also a great service for book clubs, where one member can order a specific number of copies together. They come tied in sturdy ribbon, and include a great readers' guide.

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    1. Karen, THE LIBRARY AT THE END OF THE COUNTRY would be an awesome book title!

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    2. Oh Julia, I would so write that book except I'm afraid my other Key West characters would jam in and take over the conversation...hmmmm...

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  13. What a fabulous photo resource! Thanks for sharing.

    I'd love to know more. For instance, what's the story behind the scantily clad women? And is that a photo of an eclipse? Are the servicewomen WAVES? You could make any one of those photos into an entire novel.

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  14. Hi Michael! What a treat to have you here today! Having visited your wonderful library, I can testify that it is a very special place. And I didn't know about the Florida History collection, or the Hemingway manuscript! Is that available to view? I would love to see it next time I visit. I read a book you might enjoy, The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett. The protagonist is a book collector.
    Thanks for doing such a great job for your patrons under difficult circumstances.

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    1. I do remember your talk with Roberta very well. We'd be happy to let you look at the Hem manuscript the next time your in town, especially if you do another book event!

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  15. Lucy, thank you for a wonderful post about Friends of the Key West Library. I was trying to recall if Hayley Snow visited the Key West Library ? Do you donate your Key West mystery novels to the library? My library gets your novels, though late. By the time the paperback version comes out in the bookshops, my library finally gets the hardcover version of the same book! I have borrowed the same book by you, thinking it was the new book, only to discover that I have read it before! LOL. And Congratulations on becoming President of Friends of the Key West Library.

    HI Michael and welcome to Jungle Reds! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your work at the Key West Library!

    Diana

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    1. Hi Diana, thanks for your congratulations and I’m glad you are persistent in getting the books from your library. I probably should admit that I didn’t have to shoulder many people out of the way to get this job LOL. But I’m thrilled about leading the friends and really happy to be working with Michael and the other library staff

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  16. If I couldn't think of another reason to go back to Key West, and of course I can think of many reasons, but visiting this library has just sprung to the top of my list!

    Thank you Lucy for bringing us such an interesting guest.

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    1. Judi, I swear Lucy knows THE most interesting people of any of us. I love hearing about her Key West friends and neighbors.

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  17. Libraries do hold the community together. Ours is about to open for curbside pickup and returns, but it will be a while before meetings and classes resume. They have increased ebook availability. I've come to prefer reading on the iPad, easier on hands and eyes. Many use the parking lot to access the wi-fi, especially students doing remote learning.
    I admire the flexibility and dedication of our librarians. <3

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    1. Mary, we always have a group of people sitting on the cement wall in front of the library to use the Wi-Fi. And I am absolutely certain that people who didn’t have the means to have their own computers and Wi-Fi have really missed access to the library. It’s something the rest of us don’t even think about

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    2. But have they kept the wifi on while they are closed? I know some students and teachers in western MA who don't have good internet access at home have been working in their cars in library and school parking lots.

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    3. Hmmm, that's a good question, probably so. But if you don't have a device, you need to get into the library to use their computers...

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  18. I love libraries! One in a town I used to live in had a library cat. My neighborhood library is still closed BUT they have just started offering pickup for holds. I got an email today that one book is in; I'm to give them a call upon arrival and they'll deliver to the car. Hooray! The computer stations are always fully occupied so I don't know how long it will be before people are allowed inside again. And they've always had so many daytime programs for children and moms. Who knows when those will return?

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    1. We can't know right now. But I do know that our library in KW is offering online story time and other programs for kids. It's not the same but better than nothing, right?

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  19. I love the rooster! Definitely vanity has him coming to the door to look. :-)

    I also love small libraries that showcase local history. I bet I'd spend a lovely afternoon browsing in the KW library.

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  20. Michael and Lucy, thanks for sharing your interview. I first visited Key West in 1958 with my family; a few years ago I was curious to locate the site of the Hilton Haven where we stayed that summer while my father worked with the U.S. Navy on a project. My search led me to the Key West Library and a helpful someone found information telling me where it was located. Great trip down memory lane for me. I also heard Deborah Crombie interviewed by Lucy Burdette there a few years ago. Because I'm not a resident I don't have a library card for Key West Library. I generally take a stack of "real" books with me when I visit and at the end of my trip I drop them off as library donations.

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    1. thanks Emily! we appreciate your donations! and boy, you have a long history with Key West...

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  21. Charlotte StricklandJune 3, 2020 at 3:45 PM

    Michael, it's great to hear all you're doing while the Library was closed. I think I heard that the Library is opening on a limited basis. Our libraries here in Montgomery, AL, have been outstanding. You can put holds online or just call and tell them what you want. I've called several times and just asked them to pick me out some of the new books. I've just finished several of the Jungle Reds books. Great reading!

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    1. thanks Charlotte--so great to see you here! You are tireless and we're grateful to have you on board

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  22. Yes, we are very lucky to have Michael and our Friends of the Key West Library president.
    Such a trying time we are somehow managing to get thru and so nice to know our Library is accommodating the public to the best of their ability!

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  23. I've really missed the library because I used to go once or twice a week. However, my Nook is too old to get most of the e-books, and I don't like audio books. Some of the branches are opening this Friday for pick-ups and returns but not my branch. I have a ton of books on my enclosed porch for our book sale. Don't know when that will be now. Stay safe and well.

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    1. You stay well too Sally--it's just awful to be without books!

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