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Author Archive for Susan Craig



“Fiction Reveals Truths that Reality Obscures,” Jessamyn West

by Susan Craig on June 16th, 2014

Attending the recent program featuring Thomas Maltman, author of this year’s All Iowa Reads book Little Wolves, I was reminded once again of the power of story. Mr. Maltman spoke very eloquently about how fiction writing brings people closer together through a shared experience. He believes that books and stories build empathy, something the world needs more of.all iowa reads

I am on the committee that selects the All Iowa Reads book every year, and our number one criteria is that we have a good story that Iowans can talk about. Maltman’s talk reinforced to me that our instinct to choose good stories above all else is the right one. These stories give us an opportunity to talk about emotional truths that are universal to the human experience.

Many of the titles we have chosen for AIR over the years are what some people describe as “dark.” I can’t disagree, but they also seemed like the most discussable. Maltman helped me understand why that is true. He said that we need good monster stories to know who we are, to ask the question, “Where does the darkness come from and how do we fight it?” He shared a story about his two oldest daughters writing a story one summer and they would work on the plot and then go act it out in the back yard. Of course, he explained, he and his wife were killed off in the first chapter. Once they were “orphaned,” they could be the heroes of their own story.

It was great program. If you missed it, watch for the replay on the Library Channel (Mediacom Channel 10). Other books recommended by Maltman include:

Hope you can read a lot of stories this summer!

Best Library!

by Susan Craig on May 19th, 2014

I was recently visiting my son and his family in Brooklyn, New York, and I’d like to share an encounter I had with a young father at a park. My grandson was in school and I was taking my three-year-old granddaughter out for the morning. First we visited the nearby branch library and then we went to a park.

Approaching the park, I saw a young father carrying his maybe two-year-old daughter out of the gate. The young girl was wearing an Iowa sweatshirt. I smiled and inquired what their connection to Iowa was, explaining I was visiting from Iowa (luckily I had my Iowa shirt on that day, too!). We quickly determined that Iowa City was a common connection and the man asked me what I did. When I told him I worked at the Iowa City Public Library, his face lit up and he said, “That is the BEST library. We miss it SO much! We’ll never have another library as good at the one in Iowa City.”

Similar stories have been shared with me by many people, both personally and secondhand. We hear from people scattered across the country, and even the globe, who miss ICPL. People share with friends and family who still live here, through our Facebook page, or even with an occasional phone call. (“I just knew you would know,” they’ll tell us.)

When the cartoonist Berke Breathed left town in 1985 he did a cartoon for the local paper that highlighted the things he would miss most about Iowa City and one of them was, “the swellest library in the known universe.”

The known universe is a pretty big place, but I have found the Iowa connection is strong wherever you go. Once you’ve found the Iowa connection, you can probably find an Iowa City connection. It’s wonderful that one of the most memorable things about Iowa City is a great public library. Just what the only City of Literature in the western hemisphere should be known for!

While in New York I took my son, who works in the film industry, the Raygun Iowa City Downtown District t-shirt that says, “DOWNTOWN IOWA CITY: from tree sweaters to unsupervised pianos – anything goes.” He says he’s had some interesting conversations every time he wears it and sometimes even the library is mentioned.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berke Breathed's homage to Iowa City, and the Iowa City Public Library, can be found on the Library's first floor.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berke Breathed’s homage to Iowa City, and the Iowa City Public Library, can be found on the Library’s first floor.

Celebrate Libraries This Week

by Susan Craig on April 15th, 2014

National Library Week is this week. It is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association and was first celebrated in 1958. Libraries have seen many changes in the past 46 years, but the core values of literacy, free access to information, intellectual freedom, and strengthening community remain the same.

How we meet the needs of our community now includes outreach to daycares, public access computers, electronic collections, and technology classes. For the last 20 years, I’ve heard predictions that the library wasn’t needed and would be going away “soon.” That has not happened, and I don’t think it will happen in the foreseeable future. The Iowa City Public Library is a trusted and well used community resource.

We are in process of compiling all the data from the surveys that people completed in March. This information shows that the Library is considered very important to the quality of life in the community by 94.2% of respondents. More than 80% have visited in the last six months and 31% visit three or more times per month. The Library is a place to “get” stuff and meet people. People filling out the survey were asked what they did on a visit and they replied:

  • Checked out library materials (79.2%)
  • Searched the library catalog (44%)
  • Picked up a hold (32.5%)
  • Asked staff for help (31.6%)
  • Viewed a display, exhibit or art (17%)
  • Attended children in the Childrens Room (13.5%)
  • Used wireless network (11.1%)
  • Attended a meeting (9.7%)
  • Met a friend of colleague (9.7%)

Whatever your reason, I hope you visit soon. And, take the time during National Library Week to share a fond memory you have of an experience in a library.

We Want YOU!

by Susan Craig on March 24th, 2014

The Library has worked under a strategic plan for more than thirty years, adopting a new one every four or five years. It is often noted by new Library Board members, with varying degrees of astonishment, that we actually follow our plan! The first step of a new planning process, which we have just begun, is an environmental scan.

We can learn a lot about our environment by looking at facts and figures about our community and how it has changed since our last planning process. Is our community increasing or decreasing in population? If growing, where are the growth areas? What changes in other demographics are measurable– income, race, education level?

The most important part of our environment is what residents in our service area think about our current services, how they use the library, and what needs we aren’t meeting.

That is where you can help us.

Two thousand households in our service area (Iowa City, rural Johnson County, University Heights, Hills and Lone Tree) received printed surveys. If you received one, please complete and return it by April 1.

A large sample of people who have used their library cards recently and for whom we have email address will get an email this week asking them to complete an online survey. This survey is available to anyone and can be found at: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1568479/Iowa-City-IA-Web-Survey

Personally, I find it more than a little annoying, to be asked to evaluate everything I buy or experiences I have. I choose to do it for a selected few organizations and companies that I expect to have an ongoing relationship with and who I believe will do something constructive with my feedback.  I hope you feel that way about the Library and will take the time to complete a survey. We won’t ask often and we will consider all of your responses. Thank you.

Is the LIbrary Open?

by Susan Craig on February 25th, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I am more ready for spring than I have been the last few years. I have been asked a couple of times this winter if the Library was closing.  Typically, we are open in most weather, including snow. If the snow is very heavy and expected to continue; if ice makes travel treacherous for hours, or if we have a large number of staff that cannot make it to work then I will consider closing for the day.open library image

That has not happened this year. We have had many snow “events” but nothing of blizzard proportions. Yes, snow often results in less business at the library, but, like a grocery store we are often busy before (a rush to pick up that reserved item to read under a cozy quilt after an hour of shoveling, or some family movies to occupy the frigid evenings that often follow a snow) and after as soon as the streets are clear enough to get around. No matter the weather, there are always people at the Library.

I believe the public library is a very important resource, and one that should be available as much as possible. It is also an optional visit (unlike school) so no one suffers if they can’t make it due to weather …. Unless you consider being deprived of library time as suffering!

It’s pretty common sense that the hours the library is open correlate directly to how many people physically visit the building. The Library Board sets the building hours and calendar in February every year for the upcoming fiscal year. When the library is open is so important they have an entire policy devoted to library hours.

What do you think our busiest day is, hour for hour? If you guessed Sunday (we’re only open 12-5 on Sunday) you are correct. In the second quarter (Oct-Dec) we averaged 279 people per hour in the library, followed by Saturday at 242 people per hour. Our busiest weekday is Friday (212 people per hour) and our least busy is Tuesday at only 164.

It’s still cold, but it’s warm inside, so come on downtown and make a visit to the public library.

I Love Libraries

by Susan Craig on February 12th, 2014

Who doesn’t love their library?book_forweb

Public libraries are held in high regard by most people. A new Pew study shows that over 90 percent of Americans older than 16 think that public libraries improve the quality of life in a community, are important because they promote literacy and love of reading, and play in important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed by providing materials and resources. Closer to home, a similar number of residents (94 percent) rated the Iowa City Public Library as excellent or good in a recent community survey.

My love affair with libraries goes back to the east side Carnegie library building in Waterloo, Iowa. The Children’s Room was in the basement with its own separate entrance. It was like walking downstairs into a treasure room with a little basement smell, the smell of books and Miss Kelley (she didn’t smell), who kept me in reading material for many years.

Modern Children’s Rooms are much more lively and colorful with programs (book babies, reading to dogs in the library –who would have thought!), collections (downloadable books for kids, movies, toys!), and technology quite a bit more advanced than a stereopticon (iPads, AWE computers) not even dreamed of back then.

The more things change the more they stay the same – the public library still supports education and entertainment while providing a safe place and free access for people of all ages and from all socio-economic ranges. However, providing library services is not free and, in addition to our tax support, we rely on private gifts to help us provide the services you know and love.

This month we have a special challenge – for every library lover who makes a first time donation to the Friends Foundation a generous donor will match gifts up to the first $1,000. Please help us meet that match. Go to Love Your Library  and make a donation today.

Enjoy all of our Love Your Library special activities

Talking to the Dead

by Susan Craig on October 31st, 2012
Talking to the Dead Cover Image

Lisbeth Salander fans meet Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths who can’t quite walk the straight and narrow and follow the orders her boss gives her.  She works double duty to keep contributing to a disturbing case of a young woman, likely a prostitute, found dead of drug overdose in a squalid house, her six year old daughter dead beside her.  Why is the platnium credit card of a very wealthy tycoon found in the same room?  Especially since he’s been dead for months.  This heroine is not one to follow protocol and her social skills are very deficient, but her intensity and stubborn refusal to back down from seeking the truth, no matter where it leads are appealing.  I hope there will be more stories featuring the compelling Fiona.

The Gods of Gotham

by Susan Craig on July 15th, 2012
The Gods of Gotham Cover Image

It seems like we live in a very political time — but, it might give you some satisfaction to know that it could be worse after you read The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye.  This debut mystery is set in 1845 New York City, where politics is in all aspects of life — what neighborhood you live  in, what church you attend, what job you have.  Even the newly organized police force only exists because a politician said it should, and others see the very existence of police as an infrigement of their civil rights and no different from a standing army.  Timothy Wilde is an officer in the new police force thanks to the political pull of his older brother Valentine and a horrible fire that destroys his life savings and leaves him too scarred to go back to his old job as a bartender.  Tim puts on the “copper star” and gradually comes to see the worth in what he does.  When he encounters a blood soaked little girl who claims to know where the children’s bodies are buried he is in the hunt for a serial killer who is removing children from brothels.  The descriptions of New York City and the way people lived in 1845 are very compelling, throughout the novel the author makes use of flash, an underground language akin to thieves cant which adds additional authenticity.   This is a fascinating and enjoyable read and I am pleased that it’s the first in a series.

The End of the Wasp Season

by Susan Craig on June 4th, 2012
The End of the Wasp Season Cover Image

Scottish author Denise Mina is a favorite of mine — not always easy to follow, but then, people are more her thing than a plot.  Both the plot and the people in this second title featuring DS Alexandra Morrow are grim indeed.  The story skips back and forth between two deaths — bad boy millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from a tree on his palatial estate, Sarah Erroll is kicked and beaten to death by home invaders.  Dysfunction doesn’t even begin to describe both of these people and their families as Alex, five months pregnant with twins, discovers links between the two.  Alex has her own dynamics to deal with after the death of her father, issues with her delinquent nephew and the appeareance of an old friend linked to one of the victims.  Family is the overall theme — what people will (and won’t) do for flesh and blood.  It’s a long, dense story and at times my attention wavered, but then I would get pulled back in by the complex characters.

The Irresistible Henry House

by Susan Craig on May 28th, 2012
The Irresistible Henry House Cover Image

Henry House was born in 1946 and spent his first year as “practice baby” in a college home economics program designed to teach young women how to be mothers. (Yes, this was really a common practice across the country).  Typically babies were orphans and were put up for adoption after one year.  Henry, however, steals the heart of the program director, Martha Gaines, and stays on, moving upstairs with her and seeing a succession of practice babies come and go.  What he learns is not a good lesson — how to make a variety of women think they’re his favorite.  At the age of 10 Henry learns who his biological mother is and loses his trust in Martha.  Baby boomers will enjoy the side characters in Henry’s story — Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney, the Beatles– as he wanders from college towns to New York,  Los Angeles, and London before returning to Wilton College.  Henry is an engaging character and the mid-twentieth century setting is fun in this coming of age story.