penultimate semester complete

I am perilously close to being done my library-student career and getting back to full-on librarianhood (I’m of the opinion that being a librarian isn’t contingent on having a specific degree, but YMMV).

Today I handed in my last paper of the term. It was a really fun one to write because I incorporated analysis of children’s literature and its repressive/educative nature and the kind of books that fight that sort of thing. It’s probably a little more polemical than it strictly needed to be, but I prefer writing with something to defend. I’ll be presenting this paper (after I get it back and incorporate Judi’s edits) at the Stranger in a Strange Land Children’s Literature Conference in a couple of weeks.

I had a very good semester. My courses were fun and informative (even the management course). I have heaps of classic Children’s Literature bibliographies to be working from when I’m in Children’s Departments. My class on Youth Services was supremely interesting and I feel I got a lot of background to dealing with Young Adults, and maybe more importantly learned who to be reading in the professional literature to do a good job working in that kind of role in the future. Also, I got to make my book trailer, which A.S. King linked to on her blog, so that’s a few kinds of cool.

The other thing I did today was go to a talk on Youth Community Informatics by Bertram Chip Bruce. It was an interesting talk about education being difficult to study as part of a community, even though it’s integral to community. Community informatics got some cautionary notes about how putting the technology first can ignore the critical dialogues that need to be taking place in a democracy. They did some interesting projects like helping with Community Asset Mapping for a Chicago neighbourhood that cab-drivers won’t take you to. But my favourite takeaway from the talk was this idea of Community as Curriculum, which states that people need to:

  1. learn about the world in a connected way
  2. learn how to act responsibly in the world
  3. learn how to transform the world – to give back to the community

I don’t think of myself as an educator or anything, but that’s the kind of thing I can see myself being a part of in the library world. I’ve decided that YA services are probably where I want to be working, which is a good thing to have figured out as I start looking for jobs. I’m planning on using skills I learned in my cataloguing, instructional role and social media courses, and I’m definitely not sorry I went to Australia and got some Systems Librarian experience, but YA services feel like they’re where I’d do my best work, and actually be helping to transform the world. Maybe not as much as a teacher, but in a role much more suited to me.

And there we go, my reflections on my semester. I have two-and-a-third more courses to finish by the end of August. Hopefully I’ll be able to find work for when I’m done.

book trailer for the dust of 100 dogs

I had far too much fun making this book trailer for A.S. King’s The Dust of 100 Dogs (which I reviewed back when I first read it).

The Dust of 100 Dogs – Book Trailer from J Unrau on Vimeo.

I thought about doing it as a full-on stop-motion project, but decided the technical demands would overwhelm the “telling you about the book” aspects. I kind of like this hybrid form, especially with the way I could control all the lighting with a single off-camera flash.

I made the video in iMovie, thinking I might as well learn to use software more people own than something big and fancy like I’m used to. Also, using this kind of accessible software means it’ll be easier for me to do a “make your own book trailer” kind of workshop when I someday am working in a library.

booktalking mechanique – script and response

Little George ran off to join the circus. You might too, when war’s been destroying the world for as long as anyone can remember. Into this bombed-out oblivion, the circus brings magic and beauty and mystery.

Once they had a man with wings.

You see, the Circus Tresaulti aren’t just talented performers, they’re also enhanced, rebuilt by their ringmaster from the wreckage of the world and who they once were. Ayar the strongman has a mechanical spine. His lover Jonah? Clockwork lungs. Panadrome was once a famous maestro but now he’s more pipe-organ than human. The tumblers and acrobats have no bones, just copper tubes to make them lighter, more flexible, harder (but not impossible) to break in a fall.

Little George wants to be a tumbler but the Boss won’t perform the operation. Two acrobats are locked in desperate competition for the wings left behind by the flying man who fell (and died). And the government man, well let me tell you about the government man:

When a particular young boy goes to the circus, and forgets to clap at the tumblers or the strongman because he is wondering if they could be of any use to him, he is a government man.

While he watches them he thinks of an agile militia; a way to prepare convicts before he puts them to labour; a body for himself. Government men are never too young to worry about dying before their work is finished.

Later, his mother will ask him why he didn’t enjoy himself. He will lie that he did. She will believe him; he is an excellent liar.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine is a kaleidoscopic story about rebuilding beauty from fragments of people. It’s not a straightforward tale; but if you love language that tumbles through misdirection, soars to revelation and never gives up on being a fantastical, emotional, six-million-dollar spectacle, this book is for you.


So that was the script for my booktalk. And a booktalk is supposed to be different than a review; it’s more about enticing and teasing than evaluating. This is how I thought my performance went.

My booktalk was the first one on the docket and I felt very prepared. I went up to the front of the room and launched into my script. I was experimenting with full-on memorization and sadly, it didn’t work as well as I wanted.

During the performance I had my normal responses when doing anything from memory, which is that I had unnatural pauses when I was looking for the correct next word. I always hate that feeling, especially when I’d gone through the talk without a hitch multiple times on my bike ride to class. But that’s how it goes.

Apart from the word-scrambling, I felt engaged with the class. I was making eye contact with people who seemed interested and there were smiles. During the show I didn’t feel like people were bored, and that’s my main concern in a performance situation. I hoped that my pauses came across as getting lost in enthusiasm, my mind and mouth not being synced to the same speed, rather than a lack of preparation.

Immediately afterwards, I wanted to talk to people about it and explain my choices and hear what they thought, so the silent sitting while some people scribbled and others were doing their prep for their booktalks was a little unnerving.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with my performance, because of those pauses to search for the right word which I’d misplaced somewhere in my head. In my closing I re-used forms of “spectacle” twice in a sentence, because I’d lost “emotional.” It had been one of my key sentences to the entire piece and I bungled it.

That said, I felt my script was really good. It hit the right tone for the book, and someone who was intrigued by my performance and the hints of story I was giving them would enjoy the book. If they were looking for something very different they’d realize it and not waste their time with a book they might not like.

Since the audience couldn’t see the script in its ideal form, they may have found the whole thing confusing. The words did do a lot of (intentional) tumbling, and pacing my speech never seems to happen in the moment. Hopefully my enthusiasm for the book came through and won the audience over even if they didn’t have time to parse every word.

This was a different kind of booktalk than I’ve done before and I’m not entirely sure it would be effective with actual teens. It felt too much like a performance and not enough like a conversation, which is how I’ve done them in the past. But if I was doing something this performative in the future and written a deliberate script, I really need to use it. I’m better and more fluent in delivering words I’ve prepared if I have them in front of me. Especially when I’m trying to do something more complex and writerly than a plot summary.

story-gaming in libraries full bibliography

For my class on Services for Young Adults I wrote a Topic Briefing on Story-Focused Games in libraries. I ended up not using everything I’d read, because it’s only a five page paper. Here’s the full bibliography. There are a bunch of videogame related articles I skimmed in the course of research, but they don’t show up here. Also, some of the books of essays had other essays I read, but didn’t come close to using so they aren’t in here (but the book as a whole might be). My favourite resources in the bibliography are bolded.

  • Cover, J. G. (2010). The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Falk, J., & Davenport, G. (2004). Live role-playing games: Implications for pervasive gaming. International Federation for Information Processing, 127–138.
  • Farmer, L. S. J. (2011). How school libraries can provide gender equity in e-gaming. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 16–17.
  • Fernández Vara, C. (2009). The tribulations of adventure games : integrating story into simulation through performance. Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Fine, G. A. (1983). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from
  • Gallaway, B. (2009). Game on!: gaming at the library. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Retrieved from
  • Grabianowski, E. (2012). why is the 5th edition of dungeons & dragons a big deal? Retrieved from–dragons-a-big-deal
  • Gray, J., Sandvoss, C., & Harrington, C. L. (2007). Introduction: Why Study Fans? In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss, & C. L. Harrington (Eds.), Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (pp. 1–16). New York: New York University Press.
  • Harris, C., & Kirk, T. (2011). It’s All Fun and Games in the Library. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 8–9.
  • Harris, M. (2012). Future of reading? “Active fiction” lets readers make the call. Retrieved from
  • Hoenke, J. (2011). Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game. Justin The Librarian. Retrieved from
  • Joseph, B. (2008). Why Johnny Can’t Fly: Treating Games as a Form of Youth Media Within a Youth Development Framework. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 253–265). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from
  • McGonigal, J. (2008). Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 199–227). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Nicholson, S. (2007). Go Back to Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from
  • Nicholson, S. (2008a). Finish your games so you can start your schoolwork: A look at gaming in school libraries. Library Media Connection, 26(5), 52–55.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008b). Modern board games: It’s not a Monopoly any more. Library Technology Reports, 44(3), 8–10, 38–39.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008c). Reframing Gaming – Clearing up misconceptions about this increasingly popular activity. American Libraries, (7), 50–51.
  • Nicholson, S. (2009). Library gaming census report. American Libraries, 40(1/2), 44.
  • Nicholson, S. (2012). Crossed Paths: An Improvisational Storytelling Game. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from
  • Salen, K. (Ed.). (2008). The ecology of games: connecting youth, games, and learning. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from
  • Sullivan, A., Mateas, M., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2010). Rules of engagement: moving beyond combat-based quests. Proceedings of the Intelligent Narrative Technologies III Workshop (p. 11). ACM. Retrieved from
  • Wallis, J. (2007). Making Games That Make Stories. In P. Harrigan & N. Wardrip-Fruin (Eds.), Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (pp. 69–80). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Harrigan, P. (Eds.). (2007). Second person: role-playing and story in games and playable media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from
  • Wark, M. K. (2007). Gamer theory. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from
  • White, M. M. (2008). Level 10 Human Student: The Effects of Non-Curricular Role-Playing Game Use on Academic Achievement and Self-Efficacy. Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved from
  • Williams, J P, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (Eds.). (2006). Gaming as culture: essays on reality, identity and experience in fantasy games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from
  • Williams, J Patrick, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (2006). Introduction: Fantasy Games, Gaming Cultures, and Social Life. In J P Williams, S. Q. Hendricks, & W. K. Winkler (Eds.), Gaming As Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games (pp. 1–18). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from
Dystopia by SteFunny Yeung on flickr -Shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license

ya dystopias and current politics

[photo credit: Dystopia by SteFunny Yeung]

I just spotted a couple of articles about the political modelling going on in YA dystopias: What Occupy can Learn from the Hunger Games and a comment on that article that asks Are YA dystopias secretly conservative?

It seems like there’s some connection there in wondering about the ramifications of political messages for these impressionable readers and discounting their agency. Rosenberg says the message of opting out is “worrying, given the age of the target audience” which isn’t a full on “These kids today’ll believe anything,” but I was sensitive to it after this week’s readings in my youth services class that discuss how much importance there is to making sure young people are making their own decisions.

Also, this review of Z for Zachariah had a bit calling a character’s decision “very pacifistic, almost dangerously so” which struck me as interesting for its use of non-politically correct ideas.

Anyway, what do you think? I’d be interested to hear more stories about large scale political reform for YA, myself.

the distant future’s course selection

Apart from the shortness of the days around here, January seems a long way away. But late last night I signed up for my January courses.

The plan is to take four and a third courses. One is in Automation and Systems, which is basically the stuff I’m working with day in and day out here at Prosentient. And I have to take the Management course. I decided to take the 1 credit Risk Assessment course because it’s about insurance and stuff I know little about, and the classes are right at the beginning of the term which means it won’t add to the late-term crunch (and since I’ve taken one 1 credit course already it’d be a waste not to take a couple more). And I’m taking a YA services course, taught by my favourite SLAIS instructor so far.

The big choice I made was in taking another Children’s Literature course instead of Database Design. Technically speaking databases are much more practical. I’ve read kids’ books before and probably don’t need special training in dealing with the literature. But fuck it. I’m working with databases now and for the next six months. I want a course where I get to read good books.

And then I’ll still have 2 1/3 courses left for next summer before I’ll have a degree that says I’m a librarian.