Romm and Nicholson: The book thief and the Hoosier author

Book inscriptions are a common find among the thousands of volumes held by the Indiana State Library. Some are mundane: An author’s hastily scribbled signature dedicated to a fan or a generic holiday greeting from the previous owner’s grandmother. Others are more intriguing and can lead a researcher down some interesting paths. Within a collection of books by Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson are five bearing inscriptions to a certain Charles Romm, Esq. A few of these books also have typed letters from Nicholson directed to Romm at an address in New York City pasted within the inside cover. So who exactly was Charles Romm?

A quick internet search led to the book “Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It” by Travis McDade (ISLM Z1029.M33 2013).1 The answer, in short, is that Charles Romm was a prominent New York bookseller who specialized in rare and valuable editions, while at the same time helming a wide-reaching gang of book thieves who plundered libraries of their literary treasures, which he later sold to his customers.

While it is impossible to ascertain that the Charles Romm referenced in the Nicholson inscriptions and correspondence is the same Romm described in McDade’s book, it seems highly likely that both men are the same person. Romm’s New York bookstore was located at 110 4th Ave. The address Nicholson sent his correspondence to was 224 E. 12th St., a mere two blocks away. Moreover, some of the correspondence speaks of publishing and other literary concerns, indicating that Romm was somehow involved in the business of books and not merely a fan. It is unlikely that Nicholson, who was a best-selling author in the early 20th century, knew anything of Romm’s more underhanded dealings and merely assumed he was corresponding with one of New York’s most preeminent booksellers.

Letter from Nicholson pasted inside the cover of “The Madness of May.” The Mayfield-Thompson feud is also mentioned in a biography of James Whitcomb Riley.2 Riley publicly accused the poet Mayfield of plagiarizing fellow Hoosier author Thompson. However, another source3 indicates that Frank Mayfield was a pseudonym used by Daniel W. Starnes and not, as Nicholson states, by Thompson himself.

The more unsavory side to Romm’s business is as fascinating as it is upsetting. His book theft “gang” consisted of men who would go to public libraries and universities, pose as patrons or students and either steal books directly from the shelves or borrow them and never return them. According to McDade, “There was no collection of books too small to escape the attention of the gang. From archives to athaneaeums, from local libraries to historical societies, the men in the ring scouted, indexed and pilfered them all.”1

Clipping from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY), Jan. 5, 1932. Available from newspapers.com.

Many libraries attempted to counter this type of theft by moving their more valuable items to closed stacks and non-circulating collections. However, this only caused Romm’s thieves to pivot operations and they managed to continue their thefts through careful observation of libraries, librarians and security systems. Eventually, the law caught up with Romm and in November of 1931 he was indicted on grand larceny charges. He ultimately ended up serving a little over a year in New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison before dying a couple of years after his release.1

Inscription from Otherwise Phyllis (1919). “Inscribed with all good wishes, and with my thanks for his kind interest in my work, to Charles Romm, Esq.”

It is unknown why Nicholson inscribed so many books to Romm. Perhaps Romm truly was a fan of Nicholson’s work. Or perhaps – and this seems more likely – he sought inscriptions on first editions to make them more desirable for his customers. Whatever the reason, it seems remarkable that this small set of books all bearing inscriptions to Romm has managed to stay together for almost a century, making their way from Nicholson in Indianapolis to Romm in New York and somehow making the trek  back again to Indianapolis, ultimately to reside in the Indiana State Library.

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

[1] McDade, Travis. Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

[2] Van Allen, Elizabeth J. “James Whitcomb Riley: A Life.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

[3] Zach, Karen Bazzani. “Crawfordsville, Athens of Indiana.” Charleston, SC: Aracadia, 2003.

Firefly season – Voting, summer reading challenges, nominating and more!

Children’s librarians across the state of Indiana know May as Firefly voting season. For the past five years, May has been the month that libraries have showcased the five nominated picture books through programs, displays and outreach, leading up to inviting their youngest patrons, ages 0-5 to vote on their favorite book to win the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award. Like most things in 2020, this year the voting season for the Firefly Award will be different.

Voting for the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award has been extended until July 31
Libraries now have the opportunity to offer the Firefly program virtually and as a part of their summer reading programs. Libraries are welcome to showcase the Firefly program in whatever way they choose using the following resources:

Virtual Viewing: Patrons can view all five books through recorded videos available on the Indiana State Library’s Firefly website. The videos will be available until July 31, at which time they will be taken down.

Virtual Voting: After patrons have viewed the books, either in person, or through the recorded videos, they are welcome to use the online voting form to record the votes of any members of their household ages 0-5. An effort should be made to limit votes to one vote per child.

Program Guide: Every year the award committee collects craft ideas, activities, songs and rhymes to support each book. These are perfect for patrons to do while at home or for children’s librarians to use in virtual storytimes. The 2020 Program Guide is available for download here.

Libraries and childcare providers may collect votes in any manner of ways. They can encourage their customers to use the online form or they can collect votes themselves and email their tallies to Suzanne Walker at the Indiana State Library. Tallies will be accepted until July 31. If libraries choose to collect votes themselves they might do this through hands raised during a virtual storytime, phone calls, email or even snail mail.

In addition, libraries are encouraged to offer Firefly voting directly through their summer reading programs, either as a challenge in their online reading platform like Beanstack or READsquared, or as simply a task that patrons can complete for a prize or incentive. This is the first year that the Firefly deadline has been extended to coincide with summer reading. It is a great opportunity to engage the public in these quality picture books while at the same time providing virtual content for summer reading.

How to add the Firefly Award to your Beanstack Summer Reading Program
The Indiana State Library recognizes that Beanstack is just one option for tracking summer reading participation online. We offer these directions as a guide and perhaps as inspiration for any library who is using Beanstack or any other online summer reading platform. These directions are being included as a courtesy and should not be considered to be an endorsement of Beanstack or any other summer reading tool.

Creating a Beanstack Learning Track to feature the Firefly Award is a great way to get your young readers connected to this fantastic program! You’ll need a title, a description which you can copy from the Firefly Award website, badge details, patron details – where you can set age limitations for our 0-5 year old customers – and then you’ll add the activities. Each book can be a separate activity with a link URL to the video. The sixth activity of your learning track will be the link to the voting site. Beanstack has some helpful tools for learning how to build your program. Learning tracks are covered here.

For a step-by-step guide to adding the Firefly Award to your Beanstack Summer Reading Program download the Firefly Beanstack Activity Badge put together by the North Manchester Public Library. Alternatively, you could offer the Firefly as its own program. Directions for that are here.

New Facebook Group
The Firefly Award Committee has started a new Facebook group for any librarian or childcare provider who works with the Firefly Award. The purpose of the group is to share ideas and inspirations and to generally support each other and the book award. You can find the group by searching for “Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award.” Once you have located the group, click Join Group to request to join.

Nominating Titles for 2021
This summer, not only do we want you to keep the votes coming, we are also starting to collect nominations for the 2021 Firefly season. Nominations will be accepted from June 1-Oct. 1, 2020. We recognize that it may be difficult for libraries to access new picture books this year due to budget constraints. We encourage librarians who can to go ahead and nominate several titles.

If you work with youth in a library, either in a school or in a public library, you are eligible to nominate as many titles as you wish. Nominating is easy. Just send an email to Suzanne Walker. Include in your email: title, author, illustrator and publication date.

Criteria for book nominations are as follows:

  • Must be published by July 1 of the current year, or any time in the previous year and still be in print. Currently, this ranges from Jan. 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020.
  • Possess strong child appeal.
  • Demonstrate three or more of the five practices of Every Child Ready to Read®: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing.
  • Have artistic quality with text that supports the illustrations or a compelling narrative provided by illustrations.
  • Diversity and inclusion are encouraged.

The nomination pool will be narrowed down to five titles by the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Committee by January 2021. More information on ballots and how to vote will be available in early 2021.

Watch for Fireflies
Finally, we are entering the outdoor evening firefly season in Indiana. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Say’s firefly is one of the earliest emerging fireflies in Indiana and may be seen from early May through mid-July. What better tie in for the Firefly Award program than actual fireflies?

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center Librarian Suzanne Walker.

Sharing your family story

When my oldest brother was a toddler, my grandfather would prop him up on his lap and spoon feed him a concoction he liked to call “coffee soup.” It was made from soaking soda crackers in sugary coffee. My grandfather lived through the depression and dishes like this were popular because they made the most out of a few kitchen staples when times were tough. Grandpa Harold passed away before I was born but the coffee soup story just happens to be one of my brother’s favorite memories to share.

I heard so many stories of my grandfather’s exploits growing up that he became sort of a folk hero in the family. I’m grateful to be a part of a family of fantastic storytellers. In fact, every time my family is together we tell stories. We dig up our most precious, most hilarious and special memories and recount them together. The facts may change as we age and our memories fade, but we all work together to put the important moments of our lives into context and bond over our shared history.

I never realized the true value of these stories until recently. Research has shown some surprising psychological benefits to family story telling, particularly with the younger generation, but the advantages last through all stages of life. Stories that focus on overcoming or facing challenges build resilience and fortitude when we are faced with difficulties of our own. Strong family narratives have been shown to help mitigate both stress and anxiety during tough situations.1  They help us to form our identities and find a sense of belonging.

Right now, as we manage the challenges presented by COVID-19, many of us are searching for ways to connect and make meaningful use of the time spent with family members. One way to do this is to plan some multi-generational bonding through sharing your family story. Stories can be told almost any time and in any place. Even mundane activities, like car rides, can be opportunities to share a story. If you are looking for some inspiration here are a few storytelling project ideas you may want to try with your family.

Interview a family member

David and Margaret Worton wedding, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Interview a family member and record their story to pass along for generations. With just a little preparation and time you can uncover the challenges, triumphs and adventures that make up your family member’s life story. If you need help, the UCLA library has a Conducting Oral Histories with Family Members guide. This is a fantastic resource for each step of the project from preparing for the interview, organizing questions and making a recording.

Family Tree Magazine has a list of 20 open-ended questions to ask your relative during a family history interview. For an even more extensive interview, the My Heritage Blog has a list of 117 questions. You could use these lists for inspiration by creating some questions of your own based on what you want to know most about your family member’s life. You may get more out of the experience if you send the interviewee the questions in advance so that they can think about their answers ahead of time. Always respect their decision if they choose not to share certain information. This builds trust and will make them more comfortable sharing the rest of their story with you.

For those who would like to interview a family member that doesn’t live in the same household, there are a number of technological solutions like smartphone apps that record telephone calls to recording a video interview. Just be sure that the person you are interviewing approves of being recorded first. You don’t have to have a recording device, though. A piece of paper and a pencil to write down responses is all you really need to capture their story.

Work together on a family tree craft project
If you have some paper and old magazines on hand, Kinderart offers a tutorial on how to make a family tree collage. Since trips to the craft store may be a challenge right now, it’s convenient that most of the supplies required are items that many people already have handy. As you craft the tree you can tell stories about each person represented. Discuss their lives, pass on stories you’ve been told, or talk about any memories you have of them. This is a fantastic project for all ages and the end result is a work of art that could be displayed and cherished for generations.

Explore family photos

Nancy H. Diener collection, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Open up your photo albums, digital photo gallery or those boxes of photos hanging out in the closet and go through them together. Talk about the people in the photos and tell stories about their lives. Some families have many of photos going back generations that they can share while others have more recent family photos on digital devices, like phones or computers. Recent memories are just as important for story building as those passed down over time. So don’t worry if you don’t have access to older family photos. Either way, this is a great opportunity to pass on and make memories.

Through email, text or social networking sites you could share the photos electronically with those you live apart from to create a connection and conversation across distances. For example, my grandmother has been adding her family photos to her Facebook newsfeed. She recently shared photos of her grandparents and later told me stories about the pictures. I would have never heard those stories if she hadn’t added these photos on social media. An added bonus is that now multiple family members have digital copies of these pictures, too.

Share your own story
Begin journaling or sharing your own life experiences. You have many irreplaceable family memories that only you can share with your loved ones. If you need help getting started the FamilySearch has a blog post with nine writing tips on how to tell your personal story.

As author Robin Moore says, “Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.” Our memories are some of the most valuable gifts that we can share with one another. They are free, easy to pass on and they have the power to connect generations of family members together. Now is a great time to think about how our family stories have shaped and guided us throughout our lives and to create new stories for the future.

1 Feiler, B. (2013, Mar 17). “The stories that bind us: Children who know their family’s history are better at facing challenges.” New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.ilibrary.org/docview/1815060551?accountid=46127

This blog post is by Dagny Villegas, Genealogy Division librarian.

Treating a rare French newspaper featuring the Statue of Liberty

In late 2019, a rare newspaper was discovered in the Indiana State Library’s General Pamphlet Collection by Rayjeana Duty, Circulation Support supervisor. The newspaper showed a single sheet from the Le Journal Illustré from May 13, 1883. What made this particular issue of this newspaper unique and special is that it contained articles and illustrations showing the construction of the Statue of Liberty, before it was given to the United States in June of 1885. The images in the newspaper showed not only the Statue of Liberty being built, but also showed various images of the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

Upon realizing how unique and rare the newspaper was – and also realizing the poor condition it was in – it was brought to the conservation lab for assessment and conservation treatment. The newspaper was in extremely poor condition. Most of the sheet had been torn along the original folds, and repaired at some point with rubber cement and a thin acidic paper. This caused extremely bad staining throughout the sheet, obscuring both the images and the text. The paper was also extremely brittle and the damage was so severe that the newspaper needed to be handled on a rigid board to prevent pieces from falling off and getting lost. After thorough testing and examination, a plan was put together for a way to remove all of the staining and repair all of the remaining damage.

The first step was to remove all of the old repair paper and rubber cement staining. This was carefully done by applying a solvent to the stained areas on a powerful vacuum table.  The solvent would solubilize the old rubber cement and move it into sacrificial blotter paper underneath. Slowly, this cleared out the staining and allow the removal of the old acidic repair paper without damaging the newspaper.

Once all of the staining and repair paper was removed, all of the tears opened up again.  This was sort of like taking an old bandage off a wound. Since the repair paper was the only thing holding all of the pieces together, once the repair paper was removed all of the pieces came apart. This was the point where it was possible to determine how much of the sheet was missing, and how many holes there were. Due to the brittleness of the paper and the staining, each of the pieces were individually washed in specially modified water to de-acidify the paper. This removed much of the brittleness and resulted in the paper being stronger. Much of the yellowing of the paper also went away.

Once all of the pieces were washed, the reassembly process began. All of the missing areas were filled with re-pulped paper on a suction table and the sheet was lined with a very thin Japanese tissue with wheat starch paste. This tissue was thin enough to still allow for the text on the opposing side to be read.

Working under a microscope, the loose pieces were carefully put back into in their correct spots.

Finally, the newly-filled in areas were carefully in-painted under a microscope to blend in with the surrounding image.

The final result is a newspaper that is better preserved and free of damage. This will allow for better viewing of both the images and the text. Click on the photos below for a larger view.

Translation of the bottom of the page featuring the Statue of Liberty:

The creation of the colossal statue of liberty
Executed by M. Aug. Bartoldi
Visit from M. President to the manufacture Gauthier and Cie, 25 rue de Chazelle (Parc Monceau)

1.       Fabrication in wood of the left hand of the statue.
2.       Modeling the same body fragment, covered in plaster.
3.       Scheme of the interior structure of the statue, facing forward.
4.       Building the statue in the courtyard of the manufacture.
5.       Section of the statue, seen from the side
6.       Modeling in wood of a part, molds built by the woodworkers.
7.       Beating of the copper on the molds built by the woodworkers
8.       Visit of M. President inside the statue. Entry through the right foot.

Drawings by Karl Fichot. See article p. 154.

Learn more about the Indiana State Library’s Martha E. Wright Conservation Lab here.

Translation courtesy of Sophie Barbisan, assistant paper conservator at the St. Louis Art Museum.

This blog post was written by Seth Irwin, conservator, Indiana State Library.

Hoosier youth chronicling COVID-19

The Indiana Center for the Book and the Indiana Young Readers Center are calling out for youth up to age 18 to report how their life experiences have changed in light of the global health crisis. The current pandemic has brought many aspects of life to a stop, while other aspects of life, like time with family, have been magnified. Youth are invited to share their observations during this unique time in the history of our state. Entries will be added to a permanent collection at the Indiana State Library.

Entry is simple. Download the editable PDF titled Hoosier Youth Chronicling COVID-19 and complete online or by hand. Each entry will need a License to Use form signed by both the child and a parent or guardian. This allows the Indiana State Library to use your form in future possible publications, in print or to display in our collection or online. You may also want to include one to two images, such as photographs you have taken or pictures of artwork you have created. Images are optional.

All entries may be submitted via email to Tara Maxwell Stewart, or mailed to the Indiana State Library:

Indiana State Library
Attn: Indiana Young Readers Center

315 W. Ohio Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202

While there is no current deadline for entries to the collection, we would like to collect thoughts in real time as students are home from school.

The Indiana Young Readers Center also wants to draw your attention to a wonderful packet created by Natalie Long of Long Creations. Natalie says, “This is something I designed for fellow families with children living through this difficult time, it is meant as a gift, not for profit.” Families are welcome to include the packet in their submissions to the Indiana State Library, but please note that the packet is optional.

If you have any questions about submitting your child’s work to the Indiana State Library, please reach out to Tara Maxwell Stewart.

The post was written by Indiana Young Readers Center Program Coordinator Tara Stewart and Indiana Young Readers Center Librarian Suzanne Walker.

Sonny Wharton: ‘Southern Indiana’s best-known bartender’

During this time of social distancing, some of us are likely missing our favorite watering holes and beloved bartenders. What better time to tell one of their stories? Bartender extraordinaire, William “Sonny” Wharton was born around 1905 in Nashville, Tennessee. Our story finds him much later on in Evansville, Indiana, where Wharton was mentioned in the Evansville Argus when that newspaper first began its run in 1938. The Evansville Argus was a weekly African American newspaper published in Evansville from 1938 to 1945 and included local, national and international news. By the end of 1938, Wharton began an informal column on liquor and mixing drinks. At the time, he was likely working at the Lincoln Tap Room, located at 322 Lincoln Avenue, per articles from early 1939. It’s clear that “Sonny” had much to say and a wealth of knowledge on the fine art of imbibing. His column began with insight into the importance of garnishes, the premiere liquors to choose for your cocktails and the etiquette of glassware amongst other topics. As time went on, he also began sharing more recipes.

Wharton was best known for working at the Green Room at the Palm Hotel, which was located at 611 High Street. He was a mainstay in Evansville’s black community and his expertise behind the bar at the Palm Hotel was advertised heavily. He was “night time head bartender” in the Green Room for most of the early 1940s. By early 1939, his Argus column had developed into “Tid-bits from Sonny” and featured regular cocktail recipes. While many spirits were in limited supply due to wartime restrictions, rum was readily available during the 1940s due to trade with Latin America and the Caribbean. Rum’s availability and popularity is reflected in Sonny’s columns and recipes.

In his personal life, Wharton had a daughter with Leola Marshall of Indianapolis. Both Leola and their daughter, Juanita Oates – later Johnson – worked for the Madam C.J. Walker Company in Indianapolis. Johnson later became the manager of the Madam Walker Theatre Center. Additionally, “Sonny” was married to Naomi Wharton, but they divorced in 1941.

The lifetime of the Palm Hotel could not be determined by the author at this time, but it was advertised with “Sonny” as its bartender into 1943. Wharton’s obituary notes that he had lived in Indianapolis for 19 years upon his death in 1961, so it’s clear that he left Evansville around this time, although the reason is not known.

Thankfully, the legacy of good times and good drinks continues and Wharton left behind his column for us. I decided it was only right that one evening after work I re-create, to the best of my ability, one of the cocktails he noted as a favorite. I chose the commodore, which was referenced twice in his column. A brief internet search on this drink notes that it also appeared in “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book” from 1935. While I had most of the ingredients on hand, mixing this drink did involve a commitment to making fresh raspberry syrup. Not as difficult as you’d think, actually! I used aquafaba in lieu of egg white and eliminated the additional half teaspoon of sugar surmising that it would push the drink over the edge in terms of sweetness for my taste. Served in a martini glass, the commodore is sweet, frothy and certainly boozy. It’s sure to brighten your day and maybe even make you forget your troubles. If fruit and rum aren’t your game, you can find more “Tidbits from Sonny” in the Evansville Argus via Hoosier State Chronicles. Cheers!

This blog post was written by Lauren Patton, Rare Books and Manuscripts librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Axis and Allies of uncertainty

Board gaming clubs and events circa 1995 were often a half a dozen kids gathered around an Axis and Allies™ board. I remember these events well. While those gathered were typically my friends, and I enjoyed the social time, I was never a great fan of Axis and Allies™. Aside from never being very good at it, the tediousness of moving the pieces and spending four-ish hours playing just to end up losing was never something I particularly looked forward to doing.

Board games, clubs and events have come a long way since then, and now many libraries are getting into collecting, lending, programming and promoting with games. In these uncertain times, it’s my hope that board games in libraries don’t suffer. I feel, as I shared in a webinar last year, that they can be a subtle and powerful tool to help players to learn and improve on many of the soft skills that employers covet in new hires. Throughout the history of the profession, public libraries have made materials available to all they serve. As a material type that can be a bit pricey – and where every game does not meet every player’s needs – libraries are uniquely positioned to help introduce games to a wider audience, while helping people find something they can enjoy. At the same time, we are helping improve the employability of those players. Currently, I am unsure when we will be able to get back to using our collections in these ways, so what better time to plan than now?

At a recent Indiana State Library update meeting, Director of Statewide Services Wendy Knapp shared some insights into Amy Webb’s “axes of uncertainty” method for planning for the future as explained Webb’s article “How Futurists Cope with Uncertainty.” While I myself am still digesting this method, I thought it might be fun to try it in relation to my fear – losing support for board games in libraries – and see how we, as a profession, might prepare.

First, what is the fear and uncertainty? Libraries will cut back on, or eliminate, board games from their collections.

Next, what is the opposite of that fear? Libraries will not cut back on, or eliminate, board games from their collections.

To continue the model, a second fear or uncertainty is needed. Here, I’ll use the example from Wendy’s presentation: People will continue social distancing.

Finally, the opposite of the second fear: People will return to libraries in droves.

Here is what we get:

Now we have a grid, or a continuum of possibilities, for these two uncertainties. We just need to figure out how to plan for the four basic quadrant outcomes. Basically, we would plan for the extremes for each possible combination. As an example, if budgets get tight and community pressure builds for libraries to cut back, it seems logical that board game collections wouldn’t grow if you have them, or they wouldn’t get started if you don’t have them. While I would personally love for this to not be the case, it’s a reasonable outcome. If that outcome was paired with continued social distancing, those lucky enough to have an assemblage of games could increase collection promotion to aid circulation, which would be a positive way to combat the negative community pressures. If you don’t already have a collection, then beginning to lay the ground work for the positive outcomes of a possible future collection might be the best use of time and effort.

The top half of the matrix  – the fiscal pressure side – suggests that people will return in droves. Planning for this might be trickier, but I would consider focusing on circulation or focusing on games that require less synchronous action around a table. I would also focus less on game nights and programs and more on collecting your players’ stories that could be shared with non-players. A community bulletin board – either physical or virtual –  to promote the games could be a great idea.

I would love to be in a situation where the bottom half of the matrix is closer to reality and libraries don’t cut back or eliminate board games – and maybe even invest more. One can dream. In this situation, if my community was continuing to social distance, I would look at creating materials about games, gaming and the collection. Maybe create a site to teach the community how to game online, or create marketing materials about existing services around games and gaming. The other extreme is that the people come back and libraries get to keep the collection strong. Here, possibly even more than the social distancing side of the lower half, I would look at ways to promote safe gaming. Maybe increase the number of games to better facilitate circulation or host virtual game discussion groups if you are able.

Here is what my final matrix might look like. Yours, I’m sure, will be different:

This method of planning for uncertainty was helpful to me and has gotten me thinking about games in libraries, especially here in Indiana. As some of you may know, there was a question on this past year’s annual survey to indicate if your library has board games in the collection. It may be a while before I can fully look at that data, but I do know that I want to begin curating more resources to support the libraries in Indiana. If anyone would be interested in a virtual round table for games and gaming in libraries, let me know. My email address can be found below.

This post was written by George Bergstrom, Southwest regional coordinator, Professional Development Office, Indiana State Library.

Celebrate Earth Day with activities inspired by Indiana picture books

Earth Day has been observed every year in April since 1970. That’s 50 years of celebrating the planet we all call home. It might feel difficult to celebrate Earth Day this year because of COVID-19, but here are two activities that everyone can do, inspired by two Indiana picture books.

Take a walk and look for native Indiana plants
“Wake Up, Woods,” published by Indiana’s Rubber Ducky Press in partnership with the Indiana Native Plant Society, is a beautiful picture book all about Indiana native plants. The book pairs lilting rhymes with informational text about 12 plants native to Indiana. The book is illustrated with delightfully accurate drawings of not only the plants, but also the creatures who live in and around the plants. On the cover a mouse, caterpillar and bee coexist among violets.

For this activity, all you need to do is step out of your home and take a little walk. You can do this on your own or with members of your household. Keep your eyes to the ground and look for violets, spring beauties or any other Indiana native plant. Violets are probably the easiest to identify because of their distinctive flowers and heart shaped leaves. The flowers can be violet in color, white or even yellow. Take a closer look and observe their petals. They have two top petals, two side petals and one bottom petal. Violets are relatively easy to find because they like to grow in a variety of soils and could even be found on the edges of parking lots. For more information about Indiana native plants, take a look at the Indiana Wildlife Federation’s lists and resources.

Write a thank you note to the earth
“Thank You, Earth,” written by Indiana author April Pulley Sayre, pairs glorious photographs with a simple sentiment: a thank you letter to the earth. As the pages turn, the reader experiences rich vocabulary while taking a visual tour of the world, including several images of Indiana like a redbud tree and a blooming bloodroot plant. The back matter at the end of the book describes several ways to write a letter of thanks to the earth, and where to send it.

For this activity, all you need is a piece of paper. Write a letter to your planet, thanking it for the air you breathe, the blue sky and the water you drink. If you have children in your household, get them involved, too. Instead of writing a letter, make a poster and hang it in a window so passers-by can enjoy the sentiment as well. Mail your letter to your local newspaper or radio station.

Indiana has many authors who have written picture books that celebrate the earth. Take a look at some of these authors for more information:

Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Helen Frost
Phyllis Root
April Pulley Sayre
Lola Schaefer

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center Librarian Suzanne Walker.

River city maps

Town maps can certainly be beautifully done, but they are at the mercy of the grid of streets to give them visual interest. Throw in a variable, like a winding river, and they become ever more interesting. The way the water meets the land and how a town is forced to bend along the banks adds lines and color to the maps. Where waterways meet cities the grid breaks down and leaves behind some visually rich maps.

Sometimes the river makes the city, both in development and in character. Indiana’s most famous river city is probably historic Madison, along the mighty Ohio River. Kentucky is usually omitted from maps, making it look like the town is situated at the edge of a cliff. The river is impossible to ignore there.

Likewise, Huntington was built up along a river. The Wabash, Little Wabash and the canals; waterways were ever important to its development. The maps are beautiful in the way the angled streets disorient the buildings. Especially lovely with the illustrations is this detailed map from 1879.

Other times, the city seems to develop while almost ignoring the river. Columbus seems to just dip a toe into the East Fork of the White River. Indianapolis, too, seems to be shying away from the White River and looking inward toward the circle center. Both of these towns have had interesting relationships with their rivers, but now Columbus Riverfront and Indianapolis are looking for ways to embrace their beautiful waterways.

It seems Logansport’s not afraid to straddle and nestle within the arms of the Wabash and Eel rivers. And Elkhart, too, appears not to have shied away from the St. Joseph and Elkhart Rivers. The river seems to be coming and going, swirling and whirling on the page.

If you enjoyed looking at these maps, take time to explore some of the great digital map collections available online. Don’t we all need something for our minds to linger on right now?

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
American Geographical Society Library
Osher Map Library
New York Public Library

This post was written by Indiana Collection Supervisor Monique Howell

Considerations for reopening if the library board or staff still have concerns

Once the current COVID-19 public health emergency is over and the executive orders limiting movement have expired, some library board members or staff could still have concerns. It is imperative that if additional restrictions remain in place, the library enforce those restrictions universally. Some of the things a library could continue to do to encourage social distancing for the public without risk of legal recourse are as follows:

1. Rearrange or remove some of the seating to limit how many people are congregating in the seating areas and to keep the tables spread a good distance apart from each other. This might draw some criticism from taxpayers but would not be discriminatory if seating was first come first serve.

2. Meeting room reservations by the general public could technically continue to be temporarily or even permanently discontinued. Neither the law nor public library standards require libraries to provide meeting rooms. Again, this is a move that might draw criticism but wouldn’t be discriminatory if no one has access except the library staff or board.

3. Libraries could continue to request patrons stand six feet apart at the check out and reference desks by marking the floors with tape – or something else – and posting signs, similar to what retail stores are doing. Requiring everyone to do that is not discriminatory. Family members and small groups that come in together should not be required to be separated from each other.

4. Libraries can use plastic sneeze shields at the check out and reference desks to protect staff from patrons similar to what the retail stores are doing. This seems impersonal but would be a non-discriminatory safety measure.

5. Libraries could rearrange their computer areas to provide some distance between each terminal. However, if rearranging isn’t practical, they could have only every other computer terminal operational to force some distance between the users and perhaps limit the amount of time each user may be on the computer. Computer users can put their name back on the waiting list to have another turn if they don’t complete what they need to do on the computer the first time. The library could sanitize the terminals between users.

6. Libraries could limit story time and other programs to X number of people, first come first serve and make sure they are holding the programs in a large enough space that individuals are not on top of each other, and so on. Maybe those turned away because the program filled up could get to be first on the list for the next program. Or, maybe the program is repeated multiple times so everyone can have a chance to attend since smaller groups will be allowed to attend each time. Don’t pass around objects to be touched by multiple people at story time  or programs; continue to keep puzzles and games put away out of reach or require that they be checked out and checked in even while using on the premises so they can be sanitized between users, etc. Capacity limits for story time or other programs should be stated on the program description. For example: “This program is limited to X number of attendees and is first come first serve” or “Attendees may register via X or Y.”

7. Libraries could still post a sign at the library entrance and have a policy requesting that those with communicable illnesses refrain from entering the library. However, trying to kick patrons out if they are coughing or have a runny nose could be problematic for multiple reasons. Library staff don’t know if the patrons might have allergies, asthma, lung disease, cancer, etc. Additionally, with COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses, sometimes the person is contagious before they even show symptoms and sometimes a person may still be coughing after they are no longer contagious.

8. It is possible for libraries to set a lower maximum capacity threshold for their buildings that will allow for six feet between every person in the library to try to prevent against overcrowding but this could be difficult to enforce unless the library stations someone at the door to do head counts of everyone coming in and out. This would obviously draw criticism if people are forced to wait to come in until others have come out but would not be discriminatory if enforced consistently. Libraries will want a policy in place for this and should expect to have to address complaints. This will likely not be a popular move.

Wherever the general public gathers, whether retail or grocery stores, the mall, restaurants, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or the public library, there will always be some risk of being around others with communicable illnesses. However, as stated above, there are measures that can be taken to help reduce the risk of spread of such illnesses and make public places safer for all.

This blog post was written by Sylvia Watson, library law consultant and legal counsel, Indiana State Library. For more information, email Sylvia.