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Monday, March 27, 2017

Tax Captures and the Library

Last week I shared some information about how the proposed federal budget would affect the Portland District Library, and this week, I'm going to focus on something a little closer to home--property taxes!  

Interestingly enough, when I tried to find some generic clip art to jazz up this post, all the art related to taxes was extremely negative . . . depictions of depressed people being pickpocketed by Uncle Sam or shaken upside-down with cash falling from their pockets.  Which only goes to show that nobody likes taxes.  We don't like talking about them, and we don't like paying them.  

But for once, I have something positive to say about property taxes (and the politicians who create them).  When the Ionia County libraries passed our millage renewal this past August, you may have noticed a section of the ballot mentioning that the City of Portland DDA was entitled to a portion of the money we collected.  This is called a tax capture, because they capture part of the taxes that a group levies.  At the time of our millage renewal, a library could only opt-out of giving money to a DDA--or Downtown Development Authority--when the DDA was forming.  Here in Portland, that was decades ago . . . years before we even had an operational millage.  

However, in January of this year, the governor signed PA 505-510, which allows libraries to opt out of the DDA tax capture if any one of the following exists:
  • The DDA extends its financial plan or changes its borders
  • The millage is passed after the bill was signed
  • The DDA does not have any outstanding debt
 Because the Portland DDA just finished paying off the renovation of City Hall, the library is allowed to opt out of the tax capture beginning in December of 2017.  This will give us somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 extra dollars, which we can use to better serve our patrons.

Of course, I want to be clear about the fact that I don't have anything against the Portland DDA.  I am, after all, a member of their board.  All my time at the library is spent trying to make Portland an even better place for all the people who live here, and one way to do that is to improve the areas that get the most use.  So I don't want to say that the DDA shouldn't be funded.  I'm just so grateful for the support that the voters of Portland showed to the library this past summer, and I'm overjoyed to be able to say that 100% of the property taxes collected from the millage will now come to the library.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Federal Budget and Your Library

There have been a few things happening on a governmental level that affect the funding of the Portland District Library.  Because it's sometimes difficult to translate what's being said in bills and budgets, I figured I'd write a couple posts to explain the two items that will impact us the most.

Today I'll focus on the President's budget blueprint, which was released last week amid much fanfare.  I'm sure you've heard a lot about the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and other agencies and programs that are potentially on the chopping block.  One agency that tends to get lost in the shuffle is the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS as we library folk tend to call it.  As USA Today reports, the IMLS provides $231 million to the nation's 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.  They distribute this money to the state libraries, which in turn use it to fund programs and services that benefit local public libraries throughout the state.  Great.  That all makes sense, but what does this mean to you?

Well, the lion's share of the IMLS money received by the Library of Michigan goes to the Michigan eLibrary (or MeL), a virtual library available anytime, anywhere to all Michigan residents. As you can probably tell by the name, the Michigan eLibrary includes MeLCat, and the MeL databases.  In other words, the mechanism by which you can have books and movies that we don't own in Portland sent from more than 400 libraries across the state will disappear if the IMLS is eliminated.  So far this year, our patrons have borrowed an average of 261 items per month from other libraries, so we are getting a lot of use from this service.  Hopefully our representatives in Congress will understand how important ILMS funding is to the people of Portland and will fight its elimination.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Storytime Anytime-Giraffes

So am I the only one impatiently waiting for April the Giraffe from Animal Adventure Park to give birth? I mean I have been watching YouTube for weeks now and all she does is pace around her stall and occasionally lick the camera. Oh well, I am sure that the birth will eventually happen at 2:37 in the morning and I will totally miss it anyways.

Since I have had giraffes on the brain I decided to hold a story time in honor of April's impending delivery.

Warthogs can waltz, lions can tango, and chimps can cha cha cha, but how can Gerald the giraffe dance with that gangling neck and spindly legs? Gerald feels left out and embarrassed until a kindhearted cricket explains that anyone can dance if they hear the right song. With a renewed self-esteem Gerald leaps, twirls, and twists at the annual Jungle Dance.

The author definitely lays on the moral of loving yourself and "dancing" to the beat of your own drummer a bit thick. Despite the schmaltziness the rhyming text is fun and little ones will looooove the delightful illustrations. I mean who wouldn't be amused by a bunch of colorful jungle animals doing a variety of complicated dances.


Boba the Baboon wants to take a photograph of all of the giraffes, but Geri is so short that she doesn't fit in the frame. What follows is a series of farcical stunts designed to raise Geri to the height of the other giraffes. When dangling Geri from tree branches, filling her up with Helium, placing her on a teetering stack of turtles, etc. all fail Geri sadly offers to sit out of the picture. Fortunately, a wise caterpillar has been watching the hi-jinks from a nearby rock and offers a sensible solution to the problem.    

When I first saw The Short Giraffe I assumed that it was going to be another bully/self-esteem story. Geri is the only giraffe without long legs and a super long neck and the rest of the herd mocks her short stature. There is nothing wrong with this type of story (they are important to tell), but there are a lot of them.  What made The Short Giraffe so refreshing is that none of the other giraffes really care that Geri is different. The herd accepts her just the way she is and, in fact, the entire story is about them wanting to ensure that Geri is included.            

OK, it wasn't just April that inspired me to have a giraffe-themed story time. Recently, our library purchased the book, I Am Not a Chair by Ross Burach, and I knew immediately after reading it that I wanted to share it with my story time kids. If you have not read this hilarious picture book yet go to your library or book store and pick up a copy today.  As you have probably guessed from the title and the cover, poor Giraffe keeps being mistaken for a chair. Sat on by a stinky skunk, squashed by a hippo, used as a perch for a flock of birds, and finally trapped by a hungry lion will Giraffe ever convince the other animals that he NOT a chair! I ADORED this book and judging by the laughter when I read it the kiddos did too.

There's a Giraffe in My Soup is another wonderfully silly picture by Ross Burach (He is obviously a huge fan of giraffes. Do you think he is watching the live stream of April?). In this highly amusing story a young boy finds a giraffe in his soup and when the waiter returns with a new bowl it has an alligator in it. Each subsequent bowl of soup brought by the increasingly exhausted waiter has a different wild animal in it.

To cap off story time the kids made a giraffe craft. I covered cardboard paper towel tubes in yellow construction paper and also cut out the head and ears. The kids drew the faces on their giraffes and glued the head and ear to the tube. Then came the fun part of finger painting orange spots on the giraffes. It is always fun to see how differently the kids' crafts turn out. Some had thousands of tiny little spots like freckles, others had one or two spots, and then there are the kids who basically just painted the whole giraffe solid orange.  If you do not want to paint you could always color spots with markers or crayons or pate on paper spots.

Now you have some fun books to read and a craft if you get tired of watching the Animal Adventure Park giraffe cam on YouTube.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Year, New Series: Juvenile Graphic Novels

Following Jana's New Year, New Series bandwagon, I've put together a list of firsts in a series. Something other than our pillars of comics; Batman and Avengers and etc. Granted, most of these series do not run on as long as the series Jana has covered but they are great jumping-off points for readers to find other similar series in my stacks.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
It all started when a girl named Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond and accidentally hit a unicorn in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, her obligational best friend. But can a vain mythical beast and a nine-year-old daydreamer really forge a connection?

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World Amelia Cole and the Unknown World  by Adam P. Knave
Amelia Cole lives in two worlds — literally. One runs on magic; the other is built on technology. When the barriers between both worlds start to break down, Amelia and her Aunt Dani must take extreme action. It's the start of a whole new world in adventure, magic, and excitement as Amelia Cole steps forward to do what she knows is right, even when the consequences might be wrong.

Into the Woods

 Bigfoot Boy: Into the Woods
 Bored while visiting his grandmother for the weekend, Rufus, an ordinary ten-year-old boy, ventures into the nearby woods after he spies his young neighbor Penny heading there. A city kid, Rufus quickly loses sight of Penny, but while making his way back to Grammy's, he's drawn to an unusual object he sees hidden inside a tree: it's a totem, carved out of wood and hung on a cord. Rufus places the odd-looking thing around his neck and reads out loud the word inscribed on it: "Sasquatch." Suddenly, strange things begin happening all around him — and to him.


Hilda sits in her tent listening to the thunder passing overhead when she hears a bell. As she hurtles towards the vanishing tinkling sound, Hilda unwittingly embarks on an adventure into strange worlds ruled by magical forces. Luke Pearson tells this exciting tale for kids and adults alike. Hilda is also coming to Netflix in 2018.

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan

The Flying Beaver Brothers 
Meet Ace and Bub, the flying beaver brothers! Ace loves extreme sports and is always looking for a new adventure. Bub loves napping and, well, napping. But when penguins threaten to freeze Beaver Island for "resort and polar-style living," the brothers put their talents to work saving their tropical island paradise. Can they save Beaver Island from environmental destruction? And can they do it in time to still win the annual Beaver Island Surfing Competition?

Friday, March 3, 2017

2017 Newbery Medal Winner: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

A story can tell the truth, she knew, but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed.

Deep in the bog lies the Protectorate, an isolated city shrouded in sorrow and misery. For the downtrodden people of the Protectorate believe that they are at the mercy of a cruel and evil witch who demands a yearly sacrifice of their youngest child.  Yeah, that sounds like a delightful children's book! I confess that as the mother of four, the youngest of which is only eight months old, I had difficulty reading portions of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. It was far too easy to empathize with the despair and madness experienced by Luna's mother when she is forced to surrender her infant to the elders.

The premise of The Girl Who Drank the Moon actually reminded me slightly of The Hunger Games (albeit a fantastical, less bloody version). Obviously, both stories involve the government requiring the people to sacrifice their own children for the "greater good". Like those in the districts, the subjugated people of the Protectorate are hopeless, impoverished, and controlled by fear.

I promise that The Girl Who Drank the Moon is not all doom and gloom, though. There is a witch who lives in the forest, but Xan is kind and generous. Not knowing why the people of the Protectorate abandon their children, Xan rescues the babies and gives them to loving homes on the other side of the forest in the free cities. One year during the journey to the free cities, Xan feeds a baby girl moonlight and imbues her with magical powers. Knowing that the infant will eventually need to be trained in the art of magic Xan decides to raise the child, whom she names Luna, as her own granddaughter. Luna, Xan, a silly little dragon named Fyrian, and Glerk, an ancient and wise swamp monster live happily together in the forest until circumstances force them to confront the true evil that reigns in the Protectorate.

I know that I compared it to The Hunger Games (loosely) and, no doubt, there is some weighty subject material in The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Also, Barnhill's sophisticated prose and frequent flashbacks throughout the book may prove challenging for younger readers. Despite these issues I believe The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a beautifully written story that will enchant children, teens, and adults.