NSYA Book Group meets on 1/18

The Not-So-Young Adult Book Group will be meeting on Wednesday, January 18 at 7pm in the 4th floor conference room. We’ll be talking about Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. Copies are still available at the front desk if you haven’t picked one up yet.

Copies of the next book are on order and should be here by the night of the meeting so you can get started right away. That book is Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.

The Not-So-Young Adult Book Group is a book discussion group for adults in which we read and discuss books written for teens. It’s a casual friendly group and newcomers are always welcome!

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Arlington Speaks: Things Every American Should Know

Throughout December, you might have seen the big poster boards near the elevator at Robbins, inviting anyone to contribute their ideas of “Things Every American Should Know.” The idea for this display came from the essay “How to Be American: Why cultivating a shared cultural core is more important than ever—and why such a project serves progressive ends” and the What Every American Should Know website (where anyone can still add an entry).

Though the original intent was to solicit lists of specific historical figures, events, documents, places, or ideas that are markers of civic or cultural literacy, contributors took a much broader view – and that’s wonderful! Many of these things need not be specific to Americans, but apply to all people.

Here are a few photos of the display:


“What is on a globe?” Knowledge of geography is important!


“Reach out and help! Don’t wait: just go and help!” & “Our Constitution and democracy does not work without the active participation of its people.”


“Always vote! Your vote does matter!” (Note how people added to and commented on each other’s ideas, circling and underlining, and in this case, adding a checkbox!)


“Children are the teachers of the parents, not the other way around.” & “Respect political differences” & “Black Lives Matter” & “How to Love”


“How to listen to people we don’t agree with: Empathy is not agreement.”


“Be curious not judgmental,” attributed to Walt Whitman


“Freedom of speech” & “Beauty comes in all shapes + sizes” & “That words are powerful – especially those of the president – and they should be used wisely.” & “The U.S. Presidents”


“Listen to the poor before trying to help them!”


“Unless your ancestors were Native Americans, everybody’s family were immigrants at some time…Be compassionate to others, please.”


“How we dress does not mean yes” & “True democracy is not easy” & “Understand world languages to really understand others’ pains and pleasures over the world”


“To unlearn your biases” & “A person is a person, no matter how small,” attributed to Dr. Seuss


“Be the change you seek in the world. In community we rejoice.”


“All men are created equal + independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent + inalienable among which are the preservation of life, liberty, + the pursuit of happiness,” attributed to Thomas Jefferson


“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Overwhelmingly, responses to this prompt displayed empathy, compassion, and consideration. Arlingtonians also invoked the wisdom of others, including Walt Whitman, Dr. Seuss, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read the original blog post introducing this display: “Ten Things Every American Should Know.”

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Computer Basics class

By popular demand, the library is offering a Computer Basics class! Whether you’re a complete beginner, just a little rusty, or want to brush up on the basics, all are welcome. There’s always something new to learn!

When: 3-4pm, Tuesday, January 10

Where: Robbins Library Conference Room (fourth floor)

What to bring: A laptop* or tablet if you have one, your questions, and yourself!

*If you don’t have your own device, you can check out a laptop with your library card (you must have your library card with you!). Library laptops can be checked out for two hours at a time and used within the library. Ask at the reference desk if it is your first time using one. You can also check out a computer mouse to use with the laptop.

No reservations necessary, class is first come, first served. See you there!

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Robbins Library Book Discussion Group – “The House of the Seven Gables” 2/6


The Robbins Library Book Discussion Group will next meet on February 6 at 7pm in the Robbins Library Community Room.

They’ll be discussing “The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. New members are welcome.

Here’s the description from Novelist:


These words, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notebook, neatly encapsulate the theme of “The house of the seven gables”- that a family whose fortunes are poisoned by its past misdeeds. The sins of the Pyncheon father are visited upon his children over a period of several generations, until such time as one of his descendants unites with a member of the family he has wronged. Love conquers hate, and new blood washes away the original crime. This intriguing and insightful novel truly deserves its significant place in the canon of American literature.

Copies of the book are available now at the front desk at Robbins after Jan 4. Want an ebook or audiobook? ebooks through overdrive and commonwealth ebook collection. digital audiobook on hoopla.

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PLAY! Musical instruments!

Jan Vermeer painting 1672

Jan Vermeer painting 1672

With the ringing in of the New Year,  comes an opportune time  to learn a musical instrument.    We keep hearing about the benefits of music for the mind and spirit   –  so why not dive in finally.  If playing bagpipes, bassoon or banjo seems daunting,  perhaps   recorder, keyboard, or  kazoo could suffice.  If playing with others and love of history is your thing, – consider learning fife –  or drum  –   and join a local fife and drum corps.   Or join a drumming circle.











The Library has books aplenty to get you started – plus sheet music for various levels and for a variety of instruments.

Here’s a super quick sampling of our music collection…

Absolutely on music : conversations by Haruki Murakami with Seiji Ozawa

Banjo camp!  Learning,  picking & jamming with bluegrass & old-time greats  by Zhenya Gene Senyak

The complete how to kazoo by Barbara Stewart

The complete idiot’s guide to playing the fiddle by Ellery Klein                                                                                                                                                                                                                Guitar rhythm & technique for dummies by Desi Serna


How to play the harmonica and other life lessons by Sam Barry

The “how to manual” for learning to play the Great Highland Bagpipe                                      by Major Archie Cairns

Ian Campbell’s easy ukulele [Book one] a guide for absolute beginners 

Keyboard for dummies by Jerry Kovarsky

The recorder guide : an instruction method for soprano and alto recorder, including folk  melodies from around the world by Arthur Nitka & Johanna E. Kulbach

Rubank elementary method for bassoon : a fundamental course for individual or like-instrument class instruction by J.E. Skornicka

Unbored : the essential field guide to serious fun [compiled by] Joshua Glenn

So don’t be bored.  Stop by the PLAY! display on the first floor (near the Reference Desk) and pluck a few choice titles – if you dare.

Or move on up to the 3rd floor and tune in to the 780s section.



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Reading challenges for 2017

It’s nearly a new year, which means many people are thinking about new year’s resolutions. Here at the library, our resolutions tend to focus on (surprise!) reading. As has become tradition (2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016), we’ve rounded up some reading challenges from other websites and blogs.

  • The 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge gives 40 book prompts “to help diversify and expand your reading in the new year, PLUS an ‘advanced’ section with 12 books for hardcore readers who complete the challenge before the year is over.” Their first prompt? “A book recommended by a librarian.”
  • For a slightly less ambitious list, Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge lists 24 categories. Why is it called “Read Harder”? Because ““We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try.” There is also a Goodreads group to join (optional).
  • Modern Mrs. Darcy offers two reading challenges for 2017: reading for fun and reading for growth. Choose one or both!
  • The blog Books and Chocolate is offering its “Back to the Classics” challenge again in 2017. Discover and enjoy classic books you might have intended to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. There are twelve categories to choose from.
  • The “TBR pile challenge” is to read some of those books that have been on your (real or mental) “To Be Read” list. This is the year you finally read them!
  • Porter Square Books challenge?
  • Build your own reading challenge! Peter at LitReactor has some words about what’s wrong with using someone else’s list and how to make your own.
  • 6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win is a reading challenge that will tackle 6 books recommended by the New York Times to understand the 2016 election. Those from all political perspectives are welcome to participate!
  • Or visit this huge list of reading challenges from girlxoxo and find the one that’s perfect for you!

Have you done reading challenges in the past? Which ones have you enjoyed? Which ones have you given up on, and why? What are your reading goals for the year?


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2016 Best Books from Robbins Library Staff

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  We’re kicking off the year by fondly remembering our favorite books published in 2016.  Without further ado, here are the Robbins Library librarians’ top picks of 2016!

JennyThe Wonder by Emma Donoghue (2016) is set in Ireland in the 1800s, where eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell claims not to have eaten for four months. English nurse Lib Wright is brought in to determine whether this is a miracle or a hoax, but soon Lib begins to wonder not how Anna is pulling it off, but why? Emma Donoghue is a master storyteller; if you’re only familiar with Room, give The Wonder a try!

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016): Now I finally have something to recommend when people ask for something fun and light! Eligible has its serious moments, but it is mostly delightful: a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Cincinnati. Liz is just as witty, Darcy just as obnoxious. Jane and Bingley wind up on a reality show.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, Jack Tiffany, J.K. Rowling (2016): Rowling built the Harry Potter world so effectively in the seven books that it was perfectly easy to imagine The Cursed Child in great detail even though it was a play, not a novel. Utterly satisfying and magical, it’s the story of the Potter/Weasley, Weasley/Granger, and Malfoy kids at Hogwarts. And there’s time travel.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016): Ferociously funny and highly articulate, Lindy West is the feminist everyone needs to read to become that little bit more aware and more compassionate toward all fellow humans. Especially on airplanes.

MauraThe Mothers by Brit Bennett – A sharp take on the impact decisions have on our lives, both the ones we make and the ones others make. There are crystalline sentences that explore grief, longing and all forms of love that left me speechless and shouting YES within moments. Its one of the best kind of books- I am so sad when it’s over because I want to stay in the world with the characters, who are so flawed and real. If you haven’t read this yet, I envy you.

RobSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is an epistolary sci-fi novel in which a giant hand, made of an unidentifiable metal, is discovered when a young girl falls into a hole in rural South Dakota.  Fast forward to her adulthood, and Rose Franklin is a scientific researcher attempting to uncover the mystery behind the metal hand she fell onto all those years ago.  The more that she and her team discover about the artifact, the more questions are raised.  The format makes the book easy to read and compelling, but that doesn’t mean Neuvel skimps on the science or political intrigue!

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg John Barker (Illus. Julia Scheele) is an accessible & engaging primer on queer theory.  Chock-full of pop culture references & possessing a whimsical tone, this graphic novel breaks down some pretty serious critical theory in a way that’s easy to understand without any background.  Just don’t go into this expecting your typical graphic novel – the images are there to enhance the text, not to tell a story on their own.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis is a YA novel that tackles rape culture head on, without being didactic.  Alex killed her sister’s murderer & she doesn’t feel bad about it.  She tries to make herself invisible at school, but is drawn out of her isolation after some chance encounters blossom into friendships.  This book really reminded me of what it was like to be a teen, McGinnis has an authenticity to her characters that I really enjoyed.  Not a book for the faint of heart, but a book with a very important message that needs to be heard.

Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu (Illus. Sana Takeda) is a graphic novel set in a matriarchal alternate version of Asia.  This world is ravaged by a war between the Arcanics, a race of magical people that are often part animal, and the Cumea, an order of human sorceresses that enslave and kill Arcanics to harvest their magics.  We follow our protagonist Maika Halfwolf, who is half human, half Arcanic, on her grim journey to learn more about her mother’s past, to avenge her death, and to figure out how to contain the primal power that lurks within her.  The art is gorgeous and intricate – the book is well worth checking out for the illustrations alone.

The Devourers by Indra Das is a difficult book to describe without giving away too much. Set in India, it is told primarily through our protagonist Alok’s transcription of journals that were given to him by a person claiming to be a werewolf. The story is harsh, brutal, and forces the reader to confront what it means to be monstrous. Though the novel deals with a lot of topics that may be uncomfortable for some readers, including rape, it shows a level of nuance and sensitivity to these difficult topics that I don’t often see.

LindaMy absolute favorite book this year was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow for being an unrepentant aristocrat, and follows his life for several decades. Despite being confined to the inside of one building, his life -and the story- is filled with vibrant characters and a rich, deep inner life. Every sentence felt exquisitely crafted and although it wasn’t a quick read, it was delicious, and I savored every word of this perfect marriage of story and language.

My second favorite book was My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, which is about a teenage boy named Che whose ten-year-old sister is a psychopath. He has spent his whole life keeping Rosa in check because nobody else will believe that she is dangerous, and he feels a huge amount of responsibility and stress in trying to prevent her from hurting anyone. She is manipulative and creepy and she is totally open with her brother about her peculiarities, which only makes the story more chilling. There’s lots more going on in Che’s life and in their family to complicate matters, and I found it all incredibly riveting. It’s a teen novel that reads more like adult psychological fiction, and it is brilliant.


  1. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
  2. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
  3. The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
  4. Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

Let us know your favorites in the comments below!  Or let us know what you’re looking forward to reading in 2017!

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Read like a fact-checker

photo of fake news display: What is fake news? What is the filter bubble? How can I tell what is true?

A photo of the “fake news” display at the Robbins Library. The display will be up through the end of January.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are a cornerstone of our democracy; they are enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Historically, humanity has struggled for access to information, or access to enough, good quality information; now, we have the opposite problem. Anyone can write anything and spread it easily and quickly; it is now up to the reader to discern whether the information is accurate or false, or somewhere in between. In short, we must all learn to read like a fact-checker.

To accompany our display (see above) and previous blog post examining the questions “What is fake news?,” “What is the filter bubble?,” and “How can I tell what is true?,” here is some further reading for those who are interested in the problem of fake news. From the links below, you can learn tips and tricks for how to be a savvy information consumer; you’ll learn the role that search engines (e.g. Google) and social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) play in spreading all kinds of information; and you’ll understand why information evaluation and media literacy are such important skills.

“Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” Stanford History Education Group, November 22, 2016 [PDF]

“Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off….At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.” -Stanford History Education Group

“Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds,” Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2016

“A growing number of schools are teaching students to be savvy about choosing and believing various information sources, a skill set educators label ‘media literacy.'” -The Wall Street Journal

“Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” Camila Domonoske, NPR News, November 23, 2016

“The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world….And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.” -NPR News

“Blame the Echo Chamber on Facebook. But Blame Yourself, Too,” Kartik Hosanagar, Wired, November 25, 2016

“Echo chambers are obviously problematic; social discourse suffers when people have a narrow information base with little in common with one another.” -Wired

“Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income,’” Andrew Higgins, Mike McIntire, Gabriel J.X. Dance, The New York Times, November 25, 2016

“If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not….If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.” -President Obama quoted in the New York Times

“In the war on fake news, school librarians have a huge role to play,” Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Verge, November 16, 2016

“Misinformation is perpetuated because people aren’t taking the time to evaluate sources before they accept it as truth and/or pass it on to others.” -The Verge

“Google, democracy, and the truth about Internet search,” Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian, December 4, 2016

“The contents of a page of search results can influence people’s views and opinions.” -The Guardian

“The ‘Comet Pizza’ Gunman Provides a Glimpse of a Frightening Future,” David A. Graham, The Atlantic, December 5, 2016

“Without any promising answer to the problem of fake news, outlandish false claims…will continue to grow.” -The Atlantic

“How Data and Information Literacy Could End Fake News,” Kalev Leetaru, Forbes, December 11, 2016

“At its core, the rise of “fake news” is first and foremost a sign that we have failed as a society to teach our citizens how to think critically about data and information.” -Forbes

“Why fake news holds such allure,” Story Hinckley, Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2016

“Fake news is the ultimatum of a political news culture that has increasingly focused on confirming readers’ own worldview instead of challenging them, experts say.” -Christian Science Monitor

“Indiana University tech tool “Hoaxy” Shows How Fake News Spreads,” Gretel Kauffman, Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2016

“In the latest move in the battle against fake news, a new website dubbed “Hoaxy” offers free visual representations of how unverified news stories spread, mapping out who has shared them on social media and the degree to which they’ve gone viral.” -Christian Science Monitor


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What is fake news?

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, The issue of “fake news” has been, well, in the news a lot lately. To kick off 2017, one of our January displays at the library is about how to tell real from fake – a skill called information literacy or media literacy. Basically, how to assess the quality of information you encounter and be a savvy consumer of information.

What is fake news?

  • Fake news is misinformation, either intentionally or through lack of high quality, rigorous research and reporting.
  • Fake news may not be 100% fake; it may be a mixture of real and fake, or it may be heavily biased, giving an unbalanced view of an issue or topic.

How does it spread?

  • People click on it and share it on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit – often without even reading the whole article, just the headline. Headlines are often intentionally wild and unbelievable (a.k.a. “clickbait”).

How can you tell what is true?

  • Triangulate: Check multiple sources. Does this information appear in one place, or many places?
  • Investigate the source: Who is publishing the information? Is it an individual (e.g. someone’s blog) or an organization? If it’s an organization, what’s their mission statement? This will give you a clue about possible bias.
  • When was it written? Is it recent, or is it “recycled” from months or years ago?
  • Is it an ad or “sponsored content”?

Are you a critical reader who can tell real news from fake? Visit our display to learn more, and pick up a helpful handout. Stay tuned for another blog post soon featuring links to stories about the problem of fake news.

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2016 Reading Challenge is almost over!


Remember that hot pink bookmark that you picked up earlier this year for the Robbins Library 2016 Reading Challenge? Now that 2016 is almost over, so is the challenge! All books should have been read in 2016, but you have until January 6, 2017 to return your filled-out bookmark to the Reference desk to be eligible for a prize drawing.

If you never got a bookmark but want to participate, you can still grab one at the Reference desk and fill it out retroactively. It lists various categories of books and you just check off each one that you fulfilled during the year. You don’t need to complete any particular amount of categories to be eligible for the prize drawing. The most important part is to fill out your contact information on the back so we can get in touch with you if you win!

Check out our original post for all the information about the challenge including a complete list of categories.

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