Librarian Tools: Brainpickings.org

When I found out this morning via my World Librarian PLN that Maria Popova, the creative author and reader behind one of my favorite, most longstanding international librarian tools Brainpickings.org, has written a book, Figuring, I was thrilled and immediately ordered a copy. I was also reminded much I enjoy her dedication to the life of the mind, to writing and reading, to illustration, to the spoken word, all the pieces in her posts that can point us in new directions for collection development, personal exploration, and professional learning. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and helps me to remember to stop and see books as beautiful works of art. She gives picture books their due as art and literature, finding some of the edgiest and most beautiful children’s picture books each year (last year’s list “The 7 Loveliest Children’s Books of 2017”). Who knew other cerebral types would love kidlit as much as school librarians do? Of course the best picture books are explorations of the wonders and questions of life, which is why I very often end a picture book choking back tears.

Popova’s dedication to all of us in sharing her musings and discoveries in the world of books, reading, and writing–or to be more precise “art, science, philosophy, creativity, children’s books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning”–provides me with a huge lesson as a school librarian. Plant those seeds of interest and inquiry. Stop and smell the endpapers, the often stunning yet many times unsung part of any good picture book, as one of my favorite Syracuse University instructors pointed out to us during our Children’s Literature class. Today I had another amazing example of #librarylife serendipity, when I realized that my copy of I Like Cats, bought from Tara Books at their book stand at the ECIS Library Conference 2018 in Chennai, India, was also featured on Brainpickings in 2011 The 11 Best Illustrated Children’s and Picture Books of 2011 and the post included a photo with the all-important endpapers!:

i like cats brainpickings
Brainpickings post image from “I Like Cats: A Picture-Book Showcase of Indian Folk Art”. Popova’s booktalk: “Bad cats, sad cats, sunny cats, slow cats, hurried cats, cats with scowls and cats with jowls.”

Here is my copy at home, sharing a shelf with two small Ayyanar Horses guarding our family’s library. Ayyanar Horses are Hindu symbols of protection that have long guarded sacred sites in India as full-size monuments, another discovery during our conference in Chennai:

i like cats Ayyanar Horses
A new copy of Tara Books’ I Like Cats by Anushka Ravishankar and various artists on our family shelves which are guarded by two minature Ayyanar Horses from my trip to the ECIS Library 2018 conference in Chennai, India.

This connection between Brainpickings and my trip to the ECIS Library 2018 conference in Chennai, India, and its attendant discoveries in art and publishing, is a perfect illustration of how my online librarian tools and constant magpie-esque reading habits bring all the pieces my library life together, many times in totally unsuspected but exciting, providential ways! Did I remember this book in 2018 from a post I read back in 2011? I wouldn’t be at all surprised. And now I’ve come full circle.

These experiences remind me that we have to share our vision and all the connections and provocations we can provide to our students and faculty from our travels in the worlds of ideas, imagination, and information. It is so exciting to put them all together in unique ways that only we can provide for our learning communities! Popova is a wonderful example, her creativity and curiosity have been pointing out wonderful reads and connections between writers, artists, and thinkers for me for at least 10 years, and here’s to many more! And, as always, I am eagerly awaiting her “Best of” lists for 2018 to infuse my collection, budget allowing, with the latest work in art, philosophy, science, fiction, poetry…all the things I turn to Brainpickings for throughout the year.

Some of my favorite lists of her favorite reads and posts from 2017:

The 7 Loveliest Children’s Books of 2017

7 Favorite Science Books of 2017

And for just a fabulous overview of the treasures brought to the top of the year by her readers:

The Best of Brain Pickings 2017

I love how she speaks to us about reading and writing, reminding us:

“We read for the same reasons we write — to think, to feel, to locate ourselves within ourselves and in relation to the world. Of the 258 pieces I wrote this year, these are the “best” — a hybrid measure of those which ignited the most ardent response in readers and those which I most cherished composing. Please (re)enjoy, and here is to a vitalizing new year.”

I don’t know about you, but I love her assertion that we are not in need of (re)vitalization in the coming year. We are vital already. And I can’t help but think that she is a librarian at heart.

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