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Herbst Library - Sarah's Blog

Welcome Back!

It feels really good to be back in the library this week. I’ve been gone for nearly six months since I left Urban last Spring for maternity leave. My daughter Mina is now 5 months old (and, yes, I am reading to her!). I missed Urban quite a bit over this extended leave, and I’ve been plunging back into my librarian duties with renewed vigor.

This fall and winter term we welcome Kathleen Esling, our assistant librarian. Kathleen is pursuing her masters in library and information science from San Jose State University. She has most recently interned at the libraries of Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep and Saint Mary’s College of California (both her alma maters). Stop by to say hi and welcome Kathleen on Mondays and Fridays in the fall and Fridays during winter term.

While I didn’t read quite as much as I would’ve liked this summer (having a baby will do strange things to time, expectations, etc.), my favorite book of the few that I managed to finish was Station Eleven. Emily St. John Mandel paints a post-apocalyptic world so striking and believable. Following a Contagion-style virus that wipes out most of the human race, a band of actors and musicians struggles to survive without the infrastructures that many of us currently take for granted. Interwoven into the story is the description of a well known actor’s experience with the plague 20 years prior, when it first broke out. This is a great book for readers who might not be sold on sci-fi but are open to beautifully written and well thought out tales. This novel will likely appeal to fans of David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), Peter Heller (The Dog Stars), and Margaret Atwood (The Year of the Flood).
Posted by Sarah Levin on Wednesday September 2, 2015
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Spotlight on Short Stories

I hear some students say they don't like short stories. I agree that finding a well crafted short story can be difficult, but there are many gems out there. Short fiction is a great way to read for fun during the busy school year as well, with some stories taking just minutes to read. Here are a few examples of great short fiction.

Four of my favorite short story collections:

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link is a collection of stories at verge on sci-fi and fantasy, but are really just good and weird.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson offers interesting plots and characters in a darkly humorous Southern gothic feel.

Here's your Hat, What's your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken is an eccentric collection of stories. I read this collection 20 years ago and some of the stories have stayed with me all that time.

Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories is an unparalleled collection by a master of shorts. Southern gothic at it's deepest and darkest, these bizarre stories will haunt you.

Urban Students seem to enjoy:

The Best Short Stories by J.G. Ballard was written in the seventies, but has inspired both cyber-punk and futurists. these stories touch on how humans interact with nature and technology.

Richard Yates: The Collected Stories explores the lives of ordinary people with exactness, empathy, and humor.

The Tenth of December by George Saunders is a contemporary collection that is oft described at poignant, America, inventive, and indescribable (ha!).

Flash Fiction:
You'll have more than enough time to read tales from these books, all under 1000 words.

Sudden Flash Youth

Flash Fiction Forward


Flash Fiction

Posted by slevin on Monday November 17, 2014
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Halloween inspired books

I used to love scary stories. As a kid, my favorite book was Alan Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Not only were the stories scary, but the drawings where haunting, ethereal, and gross. It’s not surprising that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been banned across the country numerous times since it was published in the 80s. They’ve now even published it with toned down illustrations by Brett Linquist (who you may know from the Series of Unfortunate Events). Oh well, times change.

As I’ve grown up, I find that I can’t handle more adult horror stories. if you, however, are drawn to the super scary and inspired by Halloween, here is a list of books to get you in the mood.

Just Plain Creepy and/or Gruesome

Scowler by Daniel Krauss
Stories by Edgar Allen Poe
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Sandman series by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)
Kipling’s Tales of Horror and Fantasy by Rudyard Kipling
From Hell by Alan Moore (graphic novel)

Fledgling by Octavia Butler
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly black
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
American Vampire (graphic novel) by Scott Snyder and Stephen King

Monsters & Demons & More
Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Peeps Series by Scott Westerfeld
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Horns by Joe Hill
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau
World War Z by Max Brooks
iZombies (graphic novel) by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred

John Dies at the End by David Wong
Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
Bite Me: a Love Story by Christopher Moore

Non fiction
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
My Friend Dahmer (graphic novel) by Derf Backderf
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Posted by slevin on Friday October 31, 2014
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How the library gets books (and more)

Have you ever picked a book up from the shelf and thought, how did this get here? Ordering books and other materials is called Collection Development in the library world, and it is a big part of my job as the Urban School Librarian.

First, be aware that the library has a budget for all of our materials from the databases Historical Newspapers and US History in Context to the book Eleanor and Park and the dvd Donald in Mathmagicland. When I am looking at what to add to the collection I have to ask myself a few questions.

  • What courses need new library materials?
  • Are there any new or changed courses this year?
  • Are our materials in specific areas up to date?
  • Do our materials reflect our current curriculum?

Then I will speak to teachers to see if there are materials they need for any new or existing classes and work with them to bulk up specific subject areas. I’ll also periodically read book reviews and blogs to make sure I know what is current. I love it when someones asks me to buy a book for our collection that I’ve already acquired!

As for fiction, I tend to buy books that speak to me. Having been at Urban for over 7 years, I kind of have a sense of what students may want to read for fun. I use blogs and reviews as well as American Library Association prize winners to find what will be the best for our collection. My favorite prize is called the Alex Award and highlights books published for adults that will appeal to teenagers. I usually love these books and have no problem marketing them to Urban students (City of Thieves is a great example!).

I also buy books that are suggested to me by teachers, staff, and students. I will also buy a book that a student needs for research if it is affordable and has a broad appeal.

While I sometimes order materials through or, I typically use a book jobber, which is the librarian way of saying book vendor. I use Ingram, and they send books just as fast as and typically for the same cost. I can also use Ingram to search for prize winners, or to find books on a very narrow topic that are vetted by experts and not just a random internet-user.

Collection Development also include taking materials out of our collection. Since we are small and mighty, I have to keep our collection at just under 10,000 physical items. Every year I weed books out of the collection. How do I decide what to take out of the collection? Again, I must ask a few questions.

  • When was the last time this book was checked out?
  • How old is this book (especially important with medical and science books)?
  • Is the book damaged or dirty? These I will often replace or repair if I can.
  • Does the book reflect the current curriculum?

Asking these questions makes weeding books pretty easy. For instance, when I first started working here there had been and Ornithology class. We had almost 100 books on ornithology! Since the class was no longer offered, I weeded the collection down to about a dozen books, just in case some student was interested in ornithology.

If you are interested in getting a book or other item added to our collection, send me an email! 
Posted by slevin on Wednesday October 22, 2014 at 01:48PM
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Libraries & Social Justice

This week is Multi-Culti week at Urban. We celebrate the affinity groups and allies in our community during this week, and I thought it’d be fitting to ruminate on the role libraries can play in social justice.

Like many of you, I was gripped by killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri over the summer. While I felt helpless as I read articles and watched the news, I began to hear reports that schools wouldn’t be able to open on time for Ferguson children due to the protests. I immediately wondered how the public library in Ferguson was impacted.

As it turns out, the library in Ferguson became a refuge for their community. Teachers started using the space as an impromptu classroom. Librarians offered lunch and activities for kids and their families. While librarians offered basics like bottled water and a place to check email for all of their patrons, they also provided a haven. Here is a sign that the library posted on August 15:


We are here for all of our residents. If you want to come, get water, read, check email, we are here and happy to serve our community! #fergmo #FergusonLibrary #Ferguson

View on Instagram

Ferguson Library supporters also posted wishlists on the Powell’s bookstore website as a way for other librarians who wanted to help anyway they could. The books address issues of social justice, dealing with trauma, and activism for children and young adults. 

It is a good reminder that public libraries, although great places to find books and other information, are primarily community hubs. They offer support in myriad ways. This is not an isolated incident, either. Locally, the San Francisco Public Library made waves in 2010 when they hired a social worker to address the homeless population who utilize the library. While they were the first library to do so, many urban libraries are following suit.

Libraries are also advocates for many other social justice issues including intellectual freedom, equal and free access of information for all, and library user privacy.

While our small and mighty Herbst Library may not be as directly involved in social justice issues, I’ve found a few ways to integrate social justice into our library with these somewhat quiet tactics:

  • buying a diverse collection of books and materials to reflect many viewpoints.
  • teaching the importance of using research to learn more about an issue through the discover of social statistics, articles, and other resources, especially in our service learning courses.
  • Supporting multi-culti week by bringing out mobile library to events so students are aware of the books we have that cover social justice topics.
  • making library book displays of pertinent books to reflect social justice issues in the community.
Posted by slevin on Thursday October 16, 2014
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Today at Urban there was a lunchtime panel hosted by GSA, Urban’s Gender Sexual Orientation Alliance, featuring history teachers Rebecca Shapiro and Charisse Wu discussing LGBTQ history. In that spirit, and in recognition that this Saturday will be National Coming out Day, I wanted to share a few titles available in the library that may be of interest to students learning about or interested in LQBTQ issues. You can also search the library catalog for the tag GSA to find pertinent titles. The books listed below are a small portion of what we have available!

Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights by Eric Marcus
Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution by Linda Hirshman
Queer America: a GLBT history of the 20th century by Vicki Lynn Eaklor
Performing Glam Rock: Gender & Theatricality in Music by Philip Auslander
Stonewall by Martin Duberman

How I Learned to Snap: a small-town coming-out and coming-of-age story by Kirk Read
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Real Man Adventures by T Cooper


A note about LGBTQ Fiction from your librarian. I separated out L, G, B. and T for clarity but I encourage all students to read books from perspectives that aren't your own! Besides, some of these books feature characters that don't fall neatly into a checkbox (much like real-life people). 

Gay Fiction:
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Lesbian Fiction:
Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Rose of no Man’s Land by Michelle Tea
Ash by Malinda Lo

Trans Fiction:
I am J by Chris Beam (Urban alum!)
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Fiction Featuring Bisexual Characters:
A + e 4ever : a graphic novel by Ilike Merey
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
Pink by Lili Wilkinson
Love in The Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
Hild by Nicola Griffith

Posted by slevin on Monday October 6, 2014
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Banned Books Week

Last week the American Library Association was promoting Banned Books Week. This annual occurrence is intended to celebrate the freedom we have to read what we want. It may be hard for some of us to imagine going to (or working in) a school that would ban a book from a classroom or library, but this is something that happens in schools and public libraries around the country (not to mention other countries as well).

Last year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom received 307 reports of challenged or banned books. Here are the top 10. Those in bold are books we have in our collection.

Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I have to admit that some of my favorite books are on the list from last year, along with titles that have been used as textbooks at Urban. Check out the Banned Books site to find more banned and challenged books from recent years.

As a librarian, I think that it is important to offer readers a choice. As a solo librarian, I also try to select books with varying viewpoints (otherwise all the books in the library would be my favorites!) to appeal to many readers’ tastes and experiences. Some books on the list aren’t suitable for our library; for example, Captain Underpants is a little too young, while Fifty Shades of Grey is intended for a middle-age audience even though it started out as fan fiction for Twilight. Other examples on the list are available in our library, and I think they can be important books to read. The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, for example, are both superb coming of age novels. I recommend them to most readers at Urban. The Hunger Games, as most of us know, is simply a fun read.

Keep your eye out for an upcoming blog post where I’ll write more about how we select materials for the library.

Posted by slevin on Monday September 29, 2014
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Over the summer

Ever wonder what teachers do over the summer? Since we officially welcomed autumn over the weekend, I was thinking back on the summer and thought I'd share some of my librarian adventures!

First, I attended the huge American Library Association Annual Conference. Held in a different city every year, this year it took place in Las Vegas. While I’m not a huge fan of Las Vegas, the conference itself was great. I learned a lot from nearly 20,000 colleagues in a variety of session covering topics like project based learning, instruction, ebooks, and new books. One of the highlights of the conference beyond the amazing sessions was the exhibit hall. This is where library vendors and publishers set up booths to hawk their wares. Publishers actually give away books, and authors sign books for eager librarians. I grabbed a few “Advanced Readers Copies” of books to check out. If you’d like to see what I got, stop by my office!

Next, I attended a great workshop put together by the center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. We studied Alta California and learned about using primary sources from UC Berkeley’s collection. Then we had a field trip to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma and then the Peralta Hacienda in Oakland. I learned quite a bit especially since I moved to California in fifth grade, a year after they focused on local history in public schools.

Posing in front of a wall of giant books in Portland, OR. Photo by Margot Hanson

Finally, I went to an amazing little conference in Portland, Oregon. Called Library Instruction West, this conference is intended for academic librarians. While I was the only high school librarian there, I felt like I was in the right place since the bulk of my job at Urban is instructing students in information literacy and research skills. It was a very well planned conference, and I learned a lot of great techniques to teach better and to better equip Urban students for what to expect in college.

After all that I was both energized and exhausted, so I did spend some time relaxing. My gears were turning, however, and I’m eager to be back in the library to put some of what I learned into practice!

Posted by slevin on Monday September 22, 2014
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Library Leaders’ Favorite Summer Books

The Library Leaders, Urban’s student library advocacy leadership group, were busy reading over the summer. Some of their favorites included:


At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
10,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Graphic Novel:

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
It Chooses You by Miranda July


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Black Girl Dangerous: On Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie

Posted by slevin on Tuesday September 16, 2014 at 11:51AM
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​Amazon Ebooks

Over the summer, Amazon launched a Netflix style ebook lending service. As soon as the service was launched, librarians everywhere sighed, hoping that people would remember that there is already a free ebook lending service: the public library.

Amazon’s service, Kindle Unlimited, is a $10-per-month services in which a person can rent ebooks from a selection of 600,000. Seems like a lot. Now, there are already two other ebook lending sites, Oyster and Scribd, but they don’t have the same commercial reach as Amazon.

"Amazon Kindle eBook Reader" by goXunuReviews is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Just a week after Amazon made the news, a few journalists made the same realization that librarians have. In a great piece in the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey Fowler compared public library ebook collections to Kindle Unlimited. His findings may have been surprising to many (excluding, of course, the librarians!). He found that bestsellers were often not available in the Amazon service, however public libraries did have many bestsellers available to borrow. Notably, “from Amazon's own top-20 Kindle best-seller lists from 2013, 2012 and 2011, Kindle Unlimited has no more than five titles a year, while the San Francisco library has at least 16.” As I read the data, I beamed with pride. Our own SFPL has an amazing collection of ebooks, including audiobooks, that you can borrow for free.

If you are interested in checking out ebooks, please let me know! I’m happy to show you how to get started with SFPL (you must have an SFPL library card) or any other Bay Area public library--they all have great ebook collections. You can read the ebooks on your laptop, tablet, ebook reader (kindle, nook, or other), or smartphone. You can also check out audiobooks.

As if this wasn’t enough, SFPL also recently launched Hoopla, a service that offers streaming TV shows, music and movies. No need for a credit card to watch; you’ll just need your library card.

Posted by slevin on Monday September 8, 2014
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The Herbst Library is open M-F from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can reach the librarian at:


by Sarah Levin, Urban Librarian

I hear some students say they don't like short stories. I agree that finding a well crafted short story can be difficult, but there are many gems out there. Short fiction is a great way to read for fun during .... read more


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