Ask the Expert: Sue Nakanishi, Librarian

Edith here, bringing back our Ask the Expert feature.

Sue Nakanishi is head of Programming at the Langley-Adams Public Library in Groveland, Massachusetts. It was my home library for five years, and I’ve been Sue’s guest as an author several times. Sue runs an active program of speakers, bringing in an impressive number and array of authors. I invited her here to answer some questions.

How long have you been a librarian, and how did you train for this job?

Thank you for saying I do a good job hosting speakers. I do my best. This is my 20th year of being a librarian. I majored in HPE and Sociology in college. I also have my MAE in special education. During the summers, I worked in recreation in the Cleveland, Ohio area, which is where I first got “programming” experience. Programming is more than having authors come and speak. Being a high school Health teacher, I always was inviting guest speakers (Suicide Prevention, and so on). Later I was a K-8 PE teacher. I would team up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians, and others for special programs. It wasn’t until I became a school librarian in Maine that I started having authors. Later I began working at Langley-Adams Library in Groveland. Scheduling programs is just one part of my job, and I try to invite a variety of speakers, not just authors.

My first year here was hard. Luckily, three book clubs were already in place, as well as Scrabble Fridays. Inviting authors was a no brainer. I try to have at least two evening events a month. I also began doing what I call “movie Fridays” at various intervals during the year. Three years ago I helped establish an Italian Conversation Group with one of our regular patrons (for which I have made a connection with IAM books located in the North End of Boston and discovered more local authors).

How big is Groveland? The town’s population is around 6700. We estimate seventy-five percent are regular patrons.

Do new people come to listen to talks who then return? Yes! Do they come just for authors? No.

How do you find speakers?  Good question. Other librarians, co-workers, patrons, newspapers, book fairs, IAM Books, conferences, authors reaching out to me, and…lots of luck. Sometimes while cataloging a book (that I know my patrons will be interested in reading), I see that the author is local. So I reach out to them.

Do you pay authors? Most of the authors who come do not ask for an honorarium. They realize that we help their careers and we have limited funds. At the same time, I feel bad if hardly anyone attends a program for someone who is here pro-bono. I want everyone to have a good audience and a positive experience.

You’ve hosted Bruce Coffin from Maine. How did you learn about him? Small world. His mother was the Middle School librarian in the town where I lived and also worked as a school librarian. His mom was my mentor. I bought a copy of his first book-partly to support him but also because…I love mysteries. I instantly knew my mystery book club would enjoy his book. So, I went out on a limb and invited him down here. Luckily, he took me up on my invite. Bruce was a big hit! I then turned around and let other libraries know about him.

Sue with Bruce Coffin

What have been some of your most popular programs? Besides my outdoor concerts, Former FBI undercover agent Michael McGowan (Ghost: My 30 Years As  An Undercover FBI Agent; I had him twice and both times were standing room only), documentary producer & author Rick Beyer (Ghost Army), and Hank Philippi Ryan are my record holders to date! A couple of summers ago we did Jane Austen themed programs-which also were well attended. The historian from Friendly’s had a full house. I am sure the fact that she provided ice cream helped, ha! Mystery authors do well here because of our mystery book club (it’s 25 members strong and I had to cap it), and the fact that the majority of the books that circulate from our library are…mysteries! Our library has a designated mystery section with over 3000 mysteries.

The The Haverhill Life newspaper has been a great help in increasing attendance at our library! They consistently print our upcoming events. Lately when I have noticed new faces and ask them how they heard about our program, it is because they read about it in The Haverhill Life.

What are some tips for how authors can be good library presenters? Talk about why you got into writing and how you came up with the idea for your book. Share what you went through in getting it published. If you write series, share how you created and are developing your regular characters. If you read, keep it brief – just a taste to hook them into wanting more. Also, don’t depend on the Q&A being the bulk of your time. It’s better to overprepare content and leave some out if you run too long. Finally, please know that I and most librarians will do everything on our end to promote your program (and we talk to each other). Let us know what you will need ahead of time. Your success here is our success, too. 

Sue, thank you for joining us!

Readers: Who has been your favorite speaker at a library? If you are a librarian, how do you find authors to feature?

25 Thoughts

  1. While I’ve attended a number of signings over the last few years, there’s been very few of them that were actually at libraries.

    Those authors were:

    Archer Mayor – Very important to me because he was one of my dad’s favorite authors and became one of mine after my dad passed away. Getting to meet him at my home library was just a great way to tie him to the memory of my father.

    Edith Maxwell, Barbara Ross and Sheila Connolly – This was at a library on the Cape and while I was specifically there meet Edith for the first time, I came away both impressed with AND started reading both Barbara and Sheila as well.

    Jack Matthews – I did this one on a lark when I saw this author was coming to a library a couple towns over from me. Informative about his writing process. I met him once again at another library during a holiday author’s fair this past Xmas season along with a few other local mystery authors.

    Nicole Asselin – The author of Murder at First Pitch was someone who I’d met at another Edith Maxwell signing before she published her book. But when the book came out and signings were announced, I made sure to get to one at a library on the Cape. It was a fun time to be sure.

    However, I have two author at library appearances that really mean the most to me on a personal level. The first is Edith Maxwell’s appearance at my hometown library. It was for the Wareham Free Library’s Mystery Book Club. We’d read the first book in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries series. Edith has offered to come if we ever read one of her books for the club and when we did, she graciously came to the meeting. It was a blast to host her.

    The other one was Hank Phillippi Ryan’s appearance at the Wareham Free Library. The library is literally 3 minutes from my door and Hank was the guest for the library’s fundraising dinner. I’d met her a few times before but given that she was at my home library, you know I had to be at the signing part of the event. As she began her talk, she said that it was nice to see some familiar faces in the crowd (the room was packed!) and then proceeded to single me out by saying “Jay Roberts, a very good book reviewer so I have to be on my toes”. The idea that she would do that was great in and of itself, but making it even more of a thing for me was that she said that with my senior year English teacher hearing that as she stood in the back of the room. That was AWESOME!

  2. I never thought of libraries as speaking forums. In SW Florida the libraries that are close to me host book clubs and classes, but no speakers. Time I made a suggestion…

    1. I sure hope they take you up on your suggestion! Talk about getting exposure! Patrons are always looking for new things to read! FYI, it is a win win for both the library and the author!

  3. I met Sue this past Fall at the NELA conference. Out of all the librarians there, she was the most interested in talking to every single one of the Sisters in Crime authors, and I felt that she has a really good connection with authors and reading! I hope to get up to Groveland soon!

    And I spoke recently at the Abington Public Library (my hometown library) and the Sturgis Library on the Cape. I LOVE speaking at libraries. It brings all sorts of fun people out and the library is where I get a lot of my work done, so anything I can do to support them I will!

    1. I am glad you are enjoying your library talks! Hope to have you at Langley-Adams!

  4. Not sure if I am truly an expert. I am just doing my best to serve my library community. Having authors come and speak is a treat! Thank you all!

  5. Thanks for a lovely and helpful Q&A. 75% community participation is fantastic! I live in L.A. and it’s hard to get a big turnout for a library event, which saddens me for the librarians, who put so much work into organizing and promoting them. But we did have about 25-30 at the local holiday party/mystery trivia night, which us authors were celebrating. I’ve become friends with our head librarian and she said that from now on, she’s going to lead with “party!” in any promo for this annual event, lol.

  6. My cousin Barb Chernik was a librarian. She even wrote at least one library reference book. People used to say I should be a librarian because I read so much but it would have been like putting a chocoholic in a candy store. Our library system doesn’t have a lot of speakers and none of my favorite authors.

  7. I am an elementary school librarian and I try to host two authors/illustrators per year. A lot of factors are considered when selecting a guest author/illustrator such as: 1) Recommendations from other librarians 2) Books that students are already familiar with. 3) Writers or illustrators of color who provide our students with “windows and mirrors” to life experiences (Rudine Sims-Bishop) 4) Authors that can speak on a “writerly” topic that students might be struggling with or working on at the moment and 5) authors and illustrators who enjoy bringing their enthusiasm to schools. 🙂

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