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Brendon Barnes: writer, culture critic, and library loaner extraordinaire

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: Adults | News | Readers Writers

“My wife and I took a road trip to Florida last summer to introduce our son to my grandma. On our way back to Maine, we stopped for a night in the small city I was born in, and we spent the following morning touring the town’s library. I had been mulling over a career change for a while, and the library tour made it crystal clear: you should be in a library. I was so hyped when an opportunity came up in Interlibrary Loan—it’s one of my favorite library services—and it’s very satisfying to be part of the literal library magic that allows libraries to collaborate across borders to bring people entertainment and information from all over the country.”

What is your favorite part of the ILL process? What is the most challenging?

I really enjoy unpacking the state van delivery, and seeing all the new arriving items that are about to be sent to our patrons throughout the PPL system. And pulling items for MaineCat and ILL patrons—I’m constantly being presented with new and interesting things to add to my TBR pile, or being reminded to check back in on writers and artists I loved when I was a kid. 

What are the most commonly requested topics/materials?

Mysteries and romances are still going strong. Our library has more quirky B-movies than the average library of our size, and we get a lot of requests for those kinds of films. And all stripes of self-improvement books are still very popular, whether it be mind-body health, or how to get started with a new hobby like knitting or crochet. There’s one particular book on ergonomics of knitting that gets requested almost every week, sometimes multiple times per week, and that’s been a trend since I started working here four months ago. 

What do you want Library users to know about ILL services?

The more patrons use it, and the more libraries participate in interlibrary loan, the more powerful and helpful the service becomes! I’m blown away sometimes when I get a request for something that seems obscure and hard to source, and as I get into the searching process, I discover five, or eight, or twelve libraries who still carry that item and are willing and able to lend it to us. There’s a lot of vicarious satisfaction in the work we do. 

If ILL was cut from the budget – how would this affect patrons?

We’re lucky to have a pretty robust collection on our own, but even robust collections have meaningful gaps. Losing access to ILL would turn those gaps into disappointment and expense and lost opportunities for our patrons. It would also hurt the patrons all over the country who use ILL to access unique and interesting materials from the PPL collection. It would be a tremendous loss.

Special thank you to Brendon and the ILL Team for their dedication to this special library service. 


Brendon Barnes is a writer and culture critic from central Florida who came to Maine in 2016 and to Portland Public Library in 2022. His fiction has been published in Portland Review and Bayou Magazine. After earning his MFA, he started an online magazine called sinkhole with his grad school buddies that still hosts archives of his cultural criticism, reviews, and interviews with writers like Annie Hartnett and David Vann. Prior to moving north to Maine, Brendon worked in his hometown library in Orlando, Florida.  He is a lover of podcasts, costume dramas, and his growing family.  Brendon has an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Central Florida and a BA from Columbia University.

PPL HIGHLIGHT: In May of 2023, Brendon joined author and professor Ilyon Woo to discuss her book Master Slave, Husband Wife. Woo’s book recounts the remarkable true story of Ellen and William Craft, who escaped slavery through daring, determination, and disguise, with Ellen passing as a wealthy, disabled White man and William posing as “his” slave. You can watch the entire interview HERE.



We love how ILL has connected people to their past! Tell us about an item –  favorite book, magazine, movie, tv show – you loved when you were young that you were only able to find through Interlibrary Loan. Or, let us help you locate that hard-to-find item – we are always happy to help! Want to learn more about the ILL Team and their work, including fun facts about popular topics and what’s trending? Check out Library Heroes: InterLibrary Loan Connects A World of Materials.

June Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

Welcome to our June Staff Picks!

We talk: conversations with Miss Major, snack-swiping seagulls, reappearing/disappearing houses, the 90’s, divorce, donuts, and dazzling debuts. Our far-reaching picks include sibling stories, new mysteries, queer memoirs, amazing audiobook narrators, music and romance, the books that warm us, and much more.

We hope you’re inspired and find a book or two for your own TBR pile.

Cindy’s Picks 

We just added Joy, to the World by Kai Shappley and Lisa Bunker, a middle-grade book about a twelve-year-old girl who falls absolutely in love with cheerleading the summer before seventh grade. But her Texas middle school suddenly decides to enforce rules that discriminate against transgender students. With the help of her friends on the team and her idol, Kai Shappley, Joy stands up to the school board and Texas legislators to fight for what she loves and who she is.   

McCall Hoyle’s Stella is on our Maine Student Book Award list, and it’s another book I’m interested in reading. (Wouldn’t you want to read the story of a very special dog who must find the courage to save her human???) 

I’m currently reading This Appearing House by Ally Malinenko through cloudLibrary. “For as long as anyone could remember there wasn’t a house at the dead end of Juniper Drive . . . until one day there was. When Jac first sees the House, she’s counting down to the five-year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, when she hopefully will be declared NED, or ‘no evidence of disease.’ But with a house appearing, and her hands shaking, and a fall off her bike, Jac is starting to wonder if these are symptoms–or if something stranger is happening.” 

The book is eerie and unsettling.  Is Jac having hallucinations, since no one else is seeing and hearing what she is?  Or is something stranger going on? The audiobook’s narrator—Elise Arsenault—is fantastic and really draws you into the story, but I’m sure reading a physical copy of this book would be just as compelling.


Julia’s Picks 

This month, I’ve been poring over a stack of fantastic new Children’s nonfiction, including these two eye-catching titles from the Maine Student Book Award list: 

Ever wonder why we refer to a “pair” of underwear, or how parents managed before diapers? If so, you’ll want to take a gander at A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken, which treats its subject with both the seriousness and hilarity that it deserves (turns out, you can learn a surprising amount about a society from their underclothes!). A bow-tie wearing fowl guides readers on a global tour of underwear through the ages, from Ötzi the Iceman and his leather loincloth, to the invention of spandex and space age cooling fabrics. Comical cartoon chickens (and chicks) model each garment—so if you’ve ever wanted to see a chicken in a corset, this is the book for you.  

Another nonfiction standout is Killer Underwear Invasion!—which, despite the title, is not actually about underwear. Instead, it’s a humorous guide to spotting “fake news” and disinformation, starring colorful monsters in an appealing graphic novel format. Gravel digs into the hows and whys of fake news (Who benefits from spreading it? Why is it harmful?) and gives young readers tools to find reliable facts. Funny, timely, and practical. 

Even more new nonfiction I’m excited about:  

Indigenous Ingenuity: Honors the myriad STEM achievements of Indigenous peoples and includes hands-on activities readers can try for themselves. 

Cultured Donuts: How would Monet have painted a donut? What about Basquiat? Learn about art history through a favorite dessert! 

Kid Confident Series: Accessible, matter-of-fact guides to managing the ups and downs of middle school, from homework stress to interpersonal relationships. I wish I’d had these books as a pre-teen! 


Jay’s Picks 

The spring and start of summer in Portland means an exciting and dramatic increase in sea gull activity. If you appreciate sea gulls and their occasional cheeky antics, then check-out the children’s book Smug Seagull by Maddie Frost. The titular sea gull cruises the beach for snacks to snatch until they meet a crab that can teach them a thing or two.   

My favorite read so far this year has been Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties. L.P. Hartley wrote “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” which explains some of why this book is fascinating despite the history being only 30 years old. Klosterman encourages readers to ponder the uniqueness of the decade and how much has changed. Like, we used to be able to freely and easily look up anyone’s address and phone number in town…That is creepy by today’s standards of anonymity! The Nineties deals in light pop culture as well as providing context for pivotal political events. I think this book offers something to readers of all ages no matter how (or if) you experienced the ‘90s.   

If you are on the waitlist for The Nineties, you should check out other popular nonfiction titles by Klosterman such as But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs : A Low Culture Manifesto.


Fionna’s Picks 

I recently listened to Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang on CloudLibrary. I loved this darkly funny (and scary!) allegory about self-care and beauty culture. The narrator (Carolyn Kang) was wonderful and I’m so glad that I chose to read this on audio. 

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova came to me through MaineCat. This was a delightfully odd horror novel with heart: a found family grapples with complicated grief and loyalty as they encounter a beastly, hungry incarnation of the son they lost. 

Finally, You Could Make This Place Beautiful is a debut memoir from poet Maggie Smith. In vignettes Smith takes us through her recent divorce, her pregnancies and losses, and her experience at the intersection of mothering, working, and creating. Smith is fiercely relatable in all of these areas, and though I found I needed to take frequent breaks from the palpable grief in these pages, her beautiful writing always brought me back before too long.


Elizabeth’s Picks 

“There is an inherent quietness to reading that I hoped would create space for people to absorb, reflect, consider.”—Lamya H, Hijab Butch Blues

Long-awaited. Brilliant and beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Here are a few dazzling debuts—in poetry, fiction, short stories in translation, memoir, and mystery:
Judas and Suicide by Maya Williams, The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring; Between Two Moons by Aisha Abdel Gawad; Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu (translated by Tiffany Tsao); Miss Major Speaks: Conversations with a Black Trans Revolutionary by Miss Major and Toshio Meronek; Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H and A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao. 

If you’re a historical fiction fan and this Juneteenth your mind’s on U.S. history and liberation, one great book to get in line for now is National-Book-Award-winner James McBride’s newest novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: a tough, tender tale that shines as it shares all the ways a community works together to care for one another.

 Emily’s Picks 

This Pride month I’m looking ahead to all of the exciting new and soon-to-be-released queer books I can’t wait to read! Here are two on the top of my TBR for June: 

Cat Sebastian is a perennial favorite for her thoughtful, adventurous, and heartfelt historical romances, and her newest We Could Be So Good promises to be another delight. I can’t wait to read all about Nick and Andy falling for each other as they work together at a newspaper in 1950s New York City. And if you like this one—definitely read through her past books, many available through MaineCat! 

Dominic Lim’s debut contemporary All The Right Notes sounds as though it will be full of music and romance in all the best ways. Quito is a piano prodigy who hasn’t composed a song in years, and when his father asks him to perform in a charity show, he can’t say no. Then his high school best friend Emmett (who is currently a movie star) joins as well, and sparks fly.  

And one more to add to your own TBR list, which I highly recommend—Witch King by Martha Wells! Well-known and loved for her Murderbot Diaries, her foray back into fantasy is packed full of adventure, found families, queer romance, and fascinating magical systems—along with intense battles, demons, dangerous colonizers, and rebellions. Definitely one to listen to on audio, as Eric Mok’s narration adds new layers to the story, making for an unforgettable listen. 


Becca’s Picks 

One of my favorite warm weather activities is to walk the Back Cove Bay loop. Naturally, I love a good cloudLibrary audiobook for company. I decided People Person by Candice Carty-Williams would be my first walking partner. Five half-siblings living in Brixton meet for the first time as young people. Over fifteen years later, one of the siblings accidentally kills her violent partner, and she needs quick and confidential help. Her distant (and vastly different) siblings assemble to fix the situation. All goes well…until the body goes missing from under their noses. What exactly happened, and how will this surprise impact the siblings’ tenuous ties?  

I loved this humorous and gut-wrenching novel about a complex emotional familial landscape. We see characters move through disappointment, personal epiphany, and unflinching (and sometimes flinching) support for each other. While the book ends on a peaceful note, its not-so-perfect resolution felt true to life. (Sometimes we love a “happily ever after,” but that’s not Candice Carty-Williams’ style.) Also, a narrator can really make or break an audiobook, and actor Danielle Vitalis did not disappoint; her narration choices complemented the rich textual development of each character.  

If you love biting family sagas with quirky siblings like The Nest, Crazy Rich Asians, and Succession, you’ll find a lot to love in People Person.


Eileen’s Pick 

In the last weeks of this lovely Spring, I have found a book that warms me.  I am happily lost in its quintessentially Irish writing.  I marvel at the serendipity of finding something so satisfying. But why am I surprised? After all, intent never is a guarantee; happenstance, full of open-ended promise, is a surer bet.   

Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, first published in 2010 in UK and finally in the United States in late 2022, is a winner.  It is short and can be read in one go.  In the space of 92 pages, it paints two worlds with strokes of grief and love in a palette that is as specifically Irish as it is universal.    

It gives good advice: “You don’t ever have to say anything… Always remember that as a thing you need never do.  Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing.”  Heeding these words, the young heroine recognizes the perfect opportunity to say nothing when it arises.  

That recognition matters in life every bit as much as it matters in this small, perfect story.  I must remember that.   


Thanks for reading! Find a booklist of our June Staff Picks here.

Looking for help with more reading ideas? That is our very favorite thing! Try a book from one of our Staff Picks lists or our Your Next Great Read! service to get your own personal list of reading recommendations. You can also reach out to us at readersadvisory@portlib.org.

Dining with The Kings and Advocacy in Action

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: About the Library | Adults | News

The month of May wrapped up with a few members of our staff gathering in scenic Bethel, Maine for the Maine Library Association Annual Meeting and Conference. This year’s event kicked off with a Sunday evening fundraiser where attendees dined with Tabitha and Stephen King. The pre-dinner musical playlist was carefully researched and curated by DJ Mark Gordon of RockaShop Sound System which included the King’s favorites such as The Cramps’ Goo Goo Muck and the Ramones! Following dinner, Tabitha and Stephen King took to the stage for a panel discussion moderated by MLA Vice President, Sonya Durney. The discussion was full of their own personal library stories: Did you know Stephen King threw his Carrie manuscript in the trash and it was Tabitha who pulled it out and helped him edit it …. from there he went on to pursue writing full time! But their main message that was loud and clear: community public libraries must be supported and the freedom to access information found within their collections must be protected!

For the next two days library workers, advocates, and members got to work attending break out sessions, processing the words and wisdom of keynote speaker Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, author Monica Wood, and others.

Here’s what a few members of our staff who attended the 3-day conference shared.

“I love serving on the board of the Maine Library Association because it keeps me connected with libraries and library workers across the state. ‘Advocacy in Action’ seemed like a fitting theme for our Annual Conference after a year spent helping school libraries fight book bans and planning a salary survey to help rural library workers fight for fair wages. I have volunteered on the conference planning committee for several years and, although it’s a lot of work, it’s incredibly satisfying to see it all come together and to hear the valuable takeaways people get from it. Meeting the Kings this year was a sweet bonus – I can finally check that off my bucket list!”- Sarah Skawinski, MLIS | Adult Services Director and Membership Chair, Maine Library Association  

“It really resonated with me when keynote speaker Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, talked about the opportunities libraries have to address what Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called an “epidemic” of loneliness.”Vicky Smith, PPL Access Services Director

“Even though I’m a Youth Services Librarian, I was most engaged by speakers and sessions addressing current and looming big-picture issues facing libraries and library workers. Some of the most interesting discussions were about the future of AI and technology in libraries, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read, and understanding the Maine legislative process.  For those interested in learning more about how they can support intellectual freedom in their communities, especially in schools and libraries, check out Unite Against Book Bans and Educate Maine: Intellectual Freedom.” – Kelley Blue | Director of Youth Services  

Kelley Blue, PPL Director of Youth Services, Brendon Barnes, PPL Senior Library Associate in Interlibrary Loan, and Vicky Smith, PPL Access Services Director.

“One of my favorite sessions from the MLA conference was called ‘Rearranging Religion to Decolonize Dewey.’ Elizabeth McKinstry from Springfield City Library hosted the session, and she took us through her library’s process of reorganizing religious books in the nonfiction section based on geography and chronology rather than preserving Dewey’s more Eurocentric and Christian-centric approach. What really impressed me about the presentation was her explanation of the knock-on benefits of reclassifying the section, among which was identifying subcategories in the religion section that were very light on material—a representation gap that was able to go unnoticed for years because of how the texts were previously organized. I was also very moved by Monica Wood’s keynote address. Her messages around the universality of specificity, and how we can all better honor the stories of those around us, were exactly what I needed to hear. I’m excited to do more of my own creative writing with her words in mind.”Brendon Barnes, PPL Senior Library Associate in Interlibrary Loans

Thank you, MLA, for organizing this opportunity for us to come together to learn and support this work we love…and dine with The Kings! For more photos from the conference, check out our Facebook album, Advocacy in Action: Maine Library Association 2023.


PPL Board of Trustee Ekhlas Ahmed, Maine State Librarian Lori Fisher, and UNE Archivist, Cathleen Miller (middle).

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