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The Cherry Cola Book Club

cherry colaI really didn’t like this book.  I really wanted to – it’s the story of a small town librarian, Maura Beth, who has been told by the city council that she has until the end of the year to show the worth of her library or it will be closed.  There is a cast of small town characters – a restaurant owner, an elderly genealogist, a retiree, a cooking show host – who rally around as Maura Beth starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an attempt to boost library usage and secure their future funding.

Given the current state of library funding as a priority throughout the country, and the importance of libraries to their communities, this book could’ve been so much more than what it was – a sweet story with likable characters of a town pulling together to save their library – at least temporarily.

My frustration with the book was the author’s apparent lack of knowledge about libraries and librarians and what they actually accomplish in their communities.  Maura Beth has been the director for six years, has virtually no one using the library, and this is the first time she’s trying to do something about it?!  Reading this book I had a hard time understanding why she’d been getting paid at all for the past six years – the author made it seem like all she did was sit in her office and occasionally order some books.  But now that her job is in jeopardy she thinks it might be important to do something more?  And her miraculous plan is to start a book discussion group?  Don’t get me wrong, book discussion groups are great – almost all libraries already have them along with computers, internet access, early literacy programming, summer reading programs, entertainers, movie nights, author presentations, computer classes, art classes, writing groups, teen groups, job hunting and continuing education resources, reference resources, GED and ESL classes…

The problem that libraries have is not a lack of use – many libraries are seeing increased usage year after year – the problem is a lack of public funding as budgets continue to shrink and public libraries attempt to support greater need with less resources – the problem is a lack of understanding about what libraries actually do and why it’s so important to our communities.  Someone should write a book about that.

Title: The Cherry Cola Book Club
Author: Ashton Lee
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Publication: Kensington, March 2013

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10 thoughts on “The Cherry Cola Book Club

  1. Maybe someone we know who’s a librarian should write a book, anyone come to mind? And secondly, are you sure this is fiction? Sounds like a good non-fiction story to me… LOL. But seriously, at a time when they are needed most libraries aren’t being funded properly. You would think “intelligent, educated people” would know this. So what does that say about our elected officials??? Where are their priorities?

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  2. This seems to be a problem everyone. Even in SA. I am not a librarian and not familiar with what goes on inside them but I can see the neglect when I go to visit. Trying to keep up with all the repairs and book demands cannot be easy. Our library has actually started a sharing program with some other libraries in the area. Every two months they exchange some really popular books around so everyone gets a go at them. I think it is rather clever.

    On another note completely. I am really bummed the book was a bust. I only really came to look at the review because of the cover (I am ashamed to admit – but there are so many blog posts and so little time that it is hard to read all of them). It is so colourful and had such a cute title. I definitely wont be checking out this one.

    Thank you for sharing your review 🙂

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  3. As the author of this first installment in this new series about library advocacy wrapped in Southern humor, I feel compelled to address the reviewer’s negative comments. Book Two in the series will appear in April, 2014, and we are awaiting word on approval of Books Three and Four.

    I have been a publisher’s rep and book vendor to public libraries in six Southern states for over thirty years. I am well aware of the problems have with funding. They are often first to be cut and last to be restored by local politicians.

    It is stated clearly in the opening chapter (and mentioned in other ways later) that my librarian heroine, Maura Beth Mayhew, has been thwarted many times in her attempts to increase library circulation. She has repeatedly asked for computer terminals to access the Internet, knowing that that will increase circulation. Her good ole boy council members don’t care about the library and think that it’s woeful budget should be allotted instead to an industrial park.

    I wonder if the reviewer has any idea how difficult it is for small-town librarians to win the battle of the budget with people whose priority is to pave roads, declaring that ‘there are enough books in the library already.’ When I asked some of my many librarian friends to give me a terrible budget for this ‘barely-there’ library, they said that $100,000 total would be awful. So I cut that back to $85,000 to make a point. Perhaps not every library has the opposition that the Cherico Library has, but most struggle to keep the funding they have every year.

    So, Maura Beth’s problem is that her converted warehouse of a facility is underused because it has little to offer, and her attempts to improve it over the years (such as a request for on-site parking) have fallen on deaf ears. Young, idealistic and just out of library school when she gets her job, she is ill-prepared to understand small-town politics. I even say so in the first chapter when I suggest that library schools should have offerings in ‘Politicians 101’ or ‘Elementary Schmoozing,’ to acquire an edge in this area of the reality of library (under)funding.

    In Book 2 Maura Beth is not willing to settle just for keeping the library’s doors open. She realizes she’s got to find some way to get a new building. The ultimatum in the first book is the plot conflict that generates the series.

    I appreciate that you read the book, but I want you to know that as a writer I have been a library user all my life, and this series is intended to educate and inspire readers regarding what libraries have to contend with in today’s world. May I also suggest that you read the March 1st, 2013,, ‘Booklist’ review of my work.

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    • I appreciate your response to my review, which is certainly my personal opinion based on my reading of your novel and my personal experiences.

      I certainly do have an idea of how difficult it is for small town librarians to deal with shrinking budgets as I am the director of a small town library, with computers and internet access but without on-site parking, which has seen its share of budget cuts over the last several years. The $100,000 total budget that your librarian friends said would be awful is very near to my reality. If you had read my bio on my blog you would see that I left a prosperous career and took a 75% pay cut to become a librarian because of my passion for public libraries and the role they play in their communities. The reasons I did not love your novel are directly related to my personal experiences in a situation very similar to what occurs in your book. I found the scenarios in the novel to be simplified and unrealistic when compared to the realities my peers and I face on a daily basis.

      I appreciate that you are trying to bring awareness of the issues that public libraries are facing in today’s economy and political environment. However, based on my personal experiences, while shrinking budgets are an alarming concern lack of use is NOT an issue libraries are facing today. First of all, circulation is a poor measurement of library usage – libraries are used for much more than for checking out materials – and I could simply modify checkout times to require more frequent renewals and show a false increase in circulation. Whatever measurements are used, many public libraries (mine included) are actually showing increased usage – the idea of a library that is not frequented by members of the community for events, classes, presentations, story hours, books groups, meetings, movies, music, research, newspapers, magazines, internet access and yes, books, boggles my mind – it is just not a reality that I am seeing. Personally I felt that your book reinforced an incorrect perception that libraries are outdated and underused, one of the hardest misconceptions for public libraries to combat.

      Our issue is actually more dire than the potential closure of a library that is not used – it is attempting to serve an increasing demand from the community with declining financial resources. Being an associate library, the public library where I am director is not owned by the municipality making us responsible for building maintenance, utilities, grounds maintenance, building insurance, liability insurance, etc on top of payroll expenses and material procurement. We have no guarantee of funding from any of the areas that we serve, some areas have actually cut us completely from their budgets. While our budget is very small (~109k), I would jump up and down with joy if we actually received $85k of that from secured funding sources. As it is, less than $60k of our budget comes from the municipalities which we serve with the remainder of our budget coming from grants, fundraising, fees, donations, and our savings. I intimately understand the issues you are trying to address in your novel and felt that it fell short in providing an accurate representation of reality.

      I appreciate that you meant for your series to be supportive of the plight of public libraries. In my personal opinion, and based on my personal experiences, it would’ve been more accurate and effective had you written about a well-used and loved public library, with increasing usage and decreasing resources, and a harried librarian holding multiple library events a week, running the circulation desk, shelving books, reading to kids, answering reference questions, ordering books from other libraries, answering the phone, making recommendations to patrons, tutoring individuals on computer usage, watering the plants, shoveling the snow, washing the windows, meeting with public officials, talking to community organizations, coordinating with other libraries, collaborating with local schools, going to board of trustee meetings, updating websites, writing newsletters and book reviews… while managing the budget, staff, building, material procurement, etc. and trying to raise enough money or procure enough funding to keep the doors open.

      Instead I was disappointed, and frankly a little insulted, as I felt that your novel portrayed librarians as people sitting around waiting for someone to want a book (until there’s a funding emergency) and public libraries as outdated and underused. Both of these are public misconceptions that it is imperative we change – these beliefs about public libraries are the very reason public officials believe they can fall to the bottom of the priority list.

      Thank you for your comments and I wish you success as you move forward with the series – hopefully future books will bring forward many of the other challenges facing today’s public libraries.

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      • I chose the scenario I chose as an extreme example of what libraries face. I think it was an excellent choice. I’m not going to attempt to continue this conversation, except to say that your view of my main character as patronizing and insulting to librarians is so far from my opinion of the industry that I see we have no common ground. I have hundreds of librarian friends who can attest to the fact that I fully understand libraries and support them. I would never have dreamed that my treatment of a serious problem would be so seriously misunderstood. Fortunately, most of my reviewers and readers do not feel as you do. I wish you every success in your career.

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      • I’m sorry that you feel that way – my intent was not to insult – but to shed some light on some of the issues that I am personally seeing in public libraries with the hope that they can be represented as highly used, up-to-date, and valuable community resources that are still facing severe issues with funding. I wish you much continued success in advocating for libraries – we need all the help we can get! 🙂

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  5. Hi, Jennifer! I know you are continuing to fight the good fight for your library. I have so many librarians friends as dedicated as you are. I wanted to pass along a couple of items to you: I am very pleased that ‘Deep South Magazine’ has chosen ‘The Cherry Cola Book Club’ as one of its five summer reading picks: go here for their choices–http://bit.ly/ZgipeN . Also, I will be the kickoff speaker for the Memphis, Tn, City Library System’s 2013 Adult Summer Reading Program Kickoff on June 1st at their Central Library. My topic will be: ‘How Libraries As Necessary Educational Community Resources Inspired My New Fiction Series.” Just doing my part! Regards, Ashton Lee (pen name of Robert Kuehnle)

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