By Caroline Moynihan - Lethbridge Public Library on June 5, 2021.
A year ago, we were in the throws of the pandemic, learning to adapt to a new reality that none of us could have really even begun to imagine. When Lethbridge Public Library first closed its doors, staff immediately came together to see what we could offer our customers when physical access to our buildings was not an option. One such service was the Surprise Me bags.
How do the Surprise Me bags work? Customers go to our website and fill out a form, putting in what types of materials they want, some favourite authors, or subjects they are interested in, and we take it from there – filling the bags with 10 items related to the information included on the forms. Staff really enjoy picking out the titles they think customers will enjoy, and the bags are available for all ages and all reading levels.
Some of the requests we’ve had, and some of the titles we’ve included areâ€¦
One request was for adult fiction titles that included the topics of feminism, gender-diverse characters, sci-fi, books that have really cool monsters or creatures in them, books with strong women in them, books that have LGBTQ+ romance or themes. We offered as one of the titles, “The House of Impossible Beauties” by Joseph Cassara. This title follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ball scene of the 1980s and ’90s, inspired by the documentary “Paris Is Burning.” It is a tragic story of love, family, and the dynamism of the human spirit.
When customers fill out Surprise Me requests we encourage them to put as much or as little information as they wish, but sometimes that can make it hard to narrow down recommendations, such as the request we received for medieval fiction, inheritance cycle, and Clive Cussler thrillers. This is where we dig a little deeper because the types of books this customer enjoys are quite specific. One of the titles we included in this Surprise Me bag was “A Burnable Book” by Bruce W. Holsinger. This, medieval historian Holsinger’s first novel, explores royal power and dissent in 14th-century England.
Probably one of the hardest requests we had was for 19th-century history books, sewing 1890’s historical clothing, Victorian cookbooks, Victorian-era commonplace books, Victorian etiquette, history of 1800’s clothes, andâ€¦ how to survive in the wilderness. We had to think a bit on this one, but were able to offer “Victorian Needlework Techniques and Designs” by Flora Klickmann and “Survival Wisdom & Know-how” by Amy Rost.
Lethbridge Public Library staff love putting these requests together, so please visit lethlib.ca to get your own Surprise Me bag, and challenge our staff with your requests.