Column Description: This column will explore how library programming has no bounds but endless possibilities – when you think outside the box. Every issue, there will be a different contributor sharing their stories of when they tested the limits and experimented with programming for their patrons and interviews of those who are pushes the bounds of programming.
Again for this edition of the NYLA Voice, I interviewed a fellow librarian and friend, Tejas Desai. Both me and Tejas went to the same high school together, and even attended graduate school together! What’s funny is that we never talked until we got jobs at the same library system and now we even work at the same library together. Tejas loves to write and he’s also good at basketball! Librarians have many talents and I think Tejas can motivate us to pursue our passions – at home and at work too!
KJ: What made you decide to become a librarian?
TD: Coming out of undergrad, I wanted to be a fiction writer, but I wasn't sure how to achieve that and still earn a living. I started working at a literary agency, where I saw how difficult it was to make a living through fiction writing unless you got remarkably lucky.
Working in publishing sounds like a good balance to fiction writing on the side, but I thought I needed a more secure and straightforward profession to balance my output. So I decided to become a librarian and get my MLS.
Public Librarianship is a profession that involves not only literature, books, and knowledge but also all the arts (music, visual art, etc.), and since I had an endless interest and curiosity about nearly every aspect of human existence and endeavor in addition to my primary interest in fiction writing, it seemed like a good choice, and the job market at that time was very good: I got my degree during the surge right before the Great Recession.
But more importantly, librarianship is about people. Public libraries serve the entire swath of humanity, and since I am recording that drama in my own way, I lucked out that I got to work in a public library in my hometown of Queens, NY, since I got to serve lots of people in the most diverse place on the planet. And it's a dynamic institution where I've been able to team up with knowledgeable, talented, and giving professionals to provide all types of programs, build dynamic and diverse collections, create resources, and work with databases of many types. All in all, I couldn't have landed in a better situation.
KJ: And you're also a writer. Tell us more about how you are able to juggle writing and working full-time.
TD: It hasn't always been easy, but I've been able to do it fairly consistently for my entire 14 year library career. I used to write for two hours a day after work seven days a week; nowadays I usually get up early in the morning and write before work, but only five days a week. I've been able to adjust this depending on circumstances, like the pandemic.
The positive is that I've never had writer's block, I actually have too many stories and ideas. On the negative, I've over-stretched my mental energies pretty frequently, especially in my younger days. Creative writing, especially novel writing, takes a lot of out of you mentally, so it's been a challenging balancing that with my library work. I haven't been able to read as much as I would like to. That has affected my ability to work on The New Wei literary movement, which my overall literary and artistic vision beyond my own literary output.
But I've found all that writing experience over the years has made me more efficient, so I can have the same level of output despite putting less time into it. And that's better for my overall mental capacity and my social life too.
KJ: How many books did you write, what are they about?
TD: I've published an international crime trilogy, The Brotherhood Chronicle (The Brotherhood (2012, 2018), The Run and Hide (2019) and The Dance Towards Death (2020) and the first volume of my short story collection series The Human Tragedy, which is Good Americans (2013). I'm currently working on the second volume, which is tentatively titled Bad Americans.
Essentially I wanted to balance my interest in novel writing with short stories and have them represent a realistic vision of life today is different and dynamic ways. So I decided I would write two series: The Brotherhood Chronicle would be a trilogy of noir crime novels that dealt with a first-generation Indian-American, the Hindu-Buddhist dichotomy, the realities of the Great Recession, and many of the identity issues of today (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, morality, religious extremism, political and financial corruption etc.) within a thrilling, compelling and original narrative style.
The story basically follows a failed writer and down-on-his-luck private investigator named Niral Solanke as he navigates a treacherous world in Queens as he tries to figure out who murdered his childhood friend Priya. He gets involves with many characters of differing walks of life and solves the crime, but its complications lead him abroad to Thailand and India in the second and third books, where he changes dramatically due to his experiences and gets involved in a darker and more labyrinth plot world-wide.
The book series isn't for all mystery and thriller readers, but if you appreciate exciting noir, confrontational and original literature, the series will be up your alley.
The Human Tragedy seeks to document American life and society in our time through a series of innovative short story collections. Good Americans is a collection of 6 stories and a three-part novella within a wider internal literary frame. Many of the stories involve a conflict of worlds between characters from different walks of life. Bad Americans have an even more dynamic frame narrative, so it's more of a hybrid of a novel and a short story collection.
Both, but particularly Good Americans, isn't for all readers, as much of the content is confrontational and controversial. But if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone, you will likely appreciate it.
KJ: I also heard you enjoy traveling, what places have you gone to, and does that influence your work?
TD: Sure, I travel frequently locally, and also at least once a year internationally, except during the pandemic, when I had to cancel my plans. I've primarily gone to Asia, particularly SE Asia and Europe, but I've been to South America, Australia, and Africa. I did a Road Trip Across America in 2016, and hope to do a second next year. On my trips I do lots of research, have interesting experiences, explore neighborhoods, meet/observe people, and above all hears lots of stories from both locals and other travelers. So this in turn influences my literary work.
KJ: Are you doing anything to help and promote indie authors? You were able to create an Indie Author section at your library. How did that come about?
TD: I'm trying to move forward The New Wei literary movement, which I founded in 2012, by helping to discover, promote or inspire provocative, meaningful, and dynamic authors who haven't yet been recognized by the conventional publishing industry, literary establishment, or public.
There are lots of great interesting authors out there who don't necessarily speak to the conventional middle, whose works are controversial and dynamic, but they are usually forced to disseminate their output in less popular formats: self-publishing especially, but also blogs, social media, indie presses, among others.
It's frankly near criminal that a lot of these authors haven't been recognized as the great artists they are. Hopefully, my work to do so will pay off and we'll also create and disseminate more provocative works and authors to come.
The Indie Author section at the Cambria Heights Library, where I'm currently the Asst. Manager, came about because Indie authors need to be recognized more. I once created a Self-Publishing Resources page several years ago to help Indie authors navigate the self-publishing process. Now we have an annual Indie Author event at Queens Public Library, but we do an annual Indie Author event at Cambria Heights Library too, and I was able to use that as a base to acquire many Indie book titles. They aren't necessarily the type of author I recognize through The New Wei, but many are great authors in their own right, and once again haven't been recognized as such.
So we are trying to push Indie works to more visibility and prominence, as it once was in the early-mid 90s when I was growing up and first became interested in literature, film, art, and music. Corporatization, militarization, and some other factors in the late 90s have basically put all forms of indie art into the background, but we're trying to change that, starting at Cambria Heights. Not only do we have the Indie Author Event, Section, and individual Author Readings, but we also screen Indie films, display Indie art, and feature performances from Indie musicians. We even have our own recording studio for teen musicians and singers. So we're on the cutting edge of a bigger movement here.
KJ: What are you currently reading?
TD: Sexting Ghosts by Joanna C. Valente. She's primarily a poet but her work is an interesting combination of feminist critique and an examination of the sacred and the profane.
KJ: Is there anything else about you that you'd like to share? Any message to librarians who want to pursue their creative works?
TD: Whether you're a librarian or not, you become anything by doing. If you want to be a writer, write, and don't worry about the consequences or if you write badly for years. Everyone makes mistakes and learns as they do.
KJ: Where can people learn more about you and your work?
TD: You can google me or check out more about me, my books, and wider projects on my website.
Kacper Jarecki is a community library manager at Queens Public Library. He is the membership chair of the Ethnic Services Roundtable (ESRT). Help celebrate diversity by joining ESRT today ;-)
In addition to my duties as a Full-time Adult Reference Librarian at Elmont Memorial Library, and as a substitute Librarian at Island Park Public Library (both in Nassau County), I also present programs, not only at my library but also at other libraries and educational institutions. For the past year, I have presented virtual discussions on classic films: A pre-film discussion, followed by patrons either accessing the film via a link, or seeing the film on their own, and then coming together for a post-film discussion.
For example, I have been presenting Hitchcock film discussions at Elmont. Patrons will see the film beforehand and then come together for a post-film screening discussion. The series began with three early Hitchcock British films: The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and Sabotage. Patrons have been very enthusiastic during these discussions, and are awaiting the next series. With the coming of Summer, and relaxed post-pandemic restrictions, my next series of Hitchcock film discussions will be in-house, at the library. The next three Hitchcock film discussions will focus on the Selznick Years: Rebecca, Shadow of A Doubt, and Spellbound. Patrons will still need to see the film beforehand, but now we can now meet in person. Yes, we are beginning to offer both in-house and virtual programming. My upcoming book discussions will also be in person. Some of our programming like an upcoming lecture on Van Gogh, or Stars of Hollywood, will be done as hybrids-both in the library and online.
At the present time, most of my film programs consist of patrons seeing the film and then meeting for a post-film discussion. However, during the Summer, as part of the Nassau Library System’s theme of Tales and Tails, my two Summer Powerpoint presentations-One on Non-human actors (AKA. Pets) in Films, and the other on The Legacy of A Tale of Two Cities, will both be held in the library. So, we are taking baby steps, rising from the ashes, moving past an insane year, and slowly moving back to in-person programming.
On a side-note: Many patrons have commented that they do like Online programming. After all, they can attend a program in the morning, another in the afternoon, and one more at night-and never have to leave their home. Still, many patrons, like the ladies who attend my weekly Monday morning Coffee Chat, want to meet in person as soon as possible. Hopefully, we will be able to do just that.
Phillip Harwood is an Adult Reference Librarian at two Nassau County Libraries: Elmont Memorial Library, and Island Park Public Library. He is also a Film Historian and an Adjunct Professor of Film at St. Francis College, and an Adjunct Lecturer of Media Studies at LIU Post (Hutton House Lectures) and JCC Manhattan, and a published author.