Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bonnie with Tolkien's Desk

Bonnie with Tolkien's Desk
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
We took a quick trip to Wheaton College today, where you can see Tolkien's desk and Lewis's wardrobe. I was struck by how small Tolkien's desk is. He wrote, typed, and illustrated the Hobbit on this desk. He worked on the Lord of the Rings at it, as well. I can hardly imagine getting my knees under it. Lewis's wardrobe seems huge in contrast. They even let you open the wardrobe!

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester

I finished A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester yesterday. I enjoyed reading this account of the earthquake that struck San Francisco 100 years ago, but as soon as I finished I felt disappointment. It had been filled with interesting information, but something was missing. Having read the author's book Krakatoa, I expected more about the people involved.

In Krakatoa, Winchester wove into the scientific and historical accounts the stories of individuals on the islands and the ships near the great volcano. He told of their actions before, during, and, if they survived, after the event. In A Crack in the Edge of the World, he introduced five people in the Prologue. I expected that I would read more of their stories, but they were only briefly mentioned later in the book. Other individuals are introduced later in the account, but the author does not enlist any of them as recurring narrators as he did in the previous book.

I do understand much more about the San Andreas Fault and plate tectonics, and I enjoyed the brief accounts of the Lisbon, Charleston, and New Madrid earthquakes. The book succeeded more as science than history. It will not be as good a discussion book as Krakatoa or Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm.

If you wish to know more about the San Francisco Earthquake, go to the Bancroft Library's special website. Thanks to Sarah at Librarian in Black for the tip.

Winchester, Simon. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. ISBN 0060571993

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fiction Alert: Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

I just received notice from one of our speakers that Masterpiece Theater will be showing a new production of Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy in late April. I am pretty familiar with English literature, but I do not remember hearing of this novel before now. Bonnie Hilton, who will be doing a program about Hardy and the book for my library, says that it is a lesser known book. Because Hardy wrote it in the vernacular, she says, it is a tougher read.

I looked in our SWAN catalog to see if we own the book. We do not, as most of our libraries do not. In the seventy plus libraries in the consortium, there are nine copies of the novel, seven of which have a 1949 copyright. There are also two Oxford University Press editions from 1985 and 1999. Our libraries are not very ready for the requests that will accompany the showing of the one episode production.

Most of the booksellers also seem unprepared. Perhaps it is still early. Baker and Taylor has no stock of any of edition. Amazon says that the $4.95 paperback from Oxford ships in one to three weeks and that a Penguin edition that lists at $10.54 (that's what it says) ships in two to five weeks. Barnes and Noble says it has a Penguin edition (ISBN 0140435530) that ships in 24 hours. The PBS store does not seem to have any edition on its website; the PBS catalogue we received in today's mail did not offer the title either.

Looking at the webpages with discussion questions for Under the Greenwood Tree, I found an image of a Penguin edition with a Masterpiece Theater logo, with no bibliographic data. The Penguin website does not have this image, but does indicate that the 1999 edition (ISBN 0140435530 again) is still available. Perhaps it is getting a new cover.

So, what did I do? I ordered from Baker & Taylor one copy of the 1999 Oxford paperback, which it indicates some other libraries are back ordering. I also placed an order for two copies of the Penguin edition, for which Baker & Taylor has a listing but no inventory information, which I suspect is the official edition. With discounts, I have just spent about $16.00.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Favorite Places in the Library

I often wish that we could get more people just to wander through the bookshelves and look at the books around them. I am sure if more took time to look around, they would find more books and borrow more books and read more books and come back for more books. In the past, I have thought that a video of a well-spoken reader describing his trip through the bookshelves, holding out the favorites he finds, might inspire more browsing.

With similar intent, here is a slideshow of some of my favorite places in the library.

The painting above the mantel is Thomas Ford, the man after which our library is named. The books are on shelves in various locations in library.

Taking photos of books on shelves is not as easy as it looks. In narrow aisles, the flash can wash out the books, especially those in plastic covers. I am still trying to perfect my methods.

Update: It appears that most aggregators do not show the slide show. It does work on the blog.

TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol by Jake Austen

There is a lot learn from reading TV a-Go-Go by Jake Austen:

  • How Bo Diddley introduced rock and roll to national television on The Ed Sullivan Show
  • How Dick Clark made so much money running American Bandstand, even after testifying to Congress
  • Why lip synching is not so bad
  • Why The Monkees succeeded while other made-for-TV rock series failed (though The Partridge Family did pretty well)
  • How the Archies got the song "Sugar Sugar"
  • Which musicians got their own weekly shows in the 1970s
  • How MTV started and grew
  • How Making the Band and American Idol began

Austen includes stories for young and old, and ends with an entire chapter devoted to the story of Michael Jackson and television. While documenting the history of rock music on television, the author also states his opinions without reservation. TV a-Go-Go is interesting reading for television and music fans.

Reference librarians will like the inclusion of a lengthy index and a thirteen page bibliography. Appendix 2 has reviews for television episodes the author wishes every one could see again, including Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode 1509 with blues musician Otha Turner.

Not many libraries have this book yet. It is a good addition to a television history collection.

Austen, Jake. TV a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2005. ISBN 1556525729

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people's lives, never your own. In Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, p 168

With all the news about highly fictionalized biographies and memoirs in the news, it is interesting to find a book posing as fiction that could with a few changes be considered for the library's reference collection. The book is Flaubert's Parrot by the British author Julian Barnes, which includes much about Gustave Flabert, 1821-1880, author of Madame Bovary. The book includes several chronologies of Flaubert's life, a bestiary regarding the animals in his life and writings, profiles of his friends, family, and lovers, and even a mock exam to give to Flaubert students. There are many quotable passages taken from Flaubert, and much is said about the parrot.

Readers have to be patient to find the storyline. Geoffrey Braithwaite, a doctor obsessed with Flaubert, is the amateur assembling all this reference material. It is what he does to keep from despairing over the death of his unfaithful wife. It takes him on many trips to France.

Julian Barnes has taken a very unconventional approach in writing Flaubert's Parrot, but it works. I now want to know more. I might even try again to read Madame Bovary.

Barnes, Julian. Flaubert's Parrot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. ISBN 039454272x

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

North Carolina State Catalog

Our SWAN Catalog in the southern and western suburbs of Chicago has had lots of problems lately. The most recent software release from Innovative Interfaces came with some serious bugs that had to be fixed with a series of patches. I was a bit surprised, as III has given us a pretty good system for a number of years, but it may be time to search for other alternatives, as SWAN seems old-fashioned and slow. At least, that's my reference librarian's perspective.

A lot of praise is being given to the new catalog at North Carolina State University (http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/catalog/). I have played around with it and am impressed. I did a search for items by Wendell Berry, one of my favorite authors. Look at the "Browse by" area of the screen shot. (Click on the photo to get a bigger image.) All the books by this prolific author have been divided in to LC categories. I assume this could be changed for public libraries to Dewey groups. Even better is the side column, where Berry's books are divided into fiction, poetry, biography, and so forth.

I also tried a keyword search for "depression," a word that can have many meanings, to see the results. In the "Browse by" area were many discipline selections that could help the user narrow her focus. Along the side were recommended refinements to subjects "depression mental" and "economic conditions," as well as genre choices "biography," "fiction," and "popular works."

I like the look, but I am not sure how the average library user in the public library would react. Of course, the problem is there is no average library user. The web savey users would probably appreciate it. Our less computer literate users would bemoan more change. What's a librarian to do? Study and make wise changes. They won't please everyone.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Library Thing: The Personal Libraries of Librarians Catalogued Online

As a reference librarian in a public library connected to many other public libraries through a shared catalog, I hardly need to buy any books myself. I borrow rather than buy. I only purchase books that I think my libraries will not buy or books I want to use regularly or books I really love. I sometimes get books as gifts, but I only keep them if I really really want them. After I have read them, most find their way in to public library collections or the library friends' book sale. So, it was interesting creating my own catalog using Library Thing . I see things about myself I had not realized.

I have created a sixty-two item catalog, which is small enough to fall in the free category. People cataloguing 200 or more books are required to pay $10 per year or $25 for a lifetime membership. My catalog, which barely gets onto a fourth page, only took me a few days to create, adding 4 or 5 books at a time when I had time. Most books were easy to enter, as Library Thing pulled the bibliographic information from Amazon. I just entered the ISBN numbers and the records popped up. I also found several of the items by entering title or author. I see now that I could have set the service to search the Library of Congress instead of Amazon; if I had, I might not have had to catalog two older books from scatch. I also edited a few of the records to complete publication data and make my title list display alphabetically; Library Thing does not know to ignore "a" and "the" when alphabetizing.

While adding the items, I also added tags. There is no authority for the tags, so I sometimes added variations to make the items more findable. My bird books got the tags "birding," "birdwatching," and "birds." I also tagged one "bird behavior." Now anyone can search my collection by tags and also search across the pool of catalogs to see what other readers own. You can easily see what are the most popular subjects in my collection by looking at my tag cloud .

While adding items, I also rated them up to five stars. Most of my books get four or five stars. I have no desire to keep anything I would assign fewer stars.

Users of the Library Thing service can add reviews to their book records, I added only two so far, as I have been writing reviews about library books I borrow more than books I own.

From each record you can see how many other people own a title. If you click on the faceless person icon over to the right above the number of owners, you can see the screen names of the other people, their ratings, and their tags for the book. I do not know what it says about me, but forty of my sixty-two books are not owned by other participants.

From looking at my collection you might think our house has few books, but it is not so. Bonnie and Laura have books, and there are books that belong to the whole family that I did not list. My library does not stand alone at home or on Library Thing.

I know of two other blogging librarians using Library Thing. Michael Stephens has tested the service. Jessamyn West has catalogued 364 of her books. If you search users for the word librarian, you get 51 screen names, but many link to accounts that have not actually entered any books. SilverLibrarian has a nice collection mixing children's and adult books.

Have you catalogued your books using Library Thing or other online service? If so, leave a comment so we can see.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Kathyrn and John Atwood at Friday at the Ford

Twenty-one people braved the impending winter storm to attend our Friday at the Ford concert yesterday. Our performers were Kathryn and John Atwood, who sang songs heard at coffeehouses during the 1960s. My favorites of the night were "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Big Yellow Taxi," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "North Country Maid," "5D," and "Song for a Seagull." Also, Paul Simon's "America." The couple would like to take their performance/lectures to other libraries. Contact information is on their website www.historysingers.com.

Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert

It was 1964. Douglas R. Gilbert had just graduated from Michigan State University and started working for Look, a very popular magazine that featured photographic essays on current events and society, when he pitched the idea of photographing Bob Dylan. Dylan had several albums out, but was not really well-known by the general public. Columbia Records was releasing another album soon and approved the idea. Dylan was receptive, so Gilbert spent nine or ten days shadowing the singer/songwriter in and around Woodstock (before it was famous), New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island, site of an annual folk festival. The result was many photographs of Dylan at writing, performing with Joan Baez, and socializing with friends, like John Sebastian and Allen Ginsberg. (I did not recognize Sebastian without his glasses and with shorter hair.)

Look never ran the photos. Gilbert was told that Dylan looked too scruffy. He also heard later that the advertising department wanted the essay canned. Looking at the photos now, Dylan looks relatively fresh-faced and at times almost sweet. I would think the tobacco advertisers would have liked the photos, many of which show him smoking. Gilbert kept the photos safe until 2004, when he learned that he owned their copyright.

2005 was a great time to publish Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan , as it is a good companion piece to the film No Direction Home by Martin Scorsese. Along with photos is a text by long time rock music critic Dave Marsh that tells about Dylan's early years and Gilbert's photographic efforts. Forever Young takes only an hour or two to read. I recommend it to music fans.

Gilbert, Douglas R. Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0306814811

Friday, January 20, 2006

Old Catalog Card for a New Book

Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
The Ann Arbor Public Library has put an fun feature onto its computer catalog. (Do you ever think of catalogs as fun? Do you think vendors of library catalogs ever think of fun? Isn't it time to loosen up?) I wish we had this on SWAN.

Go to http://www.aadl.org/catalog and search for a book. On the record, right under "Request This Title," is a link "Card Catalog Image." Click that link and you get an image of an old fashioned catalog card. You can even scribble comments onto the card. Then you can save the image and do whatever you want with it.

It appears that the next person to go to that card in the catalog, will see your comments.

If you want to know how Ann Arbor created this tool, go to http://www.blyberg.net/2006/01/19/creating-a-virtual-card-catalog/

Thanks, Aaron, for the tip.

Should A Million Little Pieces Be Moved to Fiction?

Should A Million Little Pieces by James Frey , which has been exposed as a very fictionalized account of the author's youth, be moved from nonfiction to fiction in library collections? My first inclination is to say "yes," but when I stop to think, I realize that there is more to be considered than truth and falsehood when dealing with nonfiction. (This is not really a new topic but a continuing issue which is probably not debated as much as it should be.)

The situation reminds me of the debate over The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter . When first published in 1976, the book was presented as autobiography, though no one knew who Forrest Carter was. Some questions were raised right away, but the real debate began in 1991, when the New York Times, Newsweek, and Time identified the real author as Asa Earl Carter, a segregationist and former speech writer for George Wallace, and Carter was accused of being a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, these revelations really had nothing to do with the story. Carter's widow insisted that his grandparents were Cherokee and that he had not gone beyond the lines of literary license. (Masterplots II: Juvenile and Young Adult Biography Series)

Looking at the SWAN Catalog of the Metropolitan Library System , I see four responses by librarians to this debate. A few libraries did move the book to their fiction collections. Some others sought a middle ground and moved the book into the Dewey 810s, where it could be called "literature." The publishing of a paperback edition let some libraries just put it onto their uncategorized paperback racks. Many libraries simply left it with biographies.

Another book that drew some scrutiny was Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan . The author claims that she took a three month walkabout with a group of Aborigines that reject modern civilization and hide in the Outback. Many critics say the story is pure fiction. (Australian Literary Studies, 2004, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p150-164) Morgan's American publisher decided to sell the book as fiction (despite the author's claims) and all our local libraries agreed with the publisher.

Bonnie brought up the much-loved books by the veterinarian James Herriot. The author used a pseudonym. He changed the names of his partners and clients, as well as the pet names. He sometimes merged incidents with several animals into one fictionalized story. (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Revised Third Edition) I have not found any library that has moved these books to fiction.

One of the strangest cases is that of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris . The author wrote as though he had been with Reagan through all of his years, even at high school football games, witnessing and taking part in the story. There is a warning statement of sorts in the front of the book and any smart reader sees the impossibility of the device. (Magill Literary Annual 2000) No library has put the book in fiction.

Why are the books treated differently? One thing I notice is that the authors that insist that their stories are true when they are not may get their books moved. The authors who warn their readers that they have taken some liberties get to keep their books in nonfiction. (You may have examples to bust this theory.) When fiction usually circulates better than nonfiction, it may not be much of a punishment to have a book moved.

What should librarians do? I think we have to accept the books as they are marketed. We may cause more problems if we start testing each book for truth. Just think about all the right wing and left wing political books that have been published in recent years, or think about all the books that mythologize American history. We are bound by our missions to provide all viewpoints without comment. Moving these would be making our own statements about them.

We should also make sure we have critical works exposing falsehoods readily available. We should help our readers find materials that will help them make their own judgments. Total and fair access to information and opinions is our mission.

A Million Little Pieces gets to stay where it is.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The March by E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow is an artist with words. In The March, his novel about the Union campaign through the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina at the end of the American Civil War, he draws a wide and sweeping landscape and fills it with many characters fictional and real. In the center of the story are daughters from plantation families free and slave. Other story lines follow traveling photographers, escaped convicts, an immigrant doctor, infantrymen, and General William Tecumseh Sherman. Through small towns like Milledgeville, plantations, small farms, marshes with quicksand, cities of Savannah and Charlestown, and dark forests, the long blue snake of Union soldiers is followed by desperate civilians. Should any of them look back, they would see a treeless, burned, crop-free, livestock-free, rubble-covered scene.

The March is a nightmare. What is surprising is how sympathetically Doctorow can portray characters who do horrible things. Sherman even seems to be a soul who needs protecting by his aides. The author also puts in a couple of characters who are absolutely crazy, adding much tension to an already gripping story.

An interesting question for a book discussion is "If The March were a play, who would come out last to bow to the audience?" There are many worthy characters, but I would give my vote to Pearl.

I listened to the book read by Joe Morton on unabridged compact discs through errands, chores, and driving to work, finishing the 11 hour reading in five days. If I had not had other obligations, I would have finished sooner. I did not want to stop listening.

It was announced this week that The March is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle fiction award, as is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I would hate to have to choose. I recommend them both.

Doctorow, E. L. The March. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 0375506713

10 compact discs. Westminster, Maryland: Books on Tape, 2005. ISBN 1415924201

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Confusion Over Translations of Night by Elie Wiesel

Bonnie and I celebrated our twenty-second anniversary a couple of weeks ago. We still talk about library issues frequently. Our daughter could probably place out of library school, if she were so inclined, which she is not. I get lots of my best information and ideas from Bonnie. She told me what she learned about Elie Wiesel's Night this morning.

I know now that I gave a reader interested in following Oprah's book discussion the wrong edition of Night yesterday. The official Oprah book is a new translation by the author's wife Marion Wiesel, which is touted as longer and more accurate than the 1960 edition translated from French by Stella Rodway (often republished). The new edition also has a new introduction by the author and his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize presentation and acceptance speeches. (The Farrar Straus and Giroux website indicates "speeches".) The ISBN is 0374500010 in paperback and 0374399972 in hardcover.

Bonnie learned this on Monday as Oprah announced the book and the requests started coming in to the Downers Grove Public Library. She started to order copies of the older translation but noticed very few in stock at Baker and Taylor, a strange situation for an Oprah book. So she started looking at the Oprah announcement and got the ISBN. At that point, Farrar Straus and Giroux were listing the book with an April publishing date. Was this a red herring? This has since been updated. Returning to Baker and Taylor with the ISBN she found the edition, which is hidden under the title Oprah Book Club Selection #55. As of this morning, it is still listed this way and not searchable by author or title.

Trying to get a copy quickly on Monday, she found that a local bookstore had been confused and was trying to order the wrong translation. The big box bookstores, however, were in on Oprah's secret and have plenty of copies.

So, librarians, be advised that you probably should not rely on your countless older copies of Night to get you by this time.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Google Reader

Google Reader 2
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
Last week I became aware of Google Reader, a new aggregator for reading any RSS feed content. To my surprise, I already had an account, as does anyone else who has a Google Mail account. I subscribed to several of the feeds I already read through Bloglines and sat back a few days to see what would happen.

Google Reader seems to be pretty easy to use. It was easy to subscribe to feeds and easy to read them. From the main page, all the most recent content from all the feeds is together. Click the "your subscriptions" tab and you can look at one feed at a time. Unlike Bloglines, the items seem to stay on the list after you read them. Could it be like Google Mail with vitually unlimited storage?

Google Reader is a more private tool than Bloglines. Bloglines lets you share your feedlist with others. Bloglines also tells you how many others are subscribing to a feed.

You can forward content to a blog or as email. You can can also add labels (tags) to the items to help you find them later.

I do not know if there is anything else you can do. There are no instructions or help page.

If you already have Bloglines, there is no reason to switch. If you are new to reading blogs through an aggregator, it is easy to set up and use.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of Pharaohs by Zahi Hawass

We have tickets to see King Tut at the Field Museum in Chicago in August. It seems like a long time from now until then, but my library already has the companion book to the exhibit, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs by Zahi Hawass with photographs by National Geographic's Kenneth Garrett. It is a gorgeous book filled with essays and descriptions of artifacts in the exhibition. It looks like the show will deserve its blockbuster billing. I hope I will be able to see through the crowd.

When I attend big art or archeology exhibits, I tend to read every sign in the front rooms but eventually I tire and begin to skip some. Having now read this book, I will concentrate on the artifacts themselves - just look and admire. I am already prepped with the vocabulary. If you too are planning to attend, here are some words to study:


The reason that there is so much to see is the ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife that would be greatly enhanced by stocking up on necessities before death. The chambers of the tombs were stuffed with food, jewelry, clothes, furniture, weapons, chariots, and figurines of the many servants the pharaohs would need in the afterlife. When the pharaohs died (or other prominent people), all of their provisions were moved into their tombs. In fact, preparations began many years before death, and some artifacts even seem to name the subjects who gave the items to their pharaohs. I can almost imagine a pharaoh preparing for the great day registering his funerary needs at the local department store: one royal flail, one royal crook, four canopic jars, three nesting coffins, dozens of golden rings, folding stools, and unlimited shabti. Wrap in linen and deliver to the Valley of the Kings.

I could list all my favorite pieces in the book, but you have read enough of this review already. Get the book.

Hawass, Zahi. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2005. ISBN 0792238737

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mural in Downers Grove Post Office

The best feature of our local post office is its mural, which was kept when the building was remodeled in the late 1990s. The mural was painted by Elizabeth Tracy and installed in 1940. This image is of the left half of the mural.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Traveling Literary America by B. J. Welborn

Across the U.S., in places large and small, local organizations and government bodies maintain literary landmarks for students and travellers to visit. Many are homes of famous authors, like Edgar Allan Poe or Flannery O'Connor. Looking through Traveling Literary America by B. J. Welborn, I see some hotspots, particularly Concord, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut. Some author landmarks are in remote locals, requiring long drives. I have many still to visit.

Traveling Literary America combines practical information, such as locations, hours, and what to see, with background on the authors honored by landmarks. Most authors even get a bibliography. Having been to Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord and the O. Henry House in Austin, I think their entries are good. The book lacks (1) indexes by author and place, (2) national and regional maps showing the distribution of landmarks, and (3) photos of the landmarks. I hope the author considers adding these features if another edition is considered.

Even with its shortcomings, I have enjoyed looking at the book. Going to Hartford, Connecticut is now on my wishlist.

Welborn, B. J. Traveling Literary America: A Complete Guide to Literary Landmarks. Lookout Mountain, Tennessee: Jefferson Press, 2005. ISBN 0971897425

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wiki World with Meredith Farkas

Aaron and I attended an national online workshop this afternoon without leaving the building. We took part in Wiki World which was presented in the OPAL Auditorium (an online presentations space). We did have to install a small plug-in, which found at the link before getting into the auditorium. It worked pretty well, though some of the web page pushing was a little slow. At one point I noticed 119 registrants connected.

Meredith Farkas spoke about the purpose of wikis and how to set one up. Her slideshow can be found on her wiki Libary Success: A Best Practices Wiki. It inspired us. In fact, as I typed this, Aaron downloaded some open sorce software and installed it. Who knows what we will do next!

Another Way for Librarians to Help New Orleans

The American Library Association has announced that it is coordinating volunteer efforts for librarians attending this summer's conference in New Orleans. You may choose to help New Orleans Public Library, Orleans Parish School District, or other unnamed as yet institutions as a one-day volunteer. For $10 you will get transportation to a project, lunch, and a T-shirt. It sounds like a great opportunity to do something to help the battered community. The ALA announcement has contact and registration information.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Where to Retire, a Magazine for an Older Audience

Should I retire to Hot Springs or Rancho Bernardo?

Julie, our magazine desk supervisor, is always looking out for new titles to add to our periodicals collection, which I think is quiet good for a medium small library. Today, she showed me Where to Retire. I had not heard of it before, but it looks like a definite fit for our library. I looked at the January/February 2005 issue, which had full profiles of six retirement-friendly communities and numerous other useful sounding articles. The profiles included climate, cost of living, housing, tax, transportation, school, and health care information. Among the articles were articles offering advice on moving, financial planning, and buying pre-fab houses.

Anyone looking at the magazine will probably notice the numerous brightly colored advertisements for retirement communities. They all seem to show active adults out in the sunshine playing golf or tennis, swimming, or bicycling. Also, they throw in many photos of older couples dancing romantically in the moonlight. In a way these ads are humorously predictable, but the house prices, average square footage, phone numbers, and web addresses included are of interest to the targeted readers.

According to our shared catalog, only a few libraries have this title, though it seems to have been published since 1991. You can get a free trial issue from its website. We're going to add it.

Maybe I should consider Corpus Christi. How about Winter Garden? No, too humid.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate: An Isabel Dalhousie Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and edits The Review of Applied Ethics from her home. It is good that she is independently wealthy, for her job does not pay well, but she is devoted to the work. Each day's mail brings countless manuscripts from philosophers worldwide, which Isabel opens in a daily ritual with Grace, her housekeeper. The topics are varied. When one submission questions the ethics of taking home excess rolls from a restaurant's bread basket (Grace says that taking what is not yours is stealing), she proposes a special issue of The Review devoted to the ethics of food. She is particularly curious about the ethics of eating chocolate, which might be unhealthy. What belief system allows people to continue to eat the popular food?

Part of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate reminds me of old Russian novels. A loves B, who does not love A, but is crazy for C, who is looking for Mr. D. E comes along, and A considers him, but he is also crazy about C, who tries to avoid him. How all these people can cope with their feelings civilly is part of the continuing story in the series of Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries.

Isabel's editing work is often interrupted by her getting involved in other people's mysteries. Her new friend Ian, who has a transplanted heart, begins to see a face in his dreams. Could it be the person who killed the heart donor? She is skeptical, but feels ethically bound to investigate.

I enjoyed listening to Friends, Lovers, Chocolate on compact discs narrated by British-born actress Davina Porter. McCall Smith works many topics of interest into his mysteries. I recommend this comic novel with many serious comments on life and love.

McCall Smith, Alexander. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate: An Isabel Dalhousie Mystery. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. ISBN 0375422994

7 compact discs. Prince Frederick, Maryland: Recorded Books, 2005. ISBN 1419348949

Monday, January 09, 2006

Deep in the Microfilm the 1950s Still Live

The Thomas Ford Memorial Library got an interesting email a few days ago. Sian Brockhurst at the Rugeley Library in South Staffordshire, England is gathering information, documents, and photos about the Twin Towns relationship between Rugeley and Western Springs, Illinois for a display in her library. Of course, we volunteered to help. In the effort, I got out the 1956 microfilm of the Western Springs Citizen to see if I could find some original news reports from the time the relationship began. Because there is no index to the old newspaper, I started scrolling through the pages to see what I could find.

I find looking at old microfilm is like venturing into tar pits. I can hardly pull away. My eyes glue to the screen. My hand sticks to the film advance. Last Thursday I slowly scanned the pages and started reading the news.

Local News

The first big story I noticed was the plan for building the the local expressway, which now skirts the western edge of Western Springs. Nearly every front page for weeks had hand-drawn maps showing the path the expressway would take, the houses that would be removed, and the streets that would be divided. I thought these maps seemed crude, but much wanted information was disclosed. Readers were quite interested in the big development.

People also seemed to be very interested in local government. There were detailed disclosures of budgets, including a complete list of checks written by the local school district during the year. Every candidate running for local office was profiled. A map of voting districts was on the front page, as was a list of polling places. I do not think our current local newspapers cover elections nearly as well.

For weeks there was debate over fluoride in municipal water. Stories of polio and the campaign to inoculate the public were frequently reported. Civil defense training was big. The building of a shopping center also garnered numerous stories.

Citizens of Western Springs

While all of these news reports were interesting, I think I was more impressed by the volume of news about people in the Western Springs Citizen. I sometimes hear that people today feel a little threatened by the amount of personal information on the Internet. In 1956 there was a tremendous amount of such information in the weekly newspaper. Of course, there were announcements of births, engagements, marriages, and deaths, as you might find in today's paper, but to a greater degree. One wedding story listed everyone who came.

When a family had relatives visit, the Western Springs Citizen had a note. When families took vacations, the paper included that, too.

Each month there was a list of all the new residents with their addresses on the front page. Appointments, promotions, and other employment items were highlighted individually, often on the front page. Photos of all the new teachers at the local schools were in the late August issues. Another regular feature listed college students with the names of their schools, their fraternities and sororities, and their academic achievements.

Many reports on church activities made the front page. Times for services were listed, titles for sermons given, and elections of elders and deacons reported. Church picnics, building campaigns, and other activities often merited photos.

There were pages and pages of news from local clubs and organizations, much more than you find in today's newspapers. Programs at clubs were described. The Young Men's Business Club had track star Jesse Owens speak at an annual awards banquet. Foods served at club luncheons were reported. Even the craft projects at Brownie meetings were described.

The sports pages listed all the individual bowling league scores and standings. School sports were covered well, too.

The Library in 1956

1956 was an important year for the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. One story said that space in the basement was remodeled into a children's library. Lists of new books were printed, and the summer reading program was described. One director left to take another job and a veteran staff member was chosen as her replacement. Soon after the new librarian was appointed, the hours of operations were modified. In the 1950s, the library closed for two hours each day for the staff to go home for dinner.

Thoughts About the Old Newspaper

A lot has changed since 1956 in Western Springs (and everywhere else). The look of the Western Springs Citizen on the microfilm is closer to that of newspapers of the nineteenth century than to the current local papers. The pages were filled with small items and grainy photos. On the front page of the December 12, 1956 issue, I counted 32 items. The weekly issues also seem to have more pages with news content (not just ads) than the current papers. (Of course, the ads can also be interesting.)

How did the Citizen get so much news? Did it have a large team of reporters? I think the answer to the last question is "no" and "yes." No, the newspaper did not have many reporters on its payroll. Yes, many people in the community called the newspaper with every bit of news they had. They participated in the making of the newspaper. It really belonged spiritually to the community. Many people liked seeing their names and the names of their family members in the newspaper.

I have sometimes thought that it would be interesting to index the old newspapers - just sit down with the microfilm and a laptop and start entering names, dates, page numbers, and subject tags into a database. Having just looked through an entire year of a small local paper, I realize how monumental a job it would be. A project would have to involve some compromises, but how would anyone decide where to draw the line between important and not important details for indexing?

Unfortunately for us, the microfilm was made from old newspapers that were sometimes damaged. I do not believe any digital equipment could recapture all the data in a way that could be digitally searched. I could be wrong. I would like to be wrong. So much of the life of the community is still recorded on the old microfilms.

By the way, I had to continue into 1957 and 1959 to actually find the stories I sought, but I have no regrets. Reading the old microfilm was very interesting.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Diva, a film by Jean-Jacques Beineix

I first saw Diva with Bonnie twenty-four years ago. Afterwards her hand was sore from my grip, and I was weak from trembling. Few films have ever frightened me so much as Diva. I have never forgotten.

Today I saw Diva again. Knowing the end, I was calm throughout, but I still enjoyed the film tremendously. The singing of the aria from Alfred Catalani's La Wally by Wilhelmenia Fernandez is divine. The chase of Jules (played by Frederic Andrei) by the police detective through the Paris Metro is exciting. The thugs are totally evil. The locations and the photography are stunning. The plot has great twists. The film is totally French.

Jean-Jacques Beineix should be commended for his judicious use of music. Unlike most modern Hollywood directors, he used music only when it was needed, making it much more effective. In Diva the photography sets the moods; fill-in music is unnecessary; the silence of some scenes strengthens the suspense.

Should you choose to see the film, beware:

1. You will want to hear the aria "Ebben? ... Ne andrĂ² lontana" over and over again.

2. You will want to buy a bright red moped.

3. You will want to visit Paris.

4. You may not sleep well for a couple of nights.

5. You will want to add Diva to your foreign film collection.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes

When baggage handlers cracked the neck of his guitar, a Fylde that he had bought in England in 1980, Tim Brookes re-glued the instrument and began thinking about buying a new one. Shopping for a really nice guitar for his fiftieth birthday (a common guitarist's desire), he was confronted by a much greater variety of instruments than he ever imagined, none of which were "just right." He began to read about guitars, hoping to gain some direction, and learned that there was a growing custom-built guitar industry. Deep in Vermont, he found the luthier Rick Davis of Running Dog Guitars, contracted for a guitar, and began to write Guitar: An American Life.

Brookes is a very skilled writer who delivers history with humor and insight. Some readers might recognize him as a commentator for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition. I enjoyed listening to the book on compact discs read by the author, and I referred to the hardbound edition to see its small section of photos. Reading the last part before bed, I found Brookes just as entertaining in print as on CD.

Brookes alternates history with a running account of Davis building his guitar. Both narratives are fascinating. I never knew how difficult guitar making is. It is incredible that the instruments hold together much less play in tune. In fact, keeping them in tune is also somewhat difficult - I know I have heard much guitar tuning during live performances in my life. The scope of Brookes' history is wide. I am reminded of the PBS series American Roots Music, except Brookes is not bound by the continent. He goes back to ancient times and leads the reader through European string instrument history before describing several centuries of American guitar history. Every aspect of the guitar is covered - performance, musical movements, recordings, innovations in design, manufacturing, and retail sales. Ever present is a sense of social history, too.

The print version of Guitar has supplemental material not found with the audio book, including a list of recommended recordings, a list of guitar tone woods, and a glossary. As a reference librarian, I wish it also had an index. While the lengthy table of contents is helpful, an index would be better for a student with a paper or a reader who wants to re-find one of Brookes' accounts. Too bad Guitar is not available as a searchable e-book.

Guitar: An American Life should be in all public libraries. Put it on display.

To see photos of the guitar that David built for Brookes, go to NPR's Tim Brookes Telling the Story of the Guitar.

Brookes, Tim. Guitar: An American Life. New York: Grove Press, 2005. ISBN 0802117961

9 compact discs. Ashland, Oregon: Blackstone Audiobooks, 2005. ISBN 0786178884

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Making Things Last at Home and at the Library

Bonnie and I were looking at my winter coat. Neither of us remembers when I got it. Three years ago I had the zipper replaced by a tailor. Did I have this coat when we moved into our house nearly eleven years ago? I have tried looking through our family photos to find a picture of me in the coat, but we do not take outdoor family photos on cold, snowy days often. There is one photo of me shoveling snow in 1999 in the coat. It has only the slightest sign of wear at the cuffs and it does not look old to me. (Bonnie and Laura may disagree.) I bought it at Eddie Bauer in its former location in Oak Brook. How long ago did they move into the bigger store? My daughter Laura does not remember any other winter coat, though I know I had the previous coat when she was born.
I remember that I bought the previous coat at a wilderness outfitter's store the first winter that I was in Columbia, Missouri, working at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. It was after New Year's Day, so it was 1979. It had a synthetic down filled vest and a thin outer shell. The two layer system kept my body toasty warm, but my arms got cold. I was very happy to replace that coat after I had gotten my money's worth out of it. When was that?

If you are mathematical, you can calculate that I have had two heavy winter coats in twenty-seven years. This is not because I earn so little at the library that I can not buy a new coat. I was raised to conserve and preserve and think long and hard before I buy something new. Does this influences the way I work at the library?

Making Things Last at the Library

Making things last at the library is a more complicated topic than stretching the use of my personal belongings. Conserving public tax dollars has to be weighed against providing the best service for the public. It would be easier if everything we bought at the library lasted forever, but nothing does. Books, computers, furniture, and buildings wear out.


We are constantly adding and deleting books from our library collection. The public understands the adding part much better than the deleting. I remember one regular told me he liked our library because we kept all the old books. I tried to explain to him gently that we did remove some of them regularly. He looked puzzled and a bit disappointed. Being a pleasant person, he did not complain.

As I am weeding, I often come across books that have bookplates indicating that they were given to the library in honor or in memory of a person or a couple or a group. The benefactors intended these books as lasting tributes to keep the memory of the person or persons fresh. I doubt that many of these contributors ever thought about the books wearing out and becoming out of date, as they have. I feel a pang of regret when I remove them from the collection, and I do sometimes give a few of these books a second chance if there is the slightest merit to doing so. Most I delete. A worn book that is out of date or out of fashion that is not being borrowed by readers is no longer a worthy tribute. Books do not last as memorials. When chosen well, they make very good memorials for twenty or thirty years, maybe longer.

Tight budgets and readily available information on the Internet have made us rethink our reference books, what we buy and what we keep. The cost of buying reference books grows much faster than the funding of the library, and we see more satisfying use of our circulating books than our reference titles these days, so we are no longer willing to spend a third or more of our small book budget on reference books. We try to buy reference books that will last ten or twenty years, such as The Oxford Companion to Food or Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. We do still buy annual volumes of the Physician's Desk Reference and the World Almanac and a handful of antiques price guides, which all get good use, but we now only buy every third edition of Encyclopedia of Associations and have dropped most other directories.


We had a lean budget in 2005 and it looks like much the same in 2006. We had been replacing all of our PCs every fourth year in rotation, but we are now a little behind in the replacement schedule. We've been lucky so far and are down only one lesser used computer at the moment. When we needed a PC for a Powerpoint presentation at a program last month, we pulled one off a part time staff member's desk. I want new public use PCs with USB and headphone jacks in the front and CD burners. I also want a reliable laptop for our programs (our previous laptop was a lemon.) The new year has started, so we can start buying again, but we have to pace ourselves. We are doing better than some poorer libraries.


I dislike the model for paying for databases very much. Libraries spend a whole lot of money one year and have nothing when the year is up. Then we spend a whole lot of money again the next year and again we have nothing at the end of twelve months. On the brighter side (ALOTBSOL - "always look on the bright side of life"), we do not have anything to weed. We are definitely not making things last with databases.

I did see a presentation by a Gale salesman a couple of years ago offering permanent purchases for databases and e-books, but the databases were pricey and the yearly maintenance fees were steep. It was of no help to us.

We did once have a database that wore out - Sorkins Chicago. The first year we had it library users gave it good marks. The vendor did not update the data very often, if ever, and no one would even use it after the third year. Three years after telling the editorial staff that the entry for our library was wrong and repeating the message several times, it still was not corrected. We weeded Sorkins.


Our library got all new task chairs ten years ago when the building was expanded and remodeled. The chairs were warrantied to last forever (exageration). The company from which we bought the chairs has made repairs and replaced pads on some of them a couple of times. In a way, it seems like we can really make these chairs last. The service, however, seems to be getting harder to get and the refurbishing does not bring the chairs back to original conditions. The staff and the library users are finding it harder to sit comfortably. Anne, our director, is pricing new chairs. Sometimes it is best not to make something last.

The carpeting around the circulation desk wore faster than around the rest of the building. Anne is looking at slate to replace the carpeting in that area. We got our bookshelf end panels just before the advent of end panel displays. We are now looking at ways of modifying them so we can promote more books. It is expensive making a library last and keep up with trends.


Our library building is attractive and comfortable in many ways. It was built in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s and in the 1990s. During the last expansion it was wired for networking computers and we have added wireless services since then. In many ways, we have made the building last, but it has some shortcomings. In professional journals and at library conferences much is said about making the library a "third place," a place where people linger. We do well in that we have a very nice reading room with a fireplace. In winter, there are often many people there in the comfy chairs. What we are short on is study rooms and our meeting rooms are poorly shaped for increasing technology demands. What will help?

Getting a new building is totally out of the question any time soon, but we should subtly plant seeds in the minds of the public to let future generations move to a new location, away from our beloved building. The community of the future could be better served near the center of town, where there would be more parking and proximity to mass transit. A new building could have meeting spaces designed to accommodate technology and larger groups. It will not happen very soon, but we should not squash the dream. Like memorial books, buildings do not last forever.

In the meantime, we adapt. Just yesterday, Aaron suggested we get all the computers out of the computer room and into the public area to turn it into a study/meeting room. It might help. Our big meeting room (which is not really very big) has two load-bearing pillars centrally located, wrecking site lines for presentations. Could we set up multiple monitors around the room? It might be an expensive and unsatisfactory fix. We need some new ideas to make this building work better, to stretch its service.

Back Home

I am looking at my shoes. When did I buy these? I remember it was a summer day and we were going to see friends near Woodstock, and there was an SAS store in the discount mall. I had gotten my previous pair a couple of years before on a trip to Texas. The SAS shoes really last a long time, but maybe, just maybe, it is time to buy a new pair. Bonnie and Laura would agree.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods by John Schulian

John Schulian grew up in California before the Dodgers and Giants arrived and then in Utah, always far from major league baseball. This was not a problem for him. The Pacific Coast League had some great teams with big name players that some fans believed were "just as good" as the major league teams. The players' salaries were modest, but they were as beloved as major league players in the East. In Hollywood, they even played before the stars of film and television. Schulian studied the game, played American Legion ball, and eventually became a sports writer. He has also written for television.

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods is a collection of baseball essays that Schulian wrote over several decades for Sports Illustrated, the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and even the short-lived National Sports Daily. The emphasis is the world apart and away from the major leagues. Some of the stories tell about life in the minor leagues, in the negro leagues, in semipro leagues, and in the homes of fans. The heroes include Josh Gibson, who was kept from the major leagues by the color line; Joe Bauman, who was paid $4000 for the year he hit 72 home runs for the Roswell Rockets; and Russ Morman, who lead a Crash Davis (a character in the movie Bull Durham) sort of life in the minor leagues.

Having spent years with newspapers in Chicago, Schulian met and wrote about Bill Veeck, the onetime owner of the Chicago White Sox. Several of these essays are included, as is a piece about the San Jose Bees team, which was loaded in 1986 with former major league misfits trying to resurrect their careers. Other essays tell about the birthplace of Babe Ruth, the short marriage of Joe DiMaggio to Marilyn Monroe, and the rock musician George Thorogood building his own baseball field.

You do not have to like baseball to enjoy these stories. They are about people more than sport.

Schulian, John. Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. ISBN 0803293275

Monday, January 02, 2006

Smiling Snowmen at the Morton Arboretum Shop

Smiling snowmen
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
We visited the gift shop at the Morton Arboretum on New Year's Eve, and these little guys caught my eye. The shop also has a really good collection of gardening, natural history, and wildlife books. The Arboretum and its shop are nice places to visit on a cold day.

Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics

Librarians sometimes do interesting things with their spare time. David Dodd documents the Dead. For eleven years he has been running the website The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, posting lyrics and supplementing them with his own research and contributions from other fans of the band. In 1996 he co-edited The Grateful Dead and the Deadheads: An Annotated Bibliography , and in 2000 he co-edited The Grateful Dead Reader. Now, from the wealth of the long running website, he has compiled a handsome book The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.

By my count, there are lyrics for 184 songs in this 480 page book, including more than just the works from the many record albums and boxed CD sets. Dodd, who is now the city librarian of San Rafael, California, has attempted to be inclusive and comprehensive. With the help of band members and fans, he has added lyrics for songs that were performed live, sometimes only once. While many of the songs were penned by the band members, especially Robert Hunter and John Barlow, others were traditional folk or blues pieces; Dodd chronicles the origins of all these songs, tells when they were first performed, and cites when they were recorded. Fourteen of these songs are from the post-Jerry Garcia era.

Did you know King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was a Grateful Dead fan? See the annotations for "Blues for Allah." Who is "Sweet Jane"? See "Truckin'." "Ramble on Rose" gets six pages of annotations. These annotations vary from simple statements identifying personal and place names to lengthy discussions on the origins of phrases or story lines. What Dodd avoids throughout the book is saying "what a song means." Readers get to make their own interpretations.

If you scan the book, you will find the songs are arranged by date of first performance. You will also see many Dead-appropriate illustrations by Jim Carpenter, which add greatly to the beauty of the book. The back of the book includes a general index, an index of songs, profiles of the lyricists, a bibliography, and notes about Grateful Dead instrumentals.

The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics is a big book that will keep Deadheads and reference librarians happy for many days, maybe even weeks.

The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics: The Collected Lyrics of Robert Hunter and John Barlow, Lyrics to All Original Songs, with Selected Traditional and Cover Songs. With annotations by David Dodd; illustrated by Jim Carpenter. New York: Free Press, 2005. ISBN 0743277473