Thursday, November 30, 2006

warholized ricklibrarian

warholizer ricklibrarian
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
I am in some ways a rejuvenile, still captivated by the art and music of my youth. I was listening to the Beatles today and now I am creating psychodelic art. I am not alone. Readers check out 60s music and art from our library.

Here is the photo that Aaron took of me warholized. Thanks to Librarian in Black for the lead to the image generator.

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

"For me the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration and spiritual adventure all in one inexpensive package."

Stephen Fry expects a lot of poetry. In his book The Ode Less Travelled, he defines the form rather broadly, but then he begins to nail it down to rules of meter, rhyme, and form. Readers who expect a book by Fry to be comic will be surprised, as The Ode Less Travelled is a serious textbook for poetry writing. He does show his dry wit in the text and illustrative examples, but the reader will not fall on the floor laughing.

Fry's strength is in his examples of verse. He explains rules and then lists many clear examples. Teachers can benefit by drawing from his work for their lectures.

Librarians should expect this book to be renewed several times by each reader, as its lessons are lengthy and hard to skip over.

Fry, Stephen. The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within. New York: Gotham Books, 2005. ISBN 1592402488

120-Year-Old Book Club at Home in Riverside by Joseph Ruzich

Catching up with my newspapers after the holiday, I found "120-Year-Old Book Club at Home in Riverside" by Joseph Ruzich in section 2, page 12 in the November 24, 2006 issue of the Chicago Tribune. The three-column article tells about the group that formed in 1886 and has been meeting in homes in and around Riverside, Illinois ever since. It started as the Ladies Literary Club of Riverside and changed to its current name in 1890. In its history the group has had as many as 32 and as few as 11 members. It now has 15, who meet on the first and third Thursday of the month.

The club does not follow standard book club procedures. Instead of having everyone read one book, everyone reads different books and reports on them. At a recent meeting most of the books discussed were nonfiction. The club also has a history of making charitable donations to causes, such as the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

The article reports that the club's minutes have been preserved in "lovely" handwriting at the Riverside Historical Museum. I wonder how many books have been read by members in 120 years. The number must be enormous.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead

For years, Caroline Moorehead has crossed the planet visiting people who have fled war, repression, discrimination, natural disaster, and poverty. In her lexicon, these people are all refugees. As she explains and describes in her recent book Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees, her view is not widely held. Some nations and the international relief organizations that they control define who is a refugee and worthy of aid more narrowly. For years, the United States and its western allies would only send aid to displaced people who could be considered anti-communist. Sometimes the displaced people have been denied help because it would embarrass our allies whose policies made them homeless. Racial, religious, and political prejudices have often affected international relief efforts. The situation is shameful.

Sometimes people are denied help because they have fled their homes but have not crossed an international border. These people are known as "internally displaced persons" or IDP, and, as you can guess, they frequently get temporary humanitarian assistance but are not offered resettlement assistance. Some spend decades in camps as prisoners, not allowed to have jobs or even grow their own crops.

Most of the chapters focus on either a group in need, such as Liberian or Palestinian refugees, or a country that hosts refugees or offers them new homes. In paired chapters Moorehead describes the generosity of the mostly poor people of Sicily to shipwrecked refugees and then the strenuous efforts of the United States to keep foreign nationals out of the country. She then also describes the racially biased policies in Australia and the bureaucratically handicapped system in Great Britain.

The final chapters focus on refugees returning to their homelands or accepting new permanent homes in lands very different from their origins. Resettlement is never easy.

Human Cargo will attract only very serious readers, but it is an important book and should be available at many libraries.

Moorehead, Caroline. Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2005. ISBN 0805074430

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rabbit-shaped Cactus

Rabbit-shaped Cactus
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
We're in Arizona for a few days and have been to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. It is one of my favorite places here, and I have been numerous times. We always see a variety of birds and small animals among the cacti and succulents and desert grasses. Sometimes, I only think I see a little animal.

November is a great time to visit this area, as the temperature is in the 70s. It is a little cool for swimming, but it is comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. There also seem to be fewer tourists at this time, so it is easy to get dinner reservations and there are no crowds to fight.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater

You may know this already, but I just learned from NPR Books that Daniel Pinkwater will be publishing The Neddiad in April 2007. In the meantime, his original draft is being released a chapter at a time on Pinkwater's website. Chapter 18 published for Thanksgiving also has an audio version.

The Neddiad is the adventure of Ned Wentworthstein, who moves from Chicago to Los Angeles with his family so they can "eat in a hat." They ride cross country on the famous Super Chief train with a stop in Flagstaff. In Pinkwater tradition, it is a strange and humorous tale.

On the website, Pinkwater describes his writing process and uses terms that I had not read in a long time -"IBM clone computer." He also says that he has the book on two 3.5 inch floppies. He goes on to say that the hardcover will have slight changes and illustrations not seen on the web version. He hopes we will all buy copies. I am sure many libraries will.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving
Originally uploaded by ricklibrarian.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for all the librarians I know in the Chicago area and throughout the blogosphere, whose help and friendship mean much to me.

I am thankful for now our being fully staffed in the adult services department at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. There is a lot of excitement and potential.

I am also thankful for our new staff intranet wiki. Several of us have already said, "Why didn't we do this before?"

I have been looking for an opportunity to use the Comic Strip Generator.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I Didn't Know That I Huffed!

I am suddenly and briefly famous. A couple of weeks ago I had a phone interview with a reporter from the Associated Press, who had seen a Flickr photo of me cutting up my Macy's card. She said to watch around Thanksgiving to see if she used our conversation. Well, today it happened. If you search "rick roche" in Google News you will find the story repeated in many markets.

What the story does not tell is that Macy's sent me a card to replace my Marshall Field's card. At the bottom of the card, it said I had been a Macy's customer since 1981. I have never been in a Macy's store! I think the corporate bending of truth is what most bothers me about the affair.

A reporter tried to call me at the Downers Grove Public Library, which is not my workplace. DGPL staff told the reporter that I worked at Thomas Ford, but no call has come. The moment has passed. I am no longer famous.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Erik Larson has moved from the 1890s in The Devil in the White City to the 1900s and 1910s in his new book Thunderstruck, in which he mixes the stories of mild-mannered murder Hawley Harvey Crippen and young inventor Guglielmo Marconi. Both men immigrate to late Victorian/ early Edwardian London, where the newspapers of Fleet Street make them famous for very different reasons. Surprisingly, Crippen may be the man who is more likeable.

Erik Larson fans will not be disappointed by Thunderstruck. Structured much like The Devil in the White City, it moves back and forth in time and includes many historical details and many secondary characters. I particularly liked the descriptions of fantastic scientific demonstrations at the Royal Society and the building of large radio transmitters and receivers on isolated islands and rugged coasts. The story of the inspection of the Crippen house is also very detailed.

I listened to the book read by Bob Balaban, ten discs in four days. I did not want to stop.

Every librarian already knows to buy this book. I recommend reading it.

Larson, Erik. Thunderstruck. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006. ISBN 1400080665

10 compact discs. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape, 2006. ISBN 1415932794

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Library Goddesses: Garrulous Goddesses Generate Genuine Gems

The Librarian's Book Revoogle is growing. Every few days I get a lead or two or three for websites to add to the custom search engine. Today I added Library Goddesses. Thank you, Susan, for the lead.

I have no idea who the Library Goddesses are or even how many there are. They could be anywhere and everywhere. They are inviting other goddess (and even gentlemen) to join them. All the details are on their lead blog.

If you have not heard of the Library Goddesses before, do not be ashamed, for they are very new. Their archives only go back to October 2006. Despite their newness, however, they already have written many reviews for books in many categories. They review books for all ages and tastes in literature. Adding them to the search engine has certainly broadened the content of the Revoogle.

I am impressed by their organization and thrift. They have created a network of free Blogger blogs to distribute their reviews and have a companion wiki to post reading lists and serve as a message board. The Goddesses are very Library 2.0.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler

The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler is an important book. Every public, college, and high school library should have a copy (or two) and consider it for book discussions. It should be added to core lists for collection development. It should be reviewed and displayed. It's that important.

Between the end of World War II and the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, there were approximately one and a half million adoptions in the United States, according to the author. Young unwed mothers supplied most of the babies. The often-repeated story is that they "gave them up." Fessler disagrees. She has interviewed many "birth mothers" who say they were forced by their parents, the adoption agencies, and the courts to release their babies. No one ever informed them of their rights, which they did have if they had known, and no one ever offered to help them keep and raise their children. Instead, they were told that they were unworthy of their children and that if they gave up their children, they would soon forget them.

The unwed mothers have not forgotten their children. It is not normal for mothers to forget their children.

There is more to the story. Many of the young women had no sexual instruction and birth control advice before their pregnancies. Once they were hidden in maternity homes, they were given no birthing instruction. When labor began, some were sent in cabs to hospitals, where they admitted themselves and went through childbirth alone. Often they were sedated and woke to find their babies gone. Some never saw their children and were threatened with large medical bills if they did not sign the legal documents.

The women are not all in high school or college. The story of Linda I is particularly sad. She was a military nurse during the Vietnam war, who had many soldiers die in her arms. One of the survivors proposed marriage to her and she accepted. When she discovered she was pregnant, he confessed that he was already married. She was treated very badly, discharged, and gets no pension today.

The Girls Who Went Away is not just a book about a period of our history. Much of the book is about the present, as the mothers and children try to find each other. Fessler includes many reunion stories. In most of these families are reunited and extended joyfully, but in some misunderstanding and resentment remain. Fessler also tells about the large number of women who still have not found their children. Many suffer low self-esteem, alcoholism, drug abuse, and the inability to maintain relationships. Others have lived model lives trying to make up for their past failures. Many have still not come out of the "closet of shame."

The Girls Who Went Away is not a quick read. It includes the stories of eighteen birth mothers, each story being between five and fifteen pages. In nine chapters there are portions of interviews from forty-eight other women. Fessler also includes the story of her adoption and search for her mother. The book requires commitment to read, but it is hard to put down once you start.

Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. ISBN 1594200947

Saturday, November 18, 2006

IM Shorthand for the Monty Python Fan Anniversary


It has been a year since I posted IM Shorthand for the Monty Python Fan. It is funny how a quick, spontaneous post has gotten more attention than most of my serious work. There is a lesson to be learned, as pointed out by In Praise of Slow Thinking by the Blue Skunk Blog. Humor helps us say what we want to say. In the case of IM Shorthand, I had nothing to say other than I am a member of the VSP and love Monty Python, but it helped break the ice so I could say other things on this blog.

BOYD. Of course, no piece in blogland is ever really dead. People continue to discover IM Shorthand. Every weekend someone discovers it and then alerts friends. Thank you, everyone.

The only piece I have written that has brought people together as much is Morton's Neuroma: A Librarian Looks at Consumer Health Resources. I did not expect this. (NETSI!) It now seems to get as many visitors as the IM Shorthand. Some of the visitors have been leaving their stories as comments. A couple of them may be marketing but it is hard to tell. A lot of people want to tell their stories to others who will understand. IGB, by the way.

It will be interesting seeing what the next year will bring.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China translated by David Hinton

Taking a little food, a light walking-stick,
I wander up to my home in quiet mystery,

the path along the streams wandering far away
onto ridgetops, no end to this wonder at

slow waters silent in their frozen beauty
and bamboo glistening at heart with frost,

cascades scattering a confusion of spray
and broad forests crowding distant cliffs.

from "Climbing Green-Cliff Mountain in Yung-Chia" by Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433)

I want to be there on the path looking down on the running streams and up at the green and rocky mountains.

Many of the poems in Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China translated by David Hinton make me feel this way. They paint beautiful pictures of what were remote places, far from the overcrowded cities, political corruption of government, and destruction of war. Reading a series of these poems is like examining a line of ancient paintings with little boats on lakes surrounded by peaks. Each tells a quiet story.

Nineteen poets ranging from 5th to 12th century China are profiled in this book. While some chose the wilderness life, others were political exiles. The poems themselves can be seen as a criticism of the prevailing way of Chinese life of the time, but the modern reader can only find hints of how spoiled the cities were. They instead get a poetic tour of the wilderness.

The modern reader may notice two things. First, the geography is not named for presidents or generals. Cold Mountain, Tremor Lake, Helmet Peak, and Three Gorges are typical names. Second, some titles are as descriptive as the poems themselves. I liked the title "Following the Trail Up from Deva-King Monastery to the Guesthouse Where My Friend Wang Chung-hsin and I Wrote Our Names on a Wall Fifty Years Ago, I Find the Names Still There" on page 244.

The modern reader wanting to forget Iraq, Enron, gang crime, and congressional scandal may find escape in these poems.

a thousand cliffs, ten thousand canyons,
I've wandered until I've explored them all,

from Climbing Mountains in Dream by Po Chu-i (772-826)

Don't you want to be there?

Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, translated by David Hinton. New York: New Directions, 2005. ISBN 0811216241

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

There is no one meaning to life. For each person it may be different and may change over time. The spiritually health, thoughtful person seeks meaning daily, according to Viktor Frankl in his book Man's Search for Meaning, a psychology classic in a new edition with a foreward by Harold S. Kushner.

The first half of the book describes Frankl's experiences in a series of concentration camps during World War II. He observes that secure, thoughtful people exhibited more ability to survive than the physically strong. He also describes how prisoners found ways to humanize their conditions. He claims that individuals are responsible for their own mental attitude and can find hope within themselves no matter what hardships they face. Doing so is necessary for survival.

The second part of the book is about logotherapy, Frankl's method of psychiatry. He explains that Freud emphasizes the past while he points to the future, asking clients what is the meaning of their continued existence.

While Man's Search for Meaning is a short book, it is better to read over the course of several days to give the message more time to become clearer.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man's Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. ISBN 0807014273

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

At Truth-Expanse Monastery, in the Dharma Master's West Library by Wei Ying-wu

I found this library poem in Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China translated by David Hinton.

At Truth-Expanse Monastery, in the Dharma Master's West Library

At a thatch hut above riverside cliffs,

rapids far below: crystalline chimes

in vast river-and-mountains solitude.

Climbing in to such views means pure

confusion. I straggled up First-Origin,

then followed Well-Creek Trail back to

temple trees hissing in endless winds,

this river lit with regret turning dark.

Wei Ying-wu (c.737-792)

This rural library sounds like it has a spectacular view, and it must be nice hearing the chimes. I hope the thatch is well-maintained to keep the collection dry. The poet indicates that he never finds all the seats taken. I think the path to the library may need better signs. The poet senses a regret. Is it that the library is not more conveniently located?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Metropolitan Library System Local History Special Interest Group

A new group met on Thursday, November 11, 2006. It is called the Metropolitan Library System Local History Special Interest Group. Fourteen people met at the Burr Ridge offices of MLS for two hours of discussions about collecting and managing local history collections.

First on the agenda were introductions. All the librarians spoke about their collections and challenges. Within the group were representatives from libraries with small, beginning local history collections and others with large, well-organized collections. All had some common problems of collecting, preserving, managing, and distributing materials. There is much interest in digitization and for finding ways to partner with local area historical societies.

Kathy Nicola of the Eisenhower Public Library District set up a Yahoo Group for local history librarians as a communication media for the group. Its URL is and its membership is limited to library staff and volunteers who work with local history. She demonstrated how to sign up and sign in. Members have to have a Yahoo ID, which they can get with or without signing up for Yahoo email. As moderator for the Group, Kathy will approve the memberships.

Kathy went on to show the features of the Yahoo Group service. It has a couple of pages that can be seen by nonmembers, including information on the group and links of interest to local history and genealogy. Members can read the messages, post messages, load files or photos, add to the links or the databases, poll the other members, and edit the calendar. She asked members to add their real names to the Yahoo profiles to facilitate communications with other members. Members are also asked to post an introductory message if they have not.

The group decided to meet every other month, alternating between Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings to accommodate members’ schedules. Meetings will be held in members’ libraries and the Burr Ridge and Chicago offices of the Metropolitan Library System. Jack Simpson (unable to attend) has offered a tour of the Newberry Library, also.

Tentatively, the next meeting will be January 16, 2007, at the Elmwood Park Public Library, hosted by Russ Parker. The group plans to see the local history room at Elmwood Park, discuss local history collection policies, and decide what continuing-ed topics to pursue.

That was the business part of the meeting. During the course of the morning, much useful information was imparted.

Kathy reported that the Illinois State Historical Library will microfilm local newspapers for a nominal fee. The local library is responsible for collecting the newspapers to be sent to the state library. (Not everyone realized this. At my library we receive the Suburban Life microfilm from the state library without effort. Some other library must be collecting the papers.) Kathy promised to post further details on the Yahoo Group.

Mary Krekelburg of the Indian Prairie Library showed us the book Nearby History by David E. Kyvig, which she has found helpful.

Robert L. “Bob” Brubaker gave us publications about the Batavia Public Library local history collection. Bob worked for both the Illinois State Historical Society and the Chicago Historical Society libraries. He recommended that local libraries concentrate on what the local historical societies do not do, especially the providing of electronic databases with genealogy and local history resources. He also recommended the Midwest Archives Conference for learning about preservation.

Marilyn Oorbeck of the Riverside Public Library told about the Olmstead Society collection at her library.

Russ Parker of Elmwood Park talked about indexing his local newspapers back to 1962. When he has access to the Chicago Tribune Historical database, he finds and collects articles about Elmwood Park.

Christy Eyre of the Brookfield Public Library is running genealogy classes.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Books for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Unplanned as far as I know, the book discussion group at my church is reading Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. In the Nazi concentration camps, the hunger was planned; it was a deliberate part of the prison experience; it was a tool of the governing power. As in Frankl's case, hunger is often not just a natural consequence of living. Wars, poor use of resources, and greed bring about hunger. Hunger is not an isolated condition but a part of societies that have gone bad politically, economically, and environmentally.

In addition to doing something concrete, like donating to hunger relief or working at a shelter, this would be a good week to read a book in which hunger, homelessness, and their root causes are discussed. Here are some of my suggestions:

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly

I have a new book to seek out. At church today, we heard about Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider. There seem to be very few copies of this book in my area.

There are many books in our libraries. Book displays can be put together quickly.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Librarian's Book Revoogle

Many of us have a degree called a Master of Library Science. We call ourselves "librarians" and never call ourselves "scientists." Maybe we should think more about science, especially running experiments, making observations, and reporting our findings. In the interest of our science, we would report our failures as well as our successes.

I am sounding a little grand. The reality is I have been playing around with something that is not working the way I want it to work. Here is what I have done.

I have tried to make a search engine using the custom search engine tool from Google Co-op. My idea was to create a search engine to search across library and librarians' websites to find book reviews written by librarians for their libraries or on their blogs. In an attempt to be clever, I have called it Librarian's Book Revoogle.

The search engine does work, but not as well as I would like. It is of use to me to locate some of my own book reviews and some of the reviews by other librarians that I read, but it is not a tool I think many of you will use. Here are the shortcomings.

1. There is too little content. I have not found many libraries posting book reviews on their websites. Along the same lines, I have found very few librarians regularly posting book reviews to their blogs. At this moment, the search engine searches the following:

Nancy Pearl's Picks Archive
Nancy Pearl's Current Picks on the King County Library website
King County's Archive of Nancy Pearl's Fiction Picks
King County's Archive of Nancy Pearl's Nonfiction Picks

Reader's Club from the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
MADreads from the Madison Public Library
Memphis Reads from the Memphis Public Library

Maggie Reads
Nonfiction Reader's Anonymous
BookGirl (who I think is a librarian)
ricklibrarian (no link as you are already here)

Many of the other library websites that I have visited seem to post book news and reading lists, not actual reviews. I did not want to dilute the database with just one or two line statements.

I found very few librarians primarily writing reviews. In fact, my blog actually fails this test, as I seem to be writing about libraries more than writing reviews lately.

If you know of other reviews I could include, please comment on this page.

2. The results are cluttered by false hits. When I search for one of my own reviews I often get eight or more links. One is to the actual review. The rest are to the blog postings that have a link to the review in the "Recent Posts" sidebar.

It was an interesting experiment and I learned much about the websites I tested for inclusion. Perhaps that is the nature of experimentation - you learn something other than what you intended.

I wonder if a search engine for read-a-like lists would be useful. There is always something else to try.

Friday, November 10, 2006

New Stories from the South: The Year's Best , 2006

I have been eager to write about this book for days, but I held back until I finished it. The 2006 edition of New Stories from the South is the twenty-first in a series that Maggie of Maggie Reads tells me is a staple in Southern libraries. It includes twenty stories selected from U.S. magazines and literary journals by this year's editor Allan Gurganus. Some of the short story authors are well known, while others are young and working their first novels or story collections. I enjoyed most of the stories and now have some new authors to try.

I am going to risk making a broad statement that can be debated.

Short stories are to popular novels like independent and foreign films are to Hollywood movies.

Of course, the statement does not totally hold up, as short stories are shorter than novels, while films can be as long as movies, but I think the appeals are similar. Short stories often seem more inventive and daring than the novels you would find on best sellers lists. They are more intense and thought-provoking. I also think they are often more memorable.

The first story in New Stories from the South is one of my favorites from the collection. In "Yard Art" by Tony Earley, the former wife of a country singer calls a middle-aged plumber into her large and empty mansion to fix the toilet. Living in Nashville all his life, he has wanted to break into music, but he has never gotten past open mike bars. Among the few things still in the house after her husband took the furniture is a statue by deceased local artist William Edmondson. The wildly expensive piece was "the straw that broke the camel's back" in her marriage. The plumber thinks he knows where to find another rare piece by the sculptor.

The collection includes a really sweet story by Wendell Berry called "Mike," in which a man remembers his father's hunting dog. Of course, it is more about the father than the dog.

One of the most intense stories is "Tired Heart" by Keith Lee Morris, in which a cross-country move in a U-haul turns very strange.

"Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" by Kevin Wilson reminded me of the film Dear Wendy without the guns. There are young people without a sense direction literally going underground.

I found the story "Brief Encounters with Che Guevera" by Ben Fountain, which I read in a collection by the author earlier this year.

The book ends with "Jubilation, Florida" by N. M. Kelly, in which an act of infidelity ends very strangely.

Appended to the book is a list of all the stories in the previous twenty volumes in the series. There are many great authors in the list. Public libraries everywhere should have these books.

New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2006. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 2006. ISBN 1565125312

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Old and Slow and Yet Still Working Well

Because I am old and slow, I am just now addressing an item that I read in the August issue of American Libraries. I do not remember seeing anyone else commenting on this. As a rule people blog about blogs and what is the print journals is not getting as much debate, it seems to me. Still, I keep thinking about the last two paragraphs of Joseph Janes' "Internet Librarian" column "At Arm's Length" on page 76 of that issue.

The next to the last paragraph:

"People who entered the profession some time ago started out thinking about using technology to connect to something - databases, catalogs, resources - and such early experiences often linger. The new kids, however, often began using computer tools to connect to each other. That will undoubtedly color and broaden their vision, and they will think of things differently than we of previous generations."

I think Janes is right, but I think there were signs of the using computer technology for communicating farther back than we sometimes recognize. I remember back in the mid-1970s having one of my Computer Science 301 classes at the University of Texas meet at one of the computing centers in the bowels of the UT Tower. We were there to see one of the grand applications of the university computer. I do not really remember what the point of the demonstration was. There was a large stack of punch cards set into a tray. When started, the cards were quickly fed through a reader and something was shown on a monochrome monitor. What I do remember is that before the demonstration the computer operator (a graduate student) had some preparations to make with another staff member in another building where another part of the computer resided. He typed on a keyboard and his words appeared on the monitor. Then a message from the other operator appeared. The two began to chat, told some jokes, and made an appointment for lunch. I was impressed. I had never seen anyone converse via computer!

I went into libraries instead of computer science and did not see anyone chatting online again for the next twenty years. Still, the idea of using technology for connecting to individuals was out there early.

Here is Jane's last paragraph:

"Of course, we oldsters, who are generally the ones running things, know that personal connections are important. Yet we're perhaps unable to envision how that might fit in an increasingly digitally mediated world. Maybe we should just get out of their way and let them do their thing ... but that's another story."

What does Janes mean by "get out of their way"? He only had an inch of column left and likes ending columns with open-ended thoughts. It can be taken several ways. First, it could just mean that "oldsters" should just remove barriers that are holding back youthful innovation. That is pretty easy to agree with. He could, however, mean really get out of the way, far away. Pass the reins, turn over the keys, leave the building, retire. To this, I say "No."

I attended Internet Librarian 2006 a few weeks ago and there were many "oldsters" there. They may have been more in the audience than in the team of presenters, but they were there taking notes, asking questions, and testifying to the glory of Library 2.0. They are partnering with their younger librarians and taking up the path instead of "getting out of the way."

Youth does not have a monopoly on good ideas for the use of technology. The "oldsters" should stick around for a while.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

What was the worst avoidable environmental catastrophe in American history? Timothy Egan nominates the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a near-decade-long event that disrupted millions of lives in the Great Plains states of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. The National Book Foundation has nominated his new book on the period The Worst Hard Time for the 2006 nonfiction National Book Award.

Many of us have probably not thought much about the Great Dust Bowl beyond having read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It was so long ago and just one of the Great Depression episodes to us. In The Worst Hard Time, Egan makes the lifeless memory vivid with details of the lives of some survivors, including Bam White, a Dalhart rancher; the Hersteins, who owned a local department store; Hazel Lucas, who taught school for two years without pay; and John McCarty, the town booster who refused to admit that anything extraordinary happened, wanting to attract new residents to his community.

The dust storms of the 1930s were beyond what many of us can imagine today. Great black walls of dirt rolled across the plains, often with little warning. People were lost in their yards, sometimes buried in sand or dirt. Dunes formed along houses and barns. People had to dig out their cars after many storms. In some years there were up to 180 storms. By the third year many people had dust pneumonia, and many young children died. Many mothers would let their children outdoors unsupervised. Crops failed year after year. Many farm families and town people lost everything they owned in bankruptcy.

Scientists now agree that the most important contributing cause of the storms was the farmers replacing of Great Plains perennial grasses with annual crops. When the decade of drought and high winds returned after abnormally moist years, a recurring and normal cycle in the Great Plains, there was no vegetation to hold the soil. In the 1930s this explanation was hotly debated.
I listened to the narrative history read by Patrick Lawlor, who uses many voices to distinguish the many characters. What I missed with the audiobook are the photos, maps, notes, bibliography, and index that are in the print edition.

The Worst Hard Time is an excellent book for discussion. Houghton Mifflin has posted a conversation with the author on its website. Every library should have it.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 061834697X

Unabdridged audio, 10 compact discs. Tantor Media, 2006. ISBN 1400132207

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Leftovers from Internet Librarian 2006

I have not reported on every program at Internet Librarian, which is at this point so two-weeks-ago, but there are a few good points to add.

1493 librarians, speakers, and exhibitors gathered in Monterey, California for the 10th annual Internet Librarian Conference. Sponsored by Information Today, Inc., the conference focused on “using, developing, and embracing Net- and Web-based strategies” in librarians. Librarians from public, academic, special, and government libraries attended.

Best of Resource Shelf

Gary Price of Resource Shelf and highlighted lots of new websites for information professionals and the general public. His list with links is on the web at Missing from the list is FlightAware which lets searchers see exactly where commercial airplanes are in real time.

Mashup Applications

At a conference like the LITA Forum or Internet Librarian, I sometimes go to a presentation about which I know very very little. At Internet Librarian 2006 I attended Mashup Applications with John Blyberg of Ann Arbor District Library and Chris Deweese of the Lewis and Clark library System in Illinois.

Blyberg said that a mashup is an Internet software application created by bringing together two pieces of otherwise unrelated software. He said the term comes from the music industry where older recordings are mixed to create new recordings.

He had four points to make:

  • Mashups do not require code writing. The code already exits.
  • Results are instantaneous. The user creates his or her Internet tools.
  • Results can be striking.
  • Mashups are central to the evolving web.

In demonstrating his points, the speaker completely lost me. You may not need to write code, but you need to read it and know what bits to take, how to combine it, and where to put it. He moved a little too fast for me in this presentation. I need to start again with this topic.

Chris Deweese showed an application of Google Maps.

What I Gained from Attending Internet Libraian 2006

I learned more about how wikis work. I would like to use one in the library to keep track of ready reference information. A wiki could also serve well as a staff Intranet because it would be easy for everyone to contribute and edit. Policies, procedures, and forms could be managed efficiently for the department.

I heard several discussions about effective web page design, which is relevant to our current web site project.

I collected ideas for increasing the use of our online databases. Web linking and directed marketing were included.

I was given new ideas on marketing library across the Internet. The library can reach more clients through social software applications.

I learned about dozens of useful websites.

I met some of the librarians who write the blogs that I read. I enjoyed this benefit of the conference very much.

I met with Aaron Schmidt several times to discuss the website and other technology at our library. We dined well.

I was exposed to new ideas about the future of libraries and librarianship.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

MySpace and FaceBook at Internet Librarian 2006

Aaron Schmidt of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library talked about the incredible popularity of MySpace, which is really a blog. Despite its awkward design and its bugginess, it has created a sense of community that has drawn in teens and adults. In music, writing, art, and other fields, having a MySpace account is necessary for doing business. There was an article about the social software in the U.S. News & World Report’s September 10, 2006 issue.

He said that libraries need to have a MySpace presence to reach the teen community. To be responsible to the community, he recommended 1) developing a tips and tricks for safe use guidelines to be distributed to teens and 2) having a MySpace class for parents.

Cliff Landis of Valdosta State University Library spoke about FaceBook, which he uses to market library services.

Landis said FaceBook is strong on social networking, and many people join without ever really producing content. They need the membership to read others’ pages. He also pointed out that for some teens and twenty-somethings FaceBook messaging has replaced email.

The speaker would recommend using a library FaceBook account to direct people into the official library website, but the company has been disconnecting institutional services. The company says that FaceBook is for individuals and not companies or organizations. There is much inconsistency in applying these rules. In any case, he maintains a personal FaceBook account presenting himself to the students at his university as the reference librarian. He does show on his site photos of his hobby (some sort of playing with fire) to grab attention.

PodCasting and Videocasting at Internet Librarian 2006

The Podcasting & Videocasting presentation had five speakers and merited a double slot in the Social Computing Track at Internet Librarian. It was introduced by Aaron Schmidt, who wore a suit for the occasion.

Greg Schwartz from the Louisville Free Public Library said that there is some confusion about the definition of a podcast. An audio presentation on the Internet is not a podcast unless 1) it has an RSS feed, 2) it has subscribers to the RSS feed, and 3) the content is created regularly.

Schwartz said not to podcast just because it is cool. He warned that it time-consuming, requires funding to continue, and calls for follow-up with more podcasts.

He said there are many reasons to incorporate podcasts into a library’s web plans:

  • A podcast is a good way to get more money out of your lectures and performances. (Get speaker permission.)
  • It is an interesting way to distribute library news.
  • It is a good vehicle for bibliographic instruction.
  • It can be used to provide service to the blind and physically handicapped.

Greg had nine steps to producing a podcast:

  1. Determine content and format.
  2. Assemble equipment.
  3. Record.
  4. Edit and export mp3 file.
  5. Listen. (He said this is often forgotten.)
  6. Put file on a server.
  7. Generate an RSS feed.
  8. Publish.
  9. Promote and respond to feedback

Jeff Humphrey of INCOLSA added that offering videocasts is a natural progression from existing library services. (Perhaps he referred more to academic settings where there is an instructional mandate.)

His production tips included the following:

  • Have a good reason for doing the production.
  • Use a very good microphone.
  • Frame shots properly using the nine fields and fill the screen.
  • Enhance with graphics.
  • Have fun, which makes productions more interesting to viewers.

David Free of the Decatur Public Library added several points:

  • Twenty minutes is too long for most podcasts.
  • Music should be used sparingly, unless music is the focus of the podcast.
  • Have more than one speaker. Listening to one speaker is sleep-inducing

Sean Cortes of Iowa State University told about universities and museums making their lecture available through ITunes. He also recommended that libraries might make directories of links to podcasts produced by other organizations before they start making their own.

David Lee King of the Topeka and Shawnee Public Library showed some sample videocasts. He recommended the technology for traditional and innovative library services:

  • Book Talks
  • Bibliographic Instruction
  • Reshowing your events (with permissions)
  • Oral histories turned video
  • Behind the scenes library tours
  • Candidate forums
  • Craft and hobby instructions

He recommended reading some videoblogging books to get started.


Web Presence for Internet Librarians

I am catching up with my notes from Internet Librarian 2006.

Thurow of Grantastic Designs Inc., who is an Internet marketing consultant and is now attending the University of Illinois Library School, spoke about how to design library websites to maximize search engine hits. She emphasized that she is not an evil marketing consulting that preaches high repletion of hot words to trick the search engines. She said the goal is NOT to get a high ranking on Google, though that will come on its own with good design. The goal is to design a user-friendly website to which library users will return.

Thurow’s five rules of basic web design are:

  • Make the website easy to read.
  • Make it easy to navigate.
  • Make it easy to find.
  • Have a consistent layout and design.
  • Make it quick to download.

She elaborated on the easy to find maxim:

  • Search engines and web directories should find the site easily.
  • Users should be able to go directly to relevant pages.
  • People should be able to see they will get their information, even if a couple of clicks away.
  • All the questions should be “above the fold” in an FAQ page.
  • All web pages should have contact information.

Thurow had several practical suggestions to increase search engine findability:

  • HTML title tags should include keywords.
  • Every page should have the “breadcrumb trail.” (“Reference services-Study Guides – Business” is an example.)
  • Page headings should be text and not text-in-images because the search engines can not read the images.
  • Pages should have introductory paragraphs with keywords.
  • If pages are long, they should have closing paragraphs with keywords.
  • Text links rank higher than image links in search engine algorithms.

Thurow said that contact information should be on every page because many Internet searchers use geographic place names in searches. Many web designers leave these out.

The speaker summed up saying that user-friendly design is the most critical factor. If the site is user-friendly, users will return. Since search engines all measure popularity and use it in rankings, the popular site will be the findable site.


Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia by Tim Bascom

In Chameleon Days Tim Bascom recalls his childhood in Ethiopia. After moving at age to the African country with his parents and older brother in 1964, he spent most of the next five years in remote hospital missions or at Bingham Academy, a boarding school in Addis Ababa. When free to do so, he spent much of his time climbing trees, watching birds and reptiles, and playing with his toy Land Rover. His greatest longing was to go on adventures with his father and brother in the real Land Rover, which had a tendency to break down at inconvenient times. Life in Ethiopia was not, however, idyllic. Haile Selassie was still Emperor, and students at the university in Addis Ababa began protesting against poverty and political repression. Resentment of Americans and Europeans was growing and life for the Bascom family was becoming dangerous.

Bascom's memoirs respects the mission of his parents but is honest in the assessment of its toll on the family and its impact on the rural people they served. Reflecting on the time, he sees now how he never made any Ethiopian friends and how his missionary parents' attempt to be apolitical was doomed. Now an adult, Bascom's views have changed dramatically, but he is still doing mission work and has been back in Ethiopia.

Chameleon Days has won a very interestingly named prize: the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize. Readers who like childhood memoirs set in exotic locations will enjoy this book.

Bascom, Tim. Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 0618658696

Friday, November 03, 2006

Reader's Club at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County

The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County must be library heaven. It does so many things so well, which includes Reader's Club, an online co-operative book review. Started in November of 1998, it now has over 2000 reviews written by librarians, staff, and the public. Here is what I like about the service:

1. The reviewers choose lots of interesting books. I placed three reserves just now based on what the Reader's Club reviewers recommended.

2. There are guidelines for writing the reviews, which keep them short and to the point.

3. The books do not have to be new, though many do seem to be recent. There are lots of great older books that people have forgotten, and Reader's Club reviewers are noting some of them.

4. The categories include many subcategories of nonfiction, which is where I chose a microhistory, a memoir, and a collection of poetry to reserve.

5. There are spotlights profiling some of the frequent contributors. Lydia says she likes fiction and autobiography by Asian and Asian-American women. Hey, I do, too. I could mine the list of Lydia's reviews for a long time.

6. There are many RSS feeds, so you can subscribe to all or just some of the feeds based on your reading interests.

When your library is well organized and inspires many people to contribute, it can do wonderful things.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Laura Crossett's Book Discussions in Wyoming

Laura Crossett of the Lis.dom blog is now working in Wyoming and has been posting about her experiences in a rural library in the West. Many of her concerns are the same as everywhere else, but there is sometimes local flavor to her writings. I have been following them with interest, as I came from the rural Southwest.

Today she is reporting about running a book discussion of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer for which she prepared especially well, not knowing how talkative her group would be. The discussion went well and she found the opportunity to do some library instruction. Her report also includes her questions for the discussion. It is an interesting post for anyone starting book discussions.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jack and Other New Poems by Maxine Kumin

I remember when I knew very little about poetry, which was not that long ago. What I had learned in high school and college literature classes was a faded memory. Now I have been working my way through the poetry collection at my library and am starting to recognize poets' voices and have favorites. One of my favorites is Maxine Kumin. She writes in a forthright manner, economically descriptive, provocative. Her poems seem like letters from a close friend.

In Jack and Other New Poems, Kumin writes from rural New Hampshire where winter is coming, the redpolls are intimidating the chickadees, old farm animals are dying, friends are in hospice care, and the poet is unhappy with the war. As always, I have favorite poems in the collection:

"Widow and Dog," which is about a woman who opens her windows through the summer letting nature inside,

"Magda of Hospice House," which ponders the care of the dying and the identify of the caregiver,

"Seven Caveats in May," in which the poet tries to keep her dog away from a bear,

"Broody," about preparing for the death of a dearly loved old horse, and

"Which One," about the American obsession with terrorism.

Kumin was Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress before the position of Poet Laureate was founded. She has also won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Jack and Other New Poems and her other collections belong in most public libraries.

Kumin, Maxine. Jack and Other New Poems. New York: Norton, 2005. ISBN 0393059561

MADreads from the Madison Public Library

Librarians looking for good models of library book reviewing blogs should look at MADreads: Book News and Reviews from the Madison Public Library. News and reviews of fiction and nonfiction books are added to the website daily. What I like are that the book reviewers (there are several from different branches of the library) go ahead and say if there is something that bothers them about the books they review. It is not just publicity fluff to push their books at MADreads.

The MADreads blog has a menu of categories for readers who wish to specify a genre. All the categories have at least five reviews, most have many more. The blog links to the library home page, with which it maintains a consistent design, and to a library news blog called What's New. The book reviewing blog seems to have been started in April 2006.

Thumbs up for MADreads.