Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History by Thomas Bender

A Nation Among Nations by Thomas Bender has been on my I-want-to-read list since last spring when I found a short, enthusiastic review in Booklist. Many other books intervened, and I had forgotten about it until I found it misshelved in my library earlier this month. "Now or never," I thought.

I did not count on this book taking so long to read. "A slow read," my daughter might say. Though I questioned my sanity, I kept on reading because some of Bender's ideas are so different from those taught in textbooks.

Bender's premise is that American history is often taught as if the United States is mostly isolated from the rest of the world. From colonization until the twentieth century world wars, isolation allowed American commerce, industry, political thought, and culture to develop on its own, without outside influence, according to many American historians. There were a few encounters with the British and the French in the early days of the republic, a brief war with Mexico, and an even shorter war with Spain, but none of these incidents really meant much to the country of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. President Washington had warned against alliances.

A Nation Among Nations is 301 pages of evidence to the contrary. What makes it worth reading are the subplots.

According to Bender, Columbus discovered the Atlantic Ocean, not America. Before Columbus and the other explorers the oceans were thought of as barriers. What the Spanish and Portuguese explorers discovered was the oceans were viable highways to distant markets. The Silk Road was bypassed, and the global economy was strengthened. Interdependence soon followed. For instance, when 17th century China could not get a steady supply of South American silver, its economy collapsed. The English colonies in North America were soon trading with Africa and Asia, too. After the American Revolution, the United States was the major player in the whaling industry and oriental goods were flowing into Massachusetts.

Ideas moved across the globe as quickly as goods. The American Civil War was not an isolated story but a chapter in the world movement to end slavery - a late but important chapter. Reformers in many countries had trouble holding up the American democratic example while slavery continued in the South.

Most historians celebrate the fulfilling of Manifest Destiny as a result of the U. S. War with Mexico in the mid-19th century. Bender points out that an unnatural national border dividing an economic region and a large Hispanic population is a continuing legacy of the little questioned war.

Bender's last chapter focuses on international reform of labor laws. He claims that reforms, such as social insurance, safe working conditions, and laws against child labor, were common in other countries long before they were in the United States.

Bender's work suggests that our international problems today result from our historical attitudes. This type of provocation is not often well-received in the American mainstream. A Nation Among Nations is just the kind of book that should be in academic and public libraries.

Bender, Thomas. A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. ISBN 0809095270

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ricklibrarian's Books That Matter 2006 and Other Awards

As the year ends, many newspapers, magazines, journals, and other media publish their best books lists (Seldovia Public Library links to lists). As I read them, I add books to my library's shopping carts and to my personal wish-to-read list. Some of these are books that I had not noticed when first published. Others are books that I had passed over but now reconsider. I enjoy and benefit much from the end-of-the-year lists.

As you might guess, I am now presenting my own best of 2006 list. I have tried to think of a clever award name (like the Ricky), but that seems a little too silly. So I am going to call them "Books That Matter." Some, but not all, do tend toward the serious side. I am also adding some music, film, library, and web awards, all chosen through personal deliberation.

Not every item chosen is actually from 2006. My encounter with each was in 2006.


Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

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

Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead

Impresario: The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan by James Maguire

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

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


Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry


Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Short Stories

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain

Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories by Rudolfo Anaya

Stick Out Your Tongue by Jian Ma

Graphic Novel

Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies


Blue Front by Martha Collins

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea by Mark Haddon

Audio Books

Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes

Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood

Music CDs

Just My Heart for You
by Curtis and Loretta

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Session by Bruce Springsteen




The Queen

A Prairie Home Companion

Little Miss Sunshine

Book for Professional Librarians

Whole Library Handbook 4

Individual Book Review

Nonfiction Readers Anonymous

Library Book Review

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

Google Tool of the Year

Google Custom Search Engine (which runs LISZEN and Librarian's Book Revoogle)

Library Science Search Engine


Library Conference of the Year

American Library Association in New Orleans (this links to a list of bloggers' reports)

Library Science Article

Collaboration as the Norm in Reference Work by Jeffrey Pomerantz

I look forward to 2007. There will more good reading, listening, and viewing. Have a Happy New Year!

Update. Thanks to for the Seldovia link.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Five Things You May Not Know about Me

I was tagged by Jenny!

I am fairly mysterious, so there is much you do not know.

1. I have been a Houston Astros fan since the mid-1960s when I listened to games on radio. From the ranch in west Texas where we lived in 1965, I could get the games on either San Antonio or Shreveport radio stations. Jim Wynn and Bob Aspromonte were my favorite players. I wanted to grow up to be a third baseman.

2. I assisted the children's librarian with puppet shows at my first library job in Austin, Texas. My favorite show was Strega Nona. I got to be Big Anthony and throw spaghetti colored yarn all over the puppet stage.

3. I was a stay-at-home dad for six and a half years. During that time I became very fond of afternoon naps. I took Laura to lots of libraries, which I saw from the viewpoint of a user instead of a librarian. I think this has been as important as library school for me.

4. Rail Baron is my favorite board game. My friends and I have a trophy made from an old model engine that is passed around to the most recent winner. My stategy is to buy a Super Chief as soon as possible after securing a rail line into New York. I always aim to buy the Union Pacific but the Santa Fe is a good alternative.

5. My favorite color is blue, no yellow, no, aaaaaaaaaaaaaa...

I tag Tinfoil + Raccoon, Nonfiction Readers Anonymous, Maggie Reads, Feel-good Librarian, and The Actress and the Bishop. Three of you are somewhat anonymous, so we could learn much from your memes. Please write.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Are You Buried in Library Supply Catalogs?

Over the holiday season, everyone in the library seems to take on some duties that they do not regularly perform. I have been sorting the incoming mail. Several days ago we got more than a dozen heavy Gaylord catalogs and over the past two days we have received a dozen just-as-heavy Demco catalogs. Poor postal carrier! Some of the names on the mailing labels were individuals who no longer work for us. One has been gone over ten years. Another died about that long ago. Some staff were getting duplicate copies, while others did not want theirs.

After some staff discussions to make sure who in the building really needs catalogs, I called both of the companies and cancelled nine or ten catalogs. In both cases, the customer service staff seemed happy that I had called and promised to remove the names. One said that labels are printed in advance, so we might still see mailings for the removed individuals for six weeks, but our mail should decrease after that time.

As a realist I know that this situation will reoccur. Every time someone places an order, another name goes onto the mailing list. Also, the companies are actually buying names to add to their lists as well.

I could just give up and say "It's their dollar," but it's our dollar, too. The companies are passing the marketing costs on to us in the prices for their products, and we are having to sort and recycle a lot of catalogs and fliers. The waste makes a physical impact on our work.

What would I like to see these companies do?

1. Purge their own lists of any names without recent activity.

2. Review large catalog shipments. The catalogs came bundled, so the companies must see that they are sending many copies to our small library.

3. With every bundle, send a how-to-cancel notice so libraries will learn how easy it is to reduce the number of copies received.

4. Review the sources from which they are buying names. One of the names was a library client who was a board member about fifteen years ago.

As a realist, I suspect that these reforms will not be adapted, but I can try. Marketing seems to be an industry based on waste creation. I think that is lazy and probably ineffective marketing.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Carols from Worcester Cathedral

Every Christmas, we pull out the seasonal CDs and, if we have time, the old vinyls. One of my favorite old vinyls resides in a very plain looking white cover. Carols from Worcester Cathedral looks as though it came from the bargain bin, produced by the Musical Heritage Society of Oakhurst, New Jersey, not a major record company. Cut into the vinyl is some of the richest Christmas music I have ever heard. It is at points very calm and at others lively and majestic.

Not only does the Choir of Worcester Cathedral perform several well-known carols, including "Silent Night," "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" (not "Ye" as more commonly found), and "Away in a Manger," they also sing several less known pieces, such as "Past Three O'Clock" and "In the Bleak Midwinter." Several are subtitled place names: "Sussex Carol," "Somerset Carol," and "Hereford Carol." The selection and their arrangements are very English.

Voices and a grand church organ mix on Carols from Worcester Cathedral. From reading the cover notes, I guess that all the voices are male. Two trebles (boys) are credited with the alto and soprano parts. Listening to the carols, I still think I hear female voices. I hope women are allowed into this choir by now.

I bought Carols from Worcester Cathedral at Rose Records near the L tracks on Wabash in Chicago early in the 1980s. That was a great store. You will have trouble finding this album now. There is no Rose Records, and it is not on Amazon. A flea market, estate sale, or eBay might be you only hope.

Friday, December 22, 2006

AmericanTowns: A New Vehicle for Library Marketing

My library got an email several days ago from AmericanTowns asking us to join. I had not heard of the service and starting looking. I found that it lists local news stories, events, groups & organizations, and shopping. It seems to be a big operation, building online profiles for communities all over the country, so I registered and started adding upcoming library events.

When looking at Western Springs, Illinois, I found there were other organizations already profiled and numerous events on the calendar. I then saw our village is one of their "Feature Towns." I suspect that someone from AmericanTowns is seeding the information, hoping the local organizations will come on line. Some library events were already listed!

Moving around the website seems to be a little slow and I would like to be able to move forward on a calendar faster. Some of the communities that I viewed had little information. The service must be really new, but it seems promising.

If you are looking for another way to promote your library and its programs, you should consider AmericanTowns.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt

Thanks to the reviewers at the Cincinnati Public Library who write Turning the Page for recommending Museum of the Missing by Simon Houpt. The review posted by Kate includes a book list recommending five more books on art theft in general and eight specifically about World War II art theft.

According to Simon Houpt, art crime is currently very high as organized criminals are systematically finding every vulnerable residence and institution to rob. In 2004 over twenty thousand art works and artifacts were stolen from over four hundred chateaus and two hundred churches in France. In recent years there have several daring daylight robberies from museums across the globe. Some high profile pieces from Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Munch, and Vermeer have yet to be found. Thieves using a crane and a flatbed truck even stole a two-ton bronze sculpture by Henry Moore in 2005; the entire heist was captured on nighttime video surveillance.

In Museum of the Missing Houpt does give us good news, too. International police are working together and restoring many works to their owners. After checking databases, galleries and auction houses are catching many thieves. It is becoming very hard to fence stolen art.

What I like about Museum of the Missing is that Houpt tells many of the stories and includes color photographs of the missing or restored art. I learned about Napoleon gathering art from across Europe and the Middle East, about the 1911 Mona Lisa theft, about Hitler's obsession with paintings, about the thefts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and National Gallery in Oslo, and about modern techniques of prevention and detection.

The last part of the book is "Gallery of Missing Art." Many of the works have been stolen since the year 2000.

Add this book to your collection and you might help catch a thief.

Houpt, Simon. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1402728298

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Days Before Christmas: My Memories

With Christmas only a few days away, here is something a little different. You can consider the description of the old Sears catalog a book review if you like. There is a classic photo farther near the end. I am the character on the far left.

The Sears Catalogue

When I was a child in a small west Texas town, Christmas started early. Around Thanksgiving, we found a Sears Catalogue with a holiday picture on its cover in our mail box. It seemed to me that everyone got “the wish book” then - Grandmother, Mamoo (my mom’s mom), my mom – everyone that mattered. I remember sitting on Grandmother’s pale green leatherette sofa or on the floor in front of Mamoo’s huge wall mirror with my sister MJ with the catalog between us. A large portion of the book was devoted to women’s clothing, underwear, coats, shoes, jewelry, and accessories, and another large section was filled with clothes for men, including suits, ties, pajamas, work boots, and coveralls. Furniture, carpeting, draperies, appliances, ironing boards, automobile batteries, hunting rifles, and garden tools were for sale by mail. My sister MJ and I skipped through those pages to find the toy section, where I found lots of toy soldiers, Lincoln logs, games, and sporting goods, and MJ found a Barbie and Barbie clothes, a G.I. Joe, and an Easy Bake Oven. We saw many things we would like to have and ran to our grandmothers to show them the pages. Letting our grandmothers know what we liked usually worked. Many of the toys and clothes that we received as presents came by mail from Sears.

Shopping in West Texas

Not every Christmas present our family gave came from Sears by mail, as we purchased a few gifts from the merchants in Big Lake. Mom often bought Dad a shirt at Martin’s Department Store, and he sometimes bought her a blouse that she had already picked out and set aside at the Fashion Shop. Mom always picked up several small items from the gifts aisle at Peoples Drugs, too, where she worked and received a discount. For serious shopping, however, we went to San Angelo.

In my memory, it is always a sunny Saturday in December as we drive the seventy miles to San Angelo. Sometimes MJ and I sat in the backseat of a tan 1954 Buick with its green upholstery with Mom and Mamoo in the front seat. At other times we went with Grandmother and Granddaddy, sitting in the back of their Oldsmobile. As we drove down Beauregard Avenue toward downtown, we saw holiday decorations shaped like candy canes and bells hung from the light poles. Lights and garland crossed the streets downtown and a manger scene sat in front of the county court house. In the stores were more lights and greenery. Santa sat in a big chair in the toy department at Sears. (I never saw a duplicate Santa on the street or in Penneys or Woolworths.) I especially liked shopping at Hemphill Wells, which was the city’s best department store. On the second floor balcony, overlooking the first floor where all the ladies fashions and cosmetics were displayed was a small book store. Looking at books while my mom examined more clothes was a great relief.

The adults did all the shopping, as MJ and I had little money. We were along for the ride and lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria, where I would often get both potato salad and mashed potatoes. Mom bought all our gifts for other members of the family until I was in high school and had a little money that I had earned doing chores for Grandmother. Dad often got socks or a shirt, except for the year we gave him a hot lather machine for shaving. We gave Mamoo her favorite eau de toilet or bath powder. Once we got Granddaddy a box of special pellets that when thrown onto the fire in his fireplace blazed in many colors. For Grandmother we bought stationary or a nice handkerchief. What I do not remember is what we bought Mom. Mamoo and Grandmother probably found something like a scarf for us to give her.

School Christmas Parties

In elementary school, we had a class party on the last day before our two week vacation. We sang Christmas songs, ate cookies and cake, drank punch, and played some holiday games. Each year we had a gift exchange. We drew names about a week before the party, and I always drew a girl. Our teachers instructed us to get gifts costing no more than two or three dollars. I remember Mom buying bath powder or barrettes at the drug store for me to give to that year’s girl. The best thing I ever received came from Blaine Holland - a box of assorted Lifesavers. We left school with a little bag of candy, our Christmas art work, and a gift that we had made in class for our mothers. Mom had a plaster cast of my right hand on the wall in our kitchen for many years.

Decorating the Tree

My mom always bought our Christmas tree from one of the grocery stores four or five days before Christmas. Buck Schaible of Schaible’s Grocery always stood dozens of trees in the lot beside his store. Mom would choose a five foot tree that was well-shaped and not too dry, not as full as is popular now, and Buck would put a sold tag on it. Later Dad would bring the tree home in a pickup, put it in a bucket of water, and leave it in the backyard at least overnight. In a day or two, he put the tree in it stand, brought it in the house, and strung the lights, two or three strings of traditional ceramic bulbs with several replaced by larger frosted bulbs called snowballs. We usually rearranged the bulbs to get the yellow, pink, green, and aqua snowballs to the front. Then we could decorate.

Most of our ornaments were colored glass balls, including red, green, blue, silver, and gold. Many of these had traces of white from the year Mom had flocked the tree with artificial snow after hanging the ornaments. We also had about a dozen old hand-painted glass ornaments of various sizes and shapes, which I always enjoyed adding to the tree. As the years went by, the number of glass ornaments decreased as a couple broke each year, and Mom bought non-breakable balls. We also had half a dozen spiky stars and a tree top that looked like a pointy bell tower. Over this we layered tinsel, until the year Mrs. Duesings gave us several dozen glow-in-the-dark icicles, which we spread across the tree.

A skirt made with white cotton batting peppered with colored glitter covered our tree stand and the coffee table on which we set our tree to make it appear taller. Mom usually put her manger scene, a shoe-size wooden box under the tree. The front folded out to reveal the holy family set in the stable attended by an angel and domestic animals.

MJ and I also helped Grandmother decorate her tree after Granddaddy strung the lights, which included a small string of bubble lights, whose glass bulbs resembled upside down eyedroppers filled with colored liquid that bubbled when the lights warmed. Her ornaments were mostly like ours, except she also had a small wooden Mickey Mouse that had been Jimmy’s special ornament. Jimmy was Dad’s brother who died of leukemia in the 1930s.

We spent Christmas of 1964 on a ranch nine miles south of Big Lake. Instead of coming to town to buy a tree, we cut two five or six foot juniper trees from a pasture, loaded them into the bed of a pickup, and brought them to the house. Dad set one of them on the enclosed porch and the other in my room. Mom let me put some of the ornaments on my tree, including the glow-in-the dark icicles. She put presents for MJ and me under the tree in my room. On Christmas morning, MJ and I were up early. We let Mom and Dad sleep late and opened our presents without them. Eventually, the hum of my electric football game woke Mom. She was very unhappy with us and I never got a tree in my room again.

Grandmother bought artificial trees for all our families in 1965 or 1966. For several years after, there were identical white flocked aluminum trees in Grandmother’s, Marian Sue’s, and our house. Unlike artificial trees of later decades, these did not look at all real. The tree limbs resembled skewers stuck into a white central wooden pole secured by a metal base. Because of the dangers of electrical shocks and fire, no light could be strung on these trees, which came with color wheel spotlights. We could not hang as many ornaments as on a real tree, so it looked pretty skimpy. Watching the light show from the color wheel was slightly hypnotic. After the fourth or fifth year, some mice in the store room gnawed the trunk, nested in the limbs, and stained the artificial snow with droppings. We did not use the artificial tree again.

Christmas Television Specials of the Past

We spent every evening watching television in my house, so we saw many of the Christmas programs. Every variety show had a holiday program. I remember seeing Perry Como in a ski sweater, singing holiday songs in front of a fireplace, with snow falling outside his window. The snow-dusted Osmond Brothers sang Christmas songs around a snowman on the Andy Williams Show; later Williams wore a ski sweater and sang in front of a fireplace. The programs were broken up by holiday commercials. Santa rode a Norelco electric shaver across snow covered hills in one animated ad. A mother ready to serve Campbell’s soup called to the children building a snowman in another. Every program and ad on television had snow. Whenever I looked out our windows, there was never any snow.

Two animated Christmas programs debuted in the 1960’s. My favorite was A Charlie Brown Christmas. I loved hearing the music that plays when Snoopy and kids dance in the auditorium, and I cheered when Snoopy’s doghouse decorations transformed the pitiful little tree that Charlie Brown bought into a beautiful, well-shaped tree. I was always a little sad when the kids began singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” because the program was ending. I also liked How the Grinch Stole Christmas and all the Whos in Whoville. I pitied the Grinch’s little dog who had to pull the big sled through a lot of snow. Both programs featured lots of snow.

I do not remembering ever seeing It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 31st Street on either of our two television stations, but we saw White Christmas every year. We were always reminded that it would not be Christmas without snow.

Have a happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Where Men Hide by James B. Twitchell, Photographs by Ken Ross

Nonanon turned me on to this book.

Where Men Hide, a collaboration between English professor James B. Twitchell and photographer Ken Ross, is an unlikely book. Twitchell did not have to find in a barbershop an old Esquire with Ross's photographs. Ross did not have to give Twitchell access to his collection showing the places that men frequent. But they did. When creative people work together interesting things happen.

The result is a fascinating collection of essays around the premise that men "hide" in definable places, like hunting camps, boxing rings, fraternal lodges, garages, and baseball dugouts. They go to these places to escape the daily grind and their families. Supposedly they go where women will not follow. As a work of social science, Where Men Hide is pretty soft. Twitchell spends more time on tangential topics than the premise and does not really insistent that he is correct, but he writes so well that readers do not care.

In the process, Twitchell answers questions that readers never thought to ask. How do barbers learn to chat with their clients? Do fathers enjoy electric trains more than their sons? Why did fraternal orders prosper after the American Civil War and the world wars? Why do restaurants decorate with memorabilia? Did boxing replace dueling and thus save many lives?

While most of the content is entertaining, some of it is disturbing. The chapter about strip clubs suggests that they are often chosen by corporate executives as locations for sales meetings to intimidate women trying to rise in corporate hierarchies. The strippers are hardly noticed as the "boys" do business. "No gurls allowed!"

In his summary, Twitchell says the title should have been "Where Men Hid," as gender barriers have mostly disappeared. Women now go almost everywhere, and a result we have cleaner, brighter places. We all benefit. Still, there are periodic episodes of male behavior that need to be monitored, such as the Promise Keeper movement.

Where Men Hide is one of my favorite books of the year. Libraries should have it.

Twitchell, James B. Where Men Hide. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. ISBN 0231137346

Monday, December 18, 2006

Microsoft Live Book Search for Genealogy

Knowing that Microsoft Live Book Search searches many older books out of copyright, I wondered whether it would be useful for genealogy questions. So I tested it with a few of the names from my own family tree.

First I tried Tipton Coulter, a great grandfather who was born in Honey Grove, Texas, and was according to the 1900 Census an apiarist (beekeeper). I tried various combinations of his name and the places I know that he lived without success.

Second I tried Wiley Hamilton Roach, a great great grandfather who was born in Georgia and died from gunshot wounds after the Battle of Missionary Ridge in the Civil War. Again I found nothing.

Augusta Penn, an ancestor born in Ohio in 1824, was my next try. She is said to descend from the Penns of Pennsylvania. As with Coulter and Roach above, I found nothing.

Next I tried a search for my ancestor Richard Henry Alvey (1826-1906), who was a justice on the Maryland Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals in Washington, D. C. After finding nothing by searching his full name, I found a few tidbits by searching the phrase “Judge Alvey.” (I learned this trick when searching the Washington Post’s historical database.)

The first hit was in The Literary Guillotine by Charles Battell Loomis, published 1902, which, despite its title, seems to be legal commentaries. On page 52, the author comments on a patent law opinion that my ancestor expressed in the 1900 case Christensen v. Noyes.

Book 2 in the results list notes a legal decree concerning the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company penned by Judge Alvey in 1890.

The third book notes that my ancestor was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to the commission to settle a boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana.

The next book, Recollections and Reflections by Wharton Jackson Green, was the most interesting item found in this search. Green was a Confederate lieutenant colonel from North Carolina in the Civil War. On page 173 of his memoir, he recalls being warmly invited into the judge’s home in Hagerstown, Maryland after bringing his troops across the Potomac River from Virginia in 1862. This is a very interesting story as there is a debate about how strong Judge Alvey’s southern sympathies were.

I next searched together “Alvey" and "Hagerstown” (not a phrase) to see if I would find anything else. I did.

The first item was Lamb’s Biographical Dictionary of the United States. On page 206 the profile for Louis Emory McComas says that he studied law with "Chief-Justice R. H. Alvey of Hagerstown."

The fifth item on the list was again Lamb’s Biographical Dictionary. This time it showed page 6, which had the “Alvey, Richard Henry” entry. This had a short summation of Alvey’s career.

The seventh item was the item previously found about Alvey being appointed to the commission to settle the South American boundary.

The other eleven items were false hits. “Alvey” and “Hagerstown” were terms on separated pages in the books.

I redid the search as the phrase "Alvey Richard" and retrived the Lamb's Biographical Dictionary and Harpers Encyclopedia of United States History from 458 A.D. to 1909, somehow published in 1905 according to the short bibliographic entry.

My Conclusion

Microsoft Live Book Search would be greatly improved by an advanced proximity search so the researcher could require terms to be within a specified range of words or within a paragraph.

I did like the green highlighting of search words in the display of text. Finding the text was easy.

Microsoft Live Book Search is not especially good for genealogy yet, as there is still not enough content. Ancestors who are not famous are unlikely to be found. However, it is easy to do a search, so genealogists should try anyway. They might find something really interesting like an ancestor entertaining Confederate officers.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osborne

Blizzard of the Blue Moon is the thirty-sixth title in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca. The first was Dinosaurs Before Dark, in which Jack and Annie, siblings from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, discover a mysterious tree house high above them in their neighborhood woods. Being curious children, they climb up its rope ladder to find a collection of books. Jack opens a dinosaur book. When he says that he wishes he could go see the dinosaurs, the house begins to spin and adventure begins.

Since 1992, Jack and Annie have travelled through time and space in service of a mysterious librarian who is protecting history. They see the Olympics in Greece, ride on the Titanic, and meet George Washington at Valley Forge. Annie always goes forth boldly, and Jack, hanging back, takes notes and refers to his books. Together they solve mysteries and save endangered treasures. As the series has progressed, the books have gotten longer.

In Blizzard of the Blue Moon, Jack and Annie go back to 1938 New York City, where they seek to save a unicorn from being captured by minions of the Dark Wizard. During a snow storm, they visit Central Park and the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I started reading these books with my daughter Laura around 1993 when only a handful of the titles were available. We worked our way through the first 18 or 20 titles, until she was no longer interested. I have read more recent titles when Bonnie has brought them home from her library. I still enjoy following what happens to Annie and Jack.

Being a very popular book series, the Magic Tree House series has several companion web sites. One I liked is from Kidsreads, which has a trivia quiz. I took the quiz and got ten out of ten correct! Random House hosts the official Magic Tree House web site, which includes advice on writing your own stories. It also lists Magic Tree House Research Guides, which Osborne writes with her husband Will and sister Natalie.

According to a promo in the back of the latest book, in March 2007 the next title Dragon of the Red Dawn will take Annie and Jack to ancient Japan. It should be fun to read.

Osborne, Mary Pope. Blizzard of the Blue Moon. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN 037593037x

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bordering Fires: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Mexican and Chicano/a Literature

Bordering Fires is a literary collection with a message. It poses that Mexico is an idea that goes beyond the country's treaty boundaries. People of Mexican heritage still belong to the common culture whether they live within its borders, have been born in the United States from legal or illegal immigrants, or are in exile in any country. While these people share many traits with other modern people, they do have a unique cultural identity, which Bordering Fires tries to define through fiction, poetry, and essays.

Bordering Fires is open to criticism. First, its editor Christina Garcia is not Mexican. Second, there are only twenty literary voices, who certainly do not account for every Mexican viewpoint. Still, the collection counters many misconceptions about the country and showcases its diversity. It is a good starting collection for a study Mexican literature.

Librarians and readers will recognize some of the authors, including Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, and Sandra Cisneros. Many of the others will be unfamiliar. The beauty of anthologies is the introduction of new authors to readers through selected pieces.

My favorite story is "Major Aranda's Hand" by Alfonso Reyes, which is as creepy as anything written by Edgar Allan Poe. "I Speak of the City" by Octavio Paz is a poem that I like that is in the tradition of Walt Whitman in structure but is distinctly Mexican in spirit. "Excerpt from Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail" is an essay by Ruben Martinez that should be read by anyone studying U. S. border policy.

I felt some confusion reading several of the pieces which seemed to be memoirs or biographies but could have been fiction. The editor did not label works, and readers must research them to identify fact and fable. Some of the people profiled do not really exist, but they easily could have.

Bordering Fires is an inexpensive paperback, probably used in some college literature classes. Some stories may offend some readers. Public libraries should consider it.

Bordering Fires: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Mexican and Chicano/a Literature. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. ISBN 1400077184

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song by Jody Rosen

Bonnie attended a dinner last week at which each congregant was asked to name a favorite Christmas song and tell what the song meant to her. Most she reported named a carol, such as "Silent Night" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Several, however, said the popular song "White Christmas." Her story reminded me of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song by Jody Rosen.

According to Rosen, "White Christmas" is the top selling piece of popular music from the twentieth century. It is beloved by listeners across many classes who dream of quiet snowy scenes with family and horse drawn sleighs. Memories of World War II and of watching Bing Crosby in either of two movies are also evoked. It differs from many other pieces by Irving Berlin in tone so that many people do not even realize that it was written by the prolific composer.

Much of the book is about Berlin. When he first began to write his most famous song, it was a satire of unhappy nuevo-rich living in California, partly a self-critical statement. The original first verse including an image of bored people languishing around a swimming pool. Without that verse, the song took a completely different character, allowing any listener to imagine her own setting.

Berlin became very proud of the piece and produced two movies around it. He also tried unsuccessfully to stop radio stations from playing Elvis Presley's recording of the song. He prospered as the large demand for the record transformed the music industry.

If your library has a copy of White Christmas, now is the time to put it on display.

Rosen, Jody. White Christmas: The Story of an American Song. New York: Scribner, 2002. ISBN 0743218752

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario of the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for stories about the dangers faced by Central Americans seeking illegal entry into the United States. In Enrique's Journey, she expands her articles, focusing on one youth whose wish is to find his mother Lourdes, who is working in North Carolina.

Enrique's travels may sound incredible to comfortable Americans, something to compare with Homer's Odyssey or Frodo's quest in The Lord of the Rings. Enrique is surrounded by enemies through his trip and is often attacked by bandits, gangs, and corrupt Mexican police. He is also befriended by priests and poor Mexicans who heal his injuries and give what they can to keep him going. According to Nazario, Enrique is one of many children with mothers working in the United States to send money back to Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Many boys and girls cling to the tops of train cars bound north to the United States every day. The United States Border Patrol often captures children as young as seven years old traveling alone. Many others never make it so far.

In his eighth try, Enrique makes it to Nuevo Laredo and crosses the Rio Grande. Nazario chronicles his reunion with his mother and the disappointments that follow. The author ends the book with a chapter on U. S. immigration policy and notes on her research, which did include riding on top of Mexican train cars.

Church and public library book groups will be discussing this book.

Nazario, Sonia. Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN 1400062055

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Visit to the Marion E. Wade Center: C. S. Lewis, J. R. Tolkien, and Friends.

One of the great Thomas Ford Memorial Library traditions is the December staff outing to see another library. Every year Director Anne Kozak picks a library that she thinks that we will enjoy visiting and from which we will learn about different library missions, collections, and methods. This year we closed our library for a day and visited the Marion E. Wade Center on the edge of the Wheaton College campus in Wheaton, Illinois. The Wade Center has a museum and research library devoted to the study of seven English authors - C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

Upon entering the building, visitors find a small museum devoted to the authors in which there are several very impressive items, including the little desk at which Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the wardrobe that belonged to the grandparents of C. S. Lewis, said to have inspired his stories about Narnia. Also in the room are C. S. Lewis' desk from Oxford and his dining room table. Around the room are changing exhibits about the authors, their works, and how their works have been translated into films and other adaptations. I liked one of the cases that showed a photo of Sayers with a pair of her reading glasses and her telephone contact book. The exhibits are attractive. The staff of the Wade Center have developed great skill in making reproductions from originals; the tour guide assured us that they had not really glued original works onto their display boards.

A display in a hallway leading to the library told the story of the center's development. Key points were the friendship of Wheaton College professor Clyde S. Kilby with C. S. Lewis and the critical funding from Marion E. Wade, who founded Servicemaster Corporation. The center moved into its current building in 2001.

The Kilby Reading Room houses a collection of books by and about the seven authors that may be read in the room. Included in the collection are translations of the works in many languages. An adjoining room includes serials, reproductions of letters, and dissertations. The rare original letters and manuscripts are stored in climate control rooms downstairs.

We were surprised to find that the collection has no catalogue as yet. When the physical arrangement is insufficient, researchers have to rely on staff to find materials for them. I hope the staff uses new technology and ideas to create a catalogue that will work for the Center and serve as a model for libraries needing to replace their stodgy old tools.

Besides the collection, what sets the Marion Center apart from most libraries is its beauty and comfort. I know I would enjoy spending many hours reading at the desks or in the comfy chairs in the reading room. The center is open to the public for casual or serious research of the seven authors.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Georgia Department of Transportation Removes 488 Towns from Its Highway Map

As a reference librarian and as a person who grew up in a small town, I find the latest story from the Georgia Department of Transportation dismaying. The GDT has removed communities with populations under 2500 people from its official highway map. The stated reason is to make the map easier to read. Someone at GDT called these communities "placeholders." According to Associated Press stories which ran in Saturday newspapers, 488 are now off the map.

Some of the small towns disappearing from the map have great names. Attapulgus, Bibb City, Centralhatchee, Dasher, Enigma, Flovilla, Good Hope, Hiawassee, Ideal, Jenkinsburg, Kite, Luthersville, Maxeys, Newborn, Ochlocknee, Pendergrass, Rebecca, Santa Claus, Tiger, Uvalda, Whigham, and Young Harris are just a few of the many names of Georgia towns.

Would the GDT really take Plains, Georgia off the map? Surely not.

If I was a citizen of one of the small communities, I think I would be offended by being so marginalized. If I was a traveler in the state, I would be annoyed at not being able to find were I was going. As a librarian, I am saddened that a reference tool has been weakened.

The GDT has received complaints and it said to be revisiting the decision.

With the increasing popularity of global positioning devices in motor vehicles, this may be less of a popular issue in the years to come, but I still think an official state transportation map ought to be comprehensive. Perhaps next year's map will have some of the communities restored.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stephen Colbert is not a Fan of Reference Books

The Chicago Tribune and many other newspapers ran an Associated Press story this morning reporting that "truthiness' is the word of the year, according to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster. You can see the story at Forbes' web site.

In the story Stephen Colbert, who is credited with coining the word, says, "Though I'm no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me."

I must confess that I have a fact-based agenda, too. Sorry, Stephen.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Union 1812: the Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence by A. J. Langguth

Was the War of 1812 between the young United States and its motherland England really a second war of independence? Was it necessary to fight? Readers of Union 1812: the Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence by A. J. Langguth might conclude that it was a tremendous waste of lives. Both parties compromised their stated objectives for fighting in the settling of the treaty. Neither country got what it said it wanted. Diplomacy could have gotten the same result without the loss of life and the ruining of economies. Unfortunately, there were men who wanted to fight.

Some men demanded a war. They believed in war as the way to promote their causes and themselves. Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, William Henry Harrison, Oliver Perry, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, and others all became newspaper heroes during the war. President James Madison was frequently criticized during the conflict for his failures, but in the end, his reputation was also enhanced.

Union 1812 is within the old history tradition in that it focuses on military and political leaders, as its subtitle suggests. Hardly a word is said about common people other than men were pressed into serving in militias and farmers lost their harvests to passing armies. The only woman to have a prominent role is Dolly Madison. The book does break with past popular history in that it details atrocities. Many Indian women and children were killed and scalped. Commanders on both sides sometimes told their soldiers not to take prisoners, even when they tried to surrender.

Union 1812 is an interesting telling of the sometimes little-noticed episode in American history. Many libraries need another book on the topic. Consider this one.

Langguth, A. J. Union 1812: the Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN 0743226186

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach by Prof. Peter Schickele

It has been thirty years since Random House published The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach, which was written by the noted professor from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, Peter Schickele. At the time of publication in 1976, Professor Schickele had already been performing the recently discovered work of the youngest and much-disavowed son of J. S. Bach for fifteen years. That means that the world of music has been suffering, rather, I mean, enjoying the music of P. D. Q. Bach for forty-five years!

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach is still the most authoritative work of scholarship about the often drunken composer. Forget that it is actually the only book ever published about the frequent resident of Wein-am-Rhein, it is the reference to have, as it tells the sketchy story of the composer's life, includes a collection of out-of-focus illustrations about his times, and describes the works that Professor Schickele has found in the alleys, barns, and attics of both Europe and the New World. In the back is a glossary of unusual instruments, including the lasso d'amore and the left-handed sewer flute. The appendix also includes the only index to ever cite "pages, blank."

Professor Schickele's academic quest continues, and the book is obviously out-of-date, stating that the Sanka Cantata is forever lost. In 1996 the lost composition was released on The Dreaded P.D. Q. Bach Collection, 4 compact discs that also include the opera "Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice," the cantata "Iphigenia in Brooklyn," the Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments, and the Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons.

To keep up with P. D. Q. Bach news, go to The Peter Schickele/P. D. Q. Bach Web Site, where you can find concert schedules, lyrics, a discography, and P. D. Q. merchandise. There is information on the professor's radio program The Schickele Mix, with station information. It would be nice if there were podcasts of the programs, but there are unfortunately none. There is however links for downloading an abridged audio version of the Definitive Biography.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the rediscovery of P. D. Q. Bach is only five years away, libraries should be restocking their books, CDs, and DVDs. Perhaps Professor Schickele will update the book.

Schickele, Prof. Peter. The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach. New York: Random House, 1976. ISBN 0394734092

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Ornaments from Our Tree

We starting to decorate for the holidays at our house. This poster shows nine of our favorite ornaments, which are on the tree we cut and decorated over the weekend. We get new ornaments every year, so the collection has grown large and diverse. The snowman on the top left is the first ornament Bonnie gave me. Laura made the popsicle stick ornament on the bottom left.

There are more photos of ornaments on my Flickr site. I made the poster using a tool from Qoop, which can be found in the drop-down menus with the sets in Flickr.

The Status of Aaron Schmidt

Libraries are evolving beyond traditional limits. Several social/political/economic trends are at work. Here are just a few:

1. Libraries are being challenged to move beyond their walls to serve their public. Librarians are getting out into their communities more. Libraries are also now making websites into virtual library branches.

2. Librarians are joining the effort to cross political boundaries. The idea of librarians without borders, serving individuals from beyond their taxing districts is a more accepted idea.

3. Advanced communication technology is making telecommuting to work more practical. Work from home is more common. The distance between the workplace and the worker hardly matters any more.

This all leads to the current status of Aaron Schmidt at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library.

I am continuously asked by library clients and other librarians about Aaron and what he is doing. Many express surprise when I say that in addition to attending Portland State University he is working for us from Portland, Oregon. That's about 2100 miles away from Western Springs, Illinois, according to Google Maps. It is a long commute. When they ask what he does, I sum it up with "He works on our website," and then they ask whether he is biking or climbing mountains.

Aaron really does more for us than just work on our website. He is loading some content on the current website and generating ideas and designs for the website that we want to have. Working with Kristin Schar and me, we are trying to improve the website so it truly can be a branch of the library. Aaron serves as our consultant for a variety of technical issues. He also carries our library name to professional conferences and promotes us across the web. Our library now has friends throughout the library world that we would never have had if he was not representing us.

How do we in our small library benefit from the new reputation?

1. When we advertise a staff position, we get applicants who know what we have been doing and want to continue the work.

2. We get new ideas from our diverse contacts.

3. We have a reputation to maintain and have to continue to innovate.

How does having Aaron work remotely actually work?

I hear from Aaron almost everyday by email, instant message, or telephone. His cellphone is still a local call for us, so he is not hard to reach. There are times when he is off at a conference, at class, or on a mountain, but it was the same when he was living in Western Springs.

We still get mail for Aaron. Several times I have scanned the pages, attached them to email, and gotten these communications to him much faster than if we returned them to the post office. We are in touch.

How does the library benefit from this arrangement?

Often when a valued employee leaves there is a break in continuity. We have lessened that problem substantially with our current arrangement with Aaron. We are cross training other staff to do some of his web duties, but Aaron is still there to do some work that we are finding hard to schedule.

We also benefit somewhat from his moving away in that we added Kristin Schar with her new skills, fresh ideas, and passion for her work.

What is the downside of the arrangement?

We do not have Aaron here to work the reference desk or to participate in lunch meetings. He can not run out for our veggie burritos or brownies.

Aaron is missing his faithful clients and tons of cookies, coffeecakes, chocolate candies, snack mix, etc. that seems to arrive in the workroom, especially during the holidays.

What does the future hold?

We do not know how long our arrangement will last. Aaron will eventually finish school and be hired to a demanding position that may make the arrangement hard to maintain. In the meantime, Aaron and the library are benefitting. For now he is Thomas Ford West.

I feel proud that our small library has the flexibility and courage to try such an experiment. I expect to see more of this kind of work in the profession in the future. Some libraries may even hire librarians who will work from a distance. Consider it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up by Christopher Noxon

Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys.
His mother sent newspaper clippings to him,
About his old friends who'd stopped being boys.
(Grace Slick, 1968)

According to Christopher Noxon, author of Rejuvenile, many adults are more playful than they were twenty years ago, as it is more socially acceptable to collect toys, frequent theme parks, and play games. Playful adults are not ridiculed like Lather in the Jefferson Airplane song. In fact, corporations with eyes toward profit and psychologists who measure mental health support the transformation. A new form of adult has evolved, which may be called a rejuvenile, a kidalt, an adultescent, or a twixter.

Noxon claims to be a rejuvenile. He enjoys going to kids movies and playing with his children. He might even play with the Legos and toy cars when the children nap. As a parent he is easily granted this license. Adults without children are also enjoying freedom to play. In his book, he profiles several, including Tobias who plays dodgeball, Kate who organizes games of tag, Kim who skips instead of walking, and Barb who is called the Skateboard Mom. Noxon shows these people to be well-adjusted, productive adults who like to play, and he poses that an adult playing tag is having more fun than an adult golfing.

The author goes on to explain the difference between childlike and childish, admitting their are some adults who are trying to escape reality through regressive behaviors, but he believes these individuals are a minority of rejuveniles.

In Rejuvenile Noxon writes about Walt Disney and his legacy, about adult children who live with their parents, and parents of young children learning when to let them play undirected.

Librarians will recognize some rejuveniles among their clients and among themselves. Every public and college library should have a copy of this book.

Noxon, Christopher. Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006 ISBN 1400080886

Friday, December 01, 2006

The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie by Andrew Eames

Late in 2002, as the forces of war gathered around Iraq, Andrew Eames set off on a literary and spiritual adventure. After having accidentally crossed Agatha Christie's historical path on a previous trip to the Middle East, Eames read about the mystery writer's annual trips with her second husband to archeological digs at Nimrud and other locations, and he planned his own journey, mostly by train, from the suburbs of London to ancient Babylonian and Assyrian cities in Iraq. The 8:55 to Baghdad is his report on the trip.

Riding on the restored portion of the Orient Express was the easy part of the trip. Eames had to find other trains to cross the Balkan countries, Turkey, and Syria. Along the way he discovered some Christie shrines, locations that she used in her stories, and books translated into many languages. He also learned as much about post-communist Europe and the political landscape of Turkey as he did about the unconventional mystery writer.

Eames' own story becomes particularly interesting as he crosses into Iraq with a tour group that he compares to the characters in Christie's mystery Nemesis. At the border, after putting all their money into envelopes that are taken into another room and handing over all their cameras for inspection, the travelers are required to take $50 AIDS screening tests administered by a man who looks like the dentist in the movie Marathon Man. After drawing blood, the man holds the vials up to a light and does not even bother labeling them.

Though some other tense episodes follow, Eames states that most Iraqis welcome the group of Americans and Europeans into their cities and villages. The author does find more Christie footprints in the outskirts of the country.

Travel adventure readers and mystery fans will enjoy The 8:55 to Baghdad.

Eames, Andrew. The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie. Woodstock: Overlook Press, 2005. ISBN 158567673x