Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Card Catalog:Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures - by The Library of Congress


Almost anyone who used a library before about 1990 (and many after that) will remember using a card catalog - a now obsolete method of finding books in a library which involved index cards in drawers. The cards were interfiled by book title, author, and subject and had the call number written in the upper left-hand corner. Those who went attended the Graduate Library School at the University of Arizona when I did (1990-1991) will remember a cataloging course in which just about all we did was learn how to create proper entries for catalog cards. Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records were beginning to emerge in some libraries at the time (including at the University of Arizona) but we did very little with computers in the class, instead we hand wrote entries, and were graded on such things as how close together our punctuation marks appeared to be. What I didn't know at the time was that there was actually a thing called "Library Hand" that prescribed the penmanship to be used on hand written cards. Now that I know this I'm frankly surprised that that wasn't part of the curriculum.

An example of Library Hand from the book

There is a romance around the card catalog. I will admit to missing them. The old oak cabinets were iconic of libraries once upon a time, and as a youngster I was proud that I knew how to use them. My ability to employ the catalog to find information marked me as a learned person. Card catalogs were not without their faults, however. Lazy patrons, rather than writing down a book's call number, would sometimes simply remove the card from its drawer, whence it would never return. Censors could also easily remove all references to a particular library book simply by ripping all the relevant cards from their drawers making it virtually impossible to find the book. This was certainly a lot easier than actually going through the channels to have the offending book removed the library, and frankly a lot more effective. It was also not uncommon for cards to be misfiled, making finding a needed resource into a special kind of challenge.

When I discovered that a new book had been published about this once quintessential symbol of the library I immediately purchased the e-version and downloaded it to my iPad in celebration of National Library Week.

None other than the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, wrote the foreword to this work. I made an instantaneous connection upon reading the first sentence of the book
One of my first assignments when I began my library career was to file Library of Congress card catalog sets into a wooden case in the storefront branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Such was also one of my first assignments at my first library job (as a student assistant at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Library) in 1991. I imagine this experience parallels that of many Baby Boomer librarians.

The card catalog really dates back to that most venerable of libraries - The Library of Alexandria where books were actually scrolls, and had to be organized in such a way that scholars could find what they needed. The Pinakes was created by Callimachus who divided the scrolls into categories, and created records which included the number of lines, and the opening words of each scroll. You can read an excerpt from the book that describes this early catalog  (published in Time magazine).

I started this blog six years ago, but I've been blogging about books since 2009. My first book blog was called "My Year of Reading 'Year of' Books" a bit of a meta-blog that featured books of the "stunt lit" genre in which the authors took on a yearlong project and wrote about it. In 2010 I wrote a blog called Celebrating the States - a yearlong project during which I posted on each of the 50 states on the anniversary of its statehood. Each post included information about a food or recipe associated with said state, along with a review of a movie that took place in the state, and a review of a book set in the state. Every once in a while I read about a book I've blogged about in another book. I had the good serendipity in reading The Card Catalog to find  a copy of the catalog card from Idaho: A Guide in Word and Picture - written as part of the a program of the Federal Writers' Project during the Great Depression. This was indeed the book I read when I blogged about Idaho. Looking back at the post it seems it was almost in the cards (pun intended) that I mentioned the catalog record for it!




This book has some wonderful pictures, and a lot of history not just of catalog cards, but of the Library of Congress as well. It is a quick read and is sure to be enjoyed by librarians and library lovers alike. Read more about this book, and card catalogs here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books - by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya


The ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt (Biblioteca Alexandrina) stood from 300 BCE to 400 CE. There are various legends as to what happened to this "center where great thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, and poets [came] to study and share ideas". We do know that it was burned either intentionally or by accident and today, not far from where the original library was located, a new library made of  granite and opened in 2002, stands in its place.

In early 2011 protesters in Egypt succeeded in their call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The eighteen days of protest were violent and the new library was threatened. The director of the Library, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, closed the library and feared that it would be destroyed.
"The Library has no gates that can be locked", he called out. "The doors are all glass. There is nothing that prevents anybody from destroying this building with all its treasures, except the will of the people."
And the will of the people prevailed as crowds of students, library workers, and other demonstrators, surrounded the library and held hands to protect it from the devastation and so "the library still stands today holding all of our stories."

This children's book is beautifully illustrated with collages by co-author Susan Roth.

A perfect story for National Library Week about the breadth and depth of love a society can have for its library.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Stella Louella's Runaway Book - by Lisa Campbell Ernst



In honor of National Library Week, which starts today, I read this book involving a library escapade. Stella Louella is afraid she will never be able to use the library again when she realizes that she has lost her library book. The hunt is on as she spends her Saturday tracking the book across town. One after another she meets people who picked it up and read it, and passed it on to someone else. By the end of the day she has dozens of people helping her to find the lost volume. The librarian has a surprise for her though when Stella Louella shows up at the library at closing time and comes clean that the book is nowhere to be found!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Quabbin: The Accidental Wilderness - by Thomas Conuel


In 1946 the Massachusetts towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, along with six villages were flooded to create the Quabbin Resevoir in order to provide fresh water to Boston. The inhabitants of the towns were relocated, as were cemeteries and some buildings. 

Conuel's book tells some of the history of the towns and how the reservoir was created, and also tells of the beautiful wilderness that stands today with wildlife including bobcats and bald eagles. This slim work is rife with historic photographs providing a glimpse into the life of central Massachusetts at the turn of the 20th century as well as pictures of flora and fauna found at the Quabbin Resevoir. The book was first published in 1981, and I imagine that even since the 1990 revision I read climate change has brought about some additional transformations to the area.

One cannot write a book such as this without some assistance from archivists, historical societies, and librarians. Conuel found a gold-mine of information in Warren "Bud" Doubleday, a former resident of one of the flooded towns. He was referred to Doubleday by a librarian in New Salem. He also acknowledges Audrey Druckert, the official librarian of the historical society, an expert in wild plants and conservator of "a collection of tapes...as close to a complete oral history of the valley before the reservoir was built as exists anywhere."

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I finally read it as part of Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge  which includes a call to "Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location" (among 23 others).

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Elephant Whisperer -by Lawrence Anthony


It was looking mightily like I would not be blogging here about Bridgewater's current One Book One Community read. This story of the author's affinity with a rogue herd of elephants who find their home in Anthony's South African game reserve in the early 2000s didn't have any libraries in it. However, just as the book was winding down (on page 366 of 368) Anthony explains how elephants' reputations for long memories is well deserved as older elephants teach young bulls
masculine etiquette as well as more practical matters of survival in the wild, such as where the best watering holes and the most succulent branches and berries are....An ageing elephant male is not something surplus to be dispatched by some meagre trophy-gatherer. He is a breathing reference library [emphasis mine]; he's there for the health and well-being of future elephants. He teaches the youngster who they really are and imparts priceless bush skills to succeeding generations.
And there you have it.

This was a popular choice for One Book One Community (OBOC) - a favorite of many committee members, and OBOC's fans have shown great enthusiasm for it. I wasn't crazy about it myself though. As much as the author loved animals, and was able to commune with them, he seemed unable to transfer that respect to his interactions with other humans, which I found rather off-putting.

Friday, March 31, 2017

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This - by Jacqueline Woodson


This young adult novel tells the story of Marie who befriends the new white girl (Lena) at her predominantly black middle school. Lena confides to Marie that her (Lena's) father is sexually abusing her and Marie promises not to tell anyone Lena's secret. Their friendship is challenged on many fronts and Marie learns some difficult truths.

Marie's single father dates Rose, the town librarian (who doesn't actually appear in the book). However, the town library has a small role in this work as Lena's sister's (Dion's) "favorite place in the world. She actually had a temper tantrum if...picked up too early." The library is likely a safe place for the little girl who lives with a neglectful and abusive parent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

El hijo - por Alejandro Palomas



I have blogged occasionally about children's books in Spanish, or bilingual English/Spanish books, but it has been a long time since I read a whole novel in Spanish. When I saw that the last name of the author of this award-winning book was "Palomas" I really had no choice but to read it. Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. It is also the name of my wonderful, artistic daughter.

This is the story of an enigmatic young boy, Guille, who lives with his father. His mother, a flight attendant, has been away for over a year. His only communication with her comes in the form of weekly letters. When Guille tells his teacher that he wants to be Mary Poppins when he grows up he is referred to a counselor, María, who helps him solve some mysteries he wasn't even aware of.

Regular readers know that it only takes one mention of the word "library" (or in the case of this book "biblioteca") to earn a post on this blog. Guille uses the map in his school library to find the distance between Pakistan (from whence his friend Nazia hails) and Dubai (where his mother is).

I learned some new Spanish vocabulary reading this: most notably ojeras (the bags under one's eyes); and mirilla (peephole).

This book is the winner of the Premio Joaquim Ruyra, and Spain's 2016 Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil.

Paloma de Palabras