Monday, January 27, 2020

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out - by Bill McKibben

Some might call this book alarmist, but since McKibben called it on global warming back in 1989 when he wrote The End of Nature I'm not going to ignore his warnings here. Exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI), biotech, the billionaire class, and genetic engineering McKibben looks at how these things are part of a symbiotic relationship leading to a dystopic end of life as we know it. He pulls no punches as calls the villians out by name.

Writer Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged and a darling of conservatives, is given a fair bit of print in this work. McKibben points out that
The cult of Ayn Rand extends far beyond the richest and most powerful. When the Modern Library asked readers in 1998 to catalogue the greatest books of the twentieth century...Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were ranked one and two. Plenty of readers might have agreed with Barack Obama, who described Rand's work as "one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up". But plenty of others have never put her down. One biographer described her as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right." 
We may be able to take some solace that three of Rand's titles also show up on Goodreads list of Books You're Ashamed to Admit You Read.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Well of Loneliness - by Radclyffe Hall

Originally published in 1928, and promptly banned in England, this fictionalized account of the author's own life was cutting-edge lesbian writing in its day.

Born into wealth and privilege Stephen (her parents wanted a son) nevertheless has a difficult time growing up realizing that she is somehow different from her peers. As an adult she recognizes her desires, and is asked to leave the family estate (Morton) by her un-understanding mother. She had shared a love of books with her father, Sir Philip, who "had one of the finest libraries in England". Before his early death the two had read and discussed literature together. She also discovered after he died that he had divined his daughter's inclinations from having read the works of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing whose work, with her late father's marginalia, was kept on a special bookcase in his study.

Eventually Stephen settles in Paris with her partner Mary who is very much interested in Stephen's earlier life, although she would never welcomed in Morton
Mary would want to be told about Morton...she would make Stephen get out the photographs of her father, of her mother whom Mary thought lovely...Then Stephen must tell her of the life in London, and afterwards of the new house in Paris; must talk of her own career and ambitions, though Mary had not read either of her (Stephen's) novels-there had never been a library subscription.
 There was no "subscription" necessary for me to read Hall's book. I checked it out with my library card at the free public library in my town.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Masked by Trust: Bias in Library Discovery - by Matthew Reidsma

In the spirit of Algorithms of Oppression this book provides insight into how search engine results are generated. Going beyond Google, which may "customize" results for individual users, Reidsma also explains how library databases aren't necessarily without prejudice either, even though all users will see the same results if they enter the exact same search. Auto-suggestions can likewise shape our thinking in ways we may not have anticipated. All search engines are working on algorithms that were created by people (mostly young, white men). Their own biases will necessarily become part of the algorithm, even if they do not intend it.

Reidsma cites Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day's work to suggest that we rethink the metaphor of library tools to a "library ecology".
The thing about the ecology metaphor is that it highlights the interconnectedness of all these different things coming together in one place. It emphasizes the co-evolution of technology and people. Its [sic] about people and tools together.
Perhaps the most  useful reason for dropping the tool metaphor is that tools require convergent thinking. You cannot create a tool with divergent thinking, where many possibilities exist... switching our focus to seeing our technological systems as ecologies, and thus using divergent thinking to address the design and engineering of these systems, we can move beyond the limitations of tool-based thinking and design systems that are made to be used by diverse people.
This gave me a bit to ponder, and will change the way I teach people to think about and use our databases.

Friday, January 10, 2020

I Like the Library - by Anne Rockwell

The publication date on this book about a child visiting the library is 1977. The illustrations have a nice '70s vibe to them - teens wear cool striped pants and flowered skirts, and there is a clear attempt at including diverse people in the library, including a male children's librarian.

Other telltale '70s details include the viewing a filmstrip and listening to a cassette, selection of a record to play on a "phonograph player" at hom,e and the use of  book record cards.

The unnamed narrator is working on learning to write his name so he can get his own library card.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Two Boys Kissing - by David Levithan

A first-person plural omniscient narrator tells the story not only of Craig and Harry, who set out to break the world record for the longest kiss (32 hours, 12 minutes, 10 seconds) but also those of Tariq (a recent victim of gay bashing), Cooper (whose parents accidentally discovered he was gay) , Avery and Ryan (about to go on their first date), and Peter and Neil (boyfriends together for a year).

Ryan has a favorite aunt (Caitlin) who "after years of trying to rise in the world of corporate insurance...quit and is now going for her library degree". Caitlin's "love for Ryan is the most unconditional love he will ever feel", and so Ryan knows that her home is a safe place for him to bring Avery, a trans boy for whom he is falling.

Peter and Neil spend some time in a bookstore where Neil puts together a pile of books, the titles of which he uses to send a message to Peter

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This
Just Listen
You're the One that I Want
So Much Closer
The Difference Between You and Me
You Are Here
Where I Belong
I'll Be There
Along for the Ride
The Future of Us
Real Live Boyfriends
Keep Holding On

Peter responds with his own short stack of books

Take a Bow
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
Keep Holding On

While this scene took place in a bookstore rather than I library it is certainly worthy of inclusion here. I also like to notice when a book I've blogged about shows up in another book. In this case it is Jacqueline Woodson's I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This.

Later in the book there is also a sneaky reference to Stephen Chbosky's The Perk's of Being a Wallflower

Our narrators provide some insight into their identity. In one of the early hints they tell us
If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother's or your grandmother's best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation. You know some of our songs.
 If you are a Gen Xer, or young Baby Boomer now (as is this blogger), you did know them well.

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians - by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

One in a series of "Lunch Lady" books, this graphic novel demonstrates the power of books and reading, but at the expense of librarians (Rhonda Page, Edna Bibliosa, Vivian Bookwormer, and Jane Shelver). The librarians are out to destroy the new shipment of the X-Station 5000 videogame system and steal money from the cheerleaders, the Book Fair, and the public fund so they can buy weapons in order to carry out their dastardly plan. An epic magic battle the Lunch Lady (using her aresenal of food ammunition) and the Librarians using characters from well known books (e.g. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Three Little Pigs; Alice in Wonderland) ends with the librarians' arrest. Didn't like this one much. The librarians were evil.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Two Naomi's - by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick

I found this novel on the free book exchange shelf at my library. The back blurb indicated that "Naomi Marie starts clubs at the library..." so I took it home to read. It turned out that there was actually quite a bit about libraries in this story of two ten-year olds named Naomi whose parents are dating.

The first page of the story opens with Naomi Marie at her local branch of the New York Public Library talking to librarian Ms. Starr about her new club (Bored? Bored Games!) which appears not to be as popular as Naomi Marie had hoped. Naomi Marie uses the verb "sparkle" when describing how Ms. Starr speaks to her "which must be something they teach in library school" Naomi Marie thinks because her mother, a school librarian, "is like that too, especially ...when she talks about Tom."

Naomi Marie thinks about the library a lot. Even while she's at the beach she's thinking about what books she needs to check out next. And she imagines herself there "accidentally in purpose" pulling up the computer game she and Naomi Edith are creating in order to impress the kids in the Teen Gamez Crew. The adventure game requires the player to use different skills to navigate through different worlds, including naming three Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners and a Newberry. The two Naomis' parents had enrolled both of them in the in the the Girls Gaming the System workshop at the Y, without telling them, in the hopes that it would help them become friends. Their plan turned out to have mixed results. Ultimately everyone learns that just because parents may make unpopular decisions, and are a bit dorky, it doesn't make them bad people.

Naomi Marie really makes good use of the library including placing books on hold. She is excited to be able to walk there with Naomi Edith to pick up the book on "making your old clothes into new ones" that is waiting for her. It is a bit ironic that Naomi Marie's best friend Xiomara (aka Xio) is so uninterested in the library that she needs to be bribed by her parents into going there with a sleepover at Naomi Marie's house.

This is a sweet tale with believably-flawed characters. I read it in an day and allowed myself to bask in some nostalgia about how proud I used to feel as a child when I finished a chapter book.

Visit the authors' websites at