Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Book of Speculation - by Ericka Swyler


Simon Watson, an about-to-be-unemployed librarian, discovers an eerie truth about his family when he gains possession of a mysterious book: all the women in his family die young, by drowning, always on July 24. With the help of a used book dealer, a deck of tarot cards, and some of his librarian friends, he races against the calendar to save his sister by researching his haunting genealogy, beginning with a circus menagerie in the 18th century. In chapters that alternate between Simon's story and that of his family history the pieces are put together.

As a librarian, Simon discusses his work, and tells of how people still use libraries, as well he throws in a few other clever references about libraries.

In Simon's tale we see


  • the quotidian work of "...stacking, sorting, scanning, cataloging, researching, letter and grant writing, fund begging, and book repairing"
  • the old-school research as Simon sits and looks up old obituaries on a microfiche reader
  • and the almost obsessive drive of librarians to help even those who might be less than deserving as his friend/acquaintance Liz Reed (what a great name for a librarian) agrees to do some research for him even though he admitted to "holding onto some material a little longer than [he] should have"

In a few places Simon makes use of the Dewey Decimal system as a way of identifying things, even going so far as to call it a language. And I loved the way he described his librarian girlfriend as using "library-perfect silent diction" when mouthing a question she didn't want overheard.

Libraries as sanctuaries is a common theme we see in library-related books. In this one it is quite literally so. Simon, his sister, and her tattooed boyfriend escape to the library and take refuge in the whaling archive when their home begins to crumble around them.

 Libraries really do save lives.



The Library Window - by Margaret Oliphant



Reading is cyclical. I had barely just started reading The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, edited by Alice Crawford, when I found out about this story (mentioned on pg. xv of the Introduction) written in 1896. A library ghost story, this is a metaphor for all the mysteries in libraries, those solved as well as those yet to be discovered. Is there a false window in the Library, or is it a view into another world? The entire story is embedded below. A synopsis can be found here. 


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Books: A Memoir - by Larry McMurtry


I think this may be the first McMurtry book I've read, although I know I've seen movies based on some of his books (e.g. The Last Picture Show; Terms of Endearment; Lonesome Dove). I doubt this book will be made into a movie though. It really is simply a recollection of his days as a book buyer and seller. Most of the libraries he mentions are personal libraries, although public, school and university libraries, as well as the Library of Congress come into play also.

The beginning of the book was the most interesting part to me, in which McMurtry describes the bookless house of his childhood. He knew how to read at a young age, but cannot understand how he learned. He also describes the life-changing gift of 19 books he received from a cousin who was going off to war.  The author relates that while he was growing up there was no public library in his town (Archer City, Texas) and that he helped to start one decades later. He also stole books from his high school library. Everyone knew it, and the books were eventually "stolen" back from him.

McMurtry describes specialized collections, and eccentric collectors and why they liked what they liked, and tells of a book dealer in Baltimore [my hometown] "who believed in making all book repairs with duct tape." Of Baltimore he also has this to say "if pickings were slim, we could always console ourselves with a few first-rate crab cakes from one or another of the area's many restaurants." If my readers gain nothing else from reading this blog please know this: you have not had a crab cake unless you have eaten one in Maryland. Once you have a real lump-meat crab cake you will never go back to the crumb-and-cracker-filled soggy messes that pass as crab cakes elsewhere.

When I wrote my post about Erica Jong's Fear of Flying I explained the near-miss of thinking I was going to blog about my first "library dream", but alas I discovered that the Low Library was no longer functioning as a library. McMurtry came through in his memoir to provide this "first" instead. He describes his recurring "book dreams" sometimes as in a bookshop, or
alone in a large library...The books...are quite vivid...very much like books...in auction catalogs...that are very much like other books...but never an exact match. 
McMurtry laments changes he sees in public libraries with books being pushed out to make way for more computers. He says
in many cases not even the librarians want books to be there. What consumers want now is information, and information increasingly comes from computers...But they don't really do what books do, and why should they usurp the chief function of a public library, which is to provide readers's access to books? Books can accommodate the proximity of computers but it doesn't seem to work the other way around. Computers now literally drive out books from the place that should, by definition, be books' own home: the library.
I understand his grief, but I also understand that libraries, like all things, must evolve or go extinct.

If I were to write a book memoir I would start with the book The Happy Egg by Ruth Krauss a book I ordered from the Scholastic books order form when I was four or five years old. I did not know how to read, but I loved being read to, and I asked my parents to read this book to me so often that I memorized it. I remember then, proudly "reading" it aloud to my father. I also remember in second grade ordering a book about dinosaurs from the Scholastic books order form. When the books arrived in my classroom we were called up one at a time to claim our order. A boy in my class had also ordered the same dinosaur book and when the teacher called his name and gave him the book she remarked that it was a "good book for a boy". Everyone then laughed when I went to retrieve my book. I wish I could just chalk this anecdote up to "stupid things people did in the '70s", but frankly I think the gender-ing of toys and books has only gotten worse.

Perhaps I will write a book memoir. It seems like a good project for 2016.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Boys on the Boat - by Daniel James Brown



This audio book was loaned to me by a friend, who, like my husband has a passion for rowing. James and I listened to this during a series of car rides to and from our "Whaling House" (our home near the water where James' whaleboat-rowing club meets).

Joe Rantz was one of the members of the United States rowing crew who won the gold medal at Berlin Olympics in 1936. Rantz's story frames this tale, but as a dying Rantz told the author when he was interviewed, the book is not just his story. It is about "the boat...something more than just the shell or its crew...it encompasse[s] but transcend[s] both...something mysterious and almost beyond definition" (from the prologue).

Rantz's story is especially inspiring and the author skillfully spins a yarn about a young boy too often left to fend for himself who learns that in order to win the gold means he must also learn to depend on others.

All the young men on the team were hardworking and we learned a bit of backstory about each one, but the only one (besides Rantz) will get a special mention here. George "Shorty" Hunt was a renaissance man who, we learn, once worked as an "assistant librarian" among many other things.

Alternating with chapters about the team members, and logistics of rowing, was the history of what was happening in Germany prior to the Olympic games. Hitler and his megalomaniac inner circle managed to avoid a boycott of the games through a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign.

I must also give a shout out to Edward Herrmann, the reader of this audiobook. An excellent voice, with perfect cadence.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Come as You Are : The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life - by Emily Nagoski



Nagoski weaves stories of real women into the book she has written on the science of sex, and discovering pleasure. The title isn't simply a cute play on words; it is an affirmation. Over and over the author reminds us that we are all "made of the same parts, just organized in different ways." What may seem normal for some (or many) may not be right for others, and there is not necessarily a need to change in order to conform. People have sexual breaks and accelerators; these are different for everyone. These breaks and accelerators can be recognized, and explored, which may in turn increase sexual pleasure. Nogoski uses herself and her identical twin to explain how different people, even those with the same DNA and "grew up in the same house, went to the same schools, watched the same TV shows, and read many of the same books", can end up with "very different maps" in their heads. Nogoski's image of woman as an Ideal Sexual Being came from "women's magazines, porn, and romance novels. Her sister's image, however, was that of woman as "Moral" model - smart girls weren't interested in sex. Both she and her sister were surprised about what they learned about themselves when they started having sex.

Nagoski uses the term "mental library" twice to explain how she organizes the stories women tell her in her brain. She also tells one story in which a client "Laurie" frustrated and feeling pressure because she didn't want sex as often as her husband did sent her husband and her son out of the house "to the library so that she could have the luxury of the house to herself..." Her time alone to reflect allowed to to discover, almost by accident, that feeling pleasure wasn't selfish, and she could allow herself that feeling during sex.

Libraries really do change lives.



Thursday, October 22, 2015

Back to the Future Part II - the movie


Like so many others yesterday I watched Back to the Future Part II - it was Back to the Future Day, after all. In BttF2 our heroes Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel across six decades. Beginning on October 26, 1985, then on to October 21, 2015, and back to 1985, and finally backwards in time to November 12, 1955. The most important thing that happens in any of this is that Doc Brown uses the Public Library (in 1985) and uses the newspaper archive there to discover that Marty's father had been murdered 12 years prior, and that he (Brown) had been committed to a psychiatric hospital (questions still remain about why that was front page news). Sadly, I must also say that it appears that Brown stole the bound periodicals in order to show them to Marty (perhaps he checked them out, but generally libraries don't circulate archival newspaper), and it is clear that Marty tore the page with his father's story out of the book! Whatever good reason the Doc and Marty think they had for stealing and defacing public property, this behavior cannot be condoned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (for Banned Books Week)


I posted about the first Harry Potter book four years ago for Banned Books Week. Since then I have re-read one book each year, and posted in honor of Harry's birthday on July 31. I missed his birthday this year, but book five seems more appropriate for Banned Books Week, as it features a case of censorship.
By Order of
The High Inquisitor of Hogwarts
Any student found to be in possession of the magazine The Quibbler will be expelled.

The above is in accordance with Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven. 
Signed:
Dolores Jane Umbridge
High Inquisitor
Of course all the students then set out to read the issue of The Quibbler that contained the interview with Harry Potter.

Meanwhile Professor Umbridge was stalking the school, stopping students at random and demanding that they turn out their pockets. Harry knew she was looking for copies of The Quibbler, but the students were several steps ahead of her. The pages carrying Harry's interview had been bewitched to resemble extracts from textbooks if anyone but themselves read it, or else wiped magically blank until they wanted to peruse it again. Soon it seemed that every person in the school had read it.
In a bit of meta-censorship, Educational Decree number 26 banned teachers from "giving students any information that is not strictly related to the subjects they are paid to teach" thus preventing them from mentioning the interview.
but they found ways to express their feelings about it all the same. Professor Sprout awarded Gryffindor twenty points when Harry passed her a watering can; a beaming Professor Flitwick pressed a box of squeaking sugar mice on him at the end of Charms, said "Shh!" and hurried away; and Professor Trelawney...announced to a startled class...that Harry was not going to to suffer an early death after all, but would live to a ripe old age, become Minister of Magic, and have twelve children.
As is true with the previous four Potter books, our heroes find themselves in the library quite often doing research and finishing homework. Nasty librarian Madam Pince makes two appearances in this volume, both times being her negative self.

Harry found Ron and Hermione in the library, where they were working on Umbridge's most recent ream of homework. Other students, nearly all of them fifth years, sat at lamp-lit tables nearby, noses close to books, quills scratching feverishly...the only other sound was the slight squeaking on one of Madam Pince's shoes as the librarian prowled the aisles menacingly, breaking down the necks of those touching her precious books.
Later, when Ginny brings a chocolate Easter egg, sent by Mrs. Weasley to Harry, Madam Pince chases them out of the library "her shriveled face contorted with rage...And whipping out her wand...caused Harry's books, bag, and ink bottle to chase him and Ginny from the library, whacking them repeatedly over the head as they ran."

Most libraries have given up on the "no eating" policy. But I guess there's no telling what trouble a bewitched Fizzing Whizbee might wreak in a book of spells.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag - the movie


Hard to believe this one is over twenty years old. I must have seen it the first time around the time I got my first librarian job. There is a lot of playing with stereotypes here, with young children's librarian Betty Lou (Penelope Ann Miller) contrasted with the older more prim Margaret Armstrong (Marian Seldes). Betty Lou, however young and energetic is still rather mousy though, and draped in Laura Ashley, until she becomes a celebrity when she finds (and fires) a gun that was used in a murder. Her new prisonhouse friends give her a makeover before her day in court, and she suddenly has not only the attention of her detective husband, but the rest of her small town as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Nature of College - by James J. Farrell

Just in time for Back to School! I read this book in preparation for the fall semester during which I will be teaching a course called Sustainability 101. Students in the class will be assigned this book along with Colin Beavan's No Impact Man (which it pains me to say doesn't mention libraries at all).

Anyway, I digress. I read this in preparation for teaching the class, but it was especially thought-provoking for me to read as I sent my own daughter off to college for the first time. Farrell's book looks at the many resources a college student uses in given day. My daughter's college helpfully provided us a list of things she would need for her dorm, and in case they forgot to include anything Target had a special section of the store labeled dorm "essentials" - things such as string lights and welcome mats. I must admit that I found it easier just to load up the cart than to critique the list (or argue with my daughter). I think I ultimately talked her out of one thing. And so before she even got to college we had amassed a bounty of  "things" for her to take with her. I have honestly decided just to bury my own head in the sand rather than calculating the environmental cost of it all.

Farrell's book mentions libraries a few times, generally as part of a list of places a student might go. They are not specifically analyzed in terms of what resources they use, or help conserve, however.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Delicious! - by Ruth Reichl



A long-locked library at a food magazine (Delicious!) provides a treasure hunt for Billie Breslin, the only employee left at the publication after its shut down. Left to field calls from subscribers who are  either taking advantage of the magazine's money-back guarantee on any recipe that doesn't satisfy, or needing to find an old recipe, Billie discovers a secret room in the unused archives. The files in the hidden space contain letters written during World War II from a young girl (Lulu Swan) to legendary chef James Beard. Billie discovers that a complicated cryptography on color-coded cards in the old wooden card catalog was developed by former librarian, Bertie. The cards contain to clues as to where more letters can be found.  I was baffled by this at first - wondering why a librarian would make finding information so difficult, but all is made clear by the end of the book. Billie also does some research at the Cleveland Public Library in hopes finding out what happened to Lulu. The libraries in the book are safe, welcoming places, as they should be.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Read-A-Romance Month: Adrian's Librarian - by Hollis Shiloh


I discovered late last week that we were in the midst of Read-A-Romance Month. I don't read much in the way of romance novels, but I also try not to be too dismissive. I also like to have a variety of genres represented on my blog. With all this in mind, I set out to find a romance with a librarian in it. I found several titles through a simple google search, but as I searched on iBooks for one I could download it turned out the first one with that qualification was a gay romance. I've included a few romance titles on this blog, but up til now haven't any same-sex romances. Time to fix that.

Adrian's librarian is Oliver (Ollie) whom Adrian rescues from his evil pimp by offering him a boondoggle - organizing his personal library. The books had been perfectly ordered, but he had the rest of his staff put them in disarray in order to provide an opportunity for the handsome lad he'd met at a masquerade ball.

The "about the author" blurb at the end of the book says that "Hollis's stories tend toward the sweet rather than the spicy." That is an accurate description of this work. While there is no doubt that the two young lovers share a bed, what they do there is left mostly to the reader's imagination. One thing that is clear is that these two enjoy reading aloud to each other, a practice I find both sweet and sexy. Adrian and Ollie are both portrayed as rather vulnerable, and there is a long, frustrating build up toward their happy ending.

Read more about same sex romances here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In the Unlikely Event - by Judy Blume


Judy Blume did a lot a research in order to write this novel about real life events that took place in 1951-1952 when three planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey over a two month period. The story is of lost lives, and dashed dreams. It is also about hope and community and moving on. Fans of Judy Blume know well that she has never forgotten what it was like to be a child, or a teenager. This book demonstrates that she also has not forgotten the thrill of first love, the rush of first sexual excitement, or the devastation of first heartbreak, or what it feels like to lose a friend.

Ms. Blume thanks five librarians by name, and three different libraries in her acknowledgements. In this work she also created characters who were book lovers, and library users. Smart Daisy Dupree loves to read and to give books as gifts. She uses the library a lot, but "the bookshop is for books [she] just has to own." Former first-grade teacher Jo Foster always has a stack of library books ready to read to her two daughters at bedtime. Their babysitter Miri Ammerman, fantasizes an alternate reality in which Jo took the girls "someplace, to the library maybe..." after a plane crashes into their house and kills one of the young girls. Miri also uses the convenient "I'm going to the library" excuse when she decides to get her hair styled and cut like Elizabeth Taylor's so as not to have her mother Rusty ask a lot of questions, or forbid her from doing it. And when Miri runs into her boyfriend with an older woman on her way home from school she wishes for a "do-over" in which she would take a different route, or maybe go to the library. Writing this I realize that it seems that Miri thinks about using the library a lot, but it is unclear whether she actually ever went. She mentions a lecture her stepsister gave at the library on "channeling your past lives" during one of her book tours, but even there we are not sure if Miri attended. We do know Miri's mother used a "penny library" (presumably a subscription library?) to check out From Here to Eternity.

Blume has created sympathetic, strong characters who also have regrets and flaws. This well- researched work was hard to put down.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lullaby - by Chuck Palahniuk


This is one of the quirkiest, and darkest, satires I have ever read. It is the story of realtor Helen Hoover Boyle, and journalist Carl Streator. They share the tragic bond of having lost their only children to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Each has also discovered that they had read the same lullaby to their children the night before they were discovered dead. The song is found on page 27 of a book called Poems and Rhymes from Around the World. This particular lullaby is called a "culling song" and is sung to create a painless death for the sick and weak. Both Boyle and Streator have also made the connection between this book and dozens of other cases of SIDS. Concerned, as book banners so often are, that the book might fall into the wrong hands, the two go on a cross-country quest to find all copies of the book in libraries and used bookstores and remove page 27. The pair worry that others might make the connection and that a plague of words could result. What is particularly ironic is that Streator finds that he himself cannot control his urges with regards to the poem. Whenever confronted with the slightest annoyance from another human being the song plays in his head and the person falls down dead.

The commentary on the "danger" of information and its dissemination is not subtle. Carl Streator imagines a dystopian world in which the culling song has leaked out and variations created

The kind of security they have now at airports, imagine that kind of crackdown at all libraries, schools, theaters, bookstores...Anywhere information might be disseminated, you'll find armed guards.
The airwaves will be as empty as a public swimming pool during a polio scare. After that only a few government broadcasts will air, Only well-scrubbed news and music. After that, any music, books, and movies will be tested on lab animals or volunteer convicts before release to the public. 

He imagines everyone with earphones to block out any "unsafe" songs, and government approval of all information.

At least one librarian falls victim to the culling song - for refusing to "break the rules" and tell Helen and Carl who has checked out Poems and Rhymes from Around the World. We don't know much about this hero, except that he refused a bribe in order to protect the privacy of his patron.  It is too bad he had to pay with his life. Probably it's best in such circumstances to call in someone whose pay grade is more in line with taking such risks.

There are a lot of bizarre twists in this one, and a variety of unsavory characters, including a smarmy necrophiliac. Some might see this a just a rather sick story, but this librarian found it to be rather thought-provoking. When and where do we draw the line between censorship and protection? Who get's to make the decision?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Inkheart - by Cornelia Funke


In the spirit of Libriomancer and The Neverending Story the characters in this work blur the lines between fantasy and reality. And like The Seven Minutes  this is a novel about a fictitious novel with the same title.

Young Meggie, and her father Mo both have the ability to read people (and other creatures) out of books. This is hardly a gift, as it is difficult for them to control, and results in the introduction of some unsavory characters into their own world. Additionally, each being who is read into their world necessitates an exchange of one of their own (the reason Meggie does not remember her mother, who disappeared when she was young). When Dustfinger, a character who appeared on the scene at the time that Meggie's mother vanished, shows up at Mo and Meggie's house after many years Mo realizes they are in danger and attempts to hide out with a relative (Elinor, the aunt of his missing wife). Mo, Meggie, Elinor, Dustfinger and his marten (Gwin) are ultimately captured by the evil Capricorn (a.k.a. "Inkheart") and must use their cunning and exceptional reading abilities to escape.

Mo is a book mender which makes for a fair number of references to libraries as he talks about his work. Elinor is a bibliophile, and there are countless mentions of her personal library throughout. Libraries and bookstores are also the places that Capricorn sought out all remaining copies of Inkheart so that he could be assured that he had the only copy in existence, thus preventing himself from having to return to his own world.

Truly escape reading. I found this on a list of 19 Books to Read if You Loved the Harry Potter Series.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Little Free Library Book - by Margret Aldrich


Although the idea of  the "take a book, leave a book" shelf has been around for a while in coffee shops, resorts, and other places (my own library has one for example) the Little Free Library Movement (LFL) is relatively new (2009). This network of boxes with free books set up in front yards, parks, and other public spaces has become a worldwide phenomenon and has helped to bring together neighbors, provided reading materials to impoverished areas, and given countless crafters and woodworkers an outlet for their talents. The Little Free Library Book tells the history of the movement, and includes many stories of individual LFLs with interviews of their stewards. Color photographs of the myriad LFL designs (which includes those designed to look like houses, churches, movie theaters, cars, and even a tardis enhance the enjoyment of reading about how they were built. Each LFL steward has his or her own reasons for starting and/or maintaining the library. All of the stories told in this book were inspiring.

I was especially interested to read the story of Texas' first LFL which was also the first one to be located inside of a school. Bilingual librarian (my favorite kind of librarian) Lisa Lopez started the LFL at the Zavala Elementary School in El Paso ("rated one of the most illiterate cities in the nation"). Lopez was determined to get books into the citizen's hands and to date her efforts have led to the establishment of over fifty LFLs in the city. She has gotten students at her own school excited about reading, and sharing books by decorating and maintaining Zavala Elementary School's own Little Free Library.

Stories about communities coming together to save their LFL were also part of this work. One story that went viral among the library set last year was that of nine-year-old Spencer Collins of Leawood, Kansas whose LFL was ordered taken down when it was determined that the freestanding structure violated the city code. Booing and hissing of the Leawood City Council was fast and furious, and the decision was ultimately overturned.

I was especially interested to read the story of Joceyln and Glenn Hale (Minneapolis, Minnesota) who learned to embrace all types of literature for their LFL. They originally saw their project as a way to share classic literature, but since users are invited to "leave a book" as well as "take a book" and the offerings soon included "bodice-ripping romances, marriage and fad diet advice, and dogmatic religious books". Their first response was to cull the books that did not meet their standards but they soon realized that what they were doing was banning books. Their LFL is now a place where all types of books are shared and enjoyed.

Truly an inspirational read that has me thinking about starting my own Little Free Library. I checked the LFL map and discovered a dearth of LFLs in my neck of the woods.

I did find an LFL in Marion, Massachusetts last fall (which appears to be gone now). Find out which book I selected from it here.

Lagniappe:
Sure to put a smile on my face is reading about another book I've already blogged about. In this case Aldrich refers to Laura Damon-Moore's book The Artist's Library: A Field Guide which I reviewed here earlier this year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BiblioTech : Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google - by John Palfrey



Last week I attended the Rhode Island Library Association (RILA) Conference in Newport. I was fortunate to be able to hear Scott Bonner (the funny and humble director of the Ferguson, Missouri Public Library) talk about how he was able to continue to serve his community during last August's crisis in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. More recently, a similar situation in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland (where Freddy Gray died while in police custody) lead librarian Melanie Townsend Diggs to the decision to keep the Enoch Pratt Free library open even while violence erupted nearby. These examples of library as a safe community space (read more about them in American Libraries magazine) are only part of the reason that libraries still matter.

Providing computers and wifi to those who do not have home access, or are away from home is certainly another important reason why libraries still matter, but it is not just the digital access that is necessary, it is also the access to librarians who can help people navigate the internet or assist a student with completing her assignment. Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg's reasearch for Project Information Literacy demonstrates that students who consult with librarians when conducting school research are more likely to use research databases than Google for future research needs. A finding that has been confirmed by my own research. Palfrey also points out that while many coffee shops and restaurants may also offer free wifi, there are no librarians around to help patrons with their research. Furthermore, it is "simply not true that you can find everything you need through a Google search."

The idea of public libraries belonging to the people, rather than corporations, is another essential aspect. Author Dennis Gaffney is quoted in Palfrey's book
I love libraries because their names have not yet been appropriated like those of sports arenas by the the likes of Pepsi, Fleet Bank, or National Car Rental. The notion that anyone would name a community library the Tropicana Branch sounds absurd, and it should, because we own our libraries.
Palfrey goes on to explain that this means that "we are free to pursue our own interests and ideas, without fear of reprisal or economic consequence."

New information is exploding at a rate that could not have been imagined even 25 years ago. "Each day we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. As a result, 90 percent of the data in the world were created in that last two years." Enter libraries and librarians who are helping to organize and manage the information, and helping people to locate what they need among the plethora of digital and print sources. Digital Public Library of America is one starting place where digital collections are being created and curated. Record preservation and record sharing is still within the purview of libraries, museums, and archivists, all of which employ people specifically trained to do so.

In his chapter on school libraries "the most common type of library in the United States" Palfrey points out that they
support all children as they learn to make sense of today's new information landscape, not just those who can afford to download any book they like onlo their Amazon Kindle. Digital savvy should not be limited to those who can pay for it, and school libraries play an essential equalizing role in this respect. 
This is true even as we continue to see stories about school libraries, and librarians being among the first to go when budgets need to be cut.

Issues of privacy are treated in the chapter "Law: Why Copyright and Privacy Matter so Much". Librarians have questioned and fought the Patriot Act, ever since it first went  into effect within weeks of the 9/11 attacks.
Librarians worry, with some reason, about what protections readers will have when the police come calling for information about books they have checked out. Librarians have long fought encroachments on civil liberties of this sort. The debate over the USA Patriot Act was a major cause célèbre for librarians, for instance. The notion that a reader's interest in a book about Islam might tip an investigation toward a particular suspect sent chills down the collective spines of librarians.
Interestingly, at the aforementioned RILA conference I attended a program on patron privacy with respect to third party vendors, and discovered that while librarians may respect patron record privacy our vendors do not necessarily share our views.

As one might imagine I marked a lot of passages in this work while I was reading it. I did not blog about everything that interested me here. Some of what interested me, but which is not included here, can be found in this video of the author speaking at the Kansas City Public Library.





Libraries do still matter - both in digital and physical space. They should remain free of charge, as well they should remain spaces for free expression.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Skink No Surrender - by Carl Hiaasen


My husband and I have been Hiassen fans since the early 1990s. When Hiaasen started writing Young Adult books (Hoot 2002) we also made our daughter into a fan. All of his works feature an environmental theme with bad guys always getting some sort of poetic justice in the end. Skink No Surrender is no exception. For the uninitiated Skink is a character among characters  - a former Florida governor and Vietnam veteran turned hermit and über-environmentalist. He has recurring role in several of Hiaasen's works, and was first introduced in one of his early novels. Skink is afraid of nothing and possesses almost super human strength. In this story he helps young Richard Sloane rescue his kidnapped cousin, Malley. The video below features Hiaasen talking more about the book.



Of course, the work would not be included on this blog were it not for the fact that there is also a library mentioned in it. There is only one reference, but that's all it takes to make the cut. When young Richard explains to Skink that his cousin has run off with someone she met online in a chat room, Skink, not being at all familiar with social media (he barely understands computers) asks "This 'chat room' - is it like a library?"

Skink does likes books and loans his own copy of Silent Spring to Richard.

Hiassen fans will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Silent Spring - by Rachel Carson

If I believed in reincarnation, I would have good reason to think that I was Rachel Carson in a previous life. She died about six weeks before I was born which was, in fact, on the anniversary of her birth. Both of our births are celebrated today. I recently also learned that her iconic work, Silent Spring was originally published on the same day that my sister was born in 1962. Furthermore, Carson has ties both to my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland (where she studied at Johns Hopkins University and wrote about natural history and the Chesapeake Bay for the Baltimore Sun) and also to my adopted home state of Massachusetts where she worked at the Woods Hole Biological Laboratory. 

Carson wrote for the general public, not for the scientific community. My limited scientific education did not deter me from being able to access and discuss this work, and defend it to skeptics. Anyone who wants to know more about the consequences of the overuse of pesticides will find this work accessible.

When I was once asked to read from a book that changed my life I chose the Introduction to this work - "A Fable for tomorrow" - which describes a future in which there are no birds or insects. A future in which the landscape has been decimated by the use of insecticides. This book was integral to the banning of DDT and launched the modern environmental movement.

I know from my own research about Carson that this work was meticulously researched, and that she made good use of libraries while writing it. She names two librarians in particular in her Acknowlegements.

"Every writer of a book based on many diverse facts owes much to the skill and helpfulness of librarians. I owe such a debt to many, but especially Ida K. Johnston of the Department of the Interior Library and to Thelma Robinson of the Library of the National Institutes of Health".

Happy Birthday, Rachel!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's - by Truman Capote


My husband, James, shares a birthday with Audrey Hepburn, and so we watched the movie based on this book earlier this month, about which James then wrote his own blog post. It was probably the third time we'd seen the film, but I had never read the book. The movie has a great library scene in which writer Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard) takes an uninitiated Holly Golightly (Hepburn) into the New York Public Library and shows her how to request a book. He requests a book from the closed stacks that he, himself authored, and then proceeds to inscribe it, much to the horror of the very stereotypical librarian on duty. What's more important though, is that after this first foray into the library Miss Golightly makes her way back there in order to do some research on South America. In the book Varjak is not so much an accomplished writer, and so has no published book to autograph at the NYPL. Furthermore, Golightly needs no initial guidance in the use of the library in order to find out what she needs. Varjak does, however, allow as how he did not immediately recognize the "girl who ran up the steps of the Forth-second Street public library...for Holly and libraries were not an easy association."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Yes Please - by Amy Poehler (the audiobook)


About a month after Christmas was over I found a copy of Poehler's audiobook "hidden" in a drawer in my living room. I asked my husband if he had put it there, and his response was "I wondered what I did with that." It was apparently intended to go in my stocking, but my absent-minded professor sometimes can't keep track of what he does with things. No matter, he and I listened to this together in the car mostly during trips back and forth to our daughter's boarding school (about 30 miles from our home). We wrapped it up yesterday while enjoying a ride on a beautiful spring day in our new-to-us car with the sunroof open.

This is a funny, and empowering book. Poehler tells of growing up in a Boston suburb; her college years; paying her dues working as a waitress while honing her comedic skills; her time on Saturday Night Live, and Parks & Recreation; and her insights into parenting. And, as if all this weren't enough to recommend it, in the final chapter (which Poehler recorded live at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater) the author explains a benefit to NOT having information at your fingertips (via cell phones) at all times. Back in the day when you had to go to the LIBRARY to do research, disturbing images would be part of a book or magazine and included "text" and more importantly "context". As an example she relates looking up the Boston Marathon bombing on her cell phone, and the first thing she saw was a photograph of a man who had had his legs blown off. She contrasts this with the image of the naked girl running from the napalm bombs in Vietnam in 1972 which at the time, one would have seen in print, as part of a news story.

This is the first audiobook I've written about in the four years that I've kept this blog. Well done, Amy.

Lagniappe:
There is plenty of librarian fun in Poehler's television series Parks & Recreation. Although she plays an evil librarian Megan Mullally as Tammy Swanson is so funny she is hard to hate.

Lagniappe 2:
Poehler's Facebook page Smart Girls is well worth "liking".

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Notes From a Big Country - by Bill Bryson


This collection of essays was originally published as a series of columns about the United States for the U.K. publication the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine in the late 1990s. Although some references are a bit dated now (e.g. floppy disks, woes of land-line telephones) the anecdotes were still laugh-out-loud funny. My husband and I read these together over the course of the long winter. The right-on-target observations about life in the USA in Bryson's inimitable style were the perfect antidote to the winter doldrums we experienced in New England this year. As a bonus, Bryson mentioned libraries in six of his essays

In "Well, Doctor, I was Just Trying to Lie Down" Bryson begins with some information from one of my all-time favorite reference books The Statistical Abstract of the United States. His discussion of the number of people injured (400,000) by beds, mattresses, and pillows segues into what he learned from the Abstract 's"Table No. 206: Injuries Associated with Consumer Products" which he specifically says he found in his local library while "looking up something else altogether". This is what is so great about the print version of the Abstract. It is an absolutely fabulous browsing book. Before there was FaceBook to waste time on, there was the Statistical Abstract.

Explaining American's penchant for rules in "Rule Number 1: Follow All Rules" he describes his frustration in the constant changing of rules without warning. The first time he found out about airline rules regarding showing a picture ID before boarding (and this was pre 9/11) he was at an airport checking in for a flight. He discovers that he has "all kinds of identification - a library card, credit card, Social Security card [remember when we used to carry those around with us?], health insurance card, airline ticket" all had his name, but none had his picture. He illustrates his priorities so well - here - 120 miles away from home, he did not bring a driver's license, but he did carry his library card.

American's love affair with cars is treated in "Why No One Walks". Like me, Bryson chose to live in a place "within walking distance of shops." He describes Hanover, New Hampshire as a "typical New England college town, pleasant, sedate, and compact. It has a broad green, an old-fashioned Main Street, nice college buildings with big lawns, and leafy residential streets. It is, in short, an agreeable place to stroll. Nearly everyone in town is within a level five-minute walk of the shops" yet, he explains, no one walks, except him. He walks "nearly every day...to the post office or the library or the local bookshop". Bryson and I are rare breeds here in the United States. Driving is something I know how to do, but will avoid whenever possible.

On informality in America (in "Help for the Nondesignated Individual") Bryson extols the wonders of living near the campus of Dartmouth College
one of the Ivy League colleges, like Harvard and Yale - but you would never guess it.
None of its grounds are off limits...Indeed much of it is open to the community. We can use the library attend its concerts, go to its commencement exercises if we want.
This, of course is how it should be. Living and working in a college town myself I know how contentious town/gown relations can be. Opening events, and the library, up to the local community is not only a good PR move, it is the right thing to do. One of the first papers I wrote in library school was on community use of academic libraries. I think any college or university, public or private, has an obligation to allow at least some use of its library facilities to the local community.  I am glad to say that the university library in which I work allows free borrowing privileges to anyone who lives in town.

There is little that gets my geographer husband and I more excited than reading something that entwines his passion for places and mine for books and libraries together. So you can only imagine the magical evening we had after reading "Where Scotland is and other Useful Tips" in which Bryson tells of going to the library in order to "look at the travel section." There he found "four books exclusively on Britain, plus another eight or so on Europe generally, with chapters on Britain". Ultimately he discovers that "what Americans know about Britain is pretty much nearly nothing..."

And, finally, in "The Fat of the Land" Bryson describes his misadventures in dieting and a trip to the library to find a book with a better diet than the bran and water diet one his wife invented for him. He settles on a work titled Don't Diet which he reads in "that reading area that libraries set aside for people who are strange and have nowhere else to go in the afternoons but none the less are not quite ready to be institutionalized..."

While there are no other libraries to write about, my reference librarian self would be remiss if I did not correct the mistake Bryson makes in his essay about our shared favorite holiday - Thanksgiving - in "The Best American Holiday." He provides some history of the pilgrims, and when President Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863 to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November, however; Bryson then goes on to say that "there it has stayed ever since." This is not quite true, in 1939 President Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday of the month. While the fourth Thursday is often the last one, in years in which there are five Thursdays in the month Thanksgiving remains on the fourth. This ensures that there are always at least four full (shopping) weekends before Christmas.

While probably not what most would suggest for date night, I highly recommend reading this with a romantic partner. Laughing together is a wonderful aphrodisiac. My husband was happy to see that I found another of Bryson's books (A Short History of Nearly Everything) for us to read together. If there are any libraries in that one you will no doubt find out about it here. For more Bryson fun, I also recommend A Walk in the Woods

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

If I Stay - By Gayle Forman


An interesting premise for a book - much of the action in this young adult novel is the out-of-body experience of Mia, a young musician who, along with her parents and younger brother, is a victim of a devastating car accident. Out-of-Body Mia watches and listens as her relatives, friends, and boyfriend visit comatose Mia. She hears a nurse tell her grandparents that she (Mia) is in charge of everything that is happening, and Mia then understands that she must decide whether to live or die. The story alternates between what is going on in the hospital's ICU, and memories of Mia's life before the accident. It is a good book which almost didn't made the cut for this blog; however, one library metaphor in which Mia describes the hospital chapel as "hushed...a library kind of quiet" is all that is needed for its inclusion here. It was then just icing on the cake when we learn that cousin Heather "has decided she wants to become a librarian". This by way of Mia's grandmother who "twitters on for...five minutes, filling [Mia] in on mundane news" along with tidbits of information on gardening and cooking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Clara and the Bookwagon - by Nancy Smiler Levinson (In honor of National Bookmobile Day)


This easy-to-read book for children is based on the story of the first bookmobile, a horse-drawn wagon that served rural Maryland (my home state) at the turn of the 20th century.

Young Clara very much wants to learn to read, but her parents tell her they have no money for books, and are too busy running the farm to read in any case. When the bookwagon comes to her farm she and the librarian convince her parents that learning to read with the books she can borrow free of charge, will not only add to the quality of her life, but may also help her learn new things that will benefit the farm.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Midnight Library - by Kazuno Kohara (In Honor of National Library Worker's Day)



Number One on this list of Twelve Children's Picture Books with Non-Princess Female Protagonists is this empowering, and sweet, tale about a little librarian who runs a nighttime library for animals with the help of three owl assistants. She clearly has book knowledge as she helps Miss Wolf find a book that is not too sad, and also provides community space for a band of squirrels to practice their music, and finally assists a tortoise with getting his first library card and checking out a book. I was glad to find it on the shelf of the library in which I work. Definitely a "feel good" book for librarians of all ages.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Evil Librarian - by Michelle Knudson (In Honor of National Library Week)



I could hardly pass up reading this book when I saw a review for it recently. I found it shelved in the very library where I work, so I was able to check it out and start reading as soon as I knew about it. It was fun reading and I loved it when people asked me what I was reading, so I could show them the cover, and tell them I was reading a book about myself.  It always got a laugh. The book is a fun read, aimed at young adult readers. The story is of a demon high school librarian, Mr. Gabriel, and the student Cynthia (Cyn) who is his undoing. When Cyn discovers that Mr. Gabriel plans to take her best friend Annie into the demon realm and make her his bride she schemes with the handsome Ryan (star of the school musical) and Ms. Kràlovna - Mr. Gabriel's rival demon - to bring him down.

Mr. Gabriel may be evil, but he does bust a few stereotypes. He is charming and good-looking, and nothing like the school's "old" librarian
[w]ho was a perfectly nice-seeming middle-aged woman who could help you find whatever you needed for your paper of project or weekend reading but not someone who inspired breathless words or flushed faces or shining eyes
a young man who can charge the usually "still and slightly dusty" air of the library with a "strange energy".

There was an element of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this one, with the twist of course that the librarian was the demon, rather than the demon fighter. Cyn, like Buffy, comes through as a heroine and, after a trip to the underworld, discovers that she doesn't have to passively wait for the boy she likes to make a move, a strong young woman makes the moves herself.

The author gives a shout out to librarians in her acknowledgements, and recognizes that they are not at all evil!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Emily's Runaway Imagination - by Beverly Cleary (In Honor of National Library Week)


I don't think I've read any of Beverly Cleary's books since my daughter (now seventeen) was in elementary school. I remember how much I loved that she loved the stories of spunky Ramona Quimby. Cleary's characters always seemed to be just the right mix of lovable, believable, and vulnerable yet strong. All of these adjectives describe young Emily, growing up in 1920s Oregon. During a time and a place in which a ride in a motorcar, or even eating one banana, could be a special treat, having a library in town was something that needed to be imagined before it could actually happen. Emily is jealous of her city cousin Muriel who goes to the library every week and gets books like Black Beauty to read, for free! Emily so wants to read Black Beauty, too, but Pitchfork, Oregon has no library. Emily tells her mother how much she would like to have a library in town, which prompts her mother to write a letter to the State Library in Salem to ask how to start a library. Emily is proud to be the person who stamps the letter and to take it to be posted. And she is thrilled to discover that the State Library answered the letter with a crate containing 75 books! Emily's mother becomes the town librarian and makes plans to get monetary and book donations to help the library grow.

There is so much to love about this book. I think what I like best is that Emily understands that she is an important person in her town of Pitchfork, Oregon. After all not only is her Uncle the mayor, her mother is the librarian! Emily demonstrates her love for the library in many ways: she donates the dollar of prize money she wins to purchase the book Black Beauty for the town (and, of course) is the first one to read it. She is so proud to see her name in the bookplate as the person who bought it for the town; she helps plan and attends fundraisers for the library, even if it means wearing itchy, fancy clothes; and she makes a valentine for her neighbor, Mr. Quock, when she discovers that he is going back to China and donating his house to the town to use as the library.

Published in 1961, Cleary was writing about a time that even the young baby boomer readers of the day could only have imagined themselves. However, one of the wonderful things about her stories is that they remain so relevant across time. Compare this passage
...in a year when people had no money for the picture show or for gasoline to go riding around in their automobiles they came to the library. During that hard winter there often were not enough books to go around. The state library sent three crates at a time instead of one...Mama checked books in and checked them right out again...
to this one from Forbes magazine (June 19, 2014) from the article "The End of the Story? Why Libraries Still Matter"
The public library in Kinnelon, New Jersey, is a good example of a library that is successfully transforming itself into a “tech hub” by offering free access to computers, the Internet, software, technology training, e-books and online downloads to all community members. After the recent recession, those resources played a crucial role in helping out-of-work and underemployed adults adapt to the challenging economic environment by providing computer classes, job fairs and mobile-device workshops. The library also boosted its offering of family-oriented programs, such as story-time programs, book clubs and free movie nights.
While the services have changed, the importance of the library, especially during hard times is clear. It is also important to note that library services do change. It is why libraries stay relevant even while the nay-sayers believe we can do without them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard - by Laura Bates


Last week my Facebook feed included a post from a fellow librarian about the Big Library Read - a global book club. Through the Big Library Read e-books are made available for two weeks, with no limit on the number of people who could check them out. I downloaded my copy and joined in.

Dr. Bates' memoir of her time teaching Shakespeare in the SHU (Secured Housing Unit), of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana details her relationship with inmate Larry Newman, who was sent to prison for life as a teenager. Mr. Newman not only excels as a student providing unique insights into Shakespeare's plays, he writes workbooks for other college students to use in order to help them understand the works better themselves.

It is interesting to note that a book that is essentially about reading hardly mentions libraries at all, although I expect the prisoners Bates worked with had no access to one. And the professor only includes one childhood memory of using the library herself
Our final reading assignment was The Tragedy of Macbeth. It's been a special piece of literature for me ever since I first read it at the age of ten. Well, I can't really say that I "read" it at that age, but I did check it out of my elementary school library. And I can still recall the thrill of poring over its archaic words that I knew meant something significant, that I hoped would someday mean something to me. By the time I reached high school, I was able to begin to make meaning out of the language. But it wasn't until I started teaching these plays, in prison, that their meaning would come through: beautifully crafted works of literature written hundreds of years ago that can connect with us here and now. 
I've always felt strongly that children should be able to select their own reading material from libraries. While they may pick something out that is beyond their reading or comprehension abilities, it probably won't matter. They will likely decide to put it aside, but that too is their own empowered choice. The book may serve, as young Laura Bates discovered, as a challenge, that she returned to again, and again. She could never have imagined how it would change her life.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A few days after I posted this, I discovered this blog post on the importance of prison libraries. It is well worth the read.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars - by Marjory Heins


Published in 1993, this book is as much a snapshot of the culture wars of the late '80s and early '90s as it is a history of censorship. Heins looks not only at book censorship in schools and libraries but also at the history of the movie rating system, and the Parental Advisory labels on record albums. Questions about what constitutes pornography, and where to draw the line on obscenity are raised. The author also explores censorship in the arts and explains how artists and writers self censor in order to get funding, or, in the case of film, a particular rating. Heins likened government arts funding to "a public library, museum, or municipal theater. These institutions receive tax money for the arts, but it's not expected that every taxpayer will enjoy or appreciate every resulting book or painting or poem or performance".

I was in Library School in the early 1990s. Reading this reminded me about the class discussions we were having at the time. Labeling of materials was something we debated in class, as well we talked about what constituted censorship, as opposed to simply just good (or bad) collection development policy. In discussions about what can be considered "harmful to minors" some of my classmates who were already working in libraries told of parents who wanted to remove all materials that referenced the occult - these might include stories about "Georgie the Ghost". These same issues were brought up in Heins' work
School boards throughout the country have responded to pressures, usually from small groups of fundamentalist parents, to remove works not only because of profane language, but because their subject is unacceptable to someone's idea of religious orthodoxy. Books about the "occult" from simple collections of Halloween tricks to studies of cultural traditions like voodoo, have been purged from school library shelves. Said one Arizona parent who protested a book of Halloween stories, 'Children are drawn in to want more. Before you know it, your adolescent is caught up in Satanism.'
Especially chilling were these words from a Florida school superintendent who argued for "removal of hundreds of books from school classrooms. 'Reading', he explained, 'is where you get ideas from.'

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Boston Girl - by Anita Diamant


Perhaps the only thing better than a good, empowering piece of feminist literature is a good, empowering piece of feminist literature that is also library positive. 

This novel is narrated by 85-year old Addie Baum who is relating the story of her early life in a Boston tenement during the early part of the twentieth century to her college-aged granddaughter, Ava. She tells stories of women who revel in each other's triumphs, and lend a hand in times of crisis. They know there is more to life for them than only being a wife and mother, even as they recognize that these are important and fulfilling parts of their identifies as well as their careers as lawyers, teachers, librarians, newspaper reporters, and social workers.

As a teenager Addie discovered the joy of learning, and went to the library everyday after school. In high school she joined a reading club, and it was there, she tells her granddaughter, that she "started to be [her] own person". Addie has librarian Miss Edith Chevalier as a mentor who recognizes Addie's potential. She encourages her to explore and suggests that she spend a week at Rockport Lodge where she can learn about art and literature with some of the other girls from the book club. When Miss Chevalier learns that Addie cannot afford even the modest amount of money needed to go, she provides her with a job as her assistant. Addie reads the newspaper daily, and truly loves selecting her own reading material. 

Addie also tells of how her father used the synagogue library to study with other other Jewish scholars, and to "teach boys to get ready for their bar mitzvahs". And finally she tells of how her husband, Aaron (Ava's grandfather), loved taking his daughters to the  library when they were young
As soon as our girls could sit up, he was wheeling them to the library and taking out books to read them bedtime stories...Aaron was heartbroken when Auntie Sylvia and your mom were old enough to read on their own and "fired" him.
The library is truly seen as "the people's university" in this work - a place where one can go to learn, grow, and take pride.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Strange Library - by Haruki Murakami


I had read a few reviews of this, and was quite looking forward to reading it, expecting to perhaps read a paranormal version of something like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. There was a library escape, and it definitely was other worldly, but this was not the fun-ride that Lemoncello's Library was. Rather it is a dark story about a boy who goes to his public library and finds himself imprisoned by a brain-eating librarian, and a "sheep man".

I actually got a little excited when the boy first entered the library and said he was looking for some books, and was sent to room 107 because, in fact, room 107 is also the number of my own office in the library. And, like the librarian in the book if someone came to my office needing help finding books, and then backed off saying that they'd come back another time because they thought maybe I was too busy to help them  I would likewise answer "This is my profession - I am never too busy! Tell me the the manner of books that you seek and I will strive to locate their whereabouts." (I'd say something like that, anyway). The similarities stop there, however, as I would most certainly not lead them through a maze and up a dark staircase and lock them away while their mother waited at home.

While this book is library-centric, it is hardly library positive. It definitely did not have the resolution I was looking for. It is a quick read with a lot of good illustrations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2016: A Novel of America and the World - by Marjory Maxwell Donn


I found this work while I was sorting my late father's things. It was inscribed by the author, with thanks for the help my father had provided. His name also appeared on the acknowledgments page which indicated that he and the author had been members of the same writer's group. All of this, in addition to the fact that the author's (middle) name is the same as the name of the library in which I work caused me to immediately move this to the top of my reading list.

This book was published in 2008, so the future Donn envisioned was not far away, even when she wrote it. Although some of what is written is grim, it is not a dystopian novel, and ends on a hopeful note, even as we see that there is still plenty of work still to be done (with regards to climate change, Middle-East Peace, a safe and sustainable food supply, and political corruption). The story follows an international cast of characters from Greece, to South Africa, to Israel, and to the United States. Each is confronting both political and personal crises and their lives intersect in a number of ways. There are twelve chapters, each covering one month of the year, and each with its own Discussion Guide so that book groups can read and discuss the book in smaller chunks.

There are several places where the libraries play a role in this work. One young Palestinian, Ahmad, uses his university library to get away from the noise of his overpopulated home. He also briefly considers using the university library as a safe place to hide from some of his denizens who have attacked him and chased him into Israeli territory. His subsequent arrest prevents him from following through on the plan, however.

Ahmad is not the only character who finds himself in prison. Ahmad is released thanks to the help of his American-Jewish friend Monty Greenberg. Monty then finds himself in the federal penitentiary for airing some opinions in his monthly business column that are unpopular with the government. He finds solace in keeping a journal, and also visiting the prison library where he researches Eastern philosophies.

Esther Perlman, wife of Rabbi Avrim, is a minor character in the book. We don't know much about her outside of her family life, except for the very important fact that she is a librarian. It is evident that this is meaningful work both for her, and her husband. When Avrim loses his job and needs to look for a new congregation. He accepts "the offer of a congregation in Haifa, a big enough city that Esther was sure she could find a library job."

Bonus!
I usually don't read discussion guides, but I made an exception in this case, and was delighted to see that the author gives props to librarians under her "General Suggestions" heading
We [Donn had a partner for writing the discussion guide] have provided Web addresses for more information on the issues raised, and, in some cases, have listed books as well. Discussion leaders who do not have personal computers can look up information on the Web at their local library. Librarians have the training to help people find information, whether through books or on the Web.
Additional Bonus!
While this was not the first book I read written by a fellow Unitarian Universalist (UU) (see my post for Walden), I do believe it may be the first with a UU character. While there are many characters in the book, the action is centralized around one: Martha Greenberg (wife of Monty) who we learn at the end is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Muslim, but rather "...something like Unitary Universe?" Indeed, the Greenbergs are UUs who gives thanks before meals in much the same way my family does by thinking
about all the people who worked so that we could have this great dinner...especially the farm workers who planted the potatoes and then dug them out of the ground, the truck drivers who carried them and the people in our stores who sold them to us.


So happy to have had a chance to read this.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Artist's Library : A Field Guide - by Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer


I found this book through a stroke of serendipity. I was talking to my husband's "Secret Life of Coffee" class (do you love that name? I thought of it!) about doing research on coffee-related themes (using the handy MaxGuide http://maxguides.bridgew.edu/coffee I created for just such work) and was explaining the difference between a subject search and a keyword search using the word "coffee". I demonstrated that the subject search would be more targeted, and that a keyword search would be broader, so that while one might find some useful books than just those a subject search would turn up, it will also necessarily produce some "false hits" including books by people with the name "Coffee", and others published by Coffee House Press. At which point the record for The Artist's Library which had only recently been added to our catalog appeared. I explained to the students that while it looked like a fabulous book (and that I was most certainly going to read it myself) it probably wouldn't have a lot of information for their research on coffee. After finishing my lesson, I returned straight to my library and checked out the book.

This work looks at the library as creative space - an "incubator" of ideas. Ideas that can be inspired by the architecture of the library, things and people we see in the library, as well as things we learn through reading. The authors provide suggestions for artists from the simple (using computers provided by the library to do creative work - a long standing tradition dating back to the time of typewriters used by writers including Ray Bradbury and Betty Friedan) to more unconventional strategies (browsing the stacks and selecting books based only the color of the cover, talking to strangers) as well as checking out the events calendar for new things to try, and collaborating with librarians to create programming, or art displays. Both the university library in which I work, and the public library for which I am a trustee provide spaces for artists to display work. The public library showcases local artists, as well as artwork created by art students (by which my own daughter has been provided a venue to showcase her work).

The authors define artist broadly as
a person who learns and uses creative tools and techniques to make new things...a professional musician, or a kid learning how to use sound-editing software in a library's digital lab...a world-renowned author, or a senior citizen taking part in a memoir-writing workshop...
With this definition I certainly find myself as part of a meta-project. This blog being my creative outlet which was inspired by the library.

I got a laugh when I read dancer/librarian ChristiWeindorf's self description of as a "bunhead". She was referring NOT to her librarian self, but rather her ballerina self.

Find out more at the Library as Incubator Project 

Lagniappe:
This video about creating art from old books has recently been making the rounds on the "library land" newsfeeds.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Television Series) - Seasons 1-7



Thanks to Netflix I was able to watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a period of about 3 months. I had heard of the show before, but had not seen it. I had watched the movie of the same name when it first came out in 1992, and frankly didn't like it. Since it has been my experience that television shows based on movies are far worse than the films, I could only guess that I wouldn't like this program much. Its television premier in 1997 also coincided with an 1100-mile interstate move, and my becoming a parent, so adding a television show to my life would have just been too much change. I had been told that I might like the show for its feminist message, and because it had a kick-ass librarian in it, but still, I never got involved. I'm not sure what made me decide late last year to give it a try, but once I started I was completely hooked. Of course, for me Rupert Giles (Anthony Steward Head) Buffy's "Watcher" (undercover as a mild-mannered librarian) was the best part of the show. Giles didn't just pretend to be a librarian, he cultivated good research skills in Buffy and her band of "Scoobies" so that they could most effectively fight their demons. And although Giles was the high school librarian only for seasons 1-3 his determination for instilling good research skills and a love of life-long learning are evident throughout all seven seasons. 

I talked to my sister, a long-time fan of the show,  just as I was starting to watch season 5 and told her that my favorite episode up to that point was "Band Candy" from season 3 and I asked her if anything was coming up that might trump it. She told me to just wait until I got to season six, which was full of surprises. While I concur that that season certainly had a stellar line up of plot lines, plus fun musical numbers, it was seriously lacking in Giles time. And now, after watching all episodes I remain steadfast in my favorite pick. The thing about "Band Candy" is that we see Giles as he was as a teenager - a James Dean-esque bad boy who smoked, and looted, and had sex on the hood of a car. It turned the usual librarian stereotype on its head. So often in pop-culture we see a stuck-up librarian as someone who simply needs to lighten up and let their hair down, but when we are shown Giles as a young person we see the "hair down" persona who then became a straight-laced librarian, and can see that it's okay, good even. And, in this case, the bad boy still comes out when needed to kick vampire butt. Giles is smart, strong, and sexy.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Secret Daughter - Shilpi Somaya Gowda




My sister gave me this novel when I asked her for something I could read on the plane ride home from my recent visit with her. It is the story of three women: Asha, a young woman who was adopted from India and brought to the United States as a baby; Somer, Asha's adoptive mother; and Kavita, Asha's birth mother. The three stories are woven together as Asha goes on a voyage of self-discovery. Ultimately there is resolution and redemption for all.

The Lane Library at Stanford University's School of Medicine is important to Somer as the place where she met her future husband. Serious students, they both spent more time there than their fellow medical school students
It was almost a decade ago, under the dull yellow lights of Lane Library at Stanford's School of Medicine, that they first noticed each other. They were there night after night, and not just on the weeknights when the rest of the class studied, but on Friday nights, instead of going out to dinner, and on weekends, when the others went hiking. There were only a dozen of them, the Lane regulars: the most studious ones, the hardest workers.  
There is no doubt in this librarian's mind that Somer's heavy use of the library was a direct result of the fact that her mother worked in a library, although Somer "has never understood how her mother stay[ed] interested in such a mundane job." This after learning that her mother has just rearranged the reference section to make way for some furniture and was working on organizing a series of workshops on biographies of famous women. Really, how could anyone call that mundane?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - by John Green & David Levithan


I've read a few of John Green's books, at the recommendations of my daughter and niece (who is especially big fan) and while I also like his books, and find his characters to be funny, witty, and smart they just don't seem to use the library that much. You won't find The Fault in Our Stars reviewed on this blog at all for as much the characters in that book liked to read, they never once mentioned going to the library. And while there was minimal use of the library in Looking for Alaska  it was hardly as a place of intellectual fulfillment. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (titled for the two characters in the book with the same name) follows the same pattern of slim library pickin's as the others I've read. The one and only place I've marked the word "library" is in a passage in which a disgruntled member of the math team, upset that one of the Will Graysons in bailing on the "mathletic" competition, "picks up his (lunch) tray, murmurs something about library fines, and  leaves the table." Good to know that the library will always provide an excuse for leaving a difficult situation.