Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Time Machine - by H.G. Wells

I have seen two movies based on this work (The Time Machine (2002); and Time After Time (1979)). Neither has too much in common with Well's original story; however, the 2002 movie not only shares the exact title, it, like the book, has a library. The movie boasts a librarian as well: Orlando Jones Vox #NY-114. According to the Librarians in the Movies Filmography webpage  Jones Vox is
a very cool virtual librarian of the future who is the compendium of (no less than) All Human Knowledge. He describes himself as a "third generation fusion card photonic with verbal and visual link capabilities connected to every database on the planet." He does a reference interview and even holds story time for kids. We first encounter him in 2030, then later about 800,000 years into the future (although his source of power is never explained).
There is nothing quite so groovy in the book, the futuristic library is only mentioned one time, and there is no librarian in the dusty, deserted place. However, the hallowed space is given a bit of a build up, and is located in a place the Time Traveler calls The Palace of Green Porcelain (emphasis mine). What appears at first to be a museum of archaeology the Time Traveler discovers, to some delight, that it also "possibly" contains "historical galleries; [and] ....even a library!" Which he says "would be vastly more interesting than this spectacle of old-time geology in decay."

I saw Time After Time over 30 years ago, and I remember the gist (Jack the Ripper escapes into the future with H.G. Wells in hot pursuit), but I cannot recall if there is a library or librarian. I have added this to my Netflix list and will update this post, if necessary, once I have watched it again.

A free e-book available at Project Gutenberg.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Is How You Lose Her - by Junot Diaz

I had high hopes for this collection of short stories, by one of my favorite authors, when I found a reference to going on a date in the library on the second page of the very first first story, and then read about "the nerd every librarian in town knows" only two pages later. I expected then, that the book will be chock-a-block full of libraries and librarians. Alas, it was not to be: these two library references were the only ones.

That is not to say that I did not thoroughly enjoy this work. The stories are original, and the writing is colorful. Those who read Diaz's previous collection of short stories, Drown, will remember the character Yunior, who is the protagonist in almost all of  these stories, except "Otravida,Otravez", the only story told from a woman's point of view. All, however, involve some pendejo (usually Yunior) treating some woman (or women) like crap. The last story, called "The Cheater's Guide to Love", where we learn that Yunior, even as a well-educated, grown man, never changes his ways brings it all together. Those looking for a story of redemption will not find it in this work.

This was the first book I bought through the iBooks store to read on my new iPad. I must say I liked it. It was cool the way I could use the virtual bookmarks, and virtual yellow sticky notes to remind myself what I wanted to write about. And I liked that I could read a popular new book without paying top dollar, or waiting a really long time on the library waiting list. The downside is that it is much more difficult to share this way.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola - by Ricard Cortés

Several years ago my husband James decided to teach a new course about coffee. His idea was to teach students about everything that went into making their daily cup, from the plant, to the labor, to the processing and roasting, to the grinding and brewing. He asked me if I had any ideas for what to call the course. I suggested the provocative title "The Secret Life of Coffee". It has become a rather popular course offering here at Bridgewater State University. Of course, the title of this book immediately caught my eye when I noticed its review come across my desk. Cortés makes connections between the three title plants explaining how and why each has been forbidden in different times and places. The last part of the book explains about Coca-Cola's secret ingredient - "Merchandise No.5" and how Harry J. Anslinger, commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, in the 1930s  helped Coca-Cola  maintain its access to the coca plant, even as it was banned in the rest of the country. Using incredible reproductions of letters and other documents (Cortés recreated them all with his own pen and pencil illustrations) the author shows some remarkable correspondence demonstrating some rather corrupt practices.

Although this work has the look of a child's picture book, it is anything but. Heavily researched with extensive references, Cortés could not have made the book "without the help of librarians, especially of the New York Public Libraries; the National Archives at College Park, Maryland; the Special Collections Library of Pennsylvania State University; the New York Academy of Medicine Library; the Drug Policy Alliance; the Horticultural Society of New York; and the Brooklyn Public Library."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee

The subtitle of this book is an ambitious "The Carbon Footprint of Everything". I have to say that Berners-Lee does a commendable job with this, in a book that is just over 200 pages. Even before I was finished reading it, I was ready with facts on several occasions when the topic of climate change came up. The author calculates the footprint in terms of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents) based on where things come from, how far they travel, and what kinds of resources they use up. Bananas, by the way, are not bad, as long as they come by to us by boat.

Berners-Lee doesn't write about libraries, per se, but he does calculate the CO2e of a book, which he says needs to be considered "in terms of 'bang for the buck': do the benefits outweigh the impact? To maximize the "bang" side of the equation, you simply have to read this book, talk about it, and pass it around."

Since I checked this book out of a library, and will return it as soon as I finish this blog post, it will be passed on to the next person who wants to read it. I have also already done a bit of talking about it, as well as writing about it. And, in fact, I learned about this book by reading this review from the Center for a New American Dream, so I'd say the "bang" on this book began even before I checked it out. I wonder if I can I take credit for a negative impact on CO2e for having read this book?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Librarian's Book of Quotes - edited by Tatyana Ekstrand

I recently became the owner of an iPad, and found this book while browsing my library's e-book collection in the hopes to teaching myself how to download them. I failed at the download, but was able to read this online. It was a quick read, but apparently I read it too fast because I was prompted twice to enter one of those codes to prove I was not a robot. My reading was interrupted by a message that the way I was reading was inconsistent with a human reader. What? Turning the pages one by one? I find it especially annoying, ironic, and rather post-modern, that I to had to prove to a machine that I was not a robot. Anyway, I finished the book despite this inconvenience. The book is not much more that what the title says it is. It is just over 100 pages of library-positive quotes from well-known celebrities, authors, United States presidents and first ladies, and some folks who are not so well known, or perhaps only well-known in library circles (e.g. Nancy Pearl "the librarian's librarian"; and Herbert S. White, Professor Emeritus of Library Science).

There were a lot of great quotes here. I added one to my Banned Books Week Guide. I've commented on some of my other favorites below.
News flash! When your teachers told you there was no such thing as a stupid question, they were lying. Garrison Keillor knows this, and recognizes librarians for putting up with it. He says:

Librarians . . . possess a vast store of politeness. These are
people who get asked regularly the dumbest questions
on God’s green earth. These people tolerate every kind of
crank and eccentric and mouth-breather there is.
--Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion,
13 December 1997
GraceAnne DeCandido expresses something that I find especially exhilarating about my job. A lot of our work is serendipity; we just never know when something we've learned will be useful to someone else.

One of the great joys of being a librarian is that it is the last
refuge of the renaissance person—everything you have ever
read or learned or picked up is likely to come in handy.
--GraceAnne A. DeCandido,
“Ten Graces For New Librarians”
Isn't seeing our name in print what we all hope for?

I always tell people that I became a writer not
because I went to school but because my mother took
me to the library. I wanted to become a writer so I
could see my name in the card catalog.
--Sandra Cisneros
There were quotes from four different presidents, but I thought this one from First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, outshone all of those.

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally
democratic as the town library. The only entrance
requirement is interest.
--Lady Bird Johnson
Melvil Dewey did more than invent a decimal system for classifying books; he was also founder of the first Library School in the United States. His quote, which exalts women, belies that fact he wanted to populate his school with them because he knew they wouldn't be paid much. His legacy lives on today.

To my thinking, a great librarian
must have a clear head, a strong
hand, and above all, a great heart
. . . and i am inclined to think that
most of the men who achieve this
greatness will be women.
--Melvil Dewey, Library Journal, January 1899
This was the only quote from an athlete I recognized.

I’m not comfortable being preachy, but more people need
to start spending as much time in the library as they do on
the basketball court.
--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
This one, from a person I have not heard of, was the most thought-provoking

I have never met a public librarian who approved of
censorship or one who failed to practice it in some
--Leon Carnovsky, Library Quarterly 20 (1950)
For those who cannot afford to travel, the library card is more important than the passport.

The three most important documents a free society gives
are a birth certificate, a passport, and a library card.
--E. L. Doctorow, New York Times, 27 March 1994
The book's editor ended with a few of her own quotes, this one made me smile.

Catalogers are some of the few
professionals who take pride in being anal.
--Tatyana Eckstrand
One observation I made reading this was that however much librarianship is a female-dominated profession  (over 80% of librarians are women), the quotes in this work were, by and large, from men. At first I thought is was my imagination, but all sources were listed at the end of the book, so I counted them up. This was a count simply based on first names, so although it might not be completely accurate, even taking into account some guessing errors, the proportion of men to women represented is over three to one. I am not sure what to make of this. Do men really say more pithy things than women? Or, is it simply that, as a society, we still pay more attention to them. I remember doing some research in my own library school days, and reading about a librarian from the early 20th-century who pointed out that in her day, if they wanted to see anything accomplished, women just had to let men take the credit for everything. I frankly don't think we've come very far in the last 100 years.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Testimony - by Anita Shreve

First, a word to the wise: People who send their kids to New England boarding schools should probably not read novels about New England boarding schools. This is especially true if the novel is about a sex scandal. Just saying.

When Mike Bordwin, Headmaster of Avery Academy in Vermont, is presented with a videotape showing  three members of the school's Varsity basketball team, and one freshman girl having sex, he acts swiftly to keep the tape from going public, in the hopes of handling the situation "internally". His plan falls apart when the girl's parents call the police. Testimony, tells the story of what happened before and after the making of the videotape, and the resulting loss of life, derailed careers, and ruined marriages.  Told from a variety of viewpoints; including those in the tape, their parents, friends, as well as other other members of the school and local communities, some players, like Mike Bordwin, appear again, and again; others, like Daryl a townie who supplied the students with alcohol, only get a chapter or two. One character who we only learn about through others is the basketball coach, who, not surprisingly, is fired after the tape becomes public. Not because he had anything to do with it, but rather because in situations like these, there must be a scapegoat. The story did leave me wondering, once again, why institutions (schools and churches particularly) think they can (or should) handle these crimes on their own.

Libraries are scattered in several places throughout this work - as part of a pastiche making up the town, or school, or as places inside of homes. The most significant role a library plays, however, is as a workplace for Rob Leicht, one of the basketball players seen in the tape. After his expulsion, and loss of scholarship at Brown University, he moves with his mother to a town near Boston, where he gets a part-time job in the library. This is not really seen as any kind of salvation, just a place where he works, and can get books to read in his "generous spare time". It is all portrayed as a bit sad, actually.

Although there is some reflection, there is little in the way of redemption here. It is more a story of people trying to put their broken lives back together with pieces that no longer fit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man's Journey of Discovery Across America - by Daniel Seddiqui

Three years ago, when I was working on my "year of reading year of books" blog, I learned about Daniel Seddiqui's project to work for one week in each of the 50 states over the course of a year. He tried to select a job that was representative of the culture and/or economy of the state (e.g auto mechanic in Michigan; lobsterman in Maine; cheesemaker in Wisconsin). I was looking forward to reading his book, as it also fit in with my (then) upcoming year of Celebrating the States. My Geographer husband and I planned on reading this together when we picked it up at a bookstore in the summer of 2011. A few weeks later, but before we had a chance to start reading the book, we had the wonderful opportunity to host Shay Kelly of Project 50/50 at our home. After losing her job, Shay decided to travel to all 50 states over the course of a year and do a volunteer project in each one.  We asked her if she knew about Seddiqui's project. She told us that she had heard of him because he had contacted her to let her know that she "stole his idea". Hmmm, well this put us off of Seddiqui a bit, nevertheless, James and I started to read the book in January of this year. We finally finished it about a month ago. It took us so long because, frankly, we didn't like it much, and could only read small bits at a time. We would often set it aside for weeks before coming back to it, finally picking it up with a sigh that we should "probably finish it". We kept waiting for it to get better, but it read as if the raw writing from his diary or blog were published with few revisions.  It was poorly edited, rife with awkward sentences and grammatical errors, and had little in the way of the reflection I expect to see in a memoir, but much in the way of complaining when work was hard, or hours were long, or a job in the desired industry didn't pan out. Of course I was not only disappointed that he never considered library work, but also that with all the research he did (and I will say that he did an admirable job of finding appropriate work) he never even mentioned going to a library to do any of it. There is only one library mentioned at all - working in Arkansas as an archaeologist, he reluctantly turns over a horseshoe he finds to the artifact library.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beauty Queens - by Libba Bray

In Beauty Queens Libba Bray  takes a line that was fed to her by her editor: "a plane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island..." and runs with it. With most of the pageant contestants dead, along with the the plane crew, and chaperones,  the 14 girls who are left create their own story that is part "Lost", part Lord of the Flies, and part Pirates of Penzance, with just a trace of "Harry Potter" thrown in. Bray deftly develops the characters from girls who appear to be one-dimensional clones created by the Teen Dream Pageant into strong young women with dreams, intelligence, and chutzpah, who not only figure out a way to get food and fresh water,  they vanquish their foe, the evil Corporation, which creates all the nasty products, and television shows that our teen heroines thought they are supposed to love.

There were apparently no libraries on what turned out to be a not-so-deserted island, but Bray finds three places to include them in her work. Mary Lou (a.k.a. Miss Nebraska) remembers planning to become a pirate queen with her sister Annie. Mary Lou and Annie give themselves tattoos with a blue sharpie with Mary Lou choosing "an ancient Celtic design she'd seen in a book from the library." Annie, agreeing that becoming pirate queens is a "very good plan," suggests ideas for their adventures by reading "from a copy of On the Road she'd checked out of a library." My favorite library part though, is the last one, which comes very near the end of the book. An angry crowd is shouting down the evil Ladybird Hope: "A bonfire billowed up. Some of the crowd tossed copies of Labybird's book into the fire while a librarian pleaded with them not to do that and grabbed a fire extinguisher." Bray includes a footnote to this that reads: "Really, being a librarian is a much more dangerous job than you realize."  Readers of this blog know that if there is one thing I really can't stand it is censorship - even censorship of bad ideas from evil people. Libba, my friend, you just made yourself an official fan. Now I suppose I will have to read all your books. I've got a good start with Beauty Queens, and Going Bovine. Four more to go. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Distance Between Us - by Reyna Grande

As in Jeanette Winterson's Why be Happy when You Could be Normal the author of this memoir finds salvation from her dysfunctional family in books, reading, and, the library.

Reyna Grande was born in the town of Iguala, Mexico. She and her siblings are left in the care of her paternal grandmother when her parents cross the border to make their way on "el Otro Lado". Fascinated by stories that there is no poverty in the United States, and mistreated by her grandmother, Reyna longs to be reunited with her parents. When her mother finally returns it is with the news that the children's father has a new wife on "el Otro Lado" and they will be staying in Iguala. Years later, her father returns and illegally crosses the border with three of his four children, including Reyna. While she recognizes the one-bedroom apartment she now shares with her father, stepmother, brother and sister is the nicest place she has ever lived, and appreciates the educational opportunities she receives at her new school, she is at the same time disillusioned by life with her abusive, alcoholic father, whom she did not know at all before the crossing. Painfully shy, and embarrassed by her heavy accent, Reyna discovers solace in reading.
Over the last year, I had become addicted to reading, in part because I was not good at making friends. I shied away from kids because there was always something for which they could make fun of me: my ridiculous name, my height, my Payless tennis shoes, my thick accent, the unfashionable clothes I would wear...
Every Friday before heading home, I would stop at Arroyo Seco Library for books. The maximum I was allowed to borrow was ten, and I would read them all during the week.
As a young girl Reyna is drawn to the Sweet Valley High series, and V.C. Andrews books, but as a college student her mentor exposes her to Latino literature for the first time, and also gives her the first book she can keep, and Reyna realizes that she may also have what it takes to become a writer.

This is a wonderfully written, painfully honest, and inspirational book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs - by Molly Harper

I am fascinated by vampire legends, lore and stories. I have visited Dracula's boyhood home in Transylvania, and have taken the vampire tour of New Orleans. I am a bit embarrassed to admit how much I like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series of vampire books. I read all four of them in less than a month, and while I will say that I thought the fourth one left a bit to be desired, overall, I really enjoyed reading them. I found them thrilling and sexy. I also watch a lot of vampire movies, my favorite is Transylvania Twist, not because it is is an exceptionally great movie, in fact, it is pretty goofy, but because it features both vampires, and librarians. For this same reason, I couldn't resist reading Harper's romance/fantasy about a vampire librarian. In the world created for this series the dead and undead co-exist in the land of Half-Moon Hollow, Kentucky. Our protagonist, Jane, is a newly "turned" vampire, and unemployed children's librarian who shares the family home with the ghost of her great aunt Jettie. This work did not pique my interest as much as I expected it to. While the consummation of Jane and Gillbert's relationship only took place after several frustrating encounters, the sexual tension wasn't built up in a way that made me care one way or the other if sex ever happened. And, while this was not the first book I read to feature sex in the library, it is the first that made it out to be so unsatisfying.

Dave Chandler left me on the ninth floor of our university's research library without my panties after we lost our virginity together. He never called me again and actually turned on his heel  and walked in the opposite direction whenever he saw me on campus...Dave and I were both student library workers...It turned out that while the Russian folklore section offered plenty of privacy...the shelves left really weird bruises on your back.
I also grew weary of the one-dimensional characters - the obnoxious sister; the overbearing mother; the nasty supervisor librarian, among others.

It was a quick read, and I believe it may have been the first book I blogged about here to actually mention Banned Books Week (which coincidently was when I read it), and while I did not dislike it, I did not find it engaging enough to read the rest of the series.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October 4 - Precious Knowledge

Earlier this year, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board voted to end its Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in order to comply with the Arizona law that bars ethnic studies programs designed to "overthrow the United States government"; promote "resentment toward a race of class of people"; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” The District was threatened with a loss of up to $15 million if found in violation of the law. As a consequence dozens of books were removed from the curriculum, and the classrooms (in at least one case while students were still there) and boxed up to be put into storage.

The film Precious Knowledge is a documentary film which relates the events leading up to the passage of HB 2281. The ignorance demonstrated by the legislators in this film is so huge as to be embarrassing. When invited to attend some of the Mexican American Studies classes, all but one refused, insisting that the teachers and students would stage a different kind of class than usual on the day they attended; and that even a surprise visit was meaningless because the instructors can "change their pedagogy just like that [finger snap]" when someone uninvited walks into the room. Based on these ridiculous assertions, the program was banned, despite the fact that students who took MAS classes were more likely to graduate.

Today, the U.S. Ethnic Studies Program of Bridgewater State University will host a viewing of the documentary. Some of the books that were removed from TUSD classrooms will be on display during the screening in the Rondileau Campus Center at One Park Ave at 12:30.

While TUSD Administrators claimed that no books were "banned"  when they were removed from classrooms this chilling photo tells another story. See the story from the Huffington Post

View the Precious Knowledge Trailer

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Banned Websites Awareness Day - October 3, 2012

Last year students in Camden, Missouri found that they could not access affirming GLBT websites on school computers, even while websites that provided information on "reparative" therapies were visible. And students at Darmouth (Massachusetts) High School found themselves frustrated by the web software Fortigurad, which prevented them from accessing many legitimate news sources including NPR.Women looking for information on breast cancer have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to ask librarians to "unblock" the website so they could find out more about their condition. Even the conservative former congress member Dick Armey discovered that certain filters would prevent his constituents from finding his web presence.

Today, the American Association of School Librarians observes Banned Websites Awareness Day to bring attention to the problem of restrictive software that prevents educators, and others, from using the the resources they want, and other impacts it has on learning.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

News about Banned Books for Banned Books Week

Libraries all over the country are setting up displays, blogging and otherwise drawing attention to the consequences of censorship during Banned Books Week. My favorite stories appear here

My esteemed colleague, Ms. Mary O'Connell wrote this article for the Bridgewater (MA) Independent.

The Brentwood Public Library is currently reviewing the book Uncle Bobby's Wedding (a children's book about gay marriage) after a patron complaint that it was "inappropriate" for children

Even I was in for a few surprises when I read the Christian Science Monitor's list of Twenty Banned Books that May Surprise You

Smith Public Library in Wylie, Texas created this clever display using The Hunger Games series as a display theme.

ACLU Texas Banned Books 2012 Report

Monday, October 1, 2012

Banned Books Week - Top Ten Banned Books

I had grand plans to read each of the "top ten" banned books for 2011 in preparation for Banned Books Week, but as it turns out I only read one: Alice in Rapture, Sort of from the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The series comes in at number 6 on the list. I had, however, previously read some of the other books on the list: ttfn by Lauren Myracle; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For a complete list see below.
  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism 

Alice in Rapture, Sort of
There are over 20 books in the Alice series, and I only read one of them. I think the challenges must come from some of the later books in the series, as Alice gets older in each one. Rapture takes place during the summer between sixth and seventh grades (a.k.a. "the summer of the first boyfriend") - some french kissing going on, but not much else, at least for Alice and her friends. Her brother, Lester, does have to answer to their father for "entertaining" a young woman in his (the father's) bedroom. As for "nudity" there was one scene in which a bathing suit top came off; no language that I can imagine anyone calling offensive (unless you count "heck") and some talk about "big boobs". I am not sure what the "religious viewpoint" is. One of Alice's friends, Elizabeth, is Catholic and there is some questioning about what is considered a sin and what is not.

Libraries don't play much of a role, although they are mentioned on two consecutive pages, in unrelated passages. Alice's father suggests she go to the library to learn about child care when she is hired for her first babysitting job, and Alice recalls the multitude of rules she had in elementary school including
what entrance you used in the morning, what door you used going home, when you could talk in the library, how many paper towels you could use in the rest room, and how many drinks of water you could get during recess.
This book was especially fun for me to read because it takes place in Maryland (my home state). References to the Baltimore Orioles, High's Dairy stores, and Ocean City invoked some strong nostalgia in this accidental Bay Stater.

For more information about Alice see Phyllis Naylor's blog:

More Information about Frequently challenged books see the American Library Association's page

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week September 30-October 6 2012

 Celebrating 30 years of the freedom to read, Banned Books Week starts today. This auspicious event, started by the late Judith Krug in 1982, is observed annually to bring attention to the consequences of censorship and to ensure that no one person or group can dictate what others may read. I will be posting everyday this week about censorship, banned books, and libraries. For today, take a look at my banned books websites Pam's Banned Books Week Page and Banned Books at Maxwell Library. And find out about events going on all over the country this week at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Library - by Eth Clifford

Sisters Mary Rose and Jo-Beth become trapped in the Finton Memorial Library for Children during a snow storm. The telephone lines are dead, and the electricity has gone out. The library seems creepier still when they hear a myna bird asking their names, and the stuffed dolls on the "kid hack" seem to be staring at them. Eventually the two discover that there is another person in the building with them. At first scared of Miss Finton, the librarian who lives on the second floor in the converted mansion, the girls eventually decide it is safer to follow Miss Finton through the spooky building and discover what, exactly, is screaming like a banshee. And they get to send up a distress signal through an open window in the form of colorful fireworks they find in the basement - a bit more dramatic than the hand-made sign Jo-Beth creates to post in the front window : "Help! I'm a Prisoner in the liberry". The misspelling gave me a nice chuckle, since it is the same one I ended up using when creating the url for this blog (, after I discovered most other variations of "library books" were taken.

Although there are some tried and true stereotypes used to create Miss Finton's character, ultimately she is an endearing player in this fun adventure tale.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A few things for my reading list

The Librarians Gone Wild! post from "a reading life" provides some intriguing titles that I will be reading and adding to this blog over the next several months. To start, look for Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs (librarians and vampires!) in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Phantom Tollbooth - by Norton Juster

Young Milo is always bored, but by passing through a mysterious tollbooth in his toy car, he is sent on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Sky. He is joined on his adventure by Tock the watchdog, and Humbug. The three meet a variety of other eccentric and strange characters along the way.  Finding the librarian in the book wasn't difficult, even though the word is never actually used. But what else might you call the Soundkeeper, the guardian of all noises ever made - a cataloger indeed! She tends to the vault "with long lines of file drawers and storage bins" arranged by date, and then categorized, and subcategorized alphabetically. For our hero's "Hello" is found "under G for greetings, then under M for Milo."

I watched the movie that this based on this book a few years ago. I remember it as a very groovy '70s-type journey through a magical world. As is so often the case, I very much wished I had read the book first. Having the movie images in my head seemed counter to the message of the story - to imagine, and think for yourself.

This classic in children's literature is a playful read. I loved the constant word play, and enjoyed watching Milo develop as a character.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In One Person - by John Irving

A bit of metafiction at the end of Irving's latest novel, about a bisexual writer named Bill Abbott, provides a synopsis of what Irving manages to do with this work. Here, Abbott is talking to the son of a former classmate who points out that his (Abbott's) writing makes
"all these sexual extremes seem normal....You create these characters who are so sexually 'different' as you might call them...and you expect us to sympathize with them, or feel sorry for them, or something."
"Yes, that's more or less what I do"
Irving's cast of quirky characters includes a transgender librarian, one of young Billy Abbott's first crushes and also his first sex partner. Billy's definition of sex, however, is rather Clinton-esque. He points out over and over again that what he and Miss Frost did was not what most would consider sex, as there was "no penetration". (One has to wonder about the choice of the first name of the character.)

Miss Frost, is not the only librarian in this book. The other is the unnamed librarian at Bill Abbott's boarding school, Favorite River Academy.
the academy librarian was one of Favorite River's fussy old bachelors; everyone thought that such older, unmarried males on the...faculty were what we called at the time "nonpracticing homosexuals." Who knew if they were or weren't "practicing," or if they were or were not homosexuals? All we'd observed was that they lived alone, and the way they ate and spoke - hence we imagined that they were unnaturally effeminate.
There are so many eccentric characters in this work that to examine each one would probably require a dissertation, but I do feel the need to mention Bill's cross-dressing Grandfather, and the not-so-subtle allusion made to "The Lumber Jack Song". Grandpa Harry runs a saw mill, and is pointedly called a "lumber man" in the story.

Fans of Irving's work will not be disappointed. For those who have not read any of his other novels this is as good a place as any to start.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paloma de Palabras

This word cloud was created by Tagxedo  and represents this blog. Thanks to my husband for letting me know about it. The image was chosen in honor of my daughter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fear of Flying - by Erica Jong

Because reading 50 Shades of Grey just seemed too trite, I decided to read Jong's classic piece of erotic fiction instead. This is the story of Isadora, torn between her husband Bennett, and her lover Adrian she reflects on her life, loves, and lusts. As a writer Isadora does quite a bit of research and tells of researching the history of the Third Reich at the USIS (United States Information Service Libraries) while her husband was stationed in Germany. After getting a job writing a column for a newsletter Isadora begins doing some research about a Nazi amphitheater she discovers in Heidelberg. In Heidelberg's main public library she finds a guidebook dated 1937 in "English and German on facing pages, with cheap, yellowing paper, black and white photographs and old Gothic type." Most intriguing about this work was that "every ten pages or so a paragraph or photo or a small block of type was covered over with a square of oak-tag. Like any good researcher worth her salt Isadora is determined to find out what is under those tags. "I checked out the book (along with four others so the librarian wouldn't be suspicious) and raced home where I carefully steamed the offending pages over a tea-kettle spout." (Normally, I would be bound by librarian ethics to point out that this would likely cause damage to a book, but censoring is way worse than making the pages a bit wavy, so in this case the ends justify the means).Once Isadora removes the offending tags she finds photographs with swastika flags, and of Nazi salutes and passages that give evidence of the German exceptional-ism of the time. In discussing the censorship with a former Nazi, Isadora begins to question her own honesty in writing, and realizes that she is self censoring her own true feelings.
I refused to let myself write about what really moved me: my violent feelings about Germany, the unhappiness in my marriage, my sexual fantasies, my childhood, by [sic] negative feelings about my parents...I had pasted square oak-tag patches over certain areas of my life and steadfastly refused to look at them.  
The book is the metaphorical removal of Isadora's oak tags as she explores all of the things she describes in the passage above. It is an intellectual exploration as well as a sexual one - and she does explore sex in the library. Isadora tells of flirtations in the Butler Library at Columbia University, as well as describing how she "studied together" (the quotes were in the original) with the man who became her first husband in the Butler Library "where [she] was later shocked to hear that some sacrilegious students actually screwed."

The Butler library was ultimately where Isadora went to escape her first marriage as she "sweated in the stacks...writing a ridiculous thesis on dirty words in English poetry."

And I thought I was going to have a "first" for this blog - a library dream. In the penultimate chapter of the book Isdoara describes a dream in which she is graduating from college. She walks up a flight of stairs "which looked more like a Mexican temple than the steps of Low Library."  But in doing a bit of research, I discovered that the Low Library at Columbia is no longer a library (and was not at the time the book was written). It is now the administration building.

As is true with much erotic literature (most recently with 50 Shades) Fear of Flying has been banned, and censored. See this entry from "The Field Guide to Forbidden Books" blog for more details.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - by J.K. Rowling

Fans of the Harry Potter series of books know that today, July 31, is Harry's birthday. There remains some question as to exactly how old he is. In honor of this day I re-read book 2 of the series (having blogged about book one last year in honor of Banned Books Week). As in the first book, Harry and his friends use the library quite often to look things up and do their homework despite the fact that their librarian, Madam Pince, is so upsettingly unhelpful. They do manage to get a copy of Moste Potente Potions from the restricted section of the library by outwitting their new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Gilderoy Lockhardt, and succeed in making the Polyjuice Potion which allows them to do a magical form of identity theft.

Truly unsettling about this work though, is the fact that Ron and Harry discover a page ripped from a library book in the hand of petrified Hermione Granger. As if that weren't bad enough, in addition she had actually written on the page! There was no need for this destruction, even in the face of evil. She simply could have checked the book out.

None of this is to say I did not thoroughly enjoy the book. I think this must be the fourth time I've read it. Such a great story.

Happy Birthday Harry!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - by Stephen Chbosky

So, a funny thing happened while I was trying to finish this book. I borrowed the book from my daughter, who had borrowed it from a friend at school. But what I discovered when it was my turn to read it was that it actually belonged to her school library, and should have been returned when school let out last month.But since the school and library are now closed, I figured I could just go ahead and read it, and we'd return it in September when the girls went back to school. I got within 25 pages of finishing the book, and then some things came up and I had to put it down, and didn't get a chance to pick it up again until the next day. I brought it in to work figuring I could wrap it up in under 20 minutes. However, sometime between walking in the front door of the library, and getting to my office (a distance of perhaps 5 yards) I set the book down and could not find it again. I had actually had three books with me when I came in, and didn't know where I put any of them. I found one on the counter outside my office, and eventually found a second one on a shelf in my office, but "Perks" continued to elude me. I finally thought to ask the folks at the circulation desk in my library if perhaps I had accidently set it down at the book return.

"Oh, a little green book, from a school library?"
"We didn't know why that was here, so we mailed it back to the school."

Never let it be said that my co-workers are not efficient!

Nevertheless, I was pretty frustrated as I had been so close to the end of the story. But then, one of my colleagues from the Interlibrary loan (ILL) department tells me that someone had just recently requested that book from ILL, and it had just come in, and so another copy of the book was sitting on the "hold" shelf waiting to be picked up. So I seized the opportunity and stood behind the circulation desk and finished reading it before it was too late. Luckily the person who requested the book did not come in during that short window to get her book. So, the good news is, I got to finish the book. The bad news is, that I had marked about a half dozen pages that mentioned libraries, and I lost those markers when the original book went in the mail.So I now must rely on my faulty memory, and I really do not recall much about those references. I do know that when I read some of them I thought that if the story had not taken place twenty years in the past, that some of the trivia-type things the narrator mentioned "looking up" in the library would simply be "Googled" today.

This book is frequently challenged, and made the top ten list of Most Frequently Challenged books of 2009-2010. Marshall University has a pretty comprehensive list as to when and where this work has been challenged, or banned. Reasons run the gamut from drug use to profanity to homosexuality to bestiality to date rape to masturbation. I do find it hard to believe that masturbation is as much a reason for finding offense with a book as date rape is.

When I was in library school, and we discussed book selection and book banning, one of my professors told us that everyone is offended by something, and libraries should have something to offend everyone. It seems that if every library had this book, it would be sure to go a long way towards assuring that the library had "something to offend everyone".

I found this book to be a sensitively written coming-of-age novel. Written in epistolary style and narrated by 16-year old Charlie, it has believable characters, and a tells a good story.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie which opens this fall.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman-the movie

Be sure to check out the new Spiderman movie for a good stereotype of a librarian. Otherwise, a fabulous film. I love Spiderman.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Can I Just Take a Nap? = ¿Me Dejan Dormir Una Siesta? - by Ron Rauss

I got this book free inside my specially marked box of Cherrios. It was the winner of the Cheerios Spoonful of Stories Contest. I might not have looked at it at all, except that the version in my cereal was a bilingual English/Spanish book, and my Spanish-teacher self could not resist.

This book tells the story of Aiden McDoodle who cannot sleep because there is too much noise. Everywhere he goes he hears beeping, barking, shouting, and laughing. This is true even in the library, "until the librarian stepped in and shouted 'Quiet' (hasta que la bibliotecaria intervino y ordenó '¡Silencio!')"

The librarian is actually portrayed wearing a badge that says "Shh". Some stereotypes die hard.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Caleb's Crossing - by Geraldine Brooks

Based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, Caleb's Crossing tells this story from the point of view of the fictitious Bethia Mayfield, a young woman who lives in the English settlement of Great Harbor on Martha's Vineyard. As a young girl, Bethia befriends Caleb, a Wampanoag, and the two become intrigued by each other's worlds. As young adults both Bethia and Caleb leave the island to go to Cambridge. While Caleb matriculates at Harvard Bethia's passage to the mainland is as an indentured servant in support of her brother who also intends to enroll at Harvard. Although young women were not able to attend the university in the 1600s, Bethia manages to use her work to listen to lectures so as to gain the education she desperately seeks.  She also finds romance among the books in the university library!

After she is introduced to young Samuel Corlett, she shows great interest in his personal library. Samuel now knows how to win the lady, and suggests that she might enjoy a visit to John Harvard's library. Bethia is clearly impressed with "the most beautiful room...with lecterns [of] polished wood gleaming dully in the good light. Each held a shelf, snug with volumes..." She also learns that entrance to the library is a privilege that even the college's young scholars do not have. Samuel explains to her
They are expected to purchase those books required for their course of study. These (books) are for the use of fellows, such as myself - for those, like me, in pursuit of the higher degrees.
The library represents temptation and desire as the room comes to represent both of Bethia's yearnings. Alone in the library, Bethia and Samuel discuss making a life together, but as strong as her "womanly desires"  for her suitor are, she keeps them at bay long enough to take advantage of her housekeeping position in order to listen in on lessons at the college. She knows, also, that developing her intellectual abilities will make her that much more attractive to Samuel.

I was pleasantly surprised by the library's role in this work. If I expected to see a library at all, it was only as a passing mention.

It's All Relative-by Wade Rouse

Rouse reveals much about his lovingly dysfunctional family in this series of essays about holidays. He tells of New Year's Eve celebrations, Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, as well as some of the lesser celebrated days such as Arbor Day and "Swedish" Day. What he doesn't celebrate is National Library Week. He barely mentions libraries at all, in fact. The only essay that suggests the use of a library is "Spring Break: Heaven's Waiting Room" in which he describes befriending an elderly couple (Dottie & Ira) while wintering in Florida. They tell Rouse that they read his book America's Boy.
"Where did you get it?" I asked.
"The library"
"You should have bought it. I need the royalties."
Interesting then, that on his acknowledgement page he recognizes libraries "for promoting reading and keeping authors' work alive forever." 

A funny and touching book. One of the blurbs compares him to David Sedaris, the connections are clear in that Rouse is a funny gay guy who writes essays about his family. Rouse definitely has less of an edge, though. Rouse says he has never met Sedaris, but I have; he gave me some coffee cake mix at a book signing once.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Library at Night - by Alberto Manguel

Using the term "library porn" might bring to mind an image of a young librarian with large glasses letting down her pinned up hair and tossing aside her 'specs as a more experienced lover teaches her a few moves between the stacks.

Here, I use the term "library porn" to describe a book that makes one desire to be in a library, not for the erotic opportunities (real or imagined that might be found there) but rather because the author has exalted the library to such a level as to experience it as a Siren's song - luring the user into it, to become seduced, lost,  never wanting to leave.

It is hard to know where to begin with writing about this book. Sometimes I count the number of times libraries are mentioned in a book, but that was not possible with this work. I marked so many passages as things to come back to that writing about each of them all in this would make this post so long that readers would lose interest. The first passage I marked was in the Foreword, in which Manguel tells of how, in his youth, he "dreamt of becoming a librarian", and while he did not professionally attain that goal, he lives among  "ever-increasing bookshelves." This is followed by dozens of other markings in which the author writes of the history of libraries, books, and reading, of battling censorship, of geography, language, and democracy.

Like an exceptional travelogue, this book leaves the reader with a yearning to go where the writer has been. It left me feeling especially fortunate that I work in a library, and can surround myself with great ideas whenever I want.

This  book is truly a love story for books and librarians.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Middlesex - by Jeffrey Eugenides

For the first time ever I will be using gender neutral pronouns, which I never believed would actually make communication easier, but now I see that in some cases, it does.

Eugenides Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is among one of the best books I've ever read. It tells a story that is rarely treated in fiction (of an individual with intersex genitalia); it is well written and narrated, with a story line that crosses three generations of a Greek-Orthodox family, two continents, and includes an incestuous romance.

The narrator is Calliope (Cal) Stephanides who is raised as a girl, but has a sense that zir genitalia is not quite the same as zir classmates at the all-girl school ze attends. Ze is baffled as to why ze does not develop breasts, and wonders if ze will ever start menstruating. After an accident sends zim to the emergency room, teenage "Callie" learns that ze has XY sex chromosomes, and adopts a new gender identity as Cal.

It is in the New York Public Library that Cal researches zir condition, while zir parents consult with a specialist who recommends sex-normalization surgery, combined with hormone treatments in order for their child to maintain zir identity as a girl. Meanwhile, Cal looks up the meanings of hypospadias, eunuch, and hermaphrodite using the good ol' Webster's Dictionary
...a battered dictionary in a great city library. A venerable, old book, the shape and size of a headstone, with yellowing pages that bore marks of the multitudes  who had consulted them before me. There were pencil scrawls and ink stains, dried blood, snack crumbs; and the leather binding itself was secured to the lectern by a chain. Here was a book that contained the collected knowledge of the past...
You just can't get that connection to others with an online dictionary. As convenient as it is to look things up online, I still sometimes get out of my chair and take out the print dictionary just to thumb through it, so I can stop and learn a word that I didn't know before, and to connect with others before me who have done the same.

In addition to Cal's dictionary work, scattered  throughout this work, are some other library uses, ranging from suggestions to look something up in the history books, and finding phone books from other cities at the Detroit Public Library, to discovering life-changing community announcements, and home libraries as places to work and study.

For more information on individuals with intersex see the Intersex Society of North America website

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy - by A.J. Jacobs

During My Year of Reading "Year of" Books I read two of Jacob's "stunt lit" memoirs: The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All in which he attempts to live by all of the Bible's 700 + rules; and reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica A-Z, respectively. In reviewing my blog posts on these two books, I notice that I never wrote anything about Jacobs having used a library. Perhaps he did, and I didn't blog about it, but I really made a point that year of including such things. It appears we are now one for three. In this work Jacobs spends two years trying out a variety of diets, and exercise regimes in his "humble quest for bodily perfection." Each chapter focuses on one body part. Each month Jacobs researches what he can about the body part, and why it is important for it to be healthy, and how to make it so. One chapter is about the brain, but he never mentions going to the library during that month. The only chapter that suggests he did any research in a library is "The Bladder" (in which he goes on a 3-day juice fast). He tells of returning home after having "spen[t] the day at the library, books" to find his wife irritable after having spent the day with the kids, and consuming nothing but juice all day. She gave up her fast at that point.

Like his other books, this one is self-deprecating, funny, and left this reader with some food for thought, without having to go to all the trouble of taking on the crazy project herself.

The Last Lullaby-the movie

The beautiful librarian, Sarah, is the target of hitman, Price. So lovely, and so smart, how can he not fall for her? And who hired him to kill her anyway? And why? This was an excellent thriller. There were some unexpected twists and a gratifying ending.

At first James and I were puzzled as to how Sarah could live in such a well-appointed home, with an indoor pool, on a public librarian's salary, but all is explained to our satisfaction.

More at

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Little Erin Merryweather - the movie

Last week, on our Bridgewaters Project blog, James and I wrote about the film A Small Circle of Friends which includes a scene filmed on the Bridgewater State University campus (as well as some library scenes). In searching for other films with Bridgewater connections, James discovered a recent indy film 

The most important thing to know about Erin is that she works in the college library. The movie was filmed almost entirely on location at Bridgewater State University, with some exceptions including the library scenes, which were filmed at the Middleborough (Massachusetts) Public Library (for interior scenes) and a creepy-looking building (which we believe to be the Pratt Free School) for exterior scenes. For those who are prone to over-analyzing movies from a library standpoint this will be problematic. It is too obviously a public library, and way too small to serve the fictitious Willow Ridge State College campus. However, there were several scenes in which students were directed by their professor to use the library for research, which almost made up for any other inconsistencies.There were some long shots of the campus in which the Clement C. Maxwell Library building was visible, but it was not identified as such. It was actually rare fun to watch this horror film (something that is generally out of my genre set of things to view). The gore was pretty mild, and I was too busy identifying landmarks to be bothered by the blood, anyway.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Going Bovine - by Libba Bray

One can only guess how much the author must love libraries, in order to have changed her name to something that looked, and sounded like the word. Born with Bray as her last name, she changed her first name from Martha, to Libba.

This book answers that age old question "What happens when a teenager afflicted with mad-cow disease, a hypochondriac dwarf, an enchanted garden gnome, and a Goth angel take a road trip in a quest to save the world?"

In his brain-sponge-ified delirium, 16-year old Cameron begins to lose some of his youthful cynicism, and starts to remember some better times, back when he didn't think his parents were useless, and when his twin sister, Jenna, was still his friend.

Recollections of libraries, of course, are good ones. As Cameron's mother reads Don Quixote to him in the hospital she recalls taking him to the library when he was little, when she'd let him pick out five books, and he could never wait to get home to read them. At first Cameron doesn't share this memory, but later it comes back to him.
Crystal clear I could see myself sitting in my mom's lap over near the water fountain, and she was reading some rhyming book about monsters to me. She had on sandals and she smelled good, like shampoo. And I was happy. How did I manage to forget that?
In what one might analogize as his "siren's song" Cameron and his friends get waylaid at CESSNAB (the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl) where everyone is happy. Well, everyone except Library Girl. Library Girl is fed up with stocking thousands of copies of Don't Hurt Your Happiness, and nothing else. As she explains to Cameron, Don Quixote is "complicated" and some readers "felt inadequate about not understanding it right away" which introduced "nonpositive feelings". Furthermore Catcher in the Rye  was "very angry, very negative" and included prostitutes and "bad words"; Lord of the Flies was "too violent"; and comic books were "scary," "dark" and the superheroes' "unattainable powers...might make kids feel bad about themselves". Even Winnie-the-Pooh was verboten. Library Girl does what any librarian worth her salt would do when faced with censorship: she starts a revolution - giving away forbidden reading materials, and taking over the CESSNAB airwaves. She is perhaps my favorite "library book" character so far.

This book is written for teenagers, and I wonder how many of them will understand the description of the "card-catalog-sized drawers" from whence Cameron's "magic screw" is delivered. For those who don't get it, see my Library Book post for a description and picture. Also see Dance of the Card Catalog.

An irreverent romp - I read this book at the suggestion of my sister, who knows that I like quirky things (and that I hate censorship).

More information at http:/

but not,

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Obselidia - the movie

George is a mild-mannered librarian living in Los Angeles. He does not own a car, still uses a rotary phone, and is writing his "Encyclopedia of Obsolete Things" on his manual typewriter, based on interviews he tapes with a clunky, old camcorder. One of his subjects, Sophie (a projectionist) causes him to reconsider his views on the obsolescence of love.

A great movie. Five stars.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower - by Professor X

This book is not the first thing that Professor X penned about the myth of "education for everyone". His essay of the same title appeared in the Atlantic Monthly about four years ago. X caught quite a bit of flack for suggesting that there were any students who didn't belong in college, so the fact that he expanded on this essay to write a full-length book to say the same thing is pretty brave. Professor X is an adjunct (part-time) English instructor at two different colleges - a private college, and a community college. In both places he teaches students who don't seem to understand the basics of grammar, won't make suggested changes on drafts, and for whom his night classes are just one more thing on their long lists of things to do (along with working full-time and tucking their children in to bed). He tells of students who will never pass English 101, and eventually cut their losses and give up on college. Unfortunately, these students are now saddled with student loan debts for an education that they barely ever started, much less completed. The author discusses the reasons why a college education is considered necessary for so many jobs, and often the reason is simply that there are so many college graduates that an employer may as well hire one as not. It is an "inflated credential".

Professor X writes about public libraries and college libraries in this work. He sees his local "beautiful little jewel" of a public library as an important part of the idyllic existence he dreamed of when he and his wife bought a house they could not afford (which prompted him to look for the part-time teaching gigs). But in most places where I read a passage about college library I could almost hear the author give a dejected sigh:
  • "...the library is so lightly used..."
  • "I went to the college library and checked out a collection of [Shirley Jackson's] short stories. The book hadn't been borrowed for decades..."
  • "I always do an introductory class on research. We all trudge down (emphasis mine) to the library and sit at the computer terminals".
  • "I once had a student who handed in a paper late, and this was his explanation: he got a late start because he couldn't find (emphasis in original) the college library."
  • "Once, as we started to do research, one of my students found the name and call number of a book she wanted to use. She dutifully wrote it all down on a slip. 'So what do I do now?' she wondered. 'Give it to a librarian'."
  • "Last week, I visited the campus library. I found I could hardly work because of the noise."
While there are quite a few passages about libraries, librarians are barely mentioned at all. After taking the time to "trudge down" to the library the students don't have a training session with an actual librarian; X demonstrates the databases himself, indicating that "it doesn't take...long to demonstrate how to search for newspaper and journal articles on Lexis-Nexis, EbscoHost, and Academic Search Elite". Perhaps if he asked a librarian (who probably would take some time with the databases) for assistance he might get better results from students. His anecdote regarding the little used Shirley Jackson book did include a librarian whose "eyes widened in horror when she saw the [Social Security] numbers" and names of the students on the "quaint checkout card" from the 1960s in the back of the book. The librarian "shredded the card and eyed [X] with great suspicion".

Professor X is nostalgic for his own college days when one could read entire journals in hard copy, not just single articles from a database; and students saw their professors doing their own research at the library. I think what X probably doesn't realize is that there have always been more studious and less studious students, and those who love to be in the library browsing the stacks, and those who don't. And professors have always bemoaned students who seemed uninterested in learning for learning sake, and wondered what they were doing in college at all.

The author quotes an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education which suggests that the library be included on tours for prospective students. (Are there really schools that don't include it?) And that "they should be welcomed by a librarian who delivers the message that the library is critically important to each student's academic experience." I will say that Maxwell library is included on the Bridgewater State University campus tour, but we have been unable to convince those in admissions that someone who works in the library should be given a chance to address the baseball-cap bedecked troops that move through the building. Instead we bite our tongues as we hear as the backwards-walking student leaders use words such as "nonsense" to describe the research process, or confide, in a conspiratorial tone, that they've never actually checked a book out of the library.

Reading this book I found myself feeling as cynical as Professor X does about teaching in higher education. Much of what he writes about are things I've observed myself, but the book does have some glimmers of hope as well. I read of community college students who worked hard, and learned a lot, who otherwise would not have been able to afford to go to college, and the author does some reflection on his teaching and recognizes what he has done, or not, that did or didn't work well.

I think the most important lesson I took from this work is that I am indeed happy in my small house deep in the "student ghetto" of Bridgewater. I often think about how much quieter the big houses, farther from the center of town, must be but X has provided me with a cautionary tale of what happens when one goes  looking for greener grass. He demonstrates well how paying for a big house, when he was quite content in his previous (smaller) one, precluded him for actually being able to live in it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Of books and trains

Image recycled-train-wagon-library-curitiba-1.jpg.400x300_q85_crop-smart.jpg

Not far from Brazil's east coast lies the city of Curitiba, a city that knows how to reuse materials. According to this article  from "Tree Hugger" the small library in the center of town was converted from an old train car.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Turn Right at Machu Picchu - by Mark Adams

In two years time, for my fiftieth birthday, I plan to make a pilgrimage to Peru's "Lost City of the Incas," Machu Picchu. I do not plan to make so much of an adventure of it as Adams did and will risk the ridicule of Adams' guide, John Leievers - who lamented to Adams the first time they met that "People used to be travelers....Now they're tourists". I plan to stay in a hotel in Cusco and take the train ride up to the ruins. Which is not to say I cannot appreciate the voyage undertaken by the author, who had virtually never slept in a tent before, much less done any serious hiking. He, however, eschewed the namby-pamby 4-day hike on the famed Incan Trail in favor a month long trek worthy of a real "traveler" - like explorer Hiram Bingham - the Yale University professor credited with "discovering" Machu Picchu in 1911.

This work is much more than an inspiring travelogue. Adams weaves his own adventure into the story of Bingham, and that of the ancient Incan empire and  its ultimate conquest by the Spanish. Of course to do this kind of history telling properly, one must spend much time in libraries doing research, and clearly our hero (the author) did so, as he points out, did Bingham.

Early in the book Adams describes taking a day off of work, so he could take the train into Yale where "he spent hours in the library, leafing through Bingham's diaries and expedition the neo-Gothic splendor of Yale's Rare Books and Manuscripts room". He read much of Bingham's work, and acknowledges that Bingham wasn't really a very good writer. This may be the reason that when he checked out Bingham's Journal of an Expedition Across Venezuela and Colombia the librarian pointed out that "the last due date had been stamped in 1914."

The author tells of at least three specific trips to libraries, as well he gives nods to the Yale Sterling Library and "Melanie James of the sublime General Society Library" in his acknowledgments (and "sublime" is not a word the author uses lightly, either).

Descriptions of Bingham's library research at Yale, and in Lima, illustrate that his quest for information went hand-in-hand with this quest for finding the lost city.
the more hours he [Bingham] spent in the university library researching the final days of the Inca empire, the more convinced he became that their lost city really did exist - except it was called Vilcabamba".
Bingham pursued this notion with a visit to the National Library in Lima, where he spent "much of his brief time" with historian Carlos Romero "whose archival research had raised the prospect that Vitcos, not Vilcabamba was the Lost City of the Incas". The follow up to all of this, with explanations of the difference between the two places, and flaws in theories, is a beautiful demonstration of just how messy research can become, with one piece of information leading the scholar down new paths - something I spend a lot of my time teaching students about, explaining that it is not necessarily a bad thing, either.

There are also at least three other places in which Adams tells of other researchers use of libraries, and how these also piqued the scholars' interests into tracking down more information.

And finally, I will say that reading this book prompted me to add the following movies to my Netflix list: Secret of the Incas and Lost City of the Incas as well as an Indiana Jones movie, not because there is some evidence that the character Indiana Jones is based in Hiram Bingham, but rather because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull includes a scene in Yale's Sterling Memorial Library, complete with "mousy student". Adams gives this brief review of the film
The team behind Crystal Skull  might have benefited from a few more hours in the library, since the story is riddled with embarrassing errors, not the least of which is Indy's greeting at a Peruvian airport by a Mexican mariachi band.
It is never a bad idea to spend a little extra time in the library. Perhaps the mousy students are actually on to something.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal - by Jeanette Winterson

"The trouble with a book is that you never know what's in it until it's too late" proclaimed Jeanette Winterson's Pentecostal mother (identified in this memoir as Mrs W), who kept only six books in the house (one of which was the Bible, and two others were "commentaries on the Bible"). While Mrs W finds her salvation in her faith, the younger Winterson ultimately finds it in the Accrington Public Library, where, ironically, her mother sends her each week to pick up her "stash of murder mysteries". It was in the library that Winterson discovered Jane Austen, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Elliott. Throughout the book Winterson discusses classic works of literature, and how reading, and writing, changed her life. She talks of books the same way one might speak of a lover, using words such as "pain", "joy" and "betrayal", but also as safety and comfort
Books, for me, are a home. Books don't make a home - they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.
There is warmth there too - a hearth. I sit down with a book and I am warm.
Often her memories go back to the Accrington Public Library, with its Dewey Decimal System, and cubicles for "individual study" - right next to the large print book section - to which Winterson observes "Mrs W was nothing if not old-fashioned. She knew that masturbation made you blind....Presumably one thing led to another."

Winterson  speaks well of librarians saying they are "reliable" and even mentions thinking about becoming one herself, as the best, of the few choices, she sees for a young woman from  Accrington where "women couldn't be anything except wives or teachers or hairdressers or secretaries or do shop work....[or]librarians...[she] thought of doing that" but decided she would rather write her own books.

Books, libraries, bookstores, reading, and writing all play important roles in Winterson's life. She is quite philosophical about the way she was raised - book burning and all - as she recognizes that without that denial she might never have learned to appreciate reading, and the life of the mind, it helped her to develop.