Tuesday, August 27, 2013

September is Library Card Sign-up Month

In honor of Library Card Sign-up Month I read Harry in Trouble by Barbara Ann Porte. Harry isn't really in very much trouble, he just thinks he is because he lost his library card, for the second time! He is sure the librarian, Ms. Katz, will never replace his card again. Ms. Katz puts on a good show, but as the good librarian she is, would really never deny a child his books and comes up with a clever solution to the lost-card problem.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Okay For Now - by Gary D. Schmidt

Lucas laughed. So good. "It sounds like you know what you're talking about."
Mr. Powell raised an eyebrow. "I'm a librarian," he said. "I always know what I'm talking about..."
Thirteen-year old Doug has an alcoholic, abusive father; one brother who's a bully; another who is a wounded Vietnam veteran; and a mother with a winning smile. When the family moves to Marysville, New York during the summer before Doug starts eighth grade he expects things can only get worse. But Doug soon discovers the Marysville Public Library. Although open only on Saturdays, librarian Mr. Powell helps Doug discovers a love of books through an unlikely source - volume 3 of John James Audubon's Birds of America. It is the artwork that initially piques Doug's interest and Mr. Powell sees the potential artist in Doug and teaches him to see the depth, movement, and composition in Audubon's work. He also teaches Doug that not everyone understands that books should not be sabotaged for profit. "You can't sell the pages of a whole book one by one." Doug tells Mr. Powell when he discovers that Plate CCXCIII (The Large-billed Puffin) has been sliced out of the book. Mr.Powell explains that "When it's an Audubon, you can. Most buyers can't afford a whole book, but they can buy one plate at a time - if they find someone low enough to cut them out of a folio." Doug learns that when the town needs money the Town Council goes to the library "like it was a bank or something" with a razorblade. Doug's quest to find and return the missing plates has him doing some true wheeling and dealing.

Audubon's artwork provides the segue for Doug to appreciate books and reading. This passage in which he wheedles a rare book from the private collection of Mrs. Windermere demonstrates a turning point in Doug
"You have something up you sleeve," she said.
I told her.
Mrs. Windermere smiled. Almost like my mother, which kind of surprised me. "The God of Creativity has folded his wings by your desk too," she said. She took the book, held it lightly to her lips, and kissed it. It wasn't weird. It was beautiful. Then she handed it back to me. "Nothing should ever sit and gather dust," she said...
Set in the days just prior to the first moon landing, Schmidt gives a true sense of time and place in this wonderfully library-centric work which tells a story of redemption on many levels.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - by Rebecca Skloot

I've been intrigued by this title for several years. So, recently when two different friends of mine suggested that it be would be a good choice for Bridgewater's One Book One Community (OBOC) reading program several of us on the OBOC steering committee decided to read it. It does look like an excellent choice for a community-wide read with a lot of issues for discussion including race, class, medical ethics, legal ethics, and science vs. religion.

Author Rebecca Skloot, sets out to find out about the real person behind the HeLa cell line. In 1951 cancer cells were taken from Henrietta Lacks who was being treated at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (one of the few places that offered treatment to African American patients at the time). Lacks' cells turned out to have an incredible rate of reproduction and were the first cells that were able to be kept alive in a culture. Still reproducing today they have been used in countless medical, and other scientific experiments. Lacks' family did not find out about the cells until 25 years later. And virtually none of the people doing research with Lacks' cells knew anything about the woman they came from (most thought her name was Helen Lane). In Skloot's quest to find out about the mother of five who died of cervical cancer at age 31 she consulted doctors and researchers; traveled to Lacks' family home in Clover, Virginia; and interviewed family members, much of the time accompanied Lacks' daughter Deborah, who knew almost as little about her mother as Skloot did.

Henrietta Lacks moved from her hometown of Clover to Turner Station, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland for her husband to take a job at Bethlehem Steel. So, it is at the Turner Station Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library that Skloot meets the librarian who shows her a VHS tape of the BBC program The Way of All Flesh.

At the time of Lacks' death there were no laws or ethical codes that required doctors to ask permission from patients to take living tissue. There were laws requiring permission of the family before removal of tissue from dead bodies. Controversy remains as to when the cells were removed, and whether consent was granted.

This work is completely readable and accessible, even for those of us who have not had a science class since tenth grade biology.

More information
Recent article from the New York Times tells of the Lacks family finally being given a place at the table.
Remembering Henrietta Lacks
The Supreme Court ruled in June that naturally occurring genes could not be patented, although synthetic ones can be.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Some books about libraries that I am unlikely to read

My weekly American Libraries Direct newsletter included this blog post from "My Sentimental Library" about "My books about Libraries" many of these are catalogs, some are history books. While they may be fascinating on some level, especially to a librarian I doubt I will add them to my reading list.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Antarctica - the movie

Omer is an Israeli, about-to-turn-thirty, gay librarian looking for love. There are a lot of characters in this film moving in and out and around his life including his lesbian sister Shirley, who isn't sure what she wants out of life, perhaps she'd like to go to Antarctica she tells her girlfriend (this is the only mention of the title word). Other characters include his mother and her boyfriend, both played by Noam Huberman (Miss Lalia Carry); promiscuous Boaz; author Matilda Rose, who regularly attends a support group for those abducted by aliens; as well as several boyfriends, friends, and friends of boyfriends. Keeping track of all the characters took some concentration. The library setting wasn't really integral to the story, but as Omer's workplace it provided him some respite from having to deal with everything else that was going on in his life.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revenge of the Saguaro - by Tom Miller

Two decades ago, when I was but a mere library school student at the University of Arizona, I had the opportunity to work for an author (Tom Miller) who was then working on a book about his travels in Cuba. I did some research and fact checking for him, and was eventually gifted with a signed copy of the book Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through Castro's Cuba. It was the first time I would see my own name on an "Acknowledgements" page - so thrilling. It was especially fun reading the book and seeing things that I'd helped the author to research.

I moved away from Tucson shortly thereafter, and lost touch with Tom. A few years ago, as I was doing some book ordering I came across a review of TWtE which had just been reprinted. I ordered the book for my library, and then did a bit of online searching and found Tom's webpage with an e-mail address and sent him a greeting. From that bit of online contact, we exchanged some more e-mails, and have since traveled to Cuba together when he lead a tour of "Literary Havana" this past January. As well, he has come to Bridgewater State University to talk to some writing students and Latin American Studies students about his work. While he was here, my husband and I purchased one of his more recent books Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America's Southwest - a collection of quirky essays. The titular essay tells of a majestic Saguaro cactus that in a final act of poetic justice, snuffs its own killer by toppling on him.

My husband, James, read the book before I did and assured me that there were librarians in it, but I was beginning to despair that the only thing I would have to blog about was one mention of Joan "a feisty high-school librarian with fire-engine-red toe-nail polish" who picked up trash with a group of volunteers along High Lonesome Road near Bisbee, Arizona. But the final essay in the book, "The Occidental Tsuris" was a true gold (or should I say copper) mine of all things library. (BTW I tried looking up tsuris in two different dictionaries, before I resorted to Googling it - here's the definition for those readers who are yiddish-ly challenged, as I am.)

In "Tsuris" Miller writes about Cochise County, Arizona, and its county seat, Bisbee, an old copper mining town on the U.S. / Mexico border. Cochise County is a place I occasionally enjoyed visiting during my own stint as an Arizonan, but I never knew about its sordid history of book banning. During the 1980s Saint David (a town I had not heard of before reading Miller's book) removed Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Conrad's Lord of the Rings from the high school reading list. Likewise, a history textbook was rejected for use when one (woman) citizen who had "gone through it very carefully, making a note of each time there was a reference to a woman" showed up at a school committee meeting, and explained that "Women belong in the home. Not in history". Miller writes about three bookstore owners, two of whom worked in libraries, and one (Walter Swan) who earned a D- in library in school, before dropping out in eighth grade. I remembered meeting Swan, author of me 'n Henry, and proprietor of the One Book Bookstore. Swan's brilliant plan of publishing the book himself, and selling only it in his storefront on Main Street in Bisbee earned him quite a bit of celebrity, so much so that he had articles written about him in several national publications, and he knew that "every library in the state's got a copy" of his book. I purchased a copy of the book for my mother many years ago, and had a Polaroid picture taken with him. I imagine I read the book, but I don't remember it well, and I have no idea what happened to the photograph, perhaps it is in my folder of unsorted mementos marked "Arizona".

The two other bookstore owners were John Kuehn, who also drove the county bookmobile; and former librarian David Eshner. Their bookstores were adjacent to each other, and the strengths of their collections complemented one another. On the day that Miller rode in the bookmobile with Kuehn, he (Kuehn) signed up a young couple for library cards. They had just moved to town and told him that "one of the first things [they] wanted to do was get library cards." It reminded me of my arrival in Bridgewater, Massachusetts 16 years ago. James and I moved here on August 5, 1997. Our daughter was born on August 19 of that year. One of the few things we managed to do between our arrival and our baby's arrival was get our library cards. Essential.

Swan, Kuehn and Eshner have all since died. Swan's book is still available through amazon.

Tom talks about "Revenge" in this YouTube video.