Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat - the movie

I learned about this short documentary when I read The True Tails of Baker and Taylor. Produced in 1997 It is only available on VHS tape. I was able to get a rather grainy copy via Interlibrary loan. Featuring dozens of cats who live in libraries, and the librarians who love them, it was sometimes hard to tell if this was supposed to be satire. The library-cat ladies were real, but appeared to come out of Central Casting. The box blurb says the film "takes a humorous and thought-provoking look at cats that live in libraries". But some of the intervieews seemed to take the issue rather seriously. Librarians (and those who love them) will likely find this film worth watching, others may not see the humor. This film features not only Baker and Taylor, but also Dewey, about whom I have also blogged. I was also interested to see a cat from the nearby Brockton (MA) Public Library , a library I have visited several times. I don't think they have a cat anymore, though.

Iron Frog Productions created a companion map of library cats available on its website. There is no date on it. I suspect it is no longer being maintained.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor - by Jan Louch & Lisa Rogak

In the following post when writing about cats I spell out the word "and" between Baker and Taylor; when referring to the company the ampersand (&) is used.

Although librarians and booksellers today almost always associate the Baker & Taylor Company with its cat mascots the book vendor existed before the cats named in its honor. According to the company's history page,155 years passed from the founding of the company to the adoption of  the felines Baker and Taylor by the Minden branch of the Douglas County (Nevada) Public Library. Author Louch and then library director Yvonne Saddler decided to get a cat when they discovered mice in their new building. Baker came first, a special breed of cat called a Scottish Fold which Louch and Saddler bought with their own funds. Once they realized that Baker needed a friend, they convinced the company with which they did so much business to buy the second cat for them. Baker & Taylor sponsored the care and feeding of the cats throughout their lives, in exchange for the use of their images on promotional materials. Calendars, tote bags and posters with the cats' likenesses are still highly sought-after items at library conventions even now, long after the cats' deaths. This was, not surprisingly, the intention of the company. As explained by their sales rep when he called with the offer to buy Taylor "the whole idea is to get people into our booth at conferences, and I think the cats will help. At least they have to be better than what we currently use." Louch's commentary on this really struck a chord with me
I had to agree. The freebies Yvonne had brought back from the last American Library Association (ALA) convention consisted of a horseshoe-shaped key chain and a nondescript black paperweight with Baker & Taylor Co. etched on it, which she promptly tucked away in her desk, unused and gathering dust ever since.
So here I must editorialize about one of the things I dislike most about library conventions: the freebies, which, just as Louch describes, so often just wind up forgotten in the desks of the attendees. Meanwhile the manufacturers of such give-aways are exploiting precious resources to make all the junk, which librarians can't seem to get enough of during the convention itself. Do my fellow librarians not realize that they won't use the stuff? Why do they clamor for it every time? I remember once when "going green" was just starting to become a rallying cry, the ALA sent out some information about how they would be "greening" the convention. It included a place where we could offer additional suggestions. Mine was that vendors not bring dumb crap to pass out (I think I used different words, though and I don't think anyone heeded my advice, either).

This book is as much a memoir of all books and pets the author ever loved (as well as her love of libraries), as it is a story of Baker and Taylor. I was especially interested that she continued to love her childhood library even when the "dyspeptic librarian" got tired of her checking out ten items every day, and changed her limit to five. I also got a chuckle of Louch's description of being "shushed" by patrons when her stories about the cats got too loud and animated. I, myself, have been asked to quiet down on at least two occasions by people using the library I work in!

Louch also treats the issue of book banning and censorship.
Libraries also provide unfiltered access to information in the form of books and other resources that reflect a wide variety of opinions and ideas...the purpose of a library [is] to provide a wide variety of viewpoints whether or not you [agree] with them. 
It is for this reason that she defends keeping Mein Kampf in the library, even as she explains how much she abhors the Holocaust deniers who leave brochures in books about World War II.

If you don't agree with something and want to write and publish your own book stating your views, that's fine. Traditionally, public libraries have been very good about finding and putting books with opposing views on their shelves. 

Baker and Taylor succeeded in keeping the mice away, and they also made the library a happier place. Circulation improved as people came in to see the cats, and left with their first library card.

Louch became Baker and Taylor's spokesperson, answering their fan mail, and creating an archive ("because that's what any responsible librarian in my position would do").

Library cats have always been a thing. As noted in the Baker & Taylor website (highlighted above) they have been used since the time of ancient Egypt. Their presence, like Baker and Taylor's, was both practical (mousing) and fun. In fact, this is not the first time I've blogged about a real-life library cat. See my post about Dewey, the library cat from Spencer, Iowa. Louch also intersperses profiles of other library cats throughout the work.

This fun book was a perfect read during my recent vacation. I laughed, I cried, I empathized.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A busman's holiday-in search of the San Juan, Puerto Rico library

In the year 2000 our family adopted a dog from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Massachusetts. Clover was a feisty little mutt who had been rescued from the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico by an outfit called Save A Sato - a nonprofit that helps street dogs find permanent homes. Clover lived with us until her death in 2010. Until last week she was the only member of our family to have been to Puerto Rico. My husband, daughter and I have all now experienced this beautiful island for ourselves.

Clover 1999-2010
In addition to seeing some spectacular sites, visiting a coffee farm (Golden Roseapple Farm), and making the general tourist stops (Arecibo Lighthouse, Arecibo Observatory, San Juan National Historic Site, and the Bacardí Distillery...

My lovely daughter enjoys her rum cocktail at the Bacardi Distillery

we, of course went looking for a public library. We noticed the iconic library sign  when we arrived in Old San Juan, but quickly felt as if we'd been sent on a wild goose chase.

First, we discovered the historic archives library in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, of which only a small area was open

I noticed this bust of Miguel de Cervantes on top of the shelf. I had actually just downloaded Don Quixote to my iPad to read during the trip. I have not read this classic work since 1990.
Nearby, we discovered this beautiful old Carnegie Library, which was permanently closed.

A web search eventually brought us to the San Juan Community Library, which was nowhere near where we first saw the sign. It was about a seven mile drive, in fact.

The library was open and welcoming

The breezeway entry had books for sale and a place to sit...
And a reminder letting people know to get their library card!

In this library on this very bilingual island, books in English and Spanish sat side-by-side on the shelves. Blue dots marked English-language; red for Spanish.

There was a lot going on in a relatively small space, including a special corner for children
(photo credit James Hayes-Bohanan)
A library quest is always a good use of time. This library had public access computers, tables for reading, and even a small stage for programs all in one space.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Storm Center - the movie

"A librarian is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by a city council"

In this bad-ass librarian film Bette Davis plays Alicia Hull, a Public Librarian during the height of McCarthyism, who is asked to remove the book The Communist Dream from the library shelves. At first she acquiesces, in deference to the City Council who just voted for a children's wing for the library - a long-time pet project of Hull's, but she changes her mind and in so doing, loses her job. The movie was made in 1957, a few years after Senator Joe McCarthy was condemned by the rest of the Senate for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute". I imagine the Hollywood Blacklist prevented it from being made any earlier. The film demonstrates how fear and paranoia can have devastating consequences not just on individuals, but on communities as well. It was interesting to note the reasons the City Council gave for asking that the book be removed. They had gotten some complaints and alluded to the fact that the book might fall into the wrong hands, or that someone might read it, and get the idea that the Library (and, therefore the City) condoned Communism. Wasn't it just better to just remove this one book, than to make an issue of it? Hull counters that while she does not necessarily like the book herself, that people have to right to know what Communism is, and should be able to read about it for themselves. She compares the book to another book that had been frequently checked out but that she personally did not like - Hitler's Mein Kampf  - and points out for those who read it, it only served to solidify their belief that Hilter had to be defeated. Her arguments fall on deaf ears, and the book is ultimately removed.

Arguments for book banning are still the same as they were when this film was made. The patronizing attitude that those who want the book banned can handle its contents, but that others may not understand is still evident in censorship battles today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Station Agent - the movie

Before Peter Dinklage was Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister he played Miles Finch, angry children's book author, in the movie Elf ; and perhaps even lesser known, he was Finbar McBride in The Station Agent

Train lover McBride inherits an old train depot in New Jersey when his only friend dies. Arriving at his new home he is (reluctantly) befriended by a food truck vendor; a grieving mother; and a young, pregnant librarian with a tosser of a boyfriend.

This is not a film for those looking for an action-packed drama. But if you're looking for a rather low-key, cerebral film about folks who use their public library you are in for a treat.

BTW I have never watched even one episode of Game of Thrones. I read two of the books though, and didn't like them. My reviews can be found here and here.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - by Rebecca Wells

Siddalee (aka Sidda) Walker didn't intend to portray her mother (Vivi) as "a tap-dancing child abuser" when she was interviewed by a New York Times reporter after directing a hit play. The article, not surprisingly, however, causes an estrangement between the two women, which in turn causes Siddalee to postpone her upcoming wedding and do some soul searching. She retreats to a cabin in Washington state and attempts to get some insight into her mother (and herself) via Vivi's scrapbook, and through the "Ya-Yas," her mother's three lifelong friends.

I got almost all the way to the end of this book believing I would not be writing a blog post about it, but on page 341 of this 356-page book there appeared a library reference that could not be ignored. On her homecoming for Vivi's birthday Sidda considers all the things her relations had to face during the standoff
Sidda knew the scenes they'd had to witness down there in the thick of things: Baylor refusing to represent Vivi in a lawsuit against Sidda. Vivi's letters, sent certified mail to everyone in the extended family, announcing that she had disowned her oldest daughter. Vivi's highly publicized...firing of the lawyer who'd represented the Walkers for decades because he dared advise her to think it over before she cut Sidda out of her will. Vivi's monthlong attempt o reach Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, to give him a piece of her mind. Vivi's wild attempt to force the Garnet Parish Library to burn their issue-and the microfiche- of the New York Times that carried the offending article. Then Vivi's desperate cancellation of her library card when they refused. And of course her delight in the subterfuge when she later reapplied for a card under an assumed name.
So much going on here with the attempted censorship and attempted blackmail. Of course today burning a single copy of a newspaper (or all copies in town for that matter), would not prevent people from reading an article published in a national newspaper which is now available online. Even so, it was good to read that even this fictitious would-be censor was thwarted by the librarians, who were certainly not going to change their minds over a patron's decision to cancel her card! Likewise they were probably not fooled when she used an alias to apply for a new card. This passage not only illustrates the power of the public library, but the necessity of it as well. Vivi's deception in applying for another card, even after she has expressed her anger toward the library demonstrates just how important libraries are. Library cards are like keys for unlocking information.