Monday, June 24, 2019

Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven - by Bella Forrest

For those who like stories about orphans who discover that they're magical, Forrest brings us a bit of a lighter series than that of J.K. Rowling. While readers who like to see a magical rumble won't be disappointed, Harley Merlin (aka Harley Smith) hasn't been cursed with having to save the entire magical and non-magical worlds, so the skirmishes she faces, while not without real danger, aren't quite as dire as those faced by Harry Potter and his friends.

While she is not fully aware of all of her talents, Harley does know that she has some extraordinary abilities. Most notably she is an empath, a gift that makes her exceptionally good at her job spotting cheaters in a Las Vegas casino. It is there that Wade Crowley observes her work, recognizes her for what she is and recruits her to join his coven. The coven has a secret entrance at the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, where Harley lands her "cover" job at the Center's Archives and Library. She is naturally skeptical that she can earn enough money "to keep [her] financially satisfied" working in a library three to four hours a day, four days a week, pointing out that she can earn $3000 in one good night at the casino. Coven director Alton Waterhouse, assures her that he will make sure to match her salary through the Library and Archives job.

Wow! That's some magic!

While we don't know what, exactly, Harley does in her job at the Library and Archives we do know that she does a bit of archival research for her own purposes, which is how she discovers that she is a Merlin (yes, that Merlin).

My husband and I listened to the Audible version of this work. Since there are already eight books out in this series (with number nine due to be released in a week) we will expect to enjoy listening to this series for a while, without the frustration of a "three-year summer" between books.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Becoming - by Michelle Obama

As the semester wrapped up this spring two different students came to the reference desk and excitedly asked me if the library owned this book (we do). When I walked them to the shelf to show them where it was they also both asked if I'd read it yet (I hadn't). So, once classes were over I checked it out to see what all the fuss was about.

This, in fact, is a very good book. Obama is witty, and demonstrates grace and dignity in her writing. She is well educated and wicked smart (as we Bay Staters say) and as such she knows the value of libraries. She first mentions them on page 4.
My mother taught me how to read early, walking me to the public library, sitting with me as I sounded out words on a page 
After "plow[ing] through" the library's collection of Dick and Jane books (the same ones I learned to read with - she and I were born in the same year) she was excited to have new things to read when she entered kindergarten.

After graduating from high school she matriculated at Princeton (despite the comments of a thoughtless counselor had told her she was hardly Princeton material). Her awe of the university library is evident in her description
The main library was like an old-world cathedral, with high ceilings and glossy hardwood tables where we could lay out our textbooks and study in silence
She made good use of the library, studying in the carrels, and doing research about multiple sclerosis - the disease that afflicted her father - photocopying articles from medical journals to send to her parents.

Her observation about legacy kids "whose families had funded the building of a dorm or library" seems especially prescient given recent headlines about Ivy league admissions scandals.

Recognizing that she became successful in part due to the guidance of any number of people who came before her, mentoring others became one of Obama's passions. As the leader of a nonprofit group called Public Allies she worked with young people to help them find internships in the public sector. One of these protégés was a "twenty-six year old from Grand Boulevard who'd left high school but had kept up his education with library books and later gone back to earn his diploma". Who says libraries don't matter?

Just before moving into the White House she was treated to an insider's tour by outgoing first lady Laura Bush "a former schoolteacher and librarian". Obama writes graciously about Mrs. Bush, and other politicians, even those with whom she does not see eye to eye. However, when writing about 45 she pulls no punches. Her concerns about his vulgar language, his "birther" conspiracy theories, and ultimately, for the very safety of the country are made abundantly clear. I was especially interested to learn that 45 attended one of Barack Obama's White House Correspondents' dinners where he sat "stone-faced and stewing". Since 45 has not, in fact, attended any of the Correspondents' dinners since he entered the White House it is particularly intriguing that he attended one of his predecessors.

Written with finesse, this book is worthy of all the bubbly excitement demonstrated by the two students who asked me if I'd read it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread - by Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall

While libraries are never specifically mentioned in this work, it's place on this blog is secured due to the information literacy theme. This work not only tells how false beliefs are spread (twitter isn't the only way) but also how some might be slowed down or stopped. This also explains how truth is malleable, and how even scientists and other experts can be mislead. No one is immune from false beliefs (not even librarians).

I was most interested in the conclusions because the authors make the same point I did when I presented on fake news at a conference two years ago. We cannot expect social media platforms, news aggregators, or algorithms to do this work for us.
...we need to recognize that fake news stories - and propaganda more generally - are not fixed targets. These problems cannot be solved once and for all. Economist Charles Goodhart is know for "Goodhart's law"..."When measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." In other words, whenever there are interests that would like to game an instrument of measurement, they will surely figure to how to do it - and once they do, the measurement is useless...As soon as we develop algorithms that block fake news sites, the creators of these sites will have tremendous incentive to find creative ways to outwit the detectors. 
The more we, as individuals, know the better we each can become at identifying fake news, fake research, and propaganda. My advice is to read as much as you can.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage - by Jeffrey Ford

In a re-imagined world of Melville's Moby Dick Captain Ahab (along with others of the crew of the Pequod) survived the attack of the white whale. A reformed Ahab comes to Manhattan in search of his wife and son, whom he has been told moved from Nantucket to live with a relative. In a tale of manticores and monsters Ahab reveals more about his travels. He also runs into Daggoo (aka Madi), harpooneer from the ill-fated Pequod. We learn a bit of Madi's back story - that he was young and wanted to see the world - and remembers very little of Africa
I only dimly recall my mother and father. My homeland and Islam. All that was washed out of me by the rolling sea. I've been on a voyage to another world, suffered solid months of stillness at the equator, and been lashed by furious typhoons. At night, I have fleeting glimpses of my father's handiwork, the jewels and metals he shaped like a sprinkling of gold dust in my dreams. That and a story my grandfather told me when I was a child of the fabulous libraries of Timbuktu.
Ahab enlists the help of a journalist George Harrow to navigate the city. Harrow, in turn, seeks assistance from Mrs. Pease, the archivist for the Gorgon's Mirror (the tabloid for which Harrow works). The archive comprised
shelves and drawers and cabinets containing various and sundry articles and clippings from myriad  local newspapers and magazines-all catalogued, filed, and cross-referenced according to a system devised by Mrs. Pease. How the materials were chosen-and the criteria by which they were arranged-was a mystery
Mrs. Pease knew the system though, and could find anything within. With information she found she was able to do research and create maps. Of course any one could tell you that a person with these duties and skills is a librarian. And, indeed, Harrow eventually identifies her as such.

A fun bit of fiction. I'm not sure how true Melville fans will feel about it, though.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Night Library - by David Zeltser

I'm always on the lookout books about libraries that also intersect with holidays and special events. Zeltser's picture book tells the story of a boy who learns about the magic of libraries on the eve of his eighth birthday (aka his "attainment day"). 

The unnamed narrator is somewhat less than impressed when his parents give him a book for his birthday. But with the help of New York Public Library's lions (Patience and Fortitude) and a fantastic night in the library when books come alive, he remembers the thrill of learning to read on his grandfather's lap. Now one book seems hardly enough! Thank goodness for library cards!

I bought this as a birthday present to myself. My husband and I read it together on my 55th birthday.