Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Great Believers - by Rebekah Makkai

This is the third book by Makkai I've blogged about. The first (The Borrower) was the most librarian-centric, but also the most librarian-disparaging. While the present work, and The Hundred-Year House each only mention libraries a few times they are as places where research and scholarship is done. 

The storyline in The Great Believers alternates between two time periods the mid 1980s to early 1990s (during the AIDS crisis) and the year 2015. It follows the story of Fiona (whose brother Nico died of AIDS). It also tells of Nico's friends, all of whom were touched by the pandemic. One of the characters we learn the most about is Yale, whose job as a schmoozer at Northwestern University takes him to Door County, Wisconsin to meet with Mrs. Nora Lerner the widow of a Northwestern alum (and great-aunt to Nora and Nico). Nora Lerner wants to donate some original art pieces to the University gallery. Yale spends quite bit of time with her finding out about the works, which she obtained directly from the artists in Paris in the early twentieth century. As she describes what life was like in 1919 Paris Yale begins to empathize with her as she tells of all her friends dying either in the war, or from the Spanish flu and he recognizes how this parallels his own life.

Yale and his intern (Roman) use the Door County public library to make photocopies of some of Mrs. Lerner's documents. Most of the artists are well known in the art community except for one, Ranko Novak. Lerner stipulates that all the artwork must be displayed, or none of it can. In doing research about the artists Roman discovers a library book containing a "literal footnote" about Novak. 

This was published in 2018, before our current pandemic. It almost seemed surreal to read it in 2020.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Calling Bullshit - by Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West

At a recent meeting on information literacy on our campus a colleague from the Biology department called my attention to this work, which is based on a course the authors teach at the University of Washington. More than just how to spot fake news, the authors remind us that bullshit is everywhere. It is in local and national news, in our social media feeds, and yes, even in PR from University Administration. 

We cannot blame the messenger for any of this. Early in the work the authors describe the lament of fifteenth century priest and scribe Filippo de Strata who "railed against the damage wrought by the invention of the printing press". He worried that the low cost of printing materials would place written materials in the hands of the masses thereby lowering their value and authority. 

Five hundred years later in 1969 sociologist Neil Postman's comments on the pablum of mass media expresses concern that "infotainment" will distract the masses from real issues. Neither de Strata nor Postman could have imagined the level of bullshit brought on by the internet.
Publicly, Filippo de Strata fretted that the 'brothel of the printing press' would lead readers to cheap salacious entertainment...Privately, he may have been more concerned about his own job security.
I sometimes wonder about scholars, and some librarians who wish to guard certain information (under the guise of academic freedom). Is it the scholarship they are really attracted to, or simply the idea that they want others to believe that they are the ultimate authority?

A few years ago I read this article that discussed the issue of "abstract spin", the idea that authors of academic papers made their abstracts (sometimes the only part of a paper another person reads) focus on the juicy parts of the study. In this way they are more likely to get press coverage. Of course no one reporting on the story actually read the article, and may not have even read the abstract directly for that matter. The authors of Calling Bullshit likewise discussed the question of what gets covered in the popular press and what doesn't. Most notably that "negative results simply aren't exciting". Furthermore
The research studies that are reported in the popular press are not a random sample of those conducted or even of those published. The most surprising studies are the ones that mate the most exciting articles... When science writers cast scientific studies in popular language, they sometimes omit important caveats, offer stronger advice than is justified, present correlations as causal relationships, or extrapolate from findings in lab animals to suggest immediate application in humans
I attend a fair number of presentations on fake news and misinformation, and have occasionally given them myself. One thing that can be counted on at any of these kinds of workshops is a question about how to convince someone that they are spreading false information. I don't really have a good answer for them, and typically I've noticed other presenters don't either. Bergstrom and West provide some good advice including understanding that a person's identity may be tied to their world view so "decoupling" issues of identity from the story you want to debunk is important. To wit:

Keep it simple - "falsehoods can be crafted to be simple" (consider how often we see meme's reduced to two pictures demonstrating someone  - or something - as bad and the other as good). When offering a counterargument keep you story simple as well.

Take it offline - don't publicly humiliate another person - you will not convince them and you will surely piss them off.

Find common ground - recognize that the other person has concerns (just as you do).

Do not repeat the myth before debunking, this increases the likelihood that the myth will be perpetuated. A good piece of advice I got regarding debunking things on social media is not to simply put a comment with a link to the source. For one thing most people won't see it, and for another it is a bit embarrassing for the original poster who may have shared in good faith. I also learned not to share the post with my own commentary as that will likely perpetuate the myth as well. Instead I download the post, change it and repost so that is is clear that I am breaking the chain of sharing. Here is an example

And finally the authors provide these tips for detecting bullshit:

1. Questioning the Source of the Information
  • Who is telling me this?
  • How [do they] know it?
  • What is this person trying to sell me? - Hint they are always trying to sell you something - you may not necessarily have to part with your money in order to "buy it"

2. Beware of Unfair Comparisons
Find out how comparisons are being made between x and y. Comparisons may be between two different kinds of things (apples to oranges)  or there may be some arbitrary condition thrown in that skew the results

3.  If it's too good to be true - it is.
Statistics have been cherry picked so that readers will generalize, or an incomplete picture is drawn with only partial data reported. Go to the original source to get the real story. I actually practiced what I preached here with the story about abstract spin (above). Once I read the article in the in Inside Higer Ed I found the original study and read it, too. 

And remember "When you are using social media, remember the mantra 'think more, share less'".

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Change the Subject - the movie

Change the Subject trailer

I received an email last week letting me know that Indiana University Bloomington was sponsoring a free screening of this film. I had not heard of the documentary before, but I did know the story of the Dartmouth College students who took on the Library of Congress (LoC) in order to have the pejorative catalog subject heading "Illegal Aliens" changed to Undocumented Immigrants. I was surprised to learn that the change has not yet happened (see this page from the Library of Congress Subject Headings). I followed the story at the time and remembered that Republicans in Congress (for the first time ever) decided to get involved with decisions on LoC subject headings. It is not unusual for Library of Congress Subject Headings to change as language and mores change, but in this case some lawmakers decided that this was too much and amounted to "political correctness run amok". Calls were made for more transparency in the process for changing LoC Subject headings (again, this had never been the case before). 

What both parties here understand is this: words matter. Language matters. 

The film follows the students from the CoFired (Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth) Student Group as they go from discovering that the subject heading exists to talking to the College librarians about it (and librarians' own awakening about the term) to the students' realization that the heading did not originate with Dartmouth's Baker-Berry Library but rather that the headings came from the authority of the Library of Congress and so they took their case to the United States Capitol.  

The term inspirational was used to describe the students. 



These students in fact inspired me to contact the editors of the popular Opposing Viewpoints database (Cengage) in 2017 when I discovered that the term "illegal aliens" was used as a heading in the database. I pointed out that the Library of Congress was considering changing their subject heading and that surely the editors of the database were aware of this. Furthermore, I suggested that the heading was judgmental, which seemed to be contrary to the purpose of the Opposing Viewpoints database - to inspire discussion. Unlike the Library of Congress Cengage did indeed "change the subject" after I sent them my message. The term "Undocumented Immigrants" is now used in the database.

Screenshot from Opposing Viewpoints database

I will continue to follow this story. Perhaps we will see a change in 2021.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Dutch House - by Ann Patchett


Danny and Maeve live with their father, wicked stepmother (Andrea), and two stepsisters in a grand home in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. When their father dies Andrea tells Maeve (a recent college graduate) that she and Danny are no longer welcome in the house and that Danny (still in high school) is now Maeve's responsibility. Left with little of their father's estate the siblings conspire to make the most of a trust fund marked specifically for their education. 

The house itself had a library (of course what grand house wouldn't?). The house was also mistaken for a library the first time Danny and Maeve's mother saw it. It had been purchased for her by their father as a surprise and despite that fact that it both had a library and looked like one, she had never liked it.

Danny and Maeve each make use of libraries. Danny describes reading library books on self-hypnosis as a child, and as and adult he researched property taxes and building prices in areas where he wanted to purchase real estate. For her part Maeve took advantage of the programming at the Philadelphia Free Library.

The story is told from Danny's point of view, but Maeve's story is very much a part of his. Maeve is a rare person who recognizes that a good life can be lived without having to constantly chase the next big promotion. She has a job she likes, and lives in a comfortable home and refuses to allow others to tell her to get a better job, or a bigger house. My father used to ask me when I was going to become a library director. Each time I would tell him that my position as a tenured university librarian was a better deal. Of course I could make more money as a director, but I wouldn't have the autonomy to decide what kind of research I wanted to do, or academic freedom to teach how I wanted to teach. My vacation time is generous and even without the big administrative bucks my husband and I managed to own our own home, send our child to private school, and to travel pretty much where ever we want, provided we are not living in a pandemic-ridden dystopia, of course.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Midnight Sun - by Stephenie Meyer


The newest book in the Meyer's "Twilight" series is a retelling of the first book from Edward Cullen's point of view. I remember liking the Twilight series when I first read them over a decade ago. I especially liked the first book in the series, but I found this one tedious. It took me a while to get through it. I probably would have just put it down and forgotten about it, if I hadn't come across this little gem of a conversation between Edward and Bella before I got to the halfway point. (Edward is asking Bella a series questions about herself in order to get to know her better.)
"What's your favorite place to spend time?"
"The library." She grinned. "If I hadn't already outed myself as a huge nerd, I guess that makes it obvious. I feel like I've read every fiction book in the little branch near me. The first place I went when I got my license was the central library downtown. I would live there."
I expect Twihards will find this work more interesting than I did. One of the reviews I read said that it tied up some loose ends, but as a casual fan I didn't really notice anything new.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Scary Stories - The documentary


The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom hosted a Scary Stories watch party on Friday night in honor of Banned Books Week. Not to be confused with the movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark which was based on the books, Scary Stories is a documentary about the series, and its censors.

Coming in at number 24 on the list of the Top 100 Most Banned Books of the decade (2010-2019) Alvin Schwartz's series of books was especially popular when it was first published in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was also a popular target of the censors who believed the books were too scary for young readers. The Satanic Panic  of the 1980s and early 90s, based on false accounts of ritualistic abuse, no doubt was a big part of what made this series a mark for book banners.

The books had a real cult following. For those who loved the books the illustrations by Stephen Gammell were an important part of the "Scary Stories" experience, they were also part of the package that made the books so objectionable to their censors. 

This documentary includes interviews with the author's family, librarians and educators who defended the book, folklorists, and anthropologists as well as interviews with the censors. It ends with a conversation between Peter Schwartz (son of the author) and one of the censors (who still claims that the books are too scary for children).

As one who researches book banning I have always been intrigued by these books. As a baby boomer I had already outgrown this series by the time of its heyday so it wasn't a touchstone for me the way it was for late Gen Xers or Millennials. I remember buying a copy of the first of the series out of curiosity perhaps about 20 years ago. After I read a few stories I put it down and didn't finish it. I didn't find the tales from my own childhood - old urban legends and ghost stories told at campouts and sleepovers - to be especially scary or interesting to the adult me. However, the fact that I remember them being told to me as a child makes banning the books especially ironic. These stories have a long oral tradition and will be told, with or without the books, for a long time to come. I think this also speaks to the question of age appropriateness. We told the stories because we wanted to be scared, it was a form of entertainment for us. The stories are not too scary for children. Children are in fact exactly the right audience for them.

Monday, September 28, 2020

George - by Alex Gino

Yesterday was the start of  banned books week, so I read a book that I've been meaning to read for a while. George is really the story of Melissa, a transgender girl. It ranks number five on the list of Top 100 Banned and Challenged books of the decade 2010-2019. According to the American Library Association reasons for challenges of this work include: a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not "put books in a child's hand that require discussion"; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and "traditional family structure". 

The narrator of the story uses George's birth name with feminine pronouns (she/her/hers) to tell her story. Only George's best friend Kelly knows that George is really a girl. Everyone else thinks she's a boy. A fourth grader, George really wants to the part of Charlotte in her class production of Charlotte's Web (a project in conjunction with the school-wide common read). Her teacher (Ms. Udell) thinks George is joking when she reads the spider's lines during her audition. "You know I can't very well cast you as Charlotte. I have too many girls who want the part. Besides, imagine how confused people would be" Ms. Udell tells a disappointed George (who absolutely does not want the part of Wilbur, or Templeton, either).

George keeps a collection of "girl" magazines hidden in a denim bag at the bottom of her closet, the way some might hide a pornography collection. She found her first magazine in the recycling bin of the library. The library is a space that George clearly knows well as it is described as a place that is close enough to her house that she passes by it on her bike on her way to Kelly's house. How lucky for her that she can so easily access this neighborhood treasure.

I'm looking forward to hearing the author speak during a Facebook live event on Wednesday. Gino has been outspoken in their defense of their book.

Lagniappe: This book not only mentioned libraries twice, it also had my favorite word: sesquipedalian - a word that describes itself.

Other books on the Top 100 list that treat the issue of gender identity include:
I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessical Herthel
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

Friday, September 11, 2020

Bats at the Library - by Brian Lies


While I don't much like bats, especially after having had one in my house, I do understand that they are beneficial both as pollinators and as mosquito eaters. In addition to these two helpful qualities, the bats in this book are also library advocates! Bats of all ages find joy in the library at night when they discover an open window. They do research, listen to stories, explore the building, and even get "shushed". 

A lovely celebrations of libraries.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dude, Where's My Country - by Michael Moore

I picked this book up at a used book sale a few years ago and it was sitting on my to-be-read shelf (along with so many others) until the pandemic and consequent stay-at-home orders had me finally taking a look at some of these neglected works.

Moore's now 17-year-old book written in the aftermath of 9/11 when Bush (43) was president harkens back to a kinder, gentler sort of evil - a time when we could not have imagined living in a this dystopian landscape headed by a complete incompetent. Moore pulls no punches as he points to specific examples of President Bush's poor leadership, both unintentional and willful, following the terrorist attacks in 2001. 

He begins by describing the problems he had in distributing his previous book Stupid White Men in the wake of the crisis

The first 50,000 copies...came off the printing press the day before 9/11, but when tragedy struck the next morning, the trucks that would carry them to the nation's bookstores never left the loading dock. The publisher then held the books hostage for five long months-not simply out of good taste and respect (which I might have been able to understand), but out of a desire to censor me and the things I wanted to say. They insisted I rewrite up to 50 percent of the book and that I remove sections that they found offensive to our leader, Mr. Bush.

Facing the potential of having the books "pulped" if he did not acquiesce, it was a librarian, Ann Sparanese, who came to the rescue. Without benefit of Facebook (which did not exist at the time) Sparanese learned of the impending censorship and mobilized all the other librarians on her e-mail list to contact Regan books. 

Fearing there would soon be a crazed mob of wild librarians storming down Fifth Avenue and surrounding the HarperCollins building...the News Corp surrendered. They dumped my book in some bookstores with no advertising, no reviews, and the offer of a three-city tour...In other words, the book was sent to the gallows for a quick painless death...within hours after the book's release, it went to number one on Amazon-and within five days it had gone to its ninth printing.

There is, not surprisingly, a lot about the USA PATRIOT Act here, and how it allows the government to access otherwise confidential information, especially where library records are concerned. Likewise Moore makes clear throughout that American citizens like and use their libraries and want the government to support them.

When I start reading a book I am always glad to find the first mention of libraries, and in this case I believed it to be in the Introduction (so early in the work the pages are numbered in lower case roman numerals). However, when I opened the book again to write this post I found that the real first time is actually even earlier than that, on the page before the title page (a place one does not usually find any writing). It contains this bit of satire


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - by Ann Patchett

In July I logged in to a virtual author event - "Bookshop Author's Unite" - which featured three bookstore owners who were also authors: Jeff Kinney owner of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Massachusetts (the only store of the three I've been to); Ann Patchett owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee; and Peter H. Reynolds owner of Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts. Fifty-six year old Ms. Patchett spoke first and I especially liked what she said about the pandemic giving her an opportunity to slow down. Without a book tour to go on she was able to enjoy the time she was spending with her husband and dog and wondered if perhaps she should just rethink the whole book tour idea as being a waste of precious resources. She also mentioned that she had recently been having trouble finding something she really wanted to read. As a fifty-six year old myself who also has been taking this time to enjoy spending time with my husband and dog, and wondering how the pandemic might be changing our collective minds about sustainable practices, and who has likewise had a hard time finding a book that I wanted to read past page 50 I could relate, and I wondered if perhaps I had read any of her books. Turns out not only that I had, but that the last line of my blog post suggested that I would have to look for more of her books, but apparently I hadn't. Until now.

I picked this collection of essays mainly because it was on the shelf at the library where I work. The building is open with limited services and hours so although I am mainly working at home I walked over and checked it out. Not surprisingly, as an author Patchett has a lot to say about books, reading, and libraries. 

In the essay "Fact vs. Fiction" Patchett explains about the two kinds of educational experiences one has in college: passive and active

In the first you are a little bird in the nest with your beak stretched open wide and the professor gathers up all the information you need and drops it down your gullet...your only role is to accept what you are given...In the second kind, you are taught to learn how to find the information, and how to think about it, for yourself. You learn to question and engage. You realize that one answer is not enough and that you have to look at as many sources as are available to you so that you can piece together a larger picture.

Helping people to find the sources and to think about them to determine if they are any good is exactly what I do as a reference and instruction librarian. One might argue that the role of the librarian is even more important than the role of the professor here.

In "The Love Between Two Women is Not Normal" and "The Right to Read" in which she describes what happened when Clemson University assigned her memoir Truth & Beauty to the freshman class of 2006, she discusses the problems and rewards of common reading programs, censorship, and, of course, the right to read.

As a person who loves going to author events and readings I could very much relate to Patchett's analogy of going to her first reading and meeting author Eudora Welty as "heart-stopping, life changing wonder" that she would put up "against anyone who ever saw the Beatles" an event she describes in "The Best American Short Stories 2006".

I highlighted just a few of the library passages here. There are many others throughout. 

While I do wish the pandemic were over so we could all go back to some more normal activities one positive thing I can say about all of this is that since author events have gone virtual geography is no longer a barrier to attending them. In fact, since the event in July which prompted this post, I already attended another event featuring Ann Patchett in which she interviewed one of my other favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, on the occasion of the release of the paperback version of The Testaments. My own signed copy of the book, a bonus for purchasing a ticket to the event, arrived yesterday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The SEAL's Rebel Librarian - by Anne Calhoun


August is Read-A-Romance Month, and while I don't read many romances, I do find them to be good escape. I also like to be thematic, so each August I do a bit of summer reading in the genre. Earlier this month I read some LGBTQ YA lit, What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, which was a sweet story but, sadly, had no librarian. Therefore, I had no choice but find another romance novel to read, one worthy of this blog. And a funny thing happened when I started to Google "romance novels featuring librarians". The autofill completed my search string with "navy seals" before I could type the word "librarian". I laughed wondering why the algorithm would make such a suggestion for me while also thinking that there really is a reading fetish for everyone (and far be it for me to question someone else's choices). But then a really strange thing happened when I finished my search the way I intended. The list of recommendations included a novel featuring both a librarian and a navy SEAL. It seemed the bibliosphere was trying to tell me something, so I downloaded the book and started reading. 

This is a quick read (a novella) which wastes no time getting to the sex. Librarian Erin recognizes that her affair with student/veteran Jack Powell is not sanctioned by the university. "She was in a leadership role at the college, bound by the same rules governing relationships as a professor or administrator." Nevertheless, after initially rejecting his offer of a drink, she throws caution to the wind and invites him to her place (ostensibly for coffee), and then to one of the group study rooms in the library where Jack actually "shushes" Erin and is sure to tell her that they're "gonna have to be quiet". As if she didn't know.

The sex in this one comes early and often, as such just about every possible word choice is used to describe body parts, and articles of clothing. This was unfortunate for me as I really don't find the words "slacks" or "panties" sexy at all, and each was used quite a few times. Final tally: Panties-9; Slacks-6. 

A little better editing would have been in order, especially since the audience was sure to include some anal-retentive librarians. It was unfortunate for me that I noticed the following inconsistency: prior to Jack and Erin's first sexual encounter, when they met by happenstance at the motorcycle dealer where Erin is about to put down a deposit, she is described as wearing a green turtleneck. However, somehow when they got back to her place and undress he's fumbling with the buttons on her blouse. So which is she wearing a turtleneck or a button-down blouse? So distracting.

The most off-putting thing for me though was the use of the word "pussies" to describe those who ride certain models of motorcycles that are not perceived to be as macho as other models. I frankly almost stopped reading when I got to that part. Anyone who is so uncomfortable in his own masculinity that he would resort to this kind of name calling will never find himself between the stacks with this librarian.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Move Over Meatloaf

What's the anthem of our generation doing on a Library Books blog post? Helping us to introduce a new sex analogy, that's what!

In honor of Read-a-Romance Month my husband of 33 years and I decided to create a new sex metaphor using books and reading rather than baseball. The following literary alternative rejects the popular (hetero) male-centric analogy represented in the music video. It is presented here in a librarian-friendly alphabetical format, rather than a linear setup because sex doesn't always follow a simple path. We may do some things sometimes and not others. Certain acts may be reserved for special circumstances or partners. And we may take a circuitous route, or start and stop and start again before we know it's right. For all these reasons literary analogies have much more to offer than the tired old four-bag sequence of America's second-favorite pastime. 

This list demonstrates anticipation, frustration, excitement, pleasure (and of course climax) among many other emotional states.

Acknowledgements: After the deed is done, thank yous all around.

Author Photo: Profile Picture (which perhaps flatters the subject just a bit) (See also Cover Art).

Book Review: Bragging and exaggerating after the fact.

Bookmark: To be used when the act is interrupted at any stage; we may have a chance to come back to it (or not) once the baby is fed, the phone is answered, or the dog is let out.

Cliff's Notes: Speed dating.

Comfort Read: The one you know will always there waiting to make you feel good (See also Reread).

Cover Art: The dating profile (let's face it, we do judge a book by its cover). (See also Author Photo).

Dedication: To the One I Love.

Epilogue: Was there a call back, a second, third, fourth date? Did they live happily ever after?

First fifty pages: The point at which you can decide to continue or give up (according to the librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl) and remember, if you are over 50 years old you can subtract one page for each year. Also there is really nothing magical about 50 pages. Consent can be revoked at any time.

Footnotes or citations: Giving credit to things you learned elsewhere.

Foreword: Foreplay.

Introduction: First date.

Index: Where was that spot?

Preface: Any of a number of activities that can be undertaken as a prelude to passion. 

Prequel: When you got it right the second time around (See also Sequel or series).

Reread: Falling back on an old favorite (See also Comfort Read).

Second (third, fourth, etc.) editions: After a bit of time we gain some perspective.

Sequels or series: The ones you can't get enough of (and how about all those things we read while we wait for the next installment?) (See also Prequel).

Signed copies: A good memory of a magical encounter - you know you will probably never meet again but you've been provided some masturbation fodder for a long time to come.

Teaser: When you think there is more to come, but sadly discover that it is just a preview of the next novel. 

The End: Finishing - it doesn't count unless all parties involved get there.

Blogger (left) pictured here with Nancy Pearl

Straight Up (the movie)

When gay OCD Todd (James Sweeney) begins straightening out some mis-ordered books in the college library Rory (Katie Findlay) understandably assumes he works there. The two strike up a conversation and begin dating as Todd explores his hetero side. Well matched intellectually, neither is particularly interested in having sex.  

 An unexpectedly sweet love story. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mobile Library - by David Whitehouse

Mistreated by his father, and missing his only friend Sunny, Bobby takes off on a road trip with Val Reed and her daughter Rosa in a recently de-commissioned bookmobile. Val had been charged with the weekly cleaning of the Mobile Library and allowed Bobby and Rosa to come with her while she worked so they could read books (and take some home, as long as they brought them back). As she works, Val explains to the children that not all mobile libraries are trucks; in some parts of the world they use animals. In Kenya they use camels and in Zimbabwe they have a library cart pulled by a donkey and in Thailand they use elephants. Val also explains that in Norway they have a library boat that "can take the books to all of the old people who live on little islands" (see my post on Swamplandia! for a fun library boat read) and more about book mobiles can be found here

Val makes clear to Bobby that she is not the librarian, although she wishes she were. She does tell a gas station clerk that she is the librarian when he questions her about driving the big truck "I wouldn't make much of a truck driver with these little, feminine arms, now would I?" she offers by way of explanation. Neither is she afraid to shush like a pro those who say inappropriate things.

When Val learns that the mobile library service has been stopped "because it costs too much money" the she decides to take the children off on an adventure, disguising the truck with some stolen paint. Val's biggest concern with the closing of the mobile library was the loss of  "the stories...[and] discoveries they had made in them...they had cheered a victorious hero and willed a villain's comeuppance...Parts of themselves they'd never noticed absent, concealed in the ink on the page". Bobby likewise had pangs of missing the library even before it closed.
Despite the many ways his imagination had been opened up by the mobile library, he could not imagine wanting to be anywhere else, with anyone else. The mere thought of it filled his bones with the inexorable ache of yearning.
In addition to missing his friend Sunny Bobby is also missing his mother, who left the family some time before. Bobby had been collecting pieces of his mother's clothing, hair, and other relics so that when she returned they would be able recreate everything just as it had been. Bobby considered himself his mother's archivist, and kept his files hidden under his bed. They are the only thing he takes with him from home when he starts on his grand adventure.

There are a lot of references to other works (mostly children's books) both subtle and overt in this one.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit - by Lisa Blee & Jean M. O'Brien

I read this for a faculty book discussion at the university where I work. It has local interest as the original statue of Massasoit (8sâmeeqan) is located on Coles Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts about 20 miles from the university. Created by artist Cyrus Dallin in 1921 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, replicas of the statue can now be be found in Dayton, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Provo Utah; Springville, Utah and on the lawn of the Howard B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University (BYU), where students refer to the monument as "the naked Indian" and are scandalized over that fact that 8sâmeeqan doesn't adhere to BYU's dress code. One student with whom the authors spoke suggested that the statue be moved near the gym "to align with student-athletes in their sometimes-skimpy BYU-issued gym shorts". However, the student also pointed out that such a location "could be interpreted as the rival university's 'Ute' mascot and serve as target practice...".  

The original statue was commissioned by the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization still in existence and "limited to physically, mentally, and morally sound" white men. Its headquarters are located in Waco, Texas, and the authors made good use of its research library there. The Red Men Museum and Library also owns some 11-inch replicas of the statue commissioned as a fund-raising effort just before the statue's unveiling.

It was certainly an interesting time to read and discuss this book, not only because we are now recognizing the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing, an anniversary celebration that has been in the works for many years, and will now take place virtually, but also because we are witnessing the destruction of monuments to colonizers, and taking part in a larger discussion of the meaning of monuments to those who build them, those who visit them, and those who remove them.

The final chapter of the book "Marketing" explores how the statue has been exploited, along with other memorials, to make Plymouth a tourist destination - America's Hometown (and I know some Washingtonians who would dispute that moniker). The authors describe several tours available to tourists, some that provide a Pilgrim-centric view, and others that "challenge...expectations for a celebratory settler origin story." The traveling exhibit Captured! 1614 opened in 2014 in the Plymouth Public Library. 
Created under the guidance of Mashpee Wampanoag Paula Peters with a team of Wampanoag designers, researchers, and historical interpreters...the exhibit panels and series of short films...Captured! 1614 presents the Patuxet Wampanoag perspective on the slaving expedition of Thomas Hunt, who seized twenty men and boys from Patuxet, including Tisquantum...for sale in Spain...According to Peters, the reception of the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive among Wampanoag communities and non-Indian viewers.
Excellent scholarship written for everyone.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Teeth (the movie)

I know I watched this film about a chaste teenage girl who discovers that she has vagina dentata at least two times before, but those were obviously before I started this blog. I read something recently that indicated a library connection and so I put it back on my Netflix DVD list.

When Dawn (Jess Weixler) suspects something is different about her body she does what anyone in the 21st century would do and begins her research by conducting a web search. She types "female genital mutilations" into the search engine which lands her a screenful of results. However, unlike everyone else she doesn't just click on the top link, but rather selects the the trusty link from the public library "your source to information". It is not clear if the link is from the Austin (TX) public library where the story takes place. It seemed more to be a generic public library link. 

Definitely not a film for the squeamish. It will likely appeal to fans of Little Shop of Horrors.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

La biblioteca mágica - por Valeria Cavajal Vasco

According to amazon I bought this book on April 30, so I must have purchased it for Día de los niños/Día de los libros (aka "Día" or Children's Day/Book Day). I do recall specifically looking for a library-centric, Spanish-language book to read. I usually pick a picture book to blog about for Día but this year I selected a chapter book, so it took me a bit longer to read it.  This is the story of friends Emma, Park, Paige, and Liam who want to take a summer vacation together, but first they need to earn some money. Paige and Park find work at a local store, and Liam gets a job with his uncle. Emma is worried that she will be the only one who won't be earning any money, until her mother helps her land a job at the local library el "único lugar al que muy pocos adolescentes irían a pedir trabajo", as well as "el lugar más aburrido del pueblo" (for those who are Spanish-language challenged, that translates to 'the only place that few adolescents would ask for work'; and 'the most boring place in town').

Emma, however, discovers that the library is far from boring. In a library lover's version of Night at the Museum Emma learns that those who work the night shift have the ability to visit the characters in the books. Beginning with Caperucita roja (Little Red Riding Hood), she moves on to Peter Pan,  Harry Potter; and Crepúsculo (Twilight), among others. From each book she also brings back a souvenir (Red Riding Hood's Cape and Peter Pan's sword, for instance). Far from boring, Emma finds that she not only looks forward to going to work in the library she is more interested in her work than in hanging out with her friends. She is reluctant to tell them about the library's secret until she learns that the mayor wants to close the library because nobody visits it, and it isn't a money maker. With the help of her friends and the other library employees, she comes up with a plan to save the library.

I must say I was left a little wanting with the resolution they came up with which I saw as stop gap at best, and had nothing to do with magic. No one wanted to reveal the library's secret for fear of exploiting it. However, if I were writing the ending to this book the friends would have sparked interest in the library, and helped it to make money without letting anyone in on the secret by  strategically visiting books, bringing back cool relics, and selling them. In fact I thought this solution was so obvious I really was stunned that it wasn't how the book ended.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Nothing to See Here - by Kevin Wilson

When her frenemy Madison Roberts contacts Lillian Breaker and asks her to come to Tennessee from her home in Pennsylvania, offering her a mysterious job, Lillian accepts. She takes the bus to Nashville where she is met by the enigmatic Carl who works for Madison and her senator husband, Jasper.  Upon arrival at the estate where Madison lives with her toddler son (Timothy) and husband Lillian learns that the senator has two children (twins) from a previous marriage, whose mother had recently killed herself. The twins (Bessie and Roland) have an unusual affliction wherein they burst into flames when upset. The fire does not hurt them, but can be dangerous to people, animals and things near them. They are coming to live with Madison, Timothy, and Jasper. Madison wants Lillian to be their governess. Fortunately for Lillian the twins like to read. In fact, as Roland points out to Lillian when he first saw the well stocked bookcase Madison provided for the twins "all we do is read".  And although Bessie informs Lillian that she'd already read many of the books on the shelf some of them looked "pretty good". Lillian wastes no time in telling them that they can get more books at the library.

And good on her promises, Lillian asks Carl to drive them all on an outing to the library so they can research famous Tennesseans. Bessie chooses Dolly Parton and Roland  decides on World War II hero Sargeant Alvin York. They find the books they want when they get to the library, but soon realize that none of them has a library card. Carl points out that that they need proof of address "like a piece of mail" to get one, and none of them have a piece of mail with them. It seems to me that Carl must have had a driver's license but he never suggests that. He does tell them that Madison is on the Board of Trustees and that they can come back later with her card. Instead they just decide to steal the books. I expect that if they had simply asked to call the senator's wife, who was also a library board member, they could have gotten permission to check the books out, but no one thought of this solution.

It is always best to ask about policies for checking out books. Librarians really do want you to get the information you need.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Book of M - by Peng Shepherd

May is Mystery Month and I don't really like mysteries. I especially don't like the serial mysteries that involve some amateur sleuth in a small town with a disproportionate number of murders. It seems like a lot of library mysteries are of this type. People keep recommending them to me, and I keep not liking them. However, I do like to have a variety of genres on this blog, so I googled library mysteries and found this title. The description appealed to me because it looked supernatural, surreal, and, most decidedly, not part of a murder series. If you are a person who likes this genre I do have some posts which you can find here and here.

It turned out that much of what takes place in this dystopian novel is rather prescient. A mysterious disease causes people to lose their shadows, and eventually their memories. Quarantines, food shortages, suspicion and fear abound. Shadowless people not only lose their own memories, but memories of virtually everything. Some don't remember how to eat, to read, or to talk. Women don't understand what their periods are (and as a bonus have no idea that they'd been taught to be ashamed of them). Shadowless also eventually forget that there are laws of physics, and once they forget that, they can simply ignore those laws. People can mutate themselves and others; prison cells become their own means of escape.

I read quite a bit of this without seeing anything about a library, so I naturally grew concerned that I'd been duped. Fortunately, I was reading an e-version of the book which allowed me to search easily for the word library to find out if indeed this were a library-centric book. Although the first instance of the word doesn't show up until about 40% in, it then becomes quite important. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC is the location of a battle for books between the shadowed and the shadowless. Of no surprise to this librarian the books ultimately prove to be the salvation of all. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Red, White & Royal Blue - by Casey McQuiston

The Buck(ingham) Stops Here!

James and I read about this book on some listicle back in February while we were on our way to Martha's Vineyard. I remember the description said something about this being covered all over the place during the summer of 2019 and if you didn't know about this love story between the Prince of Wales and the First Son of the United States you weren't paying attention. I really don't know how I missed it. I see the book trade magazines regularly come across my desk, and this is exactly the kind of book that would have caught my eye. But here we are.

Anyway, since the trip to the "Vineyard" was pre-pandemic the local bookstore (Bunch of Grapes) was still open. We went in and purchased it with the intent that we would read it together.  The story takes place in the present day in a parallel universe in which there is no pandemic, and the country isn't being run by a completely incompetent president.

What starts as a bro-mance orchestrated for the press turns into a full on love affair when the biracial, bisexual son of the first woman president of the United States falls for Henry, the gay Prince of Wales. Not prepared to come out to their families, much less the rest of the world, the two manage their long-distance romance by making up reasons to hop across the Big Pond, as well as via chat messages and e-mail. When their steamy electronic messages get leaked to the press the two find themselves in a true diplomatic nightmare for the White House and the Crown. Can these two millennials make history with an international sex scandal?

The real nail biter for me, though, was wondering if these two would ever use a library. James and I very much enjoyed reading this, and I was truly worried that it would not find a place on this blog, as the first time a library is even mentioned is not until page 386 (of 418) and that was simply as a place that was nixed as venue for the official royal "courtship photos".
Alex has to admit, the royal photographer is being exceedingly patient about the whole thing, especially considering that they waffled through three different locations-Kensington Gardens, a stuffy Buckingham Palace Library, the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace-before they decided to screw it all for a bench in a locked-down Hyde Park.
There is a nod to the intellect of these two by way of "a pile of books" stacked up next to the bench in the photos.  The use of the indefinite article in front of "stuffy Buckingham Palace" caused James to wonder aloud just exactly how many libraries there are in the palace, and for me to follow up with, "and just how many of those are stuffy?"

Interestingly, after making me wait until the book was almost done to satisfy my frustration, the author manages to sneak in one more mention of a library - the Library of Congress of course - on page 415.

This is truly a fun romance about a well-matched pair. Equal in good looks, intellect, and political power there's no trite story about a prince pretending to be just a regular guy, or a poor admirer hoping the prince will notice them. Only the use of a library could have formed a more-perfect union between these two.

We started reading this just about the time that our governor issued the stay-at-home order for Massachusetts, and we read a bit each day. It was the perfect antidote to our work-at-home days - a little daily vacation when we could forget about what was going on in the rest of the world and simply have a laugh together.

Sexy, smart satire. Read it with someone you love.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Veronica Mars - great detective, lousy librarian

photograph of Veronica Mars shelving books in the Hearst Library

I missed the Veronica Mars television series when it first aired from 2004-2007. I doubt I even knew it existed. Back then, before there was streaming television,  people had to subscribe to a cable service if they wanted to watch TV, and my husband and I refused to pay for it. The only thing we watched on the boob tube were videos available at our local Blockbuster video store. We now subscribe to Netflix and Hulu which is how I was able to binge watch this smart, sassy show about a young woman who works for her father - a Private Detective. The first two seasons we see Veronica as a high school student. In season three she is a freshman at the fictional Hearst College where she gets a job at the college library. She is disappointed at this appointment, as she feels it is inferior to working for the school newspaper, and her letdown is evident in the crappy way she answers questions. She often appears annoyed, and waves people off to the stacks rather than attempting to do a proper reference interview. Worst of all, she closes the reference desk when her boyfriend shows up so she can go bone him on the ninth floor.

The recently-made fourth season features a grown up Veronica still working with her father at his Detective agency. It also features a reference librarian from the Hearst College library. The librarian has a bit part, and is unimpressed when Veronica points out that she, herself, used to work in the library. Maybe the librarian knew her then, and was aware that she wasn't the best student worker they'd ever had.

Anyway, despite the obvious drawbacks I enjoyed this series. Veronica seriously kicks butt.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Influencing Machine - by Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by Josh Neufeld

Fans of National Public Radio know Brooke Gladstone from the program On the Media. I noticed this graphic non-fiction on a display created by one of my co-workers. Although it is almost 10 years old the messages about how the media influence public opinion are still quite relevant. This book covers history, politics, censorship, bias, echo chambers, misinformation, and the changing nature of the news cycle with good humor in an easy-to-digest format.

Ultimately, what this book is about is information literacy - tracking down sources, verifying sources, and rejecting bad sources. Gladstone explains how bad information can become part of the collective consciousness simply by being repeated by people who don't know anything about it. Furthermore she demonstrates and that it is not always good journalism to provide both sides of an issue if one side is misinformed. She also explains that too much information (information overload) can be harmful. This is not a new concern, and she points to a story in Plato's "Phaedrus" in which "Socrates derides the invention of writing with a story of the Egyptian god who invented the alphabet brags to a king" who reponds that "this discovery...will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls-they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves".  Likewise Gutenberg's printing press had bibliogrpaher Conrad Gesner complaining of the "confusing and harmful abundance of books". Gesner in compiling the Universal Library decided only to include books written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

This of course is where librarians come in. As "media theorist Clay Shirky says many people confuse information overload with filter failure". Catalogers, librarians, news aggregators, and other databases services already have those filters in place. Librarians can help people to navigate to the right resources for their information needs.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Banned Books Week - Beautiful Creatures - the book

Back in February I blogged about the movie Beautiful Creatures. My post ended with "A fabulous library movie. I guess I will have to read the book now." I followed through shortly after I wrote the original post, but have been saving my post about the book for Banned Books Week. Although I have not read any official news reports of this work being challenged, based on its "witchcraft" and "anti-Christian" themes, I am sure it has been. As a bonus, banned books are a part of the story. Specifically, Harry Potter books are challenged at the Gaitlin County Library for promoting, you guessed it, witchcraft! A little meta-banning. Plus, there are two libraries that play roles in this work: the fantastic "Caster Library" and the Gatlin (South Carolina)  Public Library. Both are headed by a wonderful librarian character called - what else - Marian! Marian is able to run both libraries, because the Caster library is open only on holidays that the Gatlin Public Library is closed. As Lena points out this "hardly seems fair...the Mortals get so much more time, and they don't even read around here."

The novel's hero, Ethan, loves to read, and dreams of leaving Gatlin. We see this brought together when he tells us "Books were the one thing that got me out of Gatlin, even if it was only for a little while. I had a map on my wall, and every time I read about a place I wanted to go, I marked it on the map." He also tells his new girlfriend, the lovely Caster Lena, that he keeps books (actual novels!) under his bed, and reads them because he "wants to." What a devil!

The town library, "still had a card catalog" which seemed somehow fitting in what is described as beautiful, historic building, one of the two oldest in town - "a two-story venerable Victorian, old and weathered with peeling paint and decades worth of vines sleeping along the doors and windows [that] smelled like aging wood and creosote, plastic book covers, and old paper." It was a sacred place where Ethan's late mother, a serious Civil War historian, unlike the bigoted DAR members, "spent most of her time holed up...looking at microfiche". She told her son that the library was her "church", and that "any book was a 'Good Book', wherever they keep the 'Good Book' safe is also a House of the Lord." The Library was one place where Ethan could still feel his mother's presence. Ethan also knew that "Marian the librarian" was "the smartest Mortal in Gatlin"...and "she looked more like a model than a librarian...pretty and exotic-looking, a mix of so many bloodlines it was like looking at the history of the South itself, people from the West Indies, the Sugar Island, England, Scotland, even America, all intermingling until it would take a whole forest of family trees to chart the course." Ironically, he does describe his best friend's mother, Mrs. Lincoln (the book banner) as dressing "like some kind of punishing librarian out of a movie, which cheap drugstore glasses and angry-looking hair that couldn't decide if it was brown or gray."

Ethan points on several occasions that the library doesn't get much use and goes so far as to use the metaphor of "ghost town" to describe what it is like going in there. Even so, "studying at the library" was still offered up as a convenient lie to adults who wanted to know where he and his friends were going. And in Gatlin which Ethan declares "[not] a big library town" the library was also the place for Alcoholics Anonymous to meet "when the Baptists kicked them out".

The Caster Library or Lunae Libri is described as a crypt below the DAR building and is "thousands of times bigger" than any other library. On Ethan and Lena's maiden voyage into the tomb Marian warns them to trace their steps backward if they get lost "that's why the stacks radiate out from ...one chamber". The Library is so big some parts are still "uncharted".

Marian has some important observations about libraries:
"I'm just the librarian. I can only give you the books. I can't give you the answers."
"'Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future'. Just ask Ray Bradbury"


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hazards of Time Travel - by Joyce Carol Oates

In a dystopian future, class valedictorian Adriane Strohl  is arrested for treason and "questioning authority" on the eve of her high school graduation. She is sentenced to live in Zone Nine - 1959 Wainscotia, Wisconsin - as university student Mary Ellen Enright at Wainscotia State University for four years.

Adriane's brother Roddy works in the Media Dissemination Bureau "an old brownstone building formerly the Pennsboro Public Library, in the days when 'books' existed to be held in the hand-and read!" Not only have old libraries been repurposed, the information they held has been destroyed.
The old, "outdated" (that is "unpatriotic") history books had all been destroyed, my father said. Hunted down in the most remote outposts-obscure rural libraries in the Dakotas, below-ground stacks in great university libraries, microfilm in what had been the Library of Congress. "Outdated"/"unpatriotic" information was deleted from all computers and from all accessible memory-only reconstituted history and information were allowed...  
There are some contradictory passages in the book as to whether public libraries in the Reconstituted North American States exist. Adriane specifically says that "there were no longer 'libraries' in NAS-23" but also indicates in a previous passage that she was able to take out books from the public library marked "YA" (for young adults). YA books "had to be approved by the Youth Entertainment Board, and were really suitable for grade school." She was unable to take out books labeled "A" for adults. The books were actually eBooks and all had to be approved by the Homeland Security Information Bureau.

Adriane, ironically, however, finds herself working in a real library once she is sent back in time. As a "thrifty" scholarship girl "Mary Ellen" has a job at the university's geology library. And she is awestruck at the main university library
a vast brownstone building of numerous floors descending even into the earth, filled with row upon row of "stacks" containing "books" to be touched, and opened, by hand. And in reading rooms, high ceilings, myriad lights, and polished floors - and students!
"Mary Ellen" does some research on her professor (and fellow exile) Ira Wolfman in the college library by searching the "long clumsy drawers, under the heading PSYCHOLOGY, 20TH Century".

She spends much time in the university library and wondered at all the information that was not restricted by the government. She remarks on this "freedom" while also recognizing the irony that Zone Nine "did not feel like freedom".

With shades of Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time and Thornton Wilder's Our Town this thriller leaves the reader with a lot of questions about what is real, what we know, and what we believe.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Go With the Flow - Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

Three best friends Christine, Brit, and Abby befriend new girl Sasha when she gets her first ever period during the first week of classes at her new school. The three girls sashay Sasha into the bathroom when they notice blood on the back of her pants. Like so very many people before them they discover the vending machine for tampons and pads is "always empty" and they rightly point out that even if they are stocked, a person might not have the right change to purchase the needed item. Artist Abby uses the incident, and the injustices it highlights, to create a piece for the library art exhibit on "feminist voices and activism" she also starts a blog about menstrual equality. The school has plenty of money for new football equipment and uniforms, but won't provide basic essential hygiene products for those who menstruate. Abby just keeps getting madder and madder at the thought of it all and decides that the library exhibit just wasn't big enough to make a statement. Her "go big or go home" exploit involves graffiti and property destruction, and causes major embarrassment to Sasha who is still trying to live down her "Bloody Mary" nickname.

I have to say that as fed up as I am with the fact that the tampon vending machines at Bridgewater State University were all removed from the restrooms, it is more honest than having machines that are always empty. I do still wonder though how it is that the University can afford branded soap dispensers, but cries poor when I suggest that free menstrual hygiene products be made available.
Where the tampon vending machine used to be. Also visible is the basket I placed in the restroom two years ago where I put free tampons and pads I buy with my own money. Many anonymous others have also contributed products to this endeavor.

Branding is apparently very important for contributing to our Bears' sense of pride!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Giver of Stars - by Jojo Moyes

People often share with me articles such as this one about the Kentucky Packhorse librarians, one of President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. During the Great Depression these bad-ass librarians rode through rough mountain terrain in all weather in order to deliver books to rural Kentuckians. Moyes' novel tells the story of Margery O'Hare, Alice Van Cleve, Sophia Kenworth, Beth Pinker, Kathleen Bligh, and Isabelle (Izzy) Brady who took on the challenge of ensuring all in the mining town Baileyville could access reading materials.

Not everyone in town was happy about the set up. There were those who were not happy that Sophia a "colored" woman was working in the library. And some residents preferred that the librarians not bring any reading materials to their families (except perhaps the Bible), lest they "spread all kinds of crazy notions". Nevertheless even amid reports of 
wives no longer keeping house because they're too busy reading fancy magazines and cheap romances...[and] children picking up disruptive ideas from comic books 
the librarians took their charge seriously, and delivered materials to homes and schools across the mountainside. 

Newlywed Alice volunteered for the duty despite the vigorous objections of her husband and father-in-law who felt that as a proper woman she should stay home. The Van Cleve men, along with Pastor McIntosh and his sister Pamela also insisted that the horse riding was interfering with Alice's ability to have children. "It's like if you shake a jar of milk up too much, it turns sour. Curdles, if you like". Explains the clueless elder Mr. Van Cleve. Pastor McIntosh adds that he'd in fact read an article indicating as much. Although Alice is a bit naive about certain sexual matters, she is well aware of the real reason she hadn't conceived, and it had nothing to do with horseback riding. Rather than pointing out her husband's disinterest in sex she instead launches into an explanation of the importance of information literacy.
Knowledge is so important, don't you think? We all say at the library, without facts we really do have nothing. If I'm putting my health at risk by riding a horse, then I think it would only be responsible for me to read the article you're talking about. Perhaps you could bring it next Sunday, Pastor?
Alice further points out that
in England [whence she hails] nearly all well-brought up ladies ride. They go out hunting, jumping ditches, fences, all sorts. It's almost compulsory. And yet they pop out babies with extraordinary efficiency. Even the Royal Family. Pop, pop, pop!  
One of the more popular books in the library was a discretely requested manual called Married Love by one  Dr. Marie Stopes. The women who ventured to read the work found that their husbands spent less time at the honky tonks and more time at home "shorn of their usual short tempers".

It even worked for those women who preferred not to be married. Margery O'Hare read it twice and she and her beau Sven Gustavssen and made good use of the advice therein. Curious? You can read the whole thing here.

This book has something for everyone - murder, romance, intrigue, censorship, and more. My husband and I listened to the audio version. An excellent tale it is.

See also my post for That Book Woman for a children's picture book about the Packhorse librarians.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out - by Bill McKibben

Some might call this book alarmist, but since McKibben called it on global warming back in 1989 when he wrote The End of Nature I'm not going to ignore his warnings here. Exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI), biotech, the billionaire class, and genetic engineering McKibben looks at how these things are part of a symbiotic relationship leading to a dystopic end of life as we know it. He pulls no punches as calls the villians out by name.

Writer Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged and a darling of conservatives, is given a fair bit of print in this work. McKibben points out that
The cult of Ayn Rand extends far beyond the richest and most powerful. When the Modern Library asked readers in 1998 to catalogue the greatest books of the twentieth century...Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were ranked one and two. Plenty of readers might have agreed with Barack Obama, who described Rand's work as "one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up". But plenty of others have never put her down. One biographer described her as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right." 
We may be able to take some solace that three of Rand's titles also show up on Goodreads list of Books You're Ashamed to Admit You Read.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Well of Loneliness - by Radclyffe Hall

Originally published in 1928, and promptly banned in England, this fictionalized account of the author's own life was cutting-edge lesbian writing in its day.

Born into wealth and privilege Stephen (her parents wanted a son) nevertheless has a difficult time growing up realizing that she is somehow different from her peers. As an adult she recognizes her desires, and is asked to leave the family estate (Morton) by her un-understanding mother. She had shared a love of books with her father, Sir Philip, who "had one of the finest libraries in England". Before his early death the two had read and discussed literature together. She also discovered after he died that he had divined his daughter's inclinations from having read the works of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing whose work, with her late father's marginalia, was kept on a special bookcase in his study.

Eventually Stephen settles in Paris with her partner Mary who is very much interested in Stephen's earlier life, although she would never welcomed in Morton
Mary would want to be told about Morton...she would make Stephen get out the photographs of her father, of her mother whom Mary thought lovely...Then Stephen must tell her of the life in London, and afterwards of the new house in Paris; must talk of her own career and ambitions, though Mary had not read either of her (Stephen's) novels-there had never been a library subscription.
 There was no "subscription" necessary for me to read Hall's book. I checked it out with my library card at the free public library in my town.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Masked by Trust: Bias in Library Discovery - by Matthew Reidsma

In the spirit of Algorithms of Oppression this book provides insight into how search engine results are generated. Going beyond Google, which may "customize" results for individual users, Reidsma also explains how library databases aren't necessarily without prejudice either, even though all users will see the same results if they enter the exact same search. Auto-suggestions can likewise shape our thinking in ways we may not have anticipated. All search engines are working on algorithms that were created by people (mostly young, white men). Their own biases will necessarily become part of the algorithm, even if they do not intend it.

Reidsma cites Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day's work to suggest that we rethink the metaphor of library tools to a "library ecology".
The thing about the ecology metaphor is that it highlights the interconnectedness of all these different things coming together in one place. It emphasizes the co-evolution of technology and people. Its [sic] about people and tools together.
Perhaps the most  useful reason for dropping the tool metaphor is that tools require convergent thinking. You cannot create a tool with divergent thinking, where many possibilities exist...
...by switching our focus to seeing our technological systems as ecologies, and thus using divergent thinking to address the design and engineering of these systems, we can move beyond the limitations of tool-based thinking and design systems that are made to be used by diverse people.
This gave me a bit to ponder, and will change the way I teach people to think about and use our databases.