Thursday, April 29, 2021

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library he Built - by Angela Burke Kunkel


¡Feliz Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children's Book Day - a.k.a Día)! Each year on April 30 librarians and educators celebrate diversity in children's books. This year I celebrated by reading Kunkle's book about a trash collector in Bogotá, Colombia who started a library with books that had been thrown away. The book is also available in Spanish (which I also read) as Rescatando palabras. An excellent reminder that one person's trash is another one's treasure. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face? - by Alan Alda

The subtitle of Alda's book is "My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating". He begins his book by telling a story about some miscommunication between himself and his dentist which resulted in Alda not being able to do his job as an actor effectively. The dentist was unclear when telling Alda about the procedure and Alda was too intimidated to ask for clarification. Alda wraps up with the book by explaining the importance of storytelling. Stories make information sharing more relatable, and are more interesting than lectures. In between he tells a lot of stories to illustrate his points and to engage the reader as he explains how people can better understand each other.

While Alda does mention looking up some information in the Stony Brook online library, this brief library reference isn't what prompted me to write a post about the book on the "Library Books" blog. It was instead, what Alda discusses near the end of the work in the chapter called "Jargon and the Curse of Knowledge". Here he explains not only that we shouldn't use professional jargon when speaking to lay people (meaning anyone outside of our own profession - whatever it may be) but also why that can be hard to do. "Once we know something it is hard to unknow it, to remember what it's like to be a beginner. It keeps us from considering the listener". 

I thought a lot about what Alda said in this chapter in light of how my job as a reference librarian has changed in the last year since I do most of my work remotely. Virtually all reference questions are now asked and answered "virtually" via live chat text messages. When someone chimes in with a question I often feel as if I am coming into the middle of a conversation. It is not uncommon for a a question to start with something like 'I can't find any information on my topic'. Here I am at so many disadvantages. I don't know the person's topic; I don't know what kind of information they need; I don't know where they have already looked; I don't have nuances to help me such as body language or voice tone. Most importantly I don't know if they've ever even used the library search engines before. I have to keep this in mind when I start asking questions myself (e.g. "What is your topic?"; "Do you know how to get to (X) database?"; "Do you know what a database is?"). I have to do all this knowing that the person asking the question doesn't have benefit of reading my body language or voice tone, either.

As a university librarian I have noticed miscommunication on many levels. Professors miscommunicate between themselves because they use jargon from their own field without thinking that the words or phrases they're using may have different meanings in other fields (or to laypeople). I often help bewildered students who need assistance finding "peer-reviewed" articles. Their professor has told them they need to use them, without explaining what that means. The student often assumes that I don't understand it either. Since they'd never heard of it, why would they think I had. The professors have forgotten that once upon a time they didn't know what a peer-reviewed article was either. They had to learn it, but it is now so ingrained as part of their work that they don't remember what is was like to not know.

I recommend this book for everyone. It is easy to read, jargon free, and based on scientific evidence.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Episodes (the television series) Seasons 1-5


I do love me some metafiction. 

Mircea Monroe isn't a librarian, but she plays an actress (Morning Randolph) who plays one on TV. 

This smart, witty, irreverent comedy stars Matt LeBlanc playing a fictional version of himself who stars in a comedy about a hockey coach at a boys' boarding school. The show (Pucks!) was imported from the UK where it was a hit, but is a bomb in the US due partially to LeBlanc's involvement.

This series has some clever twists (along with a few clichés which I think we can overlook). 

There is some interesting character development in this. Each of the characters (even the minor ones) has some depth. Monroe's character who on the surface appears to be just another plastic Hollywood type is also warm, funny, and likable. We don't see a lot of her as the librarian, other than getting made up in her stereotypical "sexy librarian" costume. 

This is a fun series. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina - by Lea Lyon and A. LaFaye

This week is National Library Week and today is National Bookmobile Day. Ready to Fly tells the story of Sylvia Townsend who grew up in a segregated America in the 1950s. She desperately wanted to take ballet lessons, but her family could not afford them so when the bookmobile rolls into her town she asks the librarian to help her find books on ballet. She checks out new books each time the bookmobile comes and helps the other girls in her neighborhood to learn ballet too. Young Sylvia learns to dance so well that a teacher offers to pay for her ballet lessons. However, her dreams are almost crushed when she is denied a place in the "whites only" classes. Ready to give up she is given another chance to take classes when she and her friends perform in the school talent show and learn that a famous dance instructor was in the audience.