Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Un Lun Dun review

Have you ever wondered what happens to unwanted items that get left on the curb?  Sometimes they get picked up, but sometimes they end up in Parisn't, or Sans Francisco, or UnLondon.  UnLondon is a land full of objects and technologies that are Mostly Obsolete In London and peopled by characters who aren't always actually people at all.  In a land where giraffes are feared predators and words quite literally come alive it isn't surprising that prophesies aren't always entirely correct.  But prophesy or no, someone still has to save UnLondon from the Smog.  Will a young girl, a half-ghost, a word-tailor, a bus conductor, and an empty carton of sour milk be able to get to Webminster Abbey in time to find the UnGun, or will their plans go up in smoke and feed the Smog? 

I liked Un Lun Dun from the moment I read the note to the reader at the beginning explaining that even though British and Americans sometimes use different words they can usually understand each other just fine, so British slang was left in for the American edition with a small glossary added to the back to refer to if needed.  I still think it's ridiculous that any book would feel the need to translate a British book into American English, even for juvenile fiction.  News flash: children pick up on new languages faster than adults anyways!

This note is typical of this novel in that it does not talk down to children or oversimplify things to make it more accessible.  I particularly enjoy the fact that this book plays around with the Prophesied Epic Quest trope which is something few adult books even attempt.  This book wasn't the most well-written or thought-provoking I've ever read, but it is certainly well above average writing and more thought provoking than many adult novels I've read.  Mieville's imagination in the creation of UnLondon is also so charming that I found the book well worth the read just for the ideas introduced: extreme librarian bookaneers, trash can binjas, smog-possessed could I not love it?  I've heard the book compared to Alice in Wonderland and Neverwhere, but it reminded me most of Phantom Tollbooth.  If you like any of those books, however, I'd give this one a try.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Need some dough

I am so lucky to have recently got a job that I love, but for the unemployed hordes I was so recently a part of I've written this special California Christmas song for this year:

Oh the weather outside's delightful,
But the economy is frightful.
And since there's no jobs to go,
Need some dough!  Need some dough! Need some dough!

It doesn't show sings of improving,
And a lot of people need to be moving,

The unemployed's spirits are low,
Need some dough!  Need some dough! Need some dough!

When we finally pass this fright,
How the country will be left all torn,
But if I get a job tonight,
Some hope in my heart will be born.

These times they sure are trying,
And, my dear, no one is buying,
But the shop windows are all aglow,
Need some dough!  Need some dough! Need some dough!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar Review

I went to see Avatar at midnight this morning (last night?) in 3d Imax.  Overall I'd give it a B+  if the narration ala Raymond Chandler had been edited out or the villain had wasn't so 2-D I'd have given it an A.

Mostly the movie is about the world-building and the CGI, and both of those aspects were wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed that I was able to pick up on bits of the Navi language.  The CGI was great, but if you don't like CGI you won't like this.  The only bit that really bugged me about the world building was how the avatars were grown suspended in fluid in pods, but apparently either their hair grows in braids around their nerve endings (?) or they occasionally took them out of the pods to play with their hair.

The plot was formulaic, but it was a formula I happen to like so I was okay with that.  Pretty much it was Fern Gully for Adults with aliens instead of humans.  A guy from a profession percieved as evil by a native group ignorantly stumbles into their world.  He makes a lot of gaffes but he slowly learns the ways of the natives from the tribe's princess who (of course) falls in love with him.  He comes to appreciate nature and acquire some sort of vague animism type spirituality.  The humans he used to associate with start to attack the natives and he can't prevent it.  He turns his back on his old profession to fight its evil machinery with the natives and save their sacred tree and the beautiful nature surrounding it. Like I said, Fern Gully.

The dialogue is actually pretty good, but I could not help but crack up at the narration which is often spoken in a husky batman-voice and is supposedly narration from the main character's vlog besides being written in a bad Raymond Chandler style.  The villain also bugged me because, especially at the end, he is so unsympathetic and flat.  I half expected him to ride a bomb down while waving his cowboy hat. 

Still, overall a great movie experience.  If you don't go into it believing the more extreme hype portraying it as the best thing since sliced bread and especially if you have a soft spot for movie about peace and nature overcoming the machinery of war and destruction you'll like it--and this is definitely one that you want to catch in theaters instead of netflixing.  If you can see it in 3D Imax, it was pretty cool.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Quincy the Wooden Octopus

I should probably be doing homework, but while looking for creative commons pictures for an assignment I was sidetracked by this delightful challenge from scope notes.  And voila:

What was the challenge I hear you ask?  Well, from the site:


1 – Go to “The Name Generator” or click
Click GENERATE NEW NAME. The name that appears is your author name.
2 – Go to “Picture Book Title Generator” or click
Click CREATE TITLE! This is the title of your picture book.
3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click
Type the last word from your title into the search box followed by the word “drawing”. Click FIND. The first suitable image is your cover.
4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Gettin’ creative is encouraged.
5 – Post it to your site along with this text."

You should do it too--you know you want to! The only problem is now I really want to read this story...

Image credit: arimoore

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No.1 Ladies' Dectective Agency Review

I was disappointed by McCall Smith's Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations earlier in the year when it coquettishly suggested that its style and twists were similar to Dahl and it turned out to be a cock-tease.  But, I found The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency at a library booksale for 50 cents and I'd heard it was better so I decided to give it a try. It was better, but not by much.  The feeling I got the most while reading the book is that McCall Smith was writing what he thought his audience of middle-aged bored housewives would like rather than what he actually felt compelled to write.  It reminded me of Mitch Albom, but with some twisted form of feminism instead of Christianity. I say twisted because to me feminism is about equality and to McCall Smith it seems to be about man-bashing.  Interesting because he is, after all, a man.

To illustrate my point let me give you quick summaries of the first few chapters.   Needless to say it will contain spoilers.


Happy Bapetsi is a happy, hard-working woman.  She enters Mma "snap judgment" Ramotse's agency:
"She also had few worries--this was shown by the fact that there were no lines on her face, other than smile lines of course.  So it was man trouble, thought Mma Ramotse.  Some man has turned up and spoiled everything, destroying her happiness with his bad behavior."
Of course, Mma Ramotse is right and a man has shown up pretending to be her long-lost father to free load.  Mma Ramotse tricks him and chases him off.

From her father's POV.  He's a father-figure not a peer/love intrest so he's allowed to be a good, honest man.

Flashback: Mma Ramotse is a child in Sunday school.  A boy keeps unbuttoning his trousers in front of her.  She tells the Sunday School teacher who responds:
"Boys, men...They're all the same.  They think that this thing is something special and they're all so proud of it.  They do not know how ridiculous it is."
The Sunday school teacher, a woman, hits the boy over the head with a book and he learns his lesson.
Also, Mma Ramotse is very intelligent and good with numbers and wins an art competition and tells the truth even though it's difficult.

Flashback: Mma Ramotse is a teenager.  She falls for a handsome musician who she knows is bad news but she loves him so she marrys him anyway.  He turns out to be bad news.  He beats her for being pregnant and leaves her.

Are you starting to see a theme here?  Then the book picks up on solving cases in the present.  Her first case is a missing husband whom she assumes to be cheating but turns out to be dead.  Mma Ramotse presents the bad news to the wife and says that she must be sorry, her response?: "A bit, but I have lots to do"

The rest of the cases are as follows: cheating husband, over-protective father, husband steals car and good wife feels guilty, cheating husband, lazy man tries to trick boss, rich and powerful man dabbles in voodoo, greedy man endangers lives, and witch doctor kidnaps boy.

There are a few men who are painted in a positive light, but the ONLY woman painted in a negative light is the witch doctor's wife who is only bad through her connection to a man.  I think Desperate House Wives has more feminism in it for crying out loud.  At least they portray well-rounded characters who live in gray areas.  This black and white good and bad is not only boring it's poor character development.  There isn't a single character in there who isn't a stereotype including the supposed protagonist Mma Ramotse the fat, motherly, no-nonsense woman who uses her feminine intuition to get by.  Really?  McCall Smith, really?

This is a book that women are supposed to read to feel good about themselves.  It portrays men as the source of all women's trouble so they can blame their problems on others.  It contains descriptions of Botswana throughout so the reader can feel good about being multicultural.  All the cases are solved easily.  All the characters are clear-cut.  It's like McCall Smith is saying "Don't worry ladies, let me do all that pesky thinking for you."  The one thing I respected him for was that he had the balls to kill a child, but he even wussed out on that one in the end.

The thing I disliked most about this book? The fact that it made me feel compelled to defend men.  I am in no mood to be defending men right now.  How dare you make me point out the fact that not all men are lazy, cheating low life McCall Smith!  I need to be able to hate men right now and you're ruining it for me with heavy-handedness, curses!

Overall it's a fine book if you're not overly-fond of thinking and want something breezy to fuel your man-hating fire at your next girl's night out. It's competently written and I'm probably over-analyzing what is meant to be  a beach read, but that's just who I am.  It falls under a category I like to call "chewing gum for the mind" because it will keep you occupied without providing any nutritional value. I just don't like chewing gum.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Advice on life from MLIS textbooks

I was reading one of my textbooks, Text Information Retrieval Systems, and I was surprised to come across this philosophical reflection on human nature in what is largely a dry text that spends most of its time making my head hurt with math equations and computer programming discussion: 

"In most human endeavors it is desirable to begin with a clear understanding of the objective.  Yet, we often do not.  We marry, buy houses, design software, undertake writing assignments, and certainly begin searches for information without necessarily knowing exactly what we want to accomplish."

So now, in addition to borning me and making my head hurt my textbook is condescending to me.  GREAT!  I also like how they put getting married on equal footing wtih doing homework.  Is it just me or do the authors of this text have some weird priorities?

Meadow, C. T., Boyce, B. R., Kraft, D. H., & Barry, C. (2008). Text Information Retrieval Systems. United Kingdom: Emerald.

Monday, October 19, 2009

If I Only Had a Job

I could while away the hours, working for the powers
helping your average slob.
And computer keys I'd be tappin' while
purchases I'd be trackin'
If I only had a job.

I'd help solve any trouble for any indivud'le
With a heartache or a sob.
With the people you'd be helpin'
you could be another Halprin*
If you only had a job.

Oh I could help you buy books that wouldn't bore.
I could show you things you've never seen before.
And then I'd sit and show you more.

I would not be just a nothin' my resume full of bluffin'
And throat full with a sob.
I would shop and be happy, Life would be so light and snappy
If I only had a job.

*Yeah I made an obscure reference to a modern dancer to fit the rhyme scheme.  I have a degree in theatre. Deal.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Making assumptions about patrons: thoughts on my readings for library school

“For example, Hauptman queried whether reference librarians would provide information on building a car bomb, and Dowd questioned whether reference librarians would or should provide information on freebasing cocaine. The underlying question was whether reference librarians can be totally neutral in the performance of their duties, or whether social consequences of the information should be considered." (Rubin, 2004 p. 325)

I was surprised to find this passage in Rubin. In my opinion not providing information to the best of your abilities in the above situations would violate the first two principles of the ALA code of ethics:
We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

In addition, maybe it's just my tendency to want to believe the best of people but if someone approached me at the reference desk asking me how to freebase cocaine my first thought would not be that the patron intended to use the information to get high. There are legitimate research reasons as to why someone might want to know this, as well as just basic human curiosity that can be purely intellectual without leading to any action.

For example, in my undergrad I took a folklore class and I wrote a paper about the graffiti found in the study desks of the University library. The paper included observations based on my recording of the graffiti as well as delving into the study of graffiti in general. I have never engaged in the activity myself nor do I have any intention of doing so, and I was not condoning the act in my paper. I worked at the library and I naturally wanted it to look nice and be free of many of the vulgarities written on the desks. However, by studying the graffiti I was able to discover many interesting things about the student body of the university.

Given that there could be reasons other than a proclivity towards criminal activity that may provoke such questions, how is the librarian supposed to determine whether or not the information should be provided? By stereotyping based on the appearance or other characteristics of the patron whether their intentions are good or bad? By requiring a note from a professor supervising the paper? By asking the patron (in which case what kind of idiot would admit to intent to commit an illegal act)?

The first method would clearly not be acting in an ethical and unbiased way. The second and third method would violate the third principle in the ALA code of ethics, dealing with patron privacy. If this last method is employed what is the likelihood of the patron returning to the reference desk for help in the future if they know they can expect invasive personal questions as to why the information is desired and accusatory looks? Given these difficulties regarding determining what a patron intends to do with information and the commitment of librarians to provide equal access to information and fight censorship I personally do not see how I could justify doing anything other than answering the patron’s question to the best of my abilities. I understand that there are conflicts here, but there is the potential of violating the first three principles of the ALA code of ethics, principles which I value highly and have contributed to my desire to join the profession. I don’t see how a vague, possible, harm could justify breaking all three of these principles. Am I prioritizing different values in doing this? I just don’t get it.

Rubin, R. E. (2004). Foundations of library and information science. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

American Library Association (2008, January 22). Code of ethics of the American library association. Retrieved from

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Likeness Review

The Likeness is by the Irish novelist Tana French. It is a thriller about Cassie Maddox, an under-cover cop who creates an alternate personality for herself, Lexie Madison, to use in infiltrating a drug ring. When Cassie gets stabbed during under-cover she is transferred to the Murder squad, and after a particularly nasty case there she ends up working for the apparently quieter domestic violence unit. She’s still recovering her nerves when her doppelganger shows up murdered, going by the name Lexie Madison—the fake identify Cassie created years ago. Lexie lived with four other English literature grad students in an old house called Whitethorn that one of them inherited. They have no idea what Lexie’s real identity is, and Lexie doesn’t seem to have any connections to anyone other than the people she lived with, and they’re not giving anything away. The case seems impossible to penetrate from the outside, so they decide to work it from the inside. They tell Lexie’s housemates that she’s recovered and going back home and Cassie goes back under cover as Lexie to try to get to the bottom of the case. There’s other plot lines about Cassie’s boyfriend cop who can always be counted on to do the right and boring thing, and Cassie being emo about her checkered past but I couldn’t bring myself to care about them and feel no need to discuss them.

The thing that kept me reading was the dynamic among the grad students. They don’t have a T.V. when they’re not studying in the library they’re working on the crazy old house or reading or playing cards and listening to old records. One of them restores the embroidery on an antique footstool and stitches new clothes for an old doll she finds. One makes obscure literary references when drunk. Throughout it all they stick together and quip back and forth and create their own bastion against reality in Whitethorn house. The only problem is that whenever any group of people pits itself against the world, the world will always eventually win. The world has infinite patience and all the time, well, in the world. And the longer you lock reality out and keep it circling round your house the more pissed off it will be when it finally gets in.

The novel made me long for the year that I spent living with four college students in a crazy house in a way that only a book about murder can. Still, my love of the characters did not cloud my judgment so much as to miss the fact that the novel really wasn’t particularly well-written. It had all the unexpected twists that you expect from a modern thriller. I was also disappointed by the way that French occasionally mentioned one character not liking another because of their city dialect but the reader couldn’t really glimpse the dialect from the dialogue. I felt like if it was so important then I should be able to tell for myself rather than just being told that so and so had a Dublin dialect. Occasionally she would write “ye” or add an extraneous “sure” (she didn’t believe in writing in dialect, sure) but it was pretty sparsely peppered through. As much as I didn’t like Crow Road dialect was at least one area where it excelled, especially over this novel. I also didn’t like the way the ending dragged on. I hate the French no-dénouement ending as much as the next person but this novel kept going on for a while after I’d lost interest and it was only habit that kept me reading to the bitter end. Overall I’d give it four stars out of five, but only because I loved the characters too much to give it a three.

“You can have anything you want as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”

“If you are absolutely sure of something, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll eventually persuade people who aren’t sure one way or the other.”

“Regardless of what the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can’t have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”

Rebecca Review

I have been on quite the lucky streak as far as books go, if nothing else. Perhaps it is because I’ve had more desire to escape and throw myself into a fictional world lately so I’m more willing to let the author lead me along. Whatever the cause I simply adored Rebecca. From the opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” to the last: “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.” I was completely absorbed by this novel and its world. The narrator is a middle-aged woman remembering events that changed her life forever. These events begin in Monte Carlo when the narrator was just a slip of a 21 year-old out of school and unsure of herself and trying to figure out where her life was headed—which, of course, I was not able to relate to AT ALL. I only hope that soon I’ll be able to look back with the same kind of perspective the narrator displays and see how ridiculous all my insecurities and worries were after all. If only there was a rich widower to fall in love with me, maybe I should take a holiday abroad.
At any rate that’s exactly what happens to our narrator, the young orphan (why is it always the orphans who have all the fun in these novels?) who goes from being a paid companion to an obnoxious middle-aged woman to being Mrs. De Winter, the mistress of the famous Manderley practically overnight. Of course the novel can’t end there or it would be terribly boring and sentimental, so after the honey moon is over the couple returns to Manderley where our young narrator ends up living in the shadow of the previous Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca. She sits at Rebecca’s desk in the morning and eats Rebecca’s favorite foods and is surrounded by Rebecca’s favorite flowers. Everyone seems disappointed when they meet her and she begins to fear that she is a poor replacement for the beautiful and spirited Rebecca who kept Manderley full of guests and glamour. The housekeeper, the terrifying Mrs. Danvers, in particular seems intent on keepig Rebecca's memory alive in the house and targets our narrator as an enemy from the minute she enters the house. Despite all this our narrator knows almost nothing about Rebecca, and her husband is very reluctant to talk of that particular subject. I would have been more annoyed with the narrator for not having the sense to strike her own path and redecorate and buy her own things instead of constantly worry about how Rebecca would have done something if I couldn’t tell that she was frustrated at herself for the exact same reason. Besides if I criticized her too much for being timid and trying to please everyone even when she knew she should and wanted to do otherwise I’d be the worst kind of hypocrite.
I’ve heard this novel called a mystery and an anti-marriage treatise but to me it was a romance, as I feel it was to the narrator as well. I don’t believe that this book is a caution against marriage as a rule so much as it is about going into a marriage with caution. It contains a lot about mistakes one can make in marriage, but hearing about other’s mistakes is how we learn. To me the novel wasn’t about Rebecca, but rather on the effect that Rebecca had on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. de Winter. Whatever genre it is, however, I’d give it five stars.

“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”

“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.”

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories Review

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories is a collection of stories by the popular Israeli author Etgar Keret. The author I was most reminded of while reading the collection is Roald Dahl. It contained much of the same kind of off-beat humor and unexpected twists that I love Dahl for, although in Keret’s collection the stories were basically brief comedic gags and the twists were just a part of the humor where as Dahl’s stories tend to be longer mysteries and all the dark humor is incidental to the big build up of the final twist. Regardless Keret reminded me of Dahl much more than the lukewarm Heavenly Date and other Flirtations by Alexander McCall Smith, which contained a review linking the two on the cover. Keret’s stories are each so unique that I can’t possibly summarize the collection. The best I can do is share two of my favorite quotes from it; the first is the openingline of a story and the second the closing line of another story:

“Korbi was a punk like all punks. The kind where it’s hard to tell if they’re mainly ugly or mainly stupid.”

“There are two kinds of people, those who like to sleep next to the wall, and those who like to sleep next to the people who push them off the bed.”

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I was thrilled to find an author who so thoroughly satisfies my particular short-story tastes that is still living and I look forward to reading more from Keret. Five stars.

Possession Review

Possession by A.S. Byatt starts in a library and spends half of its time in the Victorian era. It’s a romance after my own heart. The novel opens with a scholar, Roland Mitchell, finding a rough draft of a letter by the poet Randolph Henry Ash which he has reason to believe hasn’t been seen since Ash put the letter there himself. The letter is to a young lady and in it Ash talks of how she impressed him with her conversational skills at a lunch they both attended and asks if they might meet again. The scholar is driven to find out if Ash ever sent a copy of the letter, and who the young lady he was so taken with is. The lady turns out to be a poet as well, Christabel LaMotte. In order to find out more Mitchell seeks out the aid of one of the leading LaMotte scholars, Maud Bailey. The two follow the trail of letters to try to discover what happened between these two poets a hundred years ago, a path that leads them throughout the British and French countryside. The novel is alternately a sort of literary detective thriller as the two scholars try to unravel the mysterious affair, a modern romance, a Victorian romance, an epistolary novel (which I adore, the loss of the art of writing physical letters and diaries is one that I lament), and a satire of academia, romantic relationships, the victorian and the modern era. There are a few poems peppered throughout the novel as well. The novel has narrative ADD, but I love it! Despite the fact that the novel is subtitled a romance, I did not find it overly romantic. The novel had a sense of pragmatism that precluded young lovers finding each other then living in a fairy tale without a care in the world (although fairy tales did play an important part in the novel). The sensibility of the novel also prevented anyone from sinking into the depths of despair because love is the only thing worth living for and indulging in a truly Tragic Romance. The novel was a bit slow-paced in the beginning when Mitchell and Bailey are first sniffing out the trail but, at least for me, it more than made up for any slow beginnings by the end. Overall I’d give the novel five stars, with the caveat that my love of libraries, English majors, Victoriana, and letters prevents me from giving a completely objective review. I am not, however, alone in my love of this novel as it did win the Man Booker Prize and if you have a bit of literary geek in you as well I reccomend it.
“The only life I am sure of is the life of the Imagination.”
“But poets don’t want homes—do they?—they are not creatures of hearths and firedogs, but of heaths and ranging hounds.”

“The Poems are not for the young lady, the young lady is for the Poems.”

“The difference between poets and novelists is this—that the former write for the life of the language—and the latter write for the betterment of the world.”

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts on the ALA Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights

I recently visited the ALA Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights webpage for one of my library classes and it got me thinking about a lot of aspects of library procedure that I've seen in the news recently. "Access for Children and Young Adults to Nonprint Materials" included this paragraph:

"[P]arents—and only parents—have the right and responsibility to restrict access of their children—and only their children—to library resources. Parents who do not want their children to have access to certain library services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children. Librarians and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child."'

This got me thinking about the And Tango Makes Three controversy that's been going on for the past couple of years. And Tango Makes Three has topped the ALA's most challenged books list for a third year in a row(1) and there continues to be controversy about this title. Recently a parent in Maryland has even tried to get her school board to mark this book with a red dot to warn parents of its controversial nature(2). This, of course, brings up the "Restricted Access to Library Materials" policy as well. The stance of the ALA on these subjects makes me proud to be a librarian in training.

The section "Evaluating Library Collections" reminded me of a rather amsuing blog that I've been following called "Awful Library Books." I think that it's important that libraries do not attempt to censor any material, but there are a lot of books out there that are just plain out of date and need to be replaced. I think it's important that libraries provide access not just to information, but to up-to-date and accurate information. At the very least I think a lot of the books on the website should be moved to the humour section!

I think that the section "Privacy" will play a crucial role in how libraries potentially use the Google books project. Several groups, including the ALA, have voiced concerns over the current privacy policy (or lack thereof) of the project(3). Based on the sentiment of library workers that I've talked to I think this could be a deciding factor in whether some libraries use this technology or not.

Overall I think this is a great resource from the ALA. It's good to be reminded of how ALA policy relates to all of these issues.

1. American Library Association (2009, April 16). Attempts to remove children’s book on male penguin couple parenting chick continue.

2. Bloom, D. P. (2009, November 22). It takes two to vilify ‘Tango’ -- book ban brouhahas picking up speed.

3. Helft, M. (2009, July 23). Advocates ask google for privacy guarantees in online library. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review of Glut

Glut by Alex Wright is basically about how people have categorized information throughout the ages, with an emphasis on how libraries have traditionally organized information. Overall while there were a few interesting bits of information that I gleaned from it, the book was too broad for me to really find interesting or useful. Except for a few passing references the book was also largely biased towards western Europe, and once the timeline got around to the birth of the United States, it was largely biased towards America.

One part that I did find interesting, however, was the part discussing the monastic art of memory and specifically the difference between memorizing facts and actual wisdom. To me it seems like this is one major way that the internet has changed learning. I'm too young to know what the education system was like before computers firsthand, but based on books that I've read written in previous decades or the past century it seems like the modern education system puts a lot less emphasis on memorizing by rote and more emphasis on analyzing information. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that we're in the "information age" so that it would be impossible to memorize everything that a person needs to know just to get along today. It's probably also partly due to the fact that it's so easy to look up information now that there's no need to memorize it. Recently when I've been hanging out with my friends and one of us can't remember something someone will just whip out their i phone and look up the answer immediately. Tools like Wolfram Alpha are making it even easier to look up basic facts. I know I've had teachers who have said something to the effect of "Don't bother memorizing the dates--you can look those up on wikipedia. I want you to be able to tell me the event's significance instead."

I think one of the most beneficial aspects of the internet is that it puts a whole lot of facts at your fingertips so that you don't have to memorize information. Now you can spend the time that you previously had to spend in memorizing something or looking something up drawing connections and thinking critically about the information instead. I think that libraries play an important role in this. I almost never see people use encyclopedias or dictionaries anymore because it's easier to look up basic facts online. Where the internet can often be lacking, however, is in intelligent analysis of those basic facts, and with more information available every day I think people need more help to make sense of all of it. This is where I think libraries can really help by providing books and articles that have gone through some sort of publishing or peer-review process to ensure its accuracy. What I've noticed in student presentations is that students have more information readily available, but they often have difficulty distinguishing the good information from the bad. (In one of my theatre history classes I remember a student got in an argument with my teacher when the teacher objected to her claim that there were cars in the Elizabethan period. She kept on pointing to some pages printed from the internet saying--"it's written right here!")

Overall I'd give this book a 3 out of 5 stars. If you know almost nothing about the subject, it might be a good introduction, but it was much too general for me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summary of "Academic libraries: 'social' or 'communal?'" for LIBR 200

In his article "Academic libraries: 'social' or communal?'" Jeffrey Gayton explores the use of academic libraries as a communal space and how the recent trend of converting libraries into a social space is detrimental to the communal environment.  Gayton defines communal space in libraries as a place where students and faculty can go to quietly study next to others engaged in similar activity.  He argues that introducing noisy, non-library related areas is detrimental to this type of activity not only in the sense that it uses up finite resources in terms of funds and space, but also in that it is difficult to properly separate these spaces and they are, by nature, incompatible.

To support his claims Gayton uses data that show that among libraries that have recently undergone renovation, libraries that devoted more space to traditional library use experienced higher increases in gate counts when compared to libraries that devoted more space to social areas such as cafes.  Gayton also cites surveys that show the appreciation of students and younger faculty for communal library space.

I chose this article because in the academic library that I currently work at they recently announced plans to add a cafe to increase gate count. As it turns out the cafe is not going in after all because the announcement was made previous to approval by the health and safety people, which fell through.  I was opposed to the idea from the beginning (but nobody listens to a lowly student assistant).  Space concerns on campus have lead to several departments moving into the library and taking over space that was previously study space for the students.  The cafe would have gone up in an area that is currently one of the few remaining designated "quiet study areas."

As a student assistant with access services I spend a lot of time in the stacks shelving or paging books and based on what I see on a daily basis what Gayton is saying makes sense.  I have often been asked by students where the best place in the library is for quiet study and I always see a lot of students making use of the study carrels when in the stacks. There are complaints if someone makes noise in areas designated for quiet study.  During finals week there is never enough study space, so I'm concerned over how much it has diminished over the past couple of years.

Gayton, J. (2008). Academic Libraries: "Social" or "Communal?" The Nature and Future of Academic Libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(1), 60-6. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nil: A World Beyond Belief

At comic con I went to the SLG booth looking for more of the Rex Libris comics by James Turner that I bought there last year. Unfortunately they didn't have any loose-leaf comics, they only had a second bound collection. I would have bought this, but I had already bought over 2/3 of the comics in this collection in loose-leaf form at comic con the previous year, so I couldn't justify it to myself. Thankfully this lead me to buying another graphic novel by James Turner, Nil: A World Beyond Belief.

As much as I love Rex Libris (come on, what's not to love about a librarian who travels to other planets and dimensions in search of overdue library books?) I loved Nil even more. From the moment I checked the back and saw that it was a satire I was excited because nothing makes me happier than a good satire. When I bought the book and the cashier asked if I was an English major, I knew it was another good sign (My English major roommate testified that I was an honorary English major even if I got my degree in Theatre). By the time I started reading the book and a character responded to someone asking how he was with "We are surrounded by fools and incompetents! They are everywhere. Considering their ubiquitous nature it is a wonder society has not already collapsed." I was in love. Oh James Turner, you know how I like it!

Nil is about a man living in a society of nihilists who becomes a fugitive and ends up on the front lines in the war against optimists. It's ridiculous and fantastical and that's why I love it. My favorite part is Turner's attention to detail. He populates the land with political posters and the like that lends an amusing sense of reality to this shamelessly unrealistic land. My favorite was a poster that read:

"The Way of Nature: Nature evolves through extermination, but our modern technological society, with its tradition of tolerance, liberty, and diversity helps keep millions of stupid, incompetent people alive. Help us restore the balance of nature and kill a stupid person. Return to nature. Eat your neighbor."

It had a giant smiley face on it. Delightful! If you found that poster as hilarious as I do, then this is certainly the book for you.

Summary of "The Family That Facebooks Together" for LIBR 203

For this assignment I read the article "The Family That Facebooks Together" by Douglas MacMillan. The article talks about online networking sites like Facebook that include special applications and features for families to connect with each other as well as sites like cozi that are specifially designed for such interactions. The group calendar and to do lists that are available at sites like these are apparently particularly popular. On Cozi it is even possible to drag items directly from ads on the site into a family shopping list. I thought that this was a particularly clever move on their part. Sites like these seemed interesting and I can see how the shared shopping list and calendar would be useful for a family that lives together.

MacMillan, D. (August 6, 2009). The Family That Facebooks Together...(INTERNET). Business Week Online, p.NA. Retrieved August 15, 2009, from General OneFile via Gale:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

LIBR 203:Personal Skills Assessment

Based on the assessments that I took (Is Online Right for You?, San Diego Community College, and eLearners Advisor) I am definitely ready to begin class work in an online environment. The SDCC survey concluded that I am "ready for online learning" and I scored a 97% e-Learning compatibility factor at the eLearners Advisor website. I use computers often at work and in my personal life. I bought a new laptop last year so that I've had time to get used to all its functions and I am very comfortable with it. I've also taken several online courses in my undergraduate career and have done well in all of them. I think this is because I am very good at setting deadlines for myself and sticking to them and I have excellent reading comprehension skills.

I think Ken Haycock made some good points in his colliquia about team work. I was a theatre major in undergrad, so I gained a lot of experience in working in teams. Putting on a play is a huge collaborative effort, but that's one of the reasons it's so rewarding. A lot of excellent ideas will come up in production meetings that individual designers or directors would never have thought of on their own. I think Haycock's discussion of the five dysfunctions of team was very interesting. Based on my experience trust can be especially important in team work, especially in theatre where so many things can go wrong in a live performance. That's why so many troupes take time to do specific trust-building exercises.

Enid Irwin also had a good point when she talked about how important attitude can be when working on teams. I've definitely had encounters with people who exemplified all of the "disastrous behaviors," but I've noticed that positive attitudes in teams can be just as infectious as these negative outlooks, so rather than letting these "disastrous behaviors" pull me down I try to lift the persons displaying these traits with encouraging words. I hope I'll be able to apply some of what I've learned working on a production team to my online classes to help create successful teams.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

The Ray Bradbury panel got me thinking about Fahrenheit 451, which I read about a month ago. I read it in a day, it was actually the same day as my last day working at The Book Shop before the owner sold it and retired.

I miss The Book Shop, I had some good customers there and I certainly miss the employee discount, but what I miss most is hanging out with the owner, Hank, gossiping all weekend. What more could I ask for than good books, good company, and good gossip!

My last day there was particularly odd. About an hour before the shop was supposed to close the lights turned off and Hank couldn't get the landlord on the phone to turn them back on so we just closed early. It was the last Sunday in June and it was sweltering hot. I started the book at work, then finished it after going out for ice cream while I was lying on my bed with an ice pack on my head because we don't have air conditioning and I was trying desperately to cool down. All together, I think it was a pretty good setting for reading this book.

Despite the number of 'classics' that I've read and loved I'm still surprised when I read one that truly engages me and keeps me turning the pages. I guess society's prejudice that classics have to be time consuming works that require serious concentration and thought to appreciate is just too prevalent to be avoided. I immediately fell in love with Clarisse, and I soon began to be absorbed by this story of a dystopian society in which people who owned books were outlaws. I think it was Bradbury's biographer who pointed out in the panel that with ipods and blue tooth the idea of people being constantly bombarded with noise and distracted by 'seashells' seems more relevant than ever.

I'm not going to bother with a full review of the book because I'm pretty sure that everyone out there knows it well enough. I would, however, like to briefly talk about a few passages that stood out to me. The first is one of the best arguments that I've found about why printed books will survive the kindle:

"Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. "

I think that more than anything else this is why books will survive. Because there is a physical quality and weight and smell and feel to books that can never be replicated by the pristine slickness of electronics. The kindle will never replace the books I have from my grandmother with her hand-written notes in the margin and yellowing pages and creased spines. They will never replace the books we got at The Book Shop with old pictures shoved in as book marks or inscriptions like in my copy of Time Traveler's Wife: "Passion & Obsession. The one thing you cannot live without is love. Never stop believing." dated February 14th, 2006. I bought the book in June of 2007. If that's not a perfect reminder of reality to accompany a romance novel I don't know what is! I'm not naive, I know that e-readers are becoming more and more popular and that they won't disappear any more than physical books, but new technology rarely entirely replaces the old. Some bands still come out with vynil versions of their albums for goodness' sake!

The second quote seems particularly apt to me considering the times that we are in.

We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth? But when he was held, rootless, in midair, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane."

I work as a Student Assistant at a CSU library, and we just had our first furlough day today. Of course the library couldn't close if classes were in session so we opened with half staff and no other offices open to refer students to. We've also been closing an hour earlier every day than we did last summer, and it will only get worse before it's over. I just graduated from there in fall, so I'll have to find a new job soon. The job hunt hasn't been particularly encouraging so far because most libraries, as state-funded institutions, simply can't afford to hire any new people right now even if other people leave. I know we'll survive this economic down turn because, well, what choice do we have? But it makes me wonder how much damage we'll be doing in the meantime by cutting the funding and services at our schools and libraries.

The last quote is a bit more optimistic:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching…The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime."

I'm starting grad school for my Masters of Library and Information Sciene soon and it's quotes like this that make me glad that I am, even though tuition is killing me! I truly believe that as a librarian I will be able to touch people's lives and make them better. We all have a responsibility to help in the way that we are best equipped for, and the more I work in libraries the more I feel that it is where I belong. I know that a lot of the patrons may just be looking for a book to finish their report that they waited until the last minute to start, or even just looking for the restroom, but even if I touch just one person's life in my whole carreer I'll feel like my time at library school was well spent.

P.S.If you want a tangentially-related laugh, check out this comic.