Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Foot, A Field


Over the past few weekends my wife and I have gone on a number of walks in the woods. One tramp was to Fish Pond and the other was into the High Peaks. On the walk to Fish Pond, I’m not going to reveal which Fish Pond, we didn’t see a single other person or vehicle. On the walk to the High Peaks we saw tons of cars but relatively few folks actually on the trails. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the trails we chose.

Over the years we’ve done both of these ambles many times. We’ve traveled by foot, snowshoe and skis. We’ve been caught out in sunshine, rain, snow and dark. And for many years prior to going I always read the guidebook before we left the house. On many occasions the guidebook was also stowed in the map pocket of my pack. I will admit that these last two times I didn’t bring the guidebook or even a map.

I have wondered if guidebook reading is a regional pursuit. But I guess it depends on what kind of guidebook you are looking for. I can remember when I purchased my first guidebook. Although, I will admit that my wife had a well-worn copy before me. It’s not that I didn’t think one was necessary it’s just that she started hiking in areas requiring a guide before me. Looking at our shelves we have guidebooks for all sorts of outdoor activities. Some get used more often than others. I was never a big fan of the foot by foot rendering of a trail. I prefer a more big picture approach with highlights along the way. That way I always feel that, no matter how often I’ve been that way and no matter how many others have followed that course, it’s all kind of new to me. I get to discover, or rediscover, things along the way. That’s also the reason why I stopped checking off hikes, climbs or paddles. I did keep track for a long time, ticking them off one by one. But now I take the view that if I don’t remember it I get to discover it all new, for a second time. And anyway, the travels are new depending on the weather, mode of travel and company.

I have also at times written journal entries, haikus, short essays or now that I’m aware of the term prose poems describing the hike, paddle, weather, company or thoughts along the way. I can also remember times of bring along the writings of others and sitting in a similar spot enjoying the same view that they had written about years ago. It is an arresting experience to read another’s thoughts while gazing off at distant vistas that had not changed over time, the feeling of connectedness is striking. And sometimes if you are lucky you don’t have to travel far. Last year, on a sunny June day, a friend and I hiked Mt. Baker. I had recently come across the writings of Adelaide Crapsey. Ms Crapsey had moved to Saranac Lake in 1913 to cure. And perched out on some sunny rocks I read her poems dealing with life and death in Saranac Lake. A sunny day is a good time to read her poems. Ms. Crapsey died in 1914 and most of her works from her time in Saranac Lake deal with what she realized was to be her untimely end.

I didn’t bring anything to read on our walks over the last few weekends. And because of where we were going there was little need to review the guidebooks. But I was interested in remembering. And so I took the time to stop periodically and examine the view both coming and going. For me the views along the way unfolded like a well-worn and treasured book. In these cases I can open the covers and step right into the text. I know where I am because I’ve read this section of trail before. I can see what the author has written and can truly become a part of the landscape, both the written and earthly landscape. And that is what a good guidebook can do for me. I can reopen it and read over our travels past and present those for years to come. And like I said, when I reread a book I will have an idea of what’s ahead, but it is still a new hike each and every time.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Time Is Now


As some of you know, I am now working both as a public librarian at the Saranac Lake Free Library and as the academic librarian at the Malone Campus of North Country Community College. In both locations I do some standard run of the mill library stuff to help keep the library open and operating. Most of those tasks have to do with cataloging and keeping track of items in the collection both on the shelves and out on loan. I am also in the midst of a new weeding project. Needless to say while there is some overlap in what is to be found in both libraries the emphasis of the two collections is very different. And just like at the SLFL while I’m in Malone I assist people in their search for items. Although, here again the emphasis between the two types searches is very different.

At the SLFL most, but not all, of the reading is for enjoyment and recreation. At the Malone campus I work with students who are looking for articles and most, but not all, want non-fiction texts dealing with specific subjects. Recently, a number of students have come in looking for a specific number of sources for an assignment. Interestingly, they are required to find a number of online journal articles and a single book. That particular task requirement reminded me of when I had to find a number of different physical sources and one web based source for a class I took many, many years ago. At the time it was rather cutting-edge to be required to find an internet based source. I also remember that at the time I was very much intimidated and dismayed by the assignment.

A little while ago when I was still in Library School I purchase physical, hold in your hands and turn the pages text books. I also bought a couple of books that I had come across in different classes that peaked my interest. But the vast majority of the reading I did and the information I accessed was via web-based pdfs found in federated databases. Now, I am lucky enough to remember what it was like to hand search an actual card catalog. And I knew all about title, author and subject long before going to library school. It has occurred to me while assisting these students that many of them have never had that experience. It has also occurred to me that the requirement of finding one physical book to use as a source is not a bad idea. Since information can come in many different formats it is a good idea to be able to use different ways to find and recognize the information we seek. I will mention that I did use an electronic catalog to search for the book; mainly because the student wanted a readily accessible source right off the shelves here in Malone.

Thinking about the process afterwards it occurred to me that at some point in the future new students may no longer have that physical book requirement. It may be revised by an eBook requirement. It also occurred to me that at some point if an instructor does require the opening of a physical book it might be restricted to students working on advanced degrees. Just as today not every student has access to a Guttenberg Bible or a first edition of The Importance of Being Ernest in the future that may be the case or choice for all physical books. Clearly, you would not require a first year college student to do such a thing. Nor would you allow such an individual to touch such a valuable piece of education equipment when an eBook would do just fine.

But that’s for the future. Right now I did notice that there are a number of similarities between what I have done and what the current crop of students entering the library is doing. They are looking for something. They are looking for information and a means to access that information, just as I did with a card catalog or reserved article list. Now we use a host of technological tools to bring that information to our fingertips. The process of getting the information is now better then what it was in the past. I can reach further and faster. I can also access other librarians or educators and chat, comment, text or wiki about new editions and perceptions of an existing work. I also realized that I’m the product of multi-generational changes in information format, access and retrieval. I’m comfortable with each rendition, from books to eBooks or journals to pdfs. And I have to tell you that all of that change, all of that innovation is why when I’m asked I always say “Right now is the absolutely most exciting time in the last 120 years to be a librarian or to be a library patron.”

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bedtime Reading


At different times in my life I have been an avid reader before going to sleep. As a child I was read to and as a parent I continued the practice of reading to my children before going to bed. I now rarely engage in that practice. I read before going up to bed but hardly ever read while in bed anymore. I do have a number of my favorite books stacked on the shelf just to the right on my headboard. And I will sometimes crack one of the books to read a few familiar lines prior to turning out the lights. I think I do so to just settle myself down and to relish those familiar few lines or paragraphs. I also think that when I do this I’m looking for some new insight into what the writer has provided me. Some new way to view both the written word and my own perception of how I see those words in relation to whatever is going on in my life.

As the reader I’m hoping to find one more nuance in the text. With some books there may really be nothing more to find. When the text reads, “Terrible pain. There was something snapping at my feet, something with fierce sharp claws.” You get the point. There doesn’t seem to be much more to get out of it. I’m also not looking to discover how those particular lines would relate to my life. But with lots of other writings that‘s not the case. I’m looking for something new.

A few years ago I came across the online collect of manuscripts of a writer / poet. What struck me the most was that for one published piece of work she had over twenty-five hand-written, legal-sized paper drafts. That is a serious commitment to getting it right. And when you realize that she was probably thinking about the text prior to putting in down on paper the number of rewrites climbs. Now when an author commits to the final product she / he is telling us that “This is all you get. This is my best effort in telling you what it is I mean to say.”

As the reader I get to choose how often I’m going to read a work. And each time I do I get to bring something new to the experience. I’m not quite the same person I was the last time I read the book. That is one of the reasons why I reread some books. Now, the book has to be something I’ve enjoyed in the past otherwise I won’t pick it up a second time. Now, if I can a book it usually stays canned. But as a younger reader I did reread works that I didn’t enjoy the first time. Or I’d give a book a second shot. Actually it might be more accurate to say I gave myself a second shot at the book.

So why reread something you know before going to bed? Or even read something you’re not familiar with before going to sleep? For ardent library users and most avid readers are library users the act of reading is at the same time both a stimulating and relaxing activity. As a rule you remain motionless while your mind is allowed to venture far beyond what would be your normal, everyday neighborhood. And you’re trying to get what the writer has delivered. The writer thinks they have provided it. So does the editor and the publisher. So it is finally up to us the readers. And I think, that is why I reread familiar lines before closing my eyes. I want to give myself one more shot at getting what a favorite writer has delivered in the past. One more shot at seeing those familiar lines in a new way given what has occurred in my life since I last read those words. Sometimes I remember where I was the last time I read the work. Sometimes it is just the familiar cadence of the text that I enjoyed the first time and still enjoy now. But I also think that if the work really resonates with me then that book will transcend the different times of my life. And just as in the past, I’ll not only get to enjoy those lines again right now but also for years to come. That is why those particular books are stacked right there. And opening one of them again, one more time may just be the very best way for any of us to close out a day.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

811


I recently came across a poet who is new to me. Mary Oliver has written and published poems and prose for decades. I had run across one of her works, liked what I read and then went searching into the SLFL catalog. No dice. So I expanded my search to include the entire CEF system and hit pay-dirt. I made my requests online and then went back to browsing. If you want to see the collection of American poets in the SLFL wander over to the 811s in the non-fiction section of the library.

I received the first book last Friday and have been enjoying it since then. Included in the book are a number of short items that are termed prose poems. Now, I’ve used the term prose before but I realized today that I may have misspoken in the past. When I started to think about the term I realized I was unhappy with any definition I might use for the word. So I did what any librarian worth her / his salt would do: I did a search.

I checked a number of different sources including the OED, American Webster Dictionary, Encyclopedia Britannia and Wikipedia to educate myself. This is what I came up with: all writing structure can be summed up into just two categories. They consist of prose and verse (poetry). So if it is not verse (poetry) then it is prose. This definition can get rather sticky. Another way to think about it is that prose is the use of the English language in the written form when not meant to be perceived as poetry. These are both pretty broad definitions. So I continued my search and I also came across a quote that I liked and explains the issue nicely. The quote is attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and I've paraphrased it here: “prose is made up of words in their best order; poetry is the best words in their best order." Nice, huh? And of course none of that helps if the poet her/himself has put the two terms together as Ms. Oliver has done. In addition, after rereading Mr. Coleridge words and giving them some more thought it seemed to me that any writer who wanted to produce poems would have to build upon their own prose first. In other words you need to master prose prior to working on poetry. If you don’t know what the best order is then I think it would be hard to put the best words in the best order. But maybe not.

Hmmm, it has also occurred to me that what the best words might be is also a variable. I’m not sure that Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver would always agree as to what the best words or the best order for those words might be in any given situation. But both of these poets have a tremendous use of the English language. Both often wrote about nature and the interaction of themselves and others with the landscape. Both also delved into how that relationship is perceived by both the writer and then the reader. I’m also pretty sure that both would feel that they had more often then not hit the mark on what it was that they were tyring to achieve. Which is all very nice for us as readers.

And isn’t that is part of the enjoyment of coming across a new writer? Especially when finding a new, to you, poet. I think that in poetry, or even prose, the initial point of contact and following relationship of discovery between the reader and the writer can be extraordinary. All of a sudden you find someone who has taken your thoughts and put them to paper in a unique and artist way. And perhaps in a way that you yourself didn’t even realize was actually what you were thinking about before you read the work. Almost as if they had already read your mind and then run ahead, just a bit, putting the thought to paper and then just waiting for you to catch up.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pete's Picks


I recently added a new side panel to the blog. Over there on your right you’ll see a section entitled “Pete’s Picks”. What I wanted to do was to let readers know about different books that I’ve read over the years that have had a major impact on what I read, how I read and how I think about books and other written works that have stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

As the title states these are “Pete’s Picks” and some or all of them may not be your cup of tea. Why this happens to some folks with a specific book and not to others I have no idea. I was once talking to a musician about a particular artist, long dead, who is now seen as the epitome of a specific genre. I said that I had purchased copies of his music and listened diligently to it but and before I could finish the sentence he added “To you it sounded like a dog with it’s hind leg caught in a barbed wire fence, right?” I said “Yeah”. He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, sometimes it does.” So, these titles might not do it for you. All I can say is that at one time or another they did for me. I’m also pretty sure that my age when I came across the book and whatever else was going on in my life probably had an impact on my ability to get something out of whatever I was reading at the time too.

In order to put together this list I decided that I needed a criterion to sift through all that I’ve read. So, I decided to think about all of the books that, for one reason or another, just knocked my socks off. I also decided that I was going to restrict myself to those works that I’ve read at least twice. Now, for many of the books listed I’ve actually read the book way more then twice. There was a run of about ten years when I read Call of the Wild every autumn. Like many other people I’ve read other works by Jack London. And I enjoyed some of them. But none of the others did for me what Call of the Wild did. Some of these works also lead me to other books by the same author. The Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset is the final book in a four part series. I didn’t know it at the time but I read the last book first. The series actually starts with The Axe, flowed by The Snake Pit and In the Wilderness and finishes with The Son Avenger. For me the order that I originally read them in didn’t and doesn’t matter. I can still to this day feel myself getting excited about both The Axe and The Son Avenger.

Now, my criteria also stated that the book had to change the way I thought. What I mean by that is that the work had to change the way I viewed books, reading and writing. The work had to bring something new to the way I viewed the experience of reading. I had to readjust the reading experience to make room for the work I had just finished. For whatever reason the new work had succeeded in making me see the written word in a new way, the work didn’t fit neatly into any of my old parameters. The book had to challenge what I thought I knew about reading and writing. The book had to make me go beyond what I already knew. Two books that did these things for me are One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Beloved by Toni Morrison. I also had to enjoy the experience. I wasn’t about to inflict something that I had to grind through onto someone else.

Do I still read what I consider “fluff”? Of course I do. And I still enjoy it. Who wouldn’t? But every now and then as a reader you come across something that causes you to think, and to think long and hard. And you don’t begrudge the effort to make sense of what you are reading one little bit. The work, the characters or the setting just stays with you. It all works for you. These books have all stayed with me. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be expanding the list. Yesterday, a book came across the circ desk and I immediately remembered the work and I also remember the experience of reading it long, long ago. I then realized that this particular book had stayed with me even though I hadn’t stayed with it. I checked it out on my card. Know what? It’s still pretty good.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Monday, September 13, 2010

Off You Go


So I spent this last weekend as a volunteer helping out at the 90 miler. And that got me to thinking about some of the books I’ve read over the years that deal with canoeing. I have guidebooks of course, and I’ve also read different repair manuals for watercraft that have been involved in some unfortunate events. But what I was thinking about was some of the books I’ve read that got me into the canoe and onto the water in the first place. Books that made me want to pick up a paddle and head off into the unknown. And even if I had a map it was still unknown to me.

The first book I’m going to tell you about I read in, I think, fourth or fifth grade. It’s now titled Two Against the North; the original title is Lost in the Barrens and was written by Farley Mowat. This book didn’t just capture my imagination. It grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, spun me around the neighborhood twelve or thirteen times and then sent me streaming through time and space at a blinding speed. I really liked it. It was a use the flashlight under the covers after you’ve been told to go to bed read for me. I also think that this particular book set the stage for all of the wilderness, trekking, canoeing, climbing, travel through the woods and general love of the North Woods and Far Northern Places type of reading that I still continue with to this day.

The other two books are related to each other. The first is called The Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace (which by the way is available for free when downloaded to a Kindle) and the second is Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge. Now, an interesting aspect to both books is that the first book is the tale of an adventure written by a survivor. The second book is the story of the widow of the dead adventurer as she takes up the task of completing the trek that her husband perished on. Did I forget to mention that these events occurred at the turn of the last century? That’s correct, these adventurers set out to travel through and write about the then uncharted areas of the Ungava-Labrador Peninsula in Canada in 1903!

Now all three of these books have at different times in my life captured and fired my imagination. The stories are all very compelling. They all deal with struggles against nature and the bonds formed through hardship. But more importantly the books also deal with the inner struggles of the individuals and the attempt of the writers to make clear for themselves exactly why they have taken up their treks in the first place. Just as the different northern lakes and rivers flow through landscapes and time so do the authors. They are on a journey both physically and metaphorically and in each case you get to go on that journey with them. Now, these three books are not the only stories I’ve ever read on this subject. But I do consider these three to be among the very best books I’ve ever read on this subject.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in boats. I never get tired of it and I expect I’ll continue to float around for decades to come. And I do believe that it was reading about traveling by paddle over northern waters that lead me to my lifelong enjoyment and to my standing around on a bobbing boat offering water and candy to competitors as they paddled by. And it made me think. When the paddlers said “thanks” they were talking to me, but I was only partially there. I was thinking about the books I had read; and how those books had set me on the journey of being out on this particular boat, in raingear with a hat and gloves, on an early fall day in the Adirondacks.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2630.2


2630.2 is the number of miles I traveled by car last week. As many of you know I was out of town last week driving from Fairbanks, AK to Moscow, ID with my daughter. Our route took us across central Alaska, into the Yukon Territory and then down the spine of the northern Canadian Rockies through British Columbia and finally into Idaho.

It had been my hope to post from the road. In that regard I completely underestimated my ability to write while shoehorned into a passenger seat and also my ability to find access to the internet. Evidently the Yukon and northern BC are still two places in the world where it is difficult to be wired in or to have cell service. It is also a place where lots (being a relative term) of people live strictly on generator power.

Here is the number of books I read on the trip: only 1. But I read that book front to back and also from right to left, really. This is what happened.

The Milepost is written specifically for those individuals driving to Alaska through Northwestern Canada. A new edition is published each year. Originally the book just dealt with travel conditions along the Alaskan Highway. Now the book includes different routes that work their way through parts of British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Alaska. The book has also been expanded to include various ferry routes. You get mileage points that breakdown the trip to minute detail. We knew where every gravel pull-off was along the way. We also knew where to find gas, a place to camp, food, hot springs and when to be aware of large, wild animals traveling along the same road as you. The amount of information available to the reader was / is mind boggling. It also provided us with options to consider when travel plans had to be rearranged due to the lateness of the day or unforeseen events such as wild fires. But here is the catch: all of the sections we needed where written for those traveling south to north. And as you all know we where traveling in the opposite directions; which meant that the reader had to find the appropriate section, he / she would then read from left to right working down the page looking for the appropriate information while turning the pages in, what we would normally consider, the wrong direction, transposing the information along the way. Yes, it was tricky and yes, it took practice. It took both of us a little bit of time to figure out what to do and to then be able to actually do it. So, we read everything multiple times doing mental gymnastics with the information along the way. But it was worth it.

Here are a couple of more numbers that came out of the trip.

Number of miles after leaving Fairbanks, AK until we reached our first stop light: 855, it was red, there was construction on a bridge in the Yukon Territory. Number of additional miles until we reached our second stop light: 170, it too was red and was signaling travel across another bridge undergoing construction.

Number of new species of animals I saw in the wild for the first time: 5, swan, wolf, caribou, stone sheep & wood bison.

Number of rainbows we saw traveling through the Yukon: 7, number of double rainbows: 2; yep, it rained a bit, but never when we were putting up or taking down the tent.

Number of 13 - 14,000 foot peaks seen: too numerous to count; number of 6000 foot passes traveled over: 2; number of nights camped out: 5, we stayed in both private and provincial campgrounds and a few National Parks in Canada. All nice, all interesting in there own way and some with absolutely, spectacular scenery.

Number of different times we experienced a different time change /zone: 4 maybe 5 times I’m still not sure. It got very confusing going along the BC, Alberta, and National Parks of Canada borders.

Number of times we saw active or smoldering wild fires: 3.

Number of times we drove over the Continental Divide: 4.

Number of spare inches left after squeezing in all of the stuff plus 2 adults and 1 dog into a 1993 Honda Civic with a bike and kayak on the roof: not 1.

Oh, and just two more points. Did we run into any difficulties along the way that stalled progress or forced us to make changes to prearranged plans on our trek? Yes, we did. But I’m also happy to say that we didn’t run into a single thing that a biologist from Alaska and a librarian from Saranac Lake couldn’t find a solution to. And would I do the trip again? In a heartbeat.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Couple Of Quick Thoughts


So here is how it always seems to work whenever I’m about to go out of town for a week or so: I’ve set all the travel plans, purchased all the tickets, made all of the reservations, checked the air pressure in the tires, finished, delegated or rescheduled all my work responsibilities and am now good to go, literally. And then a couple of pesky items kind of start to creep in from the sides and as the final take off minutes approach I find myself maybe not scrabbling about, but definitely moving with purpose, quickly.

That is the nature of this post today, quickly moving with purpose. To help move along I’m going to use a numbered outline format.

Number one. The SLFL has now officially launched our Kindle for patron use. You can read either the daily Kindle edition of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. We have also downloaded a few ebooks. You will need to sign a form stating that you’ve read the Kindle use policy and guidelines. It will then take a few minutes for the staff member to give you a quick tutorial so that you’ll be able to navigate around the device. Here are a few heads-up before you start. Because of the nature of the E-Ink technology used by Kindle the screens do not move quickly. The nature of the technology requires the entire screen to be electronically reconfigured each time a change is made. What this means is that you actually save battery life and you can also keep the E-Ink format which is easier on your eyes when you read. But it is not lightening fast. I won’t call it pokey, but it’s not fast either. Also the 5 - directional curser is very sensitive. It is very easy for you to inadvertently do two things at once, neither of which was what you intended to do. So be aware of that. And lastly, the Home button is your friend. Your mother was right when she told you, “When you are having problems it is a good idea to come back Home and refocus.”

Number Two. I’ve spoken with a couple of people about the Kurt Wallander series that I’ve been reading and posting about. I should mention that I did not find these books to be light, easy reading. I’m not sure if it that the books are translated from Swedish to American English that is the problem or the author’s style of writing or the nature of the stories. It’s probably all three. What I am sure about is that this is Northern Noir at its best. So if you are not up for a flawed protagonist, who works his way through his self-imploding life while solving gruesome murders you might want to read something else.

Number Three. As many of you know by this time next week I should be somewhere near the Yukon Territory / British Columbia border. I should also have passed the half-way point in my travels. I have taken care of my reading needs for the trip and I’ll let you know in a future post what I thought of them. But what I can tell you is that The Milepost is one of the items I’ll be bringing along.


Number Four: It is my plan to continue to post from the road. I am looking forward to writing about where I am, what I am seeing and what I’ve been reading along the way. However, I already know that because of the where I will be traveling I will not always have access to the internet; so some of the posts and my ability to moderate comments may be delayed. We’ll just have to wait and see. I do promise to send postcards. If any you have a desire to do so you can find out what the travel conditions are like where I’ll be traveling by checking the following websites: http://511.alaska.gov/alaska511/mappingcomponent/ , http//www.511yukon.ca , http//www.drivebc.ca , or http://511.idaho.gov/ . And remember if you don’t have access to a computer at home you can always use one at your public library. It is also possible to view web cams along our intended route. So I did. What I found when I viewed the eighteen or so thumbnails along Yukon Territory Route 2 East at 2:30 in the afternoon the other day was that not a single captured frame had a photo of a vehicle in it. So, if you do take a look you might not actually see us go by. But if you do see a 1993 Honda Civic with Alaska plates and there is a kayak and bike attached to the roof with a dog in the back seat and two people in the front seats having a great time, that'll be us.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading As A Gift


I clearly remember the very first book that was ever given to me. I also believe that this particular book was also the very first book I ever read all by myself. Although I do not think that those two events happened on the same day. But who knows? The book is a classic that has been enjoyed by generations of young readers and listeners: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss.

I remember where I was sitting when my mother called me over and presented me with the book perhaps it was an early birthday, I’m not sure. I do know that it was my father who picked out the book for me. A few years ago I was speaking with my mother about Newberry and Calldicott winners and books in general. I guess I can mention here that like me, my mom also has a MLIS and worked as a librarian. She also received her degree in the later part of her life. I clearly remember her taking the coursework and studying the Dewey Decimal System on flashcards. Yikes! Anyway, my mother told me that my father walked past a bookstore to and from the train station on his way to and from work each day. He made the choice to not buy any coffee for the morning commute and instead would pocket the money and save it up until he had enough to purchase a children’s book. I should also add here that I am one of ten children and so I’m thinking that my dad never did get around to ever being able to buy coffee going to work until very late in his career. Of course, by then there were grandchildren so maybe he never did get to enjoy that morning train coffee.

Books and reading always had an important place in our home. I grew up in two houses. We moved to the second house when I was about thirteen or fourteen. The largest single piece of furniture in either of our homes was a bookcase. It ran across the sidewall in the dining room in the first house and stood against the living room back wall in the second house. It was huge. It stood at least twenty-four feet long and ten feet high. And it was stuffed with books, books of every imaginable kind. There was a classification system in place. It ran vertically. Books for younger readers were located on the bottom shelves and books for older readers progressed from about the third shelf up to the top. Even the top of the bookcase was used as a shelf with books stored horizontally on their sides, spine out, of course. My copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish did not reside on the bookcase. I keep it in the room I shared with two of my brothers.

I’m sometimes asked by parents when they should begin reading with their children. I suggest that they start reading as soon as they start holding the child. That is what happened to me and that is what we did with our children. When you start early you are giving both you and the child the chance to begin an activity that will last a lifetime. You also give yourself the chance to read aloud some of the books that you enjoyed as a child. You get to give to someone something of your own experience. Some books stick with you. And some places and times are forever entwined within you with the book you happen to be reading or that are read to you. I’m not sure why either of these things happens but I am very happy that they do. The first books our children received were waiting for them when everyone came home from the hospital. I also remember who gave our children their first books. It was my dad.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, August 20, 2010

It Was Weird


I’ve just experienced one of the oddest bits of reading I’ve ever come across. Actually, I’ve misspoken. I didn’t really read the story. It was read to me by Harry Connick, Jr. Usually, I disregard all of the ads that show up on the NY Times electronic edition of the newspaper. Especially the very large ads that tend to displace the area just over the headlines. But today the ad was billed as: The First Shoppable Children’s Story Book, The RL Gang, A Fantastically Amazing School Adventure. So I clicked.

The video, I wouldn’t call it an electronic or audio book, takes the format of an illustrated picture book with a group of children going to the first day of school. There they meet an “incredibly incredible” school teacher who magically sets them on a path of self-discovering that teaches the children life lessons of kindness and sharing. The child actors silently play out their roles while being superimposed on illustrations that resemble a children’s picture book format. As the story progresses we see actions that mimic the reading of a story book.

All through the video the viewer is invited to scroll over one of the adorable child actors and shop for the outfits the characters are wearing. At the end of the video you can also click on any of the characters and enter their closet to purchase their “1st, 2nd or 3rd look”.

What astounded me was that the product was billed as a “Children’s Story Book”. In my last post I wrote about how authors and publishers target and market reading products for young people. And I think there is great value in providing different types of reading experiences for every age group. To do so you do need to discover what the reader likes and what would appeal to every age group. In fact, I would say that if a public library is not providing age-appropriate books and various types of media then they’re missing the boat. This experience which delivers a line of products under the guise of children’s reading is targeted to adults. I guess a child could sit on a parents lap and watch the video, and no doubt enjoy the experience, but I’m thinking that very few children have the NY Times as their homepage or cruse over to it during the course of the day to read a few articles. No, this is an international business using the reading experience as a way to sell clothes. It is possible to actually purchase a hard cover copy of the product. It is sold by TikaTok, which is a Barnes & Noble company.

Anyone who has read my previous posts knows that I am a big believer in providing electronic content to patrons. I also think that a public library should also provide access to education of it’s patrons in the use of electronic products. In many cases the electronic medium is superior to what has been provided in the past. One quick example is access to journals through aggregated databases. Not only is the finding of articles faster, but it also allows the searcher to refine or widen their search very easily. At the same time I also like walking through the stacks and picking books off the shelves to read. To me the experience is similar to walking through a fruit orchard. You look for what appeals to you and you simply pick it. Then you get to take it home and consume it.

The RL Gang’s shoppable children’s book is not really any of those things. What I viewed was a pretty sophisticated video using the format of an illustrated picture book to sell a line of children’s back to school, fall clothes to adults. It is quite a clever piece of advertising. But it is just that: clever advertising. It is not a book, not even an electronic book.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bare To The Bone


Last Friday a Bone series graphic novel crossed my path. I’m a familiar with the series and know that the writer Jeff Smith has won a number of awards over the years for his efforts. I’ve also spent some time looking over the graphic novels in our collection here at the SLFL and have visited a couple of shops that specialize in this type of work. And although they don’t do much for me now I’ll also admit that I read tons of comic books as a kid. So, I was curious.

I was intrigued by the work because of the cover art. So I keep the book out on the counter and whenever I had the chance I’d just flip it open to read a bit. I then checked it out and took it home for the weekend. I know that graphic novels are designed to be eye-catching. But I think the real question is: to who’s eye?

It’s no surprise to say that the publishers are appealing to young readers. That’s fine. Writers and publishers have been doing that for a long time. And for almost the same amount of time we’ve all heard concerns that certain books or types of works are not appropriate for young readers. Okay, that’s fine too. But I would add two caveats. The first is that it is very difficult to use a wide paintbrush to determine what is appropriate for every reader. That is really a decision that is best made by having a discussion between a parent and a child. There are a lot of people who can help with that discussion. Educators and librarians are just two groups of trained professionals who can assist but it is really up the parent and child to make the final determination. The second aspect is the potential concerns someone may have by providing something that might be too frightening, shocking or mature material for the individual. Graphic novel are graphic and so the discussing goes that little is left to the imagination. I would say maybe. It really depends on the particular work and the reader.

One aspect of each of these concerns is that we make the assumption that in order to understand a given text or illustration an individual has to have a certain level of maturity, intelligent or worldliness. Okay, I can buy that too but I also think that most readers, even young readers are self-selecting / censoring / understanding. They will get out of a book, story, article, painting, illustration or piece of music only what they can understand. Now in the process they may become confused by something beyond their own understanding. And sometimes they need someone to point the way to completely comprehend what they are reading or viewing. The classic example of this concept is the use of the word Rosebud in the cinema work Citizen Cane. Actually even if you’ve never seen the movie, you might still know what I mean. But to completely understand the Rosebud reference you also need to have an understanding of a number of other concepts some of which include irony, flashback, remorse and redemption. It’s the same with books, even graphic novels.

It’s too easy to dismiss an entire collection as unworthy of a child’s or adults reading efforts. Notice I didn’t say genre. I didn’t use that term because there are different genres of graphic novels, just like with other works of fiction. So within our entire collection of items available to the public we include adult, juvenile, toddler, fiction, non-fiction, reference, how-to manuals, audio-books, DVD’s, VHS’s, microfilm, photographs, artwork, newspapers, magazines and public computer work stations that provide software for games, writing, building spreadsheets, and internet access to the virtual world. So we offer many different choices. And that is but one of the reasons as to why we also make graphic novels available at the SLFL. Some of our readers choose to swim widely and deeply throughout all of our collections. Other find one type of work or subject and they prefer and mine it exclusively. Both ways are correct. Because both ways provide our patrons, the young and the more seasoned, with what it is that they are looking for.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, August 13, 2010

THe 3 Cs


Early last winter I read a particular book. And a few days ago I saw that a patron was checking out the same book. There are a number of things that made this read memorable for me. The first is that I read the book in pretty much three long sittings. I remember starting on a kind of dreary, washed out, snowy Saturday afternoon and finished the book the following Sunday evening just as it was getting dark. As a rule I don’t read this way. But with this book I did.

The title of the book is Born to Run and it is written by Christopher McDougall. Now what made the read so enthralling to me was that this particular work has all of components I look for in a book. It has the three Cs: crafting, characters and content.

Now, all reviews have subjective components. I am no different from anyone else. But what I do have is that I read a fair bit. I read across wide subjects and genre. And I also look for how well the author builds and develops her / his characters and story. I also look for those things you learned about in English Lit. like metaphors, symbolism, foreshadowing etc.

The first thing I look for is the crafting involved in the book. This can be as minute as the use of a particular word in a critical point of the book, or sentence. Yep, I also look at sentence structure when reading. Just how well are the strings of words put together? This builds to the next supporting structure the paragraphs and then to the chapter. If the detail to each word is there and you can find it in the sentence there is a good bet you’ll also find it in the paragraphs and then in the chapters. If the writer has taken care of the details in each sentence then it is a good bet that the whole book will usually taken care of too.

The characters you find in a book are often the most memorable parts. Now, sometimes a physical place can be a character but usually it’s the people that you meet who stay with you, so for whatever reason the author has connected with you through her / his characters. Maybe we recognize a bit of ourselves in the one of the protagonists or antagonists. (Yep, I sometimes use those terms when talking about books too.) Or perhaps we see who we would like to be or how we once were. But there, right between the covers we recognize the character ‘cause she / he is us.

The third aspect of what makes a good read is content. If the book doesn’t reach out and grab you then you might as well be vacuuming the house. At least that way you’ll be doing something useful so you can then go do something worthwhile or fun. What is interesting is that this third component is not dependent on the first two. It is a stand alone aspect of the read. Without it even the best crafted works with the most memorable of characters just doesn’t measure up.

Born To Run has the three Cs. I’m really glad I was on the desk the other day. I was able to reach back into my memory and think about the book. Not only did I remember the wording, characters and settings I also remember the way the book grabbed me by the neck, gave me a good shake and then took me along on a ride that lasted for over twenty-four hours.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time For New Authors


If you look very closely you’ll notice that, here and there, some leaves are just beginning to turn. I was out on the Raquette River the last two weekends and a number of the maples had sprigs of red stretched out over the water. It wasn’t true of every tree I saw, just a few. We also commented on how the sun was not quiet as high in the sky as it was a few weeks ago. I’m sure we still have plenty of warm, sunny days left to enjoy. I also know that time keeps a’ moving. I’ve always viewed autumn as my favorite season. Unlike many other people who see Fall as the close of the year I see it as the culminating celebration of winter, spring and summer, the peak event of all the seasons. It is a riotous celebration of not only what has occurred but also where we are going. Autumn is the now of all the seasons. It, like no other season, points to what is essential to what is going on at this particular point in time. I also view autumn as the time to find new authors.


During the summer I’m happy to while away a few hours with some easy reading. But once the autumn arrives it is time to get serious. I’m guessing that it is a throw back to two strong instincts. The first is that we all had to return to school in the Fall. The second is that until recently all of my work life revolved around, and was dictated by, whatever season I found myself in. I always found autumn to be one of the most relentless of seasons. Things simply had to be accomplished by the time winter got here. There was no other acceptable solution because the inextirpable movement of the season dictated the work timeline. And who can argue with the North Wind?


Recently I have come across an author new to me. Henning Mankell is a Swedish writer best know to American and British readers for the Kurt Wallander investigation series. Wallander is a mid-forties, slightly overweight, recently divorced inspector in the Swedish Police Service. He also eats poorly, drinks a bit too much, is prone to sleeping in his clothes and ruminating on what he believes are his professional failures and personal short-coming. I came across Mankill’s creation while flipping about one recent Sunday night. After watching an episode of BBC Mystery, and getting three more via Netflix, I decided it was time to read.

Mankell has been writing and been published for a few decades. Millions of copies of his works have been sold in Europe. By anyone’s reckoning he is a successful writer. But he is new to me. I was also interested to find out that you can actually take any number of different Wallander tours in Ystad, the Swedish town where all his stories are located. You can visit his apartment address, eat at some of his favorite restaurants and drink in some of the bars he frequents. I also noticed that there are nine books in this particular series. And what is better than finding a new author? Why, finding one that has a lot of published material, of course. So, while you are whiling away and enjoying this last part of the summer you might want to think about casting a weather eye towards future and start looking around now for new books and new authors to keep yourself busy during the autumn and winter.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Kindle Is Coming


Here at the SLFL we are always looking for ways to provide access to new forms of information technology for our patrons. In keeping with that long tradition the SLFL recently purchased a Kindle. This was not a spur of the moment decision made over coffee and cakes one morning. The potential benefits of e-readers to our patrons is a subject that has been talked about by the staff for almost two years. Now appeared to be the right time to make that jump. So we did. Here are some of the reasons we have done so.

E-readers are becoming more available, reliable and easier to use. Many people in the information access business believe that in the not so distant future all information will be available in an e-reader form. Textbooks are often cited as one use. No more lugging around a backpack loaded down with tons of books. A second area is newspapers or any print journal articles. The delivery of news each morning via an e-reader provides the news consumer with a convenient, easy to carry way to get his/her daily news fix. The same is also true of news magazines, especially those magazines that have little or no photos or illustrations. E-readers can provide images along with text, but text is what they do best.

With all the different e-readers available we choose the Kindle. One of the main reasons is because unlike a computer screen the Kindle is not backlit. You actually need an outside light source to read a Kindle. So if a child wants to continue reading a Kindle after being told to go to bed, he or she will still need a flashlight to read under the blankets. There are two benefits to this: since the Kindle is backlit it cuts down on eyestrain and you can read the Kindle in the bright sunlight with or without your sunglasses on. I walked through different shades of lighting both inside and outside turning the Kindle in various directions and was still able read quite easily.

A second reason why we choose the Kindle is because of the grayscale, Eink @ technology developed by Amazon. With it you can easily change the font size; you have eight different choices, and the shade of gray for the font. This allows individuals to adjust the e-reader to fit their particular needs or desires.

At first, using the Kindle was a bit confusing. But I think that’s because I was self teaching. I can now give a quick tutorial and send the reader on their merry way. I’ve also had the opportunity to read various NY Times articles in newspaper, web based electronic edition and Kindle edition formats. For me the Kindle edition provides the most convenient and clearest medium for delivery of the articles. I’m not one of those folks who like to shake the paper and fold it into different origami shapes to read it. Nor do I spread the paper out on a desk or table in front of me and smell the newsprint. I’m one of those “Jack Web” consumers of newspapers, all I want are: “Just the facts, Ma’am.” I can make up my own mind as to what I’m reading. So the Kindle edition of the Times fit my needs very well. Soon we’ll be making the Kindle available to patrons. We are currently fine tuning our policies for its use. If you have a question about the device or would like to see it in action, stop by the Circ Desk I’ll be happy to provide you with a demonstration and chat with you about it. It is a new way for me to read; and a new way for the delivery of reading material. I like using it. I think you will too.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Roadtrip


So what do you bring to read on a roadtrip? I am now trying to sort out this particular question. I am one of those lucky people who can read in a moving car and not get sick. I cannot however listen to an audiobook while driving. I get too involved in the story and become a hazard to myself, other drivers and the vehicle; so listening while driving is out. Of course, reading while operating the car is out too, but I was thinking about time in the passenger seat and downtime when we are not moving. I think that part of the answer lies in what kind of roadtrip you are going on. So I will clarify this aspect of the trip.

At the end of this month I will be assisting in the driving of a 1993 Honda Civic, complete with bike, kayak and other worldly goods, from Fairbanks, Alaska to Moscow, Idaho. I will be accompanying my daughter, Emily and her dog, Marcy. We will travel roughly 2,200 miles out of central Alaska, south through the Yukon Territory, down the spine of British Columbia and into Alberta before crossing back to British Columbia and then reaching the American / Canadian border and driving into Idaho. At least I think that will be the route, there really aren’t a lot of choices and if I’m wrong I’m sure Em will let me know at the appropriate time.

There is a lot of reading to be done prior to this trip. I’ve already started collecting and consuming atlases, gazetteers, Google Maps, The Milepost and plain old roadmaps. When I checked Google Maps the eighth point on the directions read: “Turn left to stay on Alaska Hwy / YT-1E continue to follow the Alaskan Hwy” Which all seemed fine ‘til I read the mileage amount: 968 miles. Yikes! I guess we really want to make that left. And the bright spot is that when we do we just go straight for the next 1,000 miles or so. What are the chances we’ll get lost? Right now the decision by my wife, Beth to purchase the additional maps of Canada when originally getting the Garmin looks like a really good idea.

I’ve also started looking at border crossing information. Living where we do most of us are pretty familiar with the routine. But having the information available online makes the prep prior to the trip easier.

But what do I bring to read on the actual trip? One person suggested a Chilton’s manual. But since I’m not very good at that sort of thing my AAA card will have to do. I did think about some standard summer reading fare. Murders and mayhem set in the YT with a RCMP character as the chief investigator. I also considered some books that instruct me about the terra, fauna and flora we’ll be passing through. Or poetry inspired by landscape. Any or all of these would probably be a good choice. What I do know is that I’ll want something to read.

The areas we’ll be passing through will be some of the most magnificent on Earth and I’ll have the opportunity to see it from the ground. Not as intimately as if I was traveling by foot or paddle but pretty close. I think I can speak for many readers when I say that my need to interpret what I am seeing through another’s written word is pretty close to the mark to the way many readers feel. Whatever I bring along to read will add to the over-all trip. So the choice of deciding what to read is important. I want to add to, not detract from, the experience. What I choose to read while away will do that for me. Those books will become entwined with the events and places on the trip. So in the future when I see those covers again I’ll be spirited back to the end of the Summer of 2010 when my daughter and I drove out of Alaska and back down to the Lower 48.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Thursday, July 29, 2010

First Time Out


When I’m working the Circ Desk I often get the opportunity to chat with people about what they’re reading. I also see how often a book goes out when I stamp the due date in the back. It is possible for me to get a very accurate picture of how popular a read is by looking at the stats we keep on each book. I have no idea who has taken the book out, but I am able to tell how many times the book has gone out. But, by and large, I can get a rough read by just looking at the stamped date. The dates are color coded so I can also see if the book has gone out a lot this year or last or even the year before depending on the stamped ink color. There have also been times when I’ve noted that the last time a particular book went out was say, October of 87. That is a long time between check-outs.

Anyway, sometimes when I flip the back cover I see that for this particular book there are no stamped dates. So this means that this patron is the first person to borrow this book. I usually make a remark like: “Hey, you’re the first person to take out this book.” As a rule the individual smiles, I then ask “Let me know what you think of the book when you bring it back.” The patron usually smiles, nods their head and says “Sure”. I first started doing this with children. I have a very clear memory of having to lean over the Circ Desk to speak to a small child and ask them to tell me about the book when she brought it back. She beamed at the prospect of an adult interested in her opinion of a book. She then told me all about the book. Evidently she and her mom had already read the book in the Children’s Area, liked it and were taking it home for additional readings. I found the activity so enjoyable and successful with children that I decided to expand the request to include adults.

Now the chances that I’ll be at the front desk when the book is returned are not good. But there have been a few cases where the individual to whom I made the request has sought me out to tell me about the book. And that is just great. My request is not merely a way to chat away the time with patrons, although it is a pleasant activity. I really am interested in what people like to read and the reasons for doing so. One of the reasons is because I sometimes get recommendation requests. So if my breadth of knowledge concerning the collection is expanded by other readers who have first hand experience with a particular book I have a much better chance of hitting the mark for any individual reader.

There is also an additional reason. I too like to read. And when a few hundred books pass through your hands each week you can’t read them all. No matter how much you might want to. So some type of personal triage for reading material is necessary. One way I decide what I’m going to read is personal recommendations. If someone I work with recommends a book I take that as a very good sign. And if a patron recommends a particular book that too is a strong point in favor of my checking it out. Now, does this method always produce a winning read for me? Nope. But what it does do is it allows me to chat with others who also happen to enjoy one of my favorite activities. In addition, it also expands my exposure to include a particular book; one that, for whatever reason, I might never have chosen to take off the shelf and read myself. What a deal!

See you at the Library,
Pete

Monday, July 26, 2010

Time For A Quiz


Question: So what makes for a busy day at the Library?

Answer: People.


On last Friday we had 159 persons pass through the front doors in the first two hours of operation. As I’m sure you all realize that makes for over one person per minute. Now, to be fair, not every one of these folks needed immediate help from the person behind the circ desk. But I’m sure every person who walked in appreciated the smile and hello that they got. And if I recognized them and was not overly busy they also got my “How the heck are ya, (fill in your name here)?” greeting.

As the person at the Circ Desk my primary responsibility is to help each patron as they enter our domain. This may mean just checking books out as they are about to leave. Or it might mean directing someone to the rest rooms: “Right through the archway on your right, there are additional rest rooms downstairs.” Or to the children’s area: “The doorway, just past the public computers. Please remember that if your child is under five they need to be supervised at all times.” Or the Dickert Museum: “Through the archway and down the stairs. At the bottom the stairs go straight ahead. Please remember to turn off the lights when you leave.” Or the Adirondack Room: “Through the archway and down the stairs at the landing turn left go down another set of stairs and you’ll see the doorway on your left.” In addition I also get to help people straighten out there library account, enroll new library card holders, answer the phone, renew items via the phone and direct people to adult fiction and non-fiction: “Through the archway and straight ahead.” Educate patrons in using the public computers: “Please sign up here. If you have not used our computers before, please be sure to read over our policy statement and sign on the bottom. The user name is “All” there is no password and there is a forty-five minute time limit.” And when I’m not doing any of those things I’m checking-in books or cataloging periodicals and generally tiring to be helpful. I’ve been asked where to find a cup of coffee in town, where the cheapest motel is to be found and “Is this the right road to be on if I’m driving from Montreal to Philadelphia, PA? Yikes!

All of those things are fun to do and all of those things are useful in helping people make the most of their time spent in the library. But none of those things is my absolute favorite thing to do. My favorite thing is to help someone find what they are looking for. It is usually a book. They may know the title, or not. They may know the author, or not. They usually remember what the book was/is about, but sometimes they are a little sketchy on that too. Now, all of these bits of information help in the search. But for me, if some of these components are missing that makes the search all the more intriguing. I am not alone in this viewpoint. In library school and when librarians get together they talk about some of their all-time favorite searches. It’s true. I’ve also heard librarians refer to this activity as “The Hunt”. They get pretty excited about it. Actually, in my experience, it is probably the closest thing to a single attribute that all professional librarians share. They don’t care what the search is for they just relish the seeking. And the more difficult the search the more pumped they get. So, the next time you meet a librarian and can’t think of anything to say, just ask them to tell you about some of their favorite item searches. Be sure to use that term: item search. But before you do, find a comfortable seat, or get a tall drink. You’re going to be there a while. And don’t be concerned about that funny look you see in their eyes. It’s not directed at you.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And The Living Is Easy


I was away on vacation for a week but now I’m back. I’d like to share with you a few things that happened while I was away. We spent the week at a family camp in Vermont. The camp has been operating each summer since 1890. We stayed in a tent that was perched right above the water. So we went to sleep to the lapping of the lake and awoke each morning to the same sound. We played games, chatted, cooled off in the lake (I’d have to call what we did bobbing rather then swimming) and read. And on a few evenings we spent time in the camp’s library.

The library building has a plaque on the outside that denotes the architect and the date of construction. This camp has had a private operating library for almost 100 years. There is no official librarian and the use of the library is strictly on the honor system. I do remember about twenty years ago there being a sign-out sheet for the books, but I don’t recall seeing that this year. Perched on the mantle of the fireplace and on the top of some of the book shelves there are photos and memorabilia from bygone times. There is also a telescope and a globe. I’d say there is about 7,000 to 8,000 items in the circulating collection.

The collection has some non-fiction but tends more towards adult fiction. What we now refer to as summer reading; which is a funny term to denote a genera. But like many informal descriptors it’s also a perfect term. No heavy tomes here, lots of murder mysteries and sinister conspiracies. For some reason, we now feel its okay for folks to not read for intellectual improvement during the summer. We get to kick back, loosen our shirts and enjoy reading just for the fun of it. What a great idea! Of course, if you’re at the shore or sitting in a glider in the shade its tough to read something serious. And if someone jumps in the water right in front of you and the book gets splashed the wrinkled pages just add to the experience. Besides it’s usually a paperback so no blood, no foul. Except for the squashed mosquitoes you find every few pages entombed forever between two covers. A reminder of life and death struggles from summers past.

We spent a few evenings in the library. Right around twilight the bugs would come out and reading in the tent wasn’t all that pleasant. So off we ambled to the library with its light bulbs, screened windows, doors and other readers. Every evening we entered we joined about a half dozen others. Each of us observed a strict code of behavior. In all the time I was in that library I never heard anyone speak. Sometimes, if someone’s eyes glanced towards us as we entered we would nod. Silently, each of us quickly settled down and huddled over our selected find. The only sound was the creaking of chairs as folks came and went. After a bit the books would tend to slip and I would realize I had reread the last sentence a few times. I’d look up and see that others too were reading with their eyes closed. Their books resting on laps or chests with their heads tipped. I’m going to guess that that this scene had been repeated thousands of times, over almost a hundred years, each summer in this library. The only change this year was not in the type or person attracted to this place or this particular activity. It was the medium. Even the Kindle reader in our circle had a hard time staying up late to read after a full day in the summer.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Here’s What I’m Talking About


Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but I just experienced an amazing piece of writing that could only have happened in the digital age.

I often post that books and digital ereaders or websites should not be compared in an either / or paradigm. I still believe that. And as a librarian, with the appropriate ALA certified graduate degree (MLIS, University of Alabama 2009) I am a strong believer in the idea that books can and do enrich mine or others lives. But sometimes online reading does things that a physical book cannot. And it does not matter how durable, portable and accessible a physical book is; because the work by its very nature is static and finite. Notice I said “work” not the ideas or concepts found within the book. Whatever is between the covers once it is published is all there is going to be. And that limitation is where a physical book ends and where virtual reading starts.

Here is what happened to me the other morning:

I was reading the electronic edition of the New York Times and saw a simple one line storyline in a sidebar, A History Lesson From An Errant Tombstone. “Okay” I thought, “I’ll bite.” I clicked the link and was sent to the City Room which is a blog written by Andy Newman. I read the post and then followed a link to the complete story: Tombstone on Sidewalk Leads to a History Lesson, here is a link to that article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/08/nyregion/08tombstone.html

I strongly encourage you to click the link above and read the article yourself. I was completely taken by the story, the characters involved and the historical significance of the individuals written about.

But the story itself is not what I really wanted to post about today. What I want to post here is how incredible it is that I was able to come across the blog post in the first place, follow the digital trail to the complete article and then inform you about it. This is something that a physical book, magazine or newspaper simply cannot do. You can have footnotes, you can have references and you can add pages of appendixes. But all of that added content is limited. Nor can you easily edit or update and then publish as you can in a virtual domain.

Here is another aspect: when I clicked on the initial link I was sent to a blog. As we all know blogs simply didn’t exist fifteen years ago. It is a form of writing that originated from a digital / virtual setting. Without the web we won’t have blogs. Without the blog I might never have seen the article.

In addition the article had a multi-media component to it. Along with the article I saw photographs, a slide show and a PDF document. I could enlarge the photos. I could save the photos on my computer. I could zoom in on the PDF document so that it was easier for me to read. I could rollover the PDF to investigate different parts for myself. I could save the PDF electronically if I choose to. I could do all these things and more. None of which I can do with a traditional book.

Here is one last thought. I can also make the article and all of it’s contents available to you, for free at the SLFL, instantaneously. Or you can access this blog and the article on your home or work computer, Blackberry, mobile device or cell phone. This blog is published and available worldwide. Where a traditional book stops the digital world starts; digital domains extend all of the attributes of a traditional book and then goes beyond to the limits of our curiosity and immagination. And when it does it is readers, people like you and me, who benefit.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What The Author Intended


I recently saw a copy of an illustration by Norman Rockwell. The work is entitled “--And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Typewriter”. I think the illustration captures a number of ideas for both readers and writers. Like many people who read I feel that while the writer of a book provides the reader with their own idea(s) of the characters and events that make up a story, it is then up to the reader to make the work real to her/himself. Even when a writer is very good and provides the necessary description to bring the tale to life in the readers mind, the reader still needs to do the putting together. And to also put things together in a way that is not only appealing but also acceptable to the reader. Not an easy task. Sometimes this means the reader has to suspend disbelief or credibility for a bit to make things work. That’s okay. This idea of the reader being a crucial part of the process is the main criticism of why movies are different and not as good as books. The reader does the work of putting things together not the director, actors or production teams. But do we always put things together as the author meant? I’m not sure. Two people can have very different ideas as to what a character will look like and what the primary motivations of that character are. Hopefully as we learn more about the character some of that ambiguity fades. But that is still up to the reader.

This also brings me around to a second idea. What happens when we learn too much about a character? I’m talking non-fiction here. I’ll continue using Daniel Boone as my example. A number of years ago I read Boone A Biography by Robert Morgan. I really enjoyed the work. I thought Morgan did a great job of not only informing the reader but I also felt that I traveled with Boone during his entire, eventful life. Here is the rub: I also found out that during the Revolutionary War Boone spent most of his time wandering around in what was then the wilderness and that he was not a strong advocate for American Independence. I also discovered that Boone was an ardent slave holder his entire life. Now how do I reconcile the “Opener of the West” the arch-typical American frontiersman, the hero of generations with these two facts? I can’t.

And maybe that was one of the things that Morgan intended with his work. Interesting books, much like interesting people, usually don’t fit into tidy letterboxes. Maybe one of the hallmarks of a good read in fiction is that the author gives you only just enough information so that there is some confusion and you as the reader have to deliver the goods yourself. In Morgan’s non-fiction work maybe one of his goals in writing about Boone was to shatter some of the stereotypes that have grown up around Boone and to let us know that historic figures are really strikingly similar to current day people. These people are a reflection of the times, for good or ill and that they are, like us responding to events that surround them. Of course, some respond with a greater impact then others. These characters are rarely simple, one dimensional characters and that they can lead complicated, rather messy lives at times. Just like you and me.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Map As Compass



I’ve always liked maps. And I have always liked books that have maps in them. I do have preferences. A map as cover art is good. And a map of a fictitious world is useful, especially if the author is using land and city names that have lots of consonants and very few vowels. But my favorite map is that of a real place on the inside cover of a book, preferably a hard bound book.

Let me clarify a bit here. Those maps that depict the movement of peoples at war don’t really help me. I tend to think about the individuals involved instead of the groups. And maps that show broad sweeps of migration of people or species don’t help me much either. Weather maps are okay but they are usually time elapse drawings showing the movement of highs and lows and hurricanes or other types of storms. All of these devices are meant to help with the understanding of a book but, for me, they more often seem to confuse then make clear. And I don’t think I would want to keep referring to the inside cover of a book in order to keep up with the action of the story. I want the map to help me savior the story.

I think the use of a map can also gives credence to a story. It helps the reader picture what is taking place by giving them the where along with the who. If you can see the shape of the land and water you can also see how the story takes shape. Often the land or water itself is used as a character device in this type of book.

Maps may also help to clear up any misinformation that might arise in the readers mind while reading the book. You can follow the action of the story right there in black and white. The little hash marks you sometimes find showing the travels of the characters are helpful but not really necessary; unless the character is crisscrossing continents. The smaller the geographical area in question being depicted the better the map. But it can’t be too small. It has to be just the right size. Big enough so that you need a map to get a clear picture of the relation of things and characters but not so small that you could take in everything with a quick glance if you happened to walk into the story.

To walk into a story. Is that what we do when we read? I would think that it might be one way to describe a good book. When we read we go along with the characters and become an observer of all that happens. In a great book we are not unaffected observers. We care about the characters and the lives they lead. We are unable to influence the characters but they do affect us. Maybe not always in life changing ways but sometimes a book will do that to a person. A great or even merely good book changes our perception. It forces us to go beyond our own little world; to move into uncharted areas, to venture beyond our own thoughts and lives. And it has been my experience that when you do decide to go beyond one’s own neighborhood it is a good idea to bring along a map.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Very Best Answers


A little while ago I received a book in the mail. I had been told about the work by the person who had read it and she had given me a taste. So my interest was peaked and I was looking forward to reading the book.

I do need to say right up front that I don’t want to ruin the read for anyone. So, I’ll only give the stingiest of a story outline here.

I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot in two long pulls. The story is one of those where life is stranger then fiction. No one could ever make any of this up. And if someone did we would immediately classify the book as fiction. It isn’t. The book chronicles the real life events to real flesh and blood individuals. The work centers around the recovery of live cells from an African-American woman shortly before her death in early 1950’s Maryland and how those cells became the first human cells to be prorogated outside of a live person. The live cells, know as HeLa, provided the ground work required for almost every medical advance in the last 50 years. The propagated cells also made it possible for progress to occur in not only the medical fields but also in technological, industrial and military applications.

But the book goes well beyond a retelling or documenting of cell recovery and propagation. Ms. Skloot brings us face to face with an incredible array of individuals. We do meet researchers, doctors, technicians, scientists, administrators and lawyers. We also meet Ms Lacks’ husband, children, cousins and other neighbors and assorted relatives from Clover, VA and Baltimore, MD. Each has an individual perception and very human reaction to the harvesting of Ms Lacks cells.

Ms. Skloot uses the visual cue of a timeline to help the reader along their journey. And it is a good Idea that she does. The different chapters do move around in time a bit and the visual cue helps to center the reader. Along the way Ms. Skloot also becomes a character in her work and is no longer a dispassionate, third person observer. We read her emotional reactions to events as they unfold. And when she does enter into the work, it is completely appropriate that she do. It provides the reader with another perception of events and individuals.

Along with the very human stories that unfold we are also given a window into the ethical and legal ramifications of what took place and what continues to occur in the world of medical research today. These sections of the book provide the reader ample ground for continuing discussions that range from bioethics to personal moral obligations; to the role of corporate responsibilities to perceptions of individuals towards institutions and the need for historical accuracy in the documentation of research to the right to an individuals’ privacy. None of these discussions have any easy answers and all could continue long after the book is closed. And that is what leads to the title of this post because the very best of answers always leads to many, more questions.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Reader, By Myself With Others


I recently read an article in the Sunday electronic edition of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/business/20unbox.html?hpw ) that talked about something called “social reading”. The article began with the discussion of a feature found on a number of different ereaders. It’s called “popular highlights”. It is a terrible name for a rather interesting feature. This feature makes it possible for the readers of the book to share what they would highlight with other readers. This feature can, of course, be turned off. I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. I have borrowed books from individuals who have underlined or highlighted sections that they found insightful; but as a rule no one does that with a library book or with a new book except the author.

I then realized I was missing the point.

Popular highlights allow for individuals to see what dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of previous readers have determined as being worthwhile. It could take some of the joy of individual discovery out of the reading process; but most of us want to talk to others about books or passages in books that we found to be insightful or luminary. We do that with book groups and we do it over the circ desk. We read reviews and we talk with others about what we have found to be unusual, controversial or an astute understanding of the human condition.

Often times those are some of the attributes we equate with a good read.

In this case, by using this feature we are allowed access to what others have thought as significant. We can choose to agree or we can choose to disagree. But by being aware that others have found this part of the book as being important we get a virtual heads-up. I suspect that many would choose to disable the feature. I am sure I would only utilize it on a subject by subject or author by author basis. And I could always disagree with what others had deemed as significant.

But here are two of the many cruxes of the article: the day of the solitary reader quietly bringing knowledge to him/herself may be over and we learn differently and make greater headway when we learn (read) in a social setting. I have simplified the arguments here and the author of the article did a much better job of explaining these major points.

I had never thought of the reading experience as a social activity before.

There are many types of reading that are very good in a social condition. Poetry is an easy example. What is interesting here is that we could use the social give and take of highlighting as a cue. It is not a discussion per se, because we don’t know why someone has highlighted the point. You still have to work out the why for yourself. What we do know is that someone saw some bit of insight in that section, so we might want to give it a bit more thought. Another interesting aspect of the feature is that sections and what is highlighted might change over time. Highlighted sections may come and go and different sections may have more significance after a second reading.

This feature should not be viewed as another indicator of the end of the world of reading; or as another cobblestone on the road of good intentions. It is not. Nor is it another conspiracy to turn our local library into a downloadable venue without any physical books left in the stacks. I see both the ereader and the popular highlight feature are extensions of the reading experience. And as with using any ereader it is not the same as using a book. It is a different experience. They are not the same; but that is as it should be because you do not want the same experience from reading both a physical book and an ereader.

See you at the Library,
Pete

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

OJT or Expanding my eHorizons


A little while ago I decided to investigate the downloadable audio books available via the SLFL and CEF’s websites. What brought this about was that a patron came in one evening and ambled over to the books on cd collection. Sometimes when you go to the library no matter what is available nothing strikes you. Our patron had this experience. I went over and we talked about different authors, narrators and books available. Still, no dice. Now I’m thinking, “Hmmm, what to do?” Luckily our patron likes both fiction and non-fiction offerings so we were able to locate an appropriate item. As we returned to the Cric Desk the question of the downloadable books available from our website came up. So we quickly went online to see what the deal was. After a few frustrating minutes I discovered that this was going to take some focus and vowed to learn how to do it before our patron returned to the library. When I got home that evening I sallied forth to download something, anything. I’ll cut to the quick. I did successfully download an audio book.

Here is what I did.

First off don’t be in a rush. In fact, if you like watching baseball you might want to combine the two activities. Don’t worry, if something really good happens on the diamond you’ll see it again on the replay. And as in downloading any software or files, read all the available information on the screen first and then click “okay” or “next”. You might also want to check out the FAQs before you begin.

The first thing you’ll have to do is set up an account with NetLibrary. I went through the CEF webpage to do this. You will need your local library card. Actually what you need is your library card number. That fourteen digit bar code number that lets you take out books etc from the SLFL. So, unless you’ve memorized your library number, you’ll need your library card. You need an account from NetLibrary so that you can download the necessary management software to then download and run the audio books. It is not hard, just follow the prompts. You set up a user name and password, you know the drill. Then you can download the management software. Just to let you know, you are now about half way to actually getting a downloadable book on your computer or device.

Once you have the account and have the management software you can begin to browse the offerings. When I first saw the search mechanism for browsing I was a little suspicious. It appeared to be kind of clunky. Being the person that I am I scrolled to the bottom of the webpage to see who owned / managed the website. There it was: EBSCO. EBSCO is a well know aggregator of both print and on-line databases for journal, newspaper and magazine articles. That was why the search tools looked both vaguely familiar and not so user friendlily. But that was okay. Now I knew what I was dealing with and so forged ahead. I choose to download an audio book of poems and letters by Emily Dickinson.

The actual downloading took a bit of time. If a major league pitcher was really struggling on the mound the opposing team could have sent all nine players to the plate. But I did get the entire work. I now had two hours and eight minutes of narration on my computer. So I listened. The listening quality was very good and the controls are very easy to use. The bad parts are that there is no way to bookmark where you are if you decide to stop for a while. The FAQs suggest you write down the track number or time stamp to find your place again. Like with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper. That is so 1980s. The audio book is actually checked out by you, just like any lending library material, and so it is available to you for a limited amount of time. After three weeks your access to the file expires. That’s all okay. Here is the other bad part: the file does not automatically delete from your computer. If you want the file removed from your machine you need to do that yourself. Alright, I can find the file and do that. Oh, and just in case you where thinking of downloading the audio book to your computer and then burning a cd of the audio book and listening to it in the car, don’t bother. The file is encrypted. I choose to download to my laptop. You can choose to download to a more portable device. Since I didn’t do that yet I can’t report back as to how easy or difficult that process might be. But I will be sure to let you know. Right now, I’m going to go listen to some of Ms. Dickinson’s work.

See you at the Library,
Pete