Friday, April 30, 2010

808.1 - 808.81 or 811 - 811.54 or 821 - 821.9108

Just in case you missed it April was National Poetry Month. If you were to look at the bookcase in my living room, the headboard in my bedroom and in assorted other spots around my home you would find a number of books that contain collections of poetry. I, like most people I know, am particular about the poetry I read. Luckily poetry is one of the largest tents in all of literature. Almost everyone can fine something that someone has called poetry to read and enjoy. The poets I read tend to be either dead for a really long time or relatively recently demised. Maybe I tend to equate being dead with being a good poet. I hope not, because that is a rather tough criterion to meet.

Many people believe that all poetry is meant to be experienced only in an audio format. You need to actually hear the sounds of the poem in order to completely appreciate it. I’m not sure that is true for every poem ever written; although this is certainly true of many types of poems. Every culture has a tradition of an oral history. Maybe that is why we feel the need to speak and hear poetry. For millenniums humans have gathered together to tell and retell stories. All kinds of stories that attempted to shed light on ideas or things they had seen or heard and yet could not explain. They were trying to connect with each other using only the medium of sounds that told a story and explained an intangible concept. With written words the audio experience is not always necessary. I feel that when you silently read a poem you are removing the author and choosing to perceive the poem in a way that is relevant to only you. When silently reading written poetry we use only words, or the concepts behind those words, as that sole medium. With exceptional poems the sounds are not necessary. You’ve whittled the medium to the bone.

One of my favorite types of poetry is the Haiku. You can get lots of information about haikus at the SLFL or on the web. Almost everyone has at one time or another written a haiku. Whether they wanted to or not. It was one of those dreadful tasks in either fourth or fifth grade English class. Let me share with you something I discovered a few years ago about writing haikus: while it is relatively easy to confine your writing to the formula for a haiku (first line contains five syllables, second line contains seven syllables and the third line again contains five syllables). It is another thing altogether to do it well. You need to weave the physical lines (combination of words) and the concepts behind the lines together in some meaningful way. It helps if you make the reader part of the process. By that I mean you give the reader just enough so that they are the ones making the connections, doing the weaving within their own mind. Really good haikus do this with the selected words that reveal the concepts behind those words and leave the internal visual rendering to be done by the reader. Not an easy task to achieve. The subject matter is also of some consequence to attain the connection. Fortunately for me many Haiku poets use nature as the inspiration for their work.

In honor of National Poetry Month I am going to share with you a haiku I wrote a number of years ago:

A full moon rises
Over mist draped cedars
Blanketed by night

See you at the Library,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Got My Library Mojo Working

So this is what happened: A patron came into the Library while I was behind the circ desk. She looked at me, smiled and asked “Where do I find books on gardening?” I returned the simile and said “635 non-fiction.” She looked at me and said, “Wow.” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

As a librarian I get asked lots of questions about books and authors. Reader recommendation is one of the areas you study when you go to Library School. Graduate level courses on how to tell someone what they might want to read. A fair number of those questions are about how to find a book on a particular subject or genre. Sometimes this requires that I help find a very specific book. And that means a foray into the stacks. Just about every person I know who works in a library loves to do this. Over time you realize that it’s a good idea to know a couple of things prior to beginning the search. Like where the staging area is for the books before they are shelved. And if there is a spot where the newer books are displayed. And it also helps to know that a biography might have “B” or “921” on the spine and in either case the book is probably shelved with the 921s. So you learn the different places to check. Oh yes, and just because it’s a LP book that doesn’t always mean it will end up in the Large Print collection, but that is the first place I’d look.

So how was I able to help the patron with her question about the location of gardening books so quickly?

I like every other librarian I know doesn’t spend their spare time memorizing Dewey Decimal Numbers. Although on the first day of Library School orientation the Dean of the Department did ask my cohort collectively what our favorite Dewey Decimal Number was individually. At the time I didn’t have one. In fact, at the time I couldn’t think of a single Dewey Decimal Number at all. So, I did what any student does: I sunk back into my chair, avoided eye-contact and didn’t raise my hand. I’m sure Dr. Aversa looked directly at me, but mercifully she didn’t ask me to speak. But it’s all good now. Now, I do have a favorite number. In fact, I have two: 641 & 921.

So, how did I know the number for gardening so quickly that morning? Did I have my librarian mojo working overtime that day? Was I in a library groove and knew I could do no wrong? No, it wasn’t either of those things. What happened was that just the day before I had been looking for books on gardening for myself. And I had been glancing through the books while eating breakfast that morning. And I tend to leave my truck keys on the table right next to the library books I check out. So when I grabbed my keys that morning the spine of the gardening books with the 635 had been one of the last things I had seen prior to going to work. The library gods are fickle. Sometimes they smile on you and you’re just happy to be that lucky. Maybe I’ll go buy a lottery ticket.

See you at the Library,

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mini Golf At The Library

When we open on Saturday, April 24, 2010 patrons will find that we will have converted both the Main and Lower levels of the SLFL into an 18 hole mini golf course! Actually, if you've been to the library in the last four weeks or so you've seen the display hole. Perhaps you've also tried it. So far, we’ve only one patron sink a hole-in-one. He was just under five feet tall and probably born in the last decade of the previous century.

When I tell folks about the event on April 24th many people smile. They also look slightly stunned. They can't quite believe that we are doing this at the library. In the world of fundraising events we’ve certainly extended the boundaries. But for the library that is old hat, libraries have been extending boundaries for years. That is just one of the things that libraries can do.

But back to mini golf. So, we will have fourteen holes on the Main Level and four holes on the Lower Level inside the Cantwell Room. Of the fourteen holes on the Main Level participants will weave their way through areas not always open to the public. In fact, the 1st hole will be directly through the staff area and exit into the Adult Non-Fiction stacks. Yes, there is a door back there. By putting through all of the holes there is a good chance you will visit places in the library you might not have been to before. And that is another goal of the event. We wanted to find a way to get our patrons into areas of the library that might be new to them. Or perhaps they had not been to that area in a long time: like the Children's and Juvenile Fiction & Non-Fiction Areas, holes 11, 12 & 13. Every collection or area on the Main floor has been included: the Main Reading Area will have three holes, Adult Non-Fiction and Fiction will each sport two holes; the Audio Book section & DVD collections will each have one. And, well you get the idea.

So the SLFL gets to increase visibility within the community, provide patrons with the ability to go into collections they may not have visited in years or even known about and play a round of mini golf all at the same time. What a deal! Many full sized golf courses are proud of their settings and vistas. Here at the SLFL you'll be golfing through the stacks: the accumulated knowledge of centuries, the best of literature, fiction and non-fiction. Who knows? Perhaps a mini golfer will see a title as they walk to the next tee and become intrigued. Okay, that is not too likely. But what is likely is that everyone will enjoy themselves.

So “Thank You” to our generous sponsors and donors, listed at the library and on our web site, and thanks to the committee members, volunteers and SLFL staff who have stepped up providing money, skills, effort and time to make sure the event is a go. And as the committee chair I am going to add one more important goal that we've already met: By holding this event we've provided the opportunity for organizations, businesses and individuals to participate in helping to get people excited about and into the library; so that they can see first hand what it is we have and what it is we have to offer.

See you at the Library,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

I am about to give you some advice: sometimes you just have to let go. I’m talking reading advice here. We’ve all been there. We’ve all invested time, effort and sometimes money into a read. And then you realize that it just isn’t working for you.

Okay, sometimes a separation will work. You decide to not even look at the cover for a week or two. Just to try to get by. Maybe you might even decide it would be alright to read something else. After all there were no commitments. It was probably going to be only a temporary attachment anyway. Everyone knew that right at the start. But now here you are walking up and down the stacks looking for Mr./Ms. Good Read. And it wouldn’t be so bad except you know you’ve already started something else and that it’s waiting at home. For you. All alone. You’re already committed, sort of, right? It’s just all so tawdry. You feel so cheap. Maybe if you had just tried a little harder. Maybe if you had just spent a little more time. Just a few more pages.

Stop. We’ve all been there. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could just stop. Where I could just close the covers and say “enough” long before I got to the final sentence. I will confess that I got to this point by increments. I started by saying things like, “I’ll give you 100 pages. If you don’t produce by then, forget it”. Easy words to say, maybe even cruel words. But you have to be strong. And here is the most terrible part: it worked for me. And we all know it’s additionally hard when the book you’re about to dump was recommended to you by someone you trust. A friend. A literary soul-mate. A person whose tastes and intellect you respect and enjoy. And now here you are skulking around the stacks looking to end it. Your friendship will probably survive. But the book?

It’s okay gentle reader. You gave it a shot. Remember you were the one who took the book down from the stacks and brought it home. And it wasn’t just the pretty cover-art that led you down the primrose path. You read the cover-notes. You saw the endorsements by the other authors. You might have also down a background check and read the New York Times Review of Books or an Amazon review or even, for those serious entanglements, a Kirkus Review. It’s not like you were frivolous. The truth is that this read just didn’t meet your expectations. You suddenly realized that it’s all you and no book. This was supposed to be an equal relationship and one half just isn’t forthcoming. It’s that simple. So don’t cry for me Argentina, don’t carry a torch, don’t tattoo the title over your heart or scribble it down your sleeve. Just close the covers, put the book in your tote and bring it back to the library. It’s okay. I’m sure it will be just perfect for someone else.

See you at the Library,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon working at the library. Most people come to the library at roughly the same time of day, on the same day(s) of each week. Not exactly an earth-shaking bit of insight; more of a funny quirk.

We all have schedules. I’m guessing that I could find many a peer-reviewed article on this subject documenting that we are driven my internal regimens and various psychological / biological frameworks beyond our control. Of course there may be a much simpler reason: people come to the library when they are free to do so; when the hours of operation coincide with their work / family schedules and that just happens to be at about the same time each week. Anyway, if you are on my side of the circ desk you happen to get to see the same folks at about the same time on about the same given day of each week.

So I get to catch up with lots of people about once a week as they are dropping items off or checking items out. You find out about the weather, their cars, their kids, parents, reading habits, which authors they like, travel plans etc. It’s just a few moments over the desk but it seems to brighten everyone’s day. There is, of course, a dark side to this: when someone doesn’t show up during the time that you expect them to, you begin to wonder. Are they on vacation? Is the car in the shop? Are they sick? Did something happen to them? Have they changed their work schedule or library habits? Or have you been “Dear Johned” with the patron havening decided that your library and / or you as a librarian are “no longer providing what they need to grown in their reading and literary relationship”? Yikes! Usually, it’s none of these things. Usually, you just weren’t paying attention or for some reason the patron needed to change their routine for that week. But I have noticed that when someone I’m expecting doesn’t come in at the usual time that I miss that little personal interaction and wonder about them.

When chatting with patrons I often like to use humor. And when given the chance will use it at any time. Most often my humor is directed at myself. And as everyone learns who uses humor there are two intertwined rules: not every joke you use will be seen as funny and you need different jokes for different folks. I have now been at the library long enough to have delivered some duds. And having done so I have this to say: most library patrons are exceptionally polite individuals and they have continued talking to me. Of course, in this case, I’m still the one working the circ desk so maybe the patrons don’t have a choice. But pretty much everyone seeing me at he desk still smiles when they come in the door. Which makes me wonder about those patrons who stop at the front door, look through the glass, deposit their books in the book box and just walk away. If I was a paranoid individual I might think it was me. But I’m not. I think the deposited books are probably overdue and they’re just putting off having to pay the fine.

See you at the library,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why Did I Want to Read That Book?

I recently started reading The Healing Woods by Martha Reben. The book was published over sixty years ago. For those of you not familiar with the work it is the memoir of a twenty year old tuberculous patent who spends the summer in the woods and lakes surrounding Saranac Lake, NY. She does not enter these formidable woodlands alone. She answers an ad in the local paper of a guide looking for a client for the summer. He was not expecting a her and she had grown up in the city. The two make an interesting pair.

Let me state right off the bat that many of the things they do are no longer appropriate for people traveling or camping. I've spend thousands of hours and hundreds of days in the woods and on lakes and rivers and never "let the critters wash the dishes with their tongues". But many of the descriptions the reader will find still ring true. When the storm suddenly arrives you are awoken inside the tent and can here the wind and feel the thunder. And as in real life, while the event passes quickly, the effects linger and it is not forgotten.

But as I read the book I kept asking myself "Why am I reading this particular book?" I think I now know the answer. When I was much younger I could not get enough of this type of reading. I grew up twenty minutes outside NYC. I went through every book I could find that dealt with spending time in the woods, on lakes or rivers or in the mountains. I was not particularly interested in fiction, although I did read that too. What I was looking for was stories about people living where I wanted to live, doing what I wanted to do. I remember very clearly spending a lot of time looking out classroom windows.

So when I picked up The Healing Woods I immediately recognized an old friend whom I had never met. This idea lead me to wondering if others did the same: do we all continue to read the same sorts of things throughout our lives? Now I know that I have read other types of books and many different authors over the years. Being the curious individual that I am, many librarians share that trait, I've covered all genres and done more then my fair share of deviling into the different Dewey Decimal numbers.

But I often come back to this type of read. Even though I have lived in the middle of the Adirondack Park for over thirty years and the woods are pretty much just across the street I still like reading about living or traveling through the woods, lakes and mountains.

So I'll leave you today with two thoughts: if you enjoy reading about being in the woods you could do worse then to pick up a copy of Reben's work, and if you ever find yourself drawn to a book but can't quite figure out why you might want to read it, just do it. Read the book. You might just be traveling back to what excited you about reading in the first place.

See you at the library,