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// , http// , or . 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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


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,