Saturday, April 30, 2005

On withdrawing the print if it is available electronically

I recently read about this topic in article from Collection Building, volume 24, issue#2 (2005). It caught my eye because at the moment we are facing a space crisis (or concern, I suppose it depends on who you ask). At any rate, we reached the decision in our library to remove from the stacks any back issues of periodicals for which there is an issue in an online reliable source, like J-Stor. At the moment, we are moving the back issues to a small storage space in the floor above the library that the administration saw fit to give us when some other department moved to the new building. The space is basically a few hundred square feet or so, enough for three offices and the storage space in question. Since the space is small, it has been determined, or at least that is my understanding, that after a reasonable amount of time the journals in the storage area will be discarded if they are not requested. We are planning on implementing a paging system to handle any requests for the stored items. It is just a reflection of the fact that space is at a premium.

So, the article caught my eye because I wanted to see what criteria the authors proposed for this process, and maybe to see how close we were to such proposals in our thinking. So far, it looks like they are following a rational similar to ours. Space is at a premium, and there is the factor of cost. We are also moving to cancel print versions and keeping only electronic subscriptions, unless the price diferential is minimal. Again, another reality of shrinking funding. In our case also, having more online journals means better support for the distance education program as well. The authors of the article explore the question of whether or not both formats, print and electronic, should be kept if the online version is stable and reliable and as good as the print. The authors then provide a good summary of considerations in order to implement the withdrawal. They present a three tier system to assist libraries in the process which helps to determine which journals can be removed right away and which ones have to be delayed, say if they have specific problems like a large number of issues missing online. The authors mention also that faculty in their campus did not show much concern over the removal, but they note that their library has done previous removals of print journals, in that case, because they had the titles in J-Stor, so the faculty was likely used to the idea, or at least more accepting of it. In our campus, the director sent out a letter to the faculty explaining our situation, but as far as I know, we have not had any faculty express substantial concerns. At least none the director has brought to our attention at the librarians' meetings. The authors of the article write additionally that
"We realize that by withdrawing our print copies we are in effect shifting the burden of long-term preservation on others in the Library community. We are also putting our trust in the publisher's willingness and ability to create and maintain a stable digital archive that is duplicated in more than one location."

This does concern me, the notion that we have to depend on the good faith of a commercial interest to preserve collections. Maybe it is the cynic in me that wonders how willing would they be to do that preservation. Until it stops being economically feasable? There are clauses in contracts for perpetual access to what has been paid for in the event of a cancellation, but the authors acknowledge it is not something they necesarily want to test. In spite of that concern, the article conclude that shifting the collection towards more electronic resources better servest the needs of patrons and makes more efficient use of resources. That is what we are hoping as well, to make better use of our limited resources while we meet the needs and expectations of our community. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, April 29, 2005

On losing access to Government Information

Today's online edition of the Chicago Tribune carries a story with the following headline: "Librarians Worry Important Information Being Lost." The words "librarian" and "information" and "lost" were enough to catch my attention as I casually scanned my pages of headlines. The article explains how the Government Printing Office has been losing money on document sales, to a large measure because many government agencies, to cut back on costs, are bypassing the GPO and publishing their own documents online in their own websites. In doing this, the agencies do not always provide a copy to the GPO. A recent GPO report proposed that the GPO create a centralized database to serve as a repository to these documents. This creates concerns of access and centralization. Some are concerned that putting all documents in a central location would make them more susceptible to deletion or alteration. This can create significant concern since there is no clear solution when it comes to actually archiving what the government produces. Since these documents are only made available online, they can be as easily removed as they were easily placed online. They can be altered without the average citizen even knowing there was an alteration. The article states that

"What the librarians and critics fear is if the GPO implements its Digital Content System, an online database that would hold digital copies of documents from all federal agencies, the agency won't need to actually provide independent hard copies or digital files of information."

It seems to reduce the role of depository libraries, which are now one of the few places where the average citizen can go find out what his or her government is up to, with assistance from knowledgeable librarians. Critics of the new proposal argue that libraries need to have the documents distributed to them as well. In a time when there is even more information available online, the answer is not centralize and limit access, but it is to make it accessible to all. Making documents more available to libraries would only serve to enhance citizen participation.

As a note, the article makes reference to an article in the "latest" issue of the Journal of Academic Librarianship, which I have not been able to find. My guess is the databases have not picked it up yet, or it is not as "latest" as the newspaper suggests. At any rate, if I do find it, I will add a note after I read it. I did not get to work at a depository, but I developed a passion and belief in the power of Government Documents during library school that stays with me. It is of concern that access to such powerful and crucial tools of our democracy could be lost. Anyhow, food for thought.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A bit more on my reading list upgrade.

I went and got our latest issues of some of the periodicals I am considering for addition to my lists. It is a bit slow at the Information Desk today, so I got a bit of time to look over a few items. From what I managed to read, I come to the realization that you do need to be reading one of each so to speak if you want to get any sense of balance. Magazines like American Spectator or The New Republic clearly have an audience in mind, and their writing style as well as content and tone show as much. If someone happens to belong to the particular persuasion (conservative or liberal, or progressive for those liberals who don't want to be labeled liberal), then reading the one on your persuasion is fine. However, as I read through some of the articles, I found myself thinking, considering, what about the other side? What would these other writers and commentators say about the same thing? It is hard to do for a monthly, like American Spectator, because they have to choose more carefully to cover a month. But for weekly publications like the National Review and The New Republic for instance, it is interesting to compare how they speak to the same topics with a different approach.

Oh, and another thing I discovered. You can only read so much of it before you say enough is enough. The ideology can be a bit "thicker" on these magazines unlike the more traditional newsmagazines (Time, Newsweek, Economist, etc. and yes, I am sure some can debate those have their biases too, but we should look at the great scheme of things). Havind said that, the great thing about this country is that we have diversity of opinions and a First Amendment. This means we can be exposed to a marketplace of ideas, which is in part what I am trying to do. It is not easy standing in the middle because it means you have to sort out both sides, look critically at various different ideas. Then again that is what learning as well being a good citizen is about: being well informed and then deciding based on what has been learned and reflected upon. Does this make me idealistic? Hmm, maybe just a little. In the meantime, I will be adding some of these to my personal reading list.

And in closing, I should clarify that while I do have ambitious reading lists for work, it does not mean I read every single item every single month. Some months I read more than others. Some periodicals on my list are quarterly, so some months I have less to read. Other months I just don't get through everything. No big deal. The idea is to strive for as much as possible.

Booknote: _What's Going On_ (1997)

This is Nathan McCall's second book, also author of Makes Me Wanna Holler (1994). I have not read the first book, which is his autobiography, but it is one of the books I have on my perennial to read list. This book came in as part of a recent new books batch, so I grabbed it off the cart of new books we put at the Information Desk. I noted before in my first post that in our library the librarians get to review new books before we put them out for the public in the new books shelf display. We place the cart at the Information Desk, and I think the Circulation people give us about a week or two for review before shelving. Of course, if a patron comes by and sees something they like, they are welcome to take it as well since the books are ready to be checked out, thanks to the efforts of our great Technical Services people. At any rate, I picked up the book to look over, and it seemed interesting, so I began to read the introduction, and his direct and simple style just drew me right in, so in spite of having three books I am reading through, I put this one ahead of the list. I started it on Tuesday the 26th, and I finished it during lunch today.

Reading on the way home day before yesterday, I have to say the book is very engaging. McCall writes with a plain style that shows common sense, and at times, reading it, you can't help but be angry with him at some of the observations he makes about race relations in this country. From the Black kids who invade a White kids' pick up basketball game only to lose in a major way to the "Negro problem" in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia (and other Old Towns across the United States). The book is a collection of essays that reflect the author's "perceptions about some of the issues that divide people and keep us racially polarized" (from the introduction). McCall looks at everything: White and Black relations, Black on Black violence, rap music, stereotypes, and so on, and he basically tells it like it is. The book has its moments of humor, but it also has its moving moments as well as moments of reflection. I highly recommend this book. Similar books may include the works of Jonathan Kozol, though his books are bit more formal.

My reading list(s), the one(s) for work

When I came to work here, one of the things I did once I was settled in was create a reading list. This was sometime after I managed to become familiar with the local resources. Not the databases and things like that, those are pretty much universal where you go. I mean more the local website, the local resources like government pages, etc. In order to further help myself and keep things organized, I made a reading plan. This is strictly for periodicals. I have other lists for books to read or to be read. (Don't we all?). For my periodicals list, I base it on items we have access to in our library. I try for print, but I do have quite a few "outside the lists" items on alert to read online (there is another blog entry there waiting to happen). I was also inspired in this endeavor by my reading of the book Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service Staff of Reading Habits (2004) by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb. I was already doing quite a bit of reading on my own, but the book inspired me to be a bit more aware of my reading as related to being a librarian, and it prompted me to see if I could keep track a bit better of what I was picking up while adding things to read to be a better librarian.

At any rate, I am in the process of "upgrading" my reading lists a bit. When I made them, I stuck to some of the "basics." Given the political climate in the U.S. today, I feel I should be reading more conservative as well as liberal periodicals. If you ask me, I fall somewhere in the middle politically. Probably slightly more left, but not liberal since I do agree with quite a few conservative ideas. So, I am probably what some would call a moderate, or moderate progressive? I so hate labels like that, because, in my case at least, they are restrictive and not really reflective of my kind of middle of the road approach. To me, it boils down to common sense. At any rate, we can leave the politics to some other blog. The point is I believe in reading as many alternate and diverse views as possible, thus my attempt to upgrade the list. Since my time is limited, and I do read a few online news services, I am trying to favor monthly publications, which usually report more depth, and since they are montly, easier to just pick them up sometime during the month.

I have my work related reading lists set up on the following basis:
  1. Professional reading (Collection Development and Subject Areas) : These are the periodicals I read to keep up with my collection development and subject specialist areas. They are mostly academic journals that I scan for articles of interest and for book reviews. I may read one or two articles if I find them interesting, to get a sense of the scholarhip in the field and also to have something to talk about to faculty. In other words, this also gives me a bit more credibility as a subject specialist if they see I read what they read. Sample titles include Art in America, Film Comment, Communication Education or Communication Quarterly (depending on the table of contents in a given quarter).
  2. Professional reading (My academic specialty areas): My own scholarly interests include ethnic studies and literature, science fiction, Latin American literature, and education. I am starting to develop an interest in popular culture, in part due to some work I have done as of late. We'll see if I cultivate it or not. So, I read journals in these areas. If I find something from a book review, I may choose to buy it, but more likely would send it to the English subject specialist (I do Arts and Humanities, separate from English, but it does include literature in languages other than English, which is mostly Spanish). Sample titles on this list include TDR: The Drama Review, College Literature, and Analog. Since I have an individual membership to the Science Fiction Research Association, I get two academic journals with it: Science Fiction Studies and Extrapolation. These are "off list" since I get them at home.
  3. Personal reading list: This is sort of where I put everything else, mostly personal interest like news and current events. However, much of what I read here is also on popular culture. I also read from this list because very often Freshman Composition classes are writing research papers on pop culture as well as current events. The War on Terror was quite popular this semester for instance. Some sample items here include The Wall Street Journal, Hispanic, Harper's, Atlantic, Rolling Stone (when I remember), and a few others.
Some readers may be asking where is the librarianship and professional reading items. Well, that is separate, one of those "outside the lists." One of the first things my library did for me when I came to work here was to give me a list of the professional interest journals we receive to mark off which ones I wanted routed to me as they came in. So, I get to read those periodicals as they come in. In addition, my ALA membership provides a few things I read at home through my additional memberships in ACRL (IS Section), RUSA, GODORT, and LIRT.

So, what am I looking to add? Nothing terribly complex. Probably things like National Review and/or American Spectator on the conservative side and The Nation or New Republic on the liberal side, plus maybe Mother Jones and/or Village Voice (this I should likely be reading anyhow). How did I arrive at these titles? I did what any good librarian does. I researched a little to locate a few good lists of recommended readings. I found a nice site out at the University of Washington Libraries where they have a set of resources on Opposing Views, including lists for liberal, conservative, and every other point of view. They were briefly annotated so I got a sense of what could work for me, and since they were made by librarians, it seemed a bit more reliable. You can find the link to that resource here if interested.

As I wrap up this post, I realize I have another reason to try to read as many different views as possible. It comes from something I was told when I was a sophomore or so in high school. I was a member of the U.N. Model. Coming back from one of the competitions, I was getting a ride from one of my classmate's parents. While on the ride, I saw a copy of the local socialist newspaper, and I did not think twice about picking it up and looking through it. His father caught me reading it and asked me if I had read it before, and I said no, I had not, but that I tended to read just about anything I could get my hands on (I still say that, though I have gotten a bit more selective). He simply told me, "it is the sign of a free man that he can read anything." That little phrase always stuck with me, to this day even. And as I look to expand my views and reading, I can call myself free. I am sure someone before me, said it, but reading is a liberating experience.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Book challenges on the rise

The Decatur Daily (AL) reported in its April 17th online edition that book challenges are on the rise. The report deals with Limestone County, Alabama, but it moves to discuss what is becoming a broader trend: book challenges are on the rise. The article makes for interesting reading as an example of how a little ignorance and fear of what children and youth might actually learn can do. Limestone County has a dubious record of banning books from their school libraries, most recently Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Crutcher has replied by writing letters to the students in the county as well as to the community and has donated copies to the local public library near the school that banned the book, offering to donate copies of the book to other public libraries near schools that ban his books. A nice move if there ever was one. Part of his reply on his letter was:

"I think it is obscene that your school board does not trust you enough to know you can read harsh stories, told in their native tongue, and make decisions for yourself what you think of the issues or the language," Crutcher wrote in an online letter to Limestone students.

I could not agree more, and what often infuriates me about people who move to challenge or ban books is their ignorance or fear. Very often they will object not because they read the book and decided it was not for them. I can respect that, if you read a book and decide it is not for you. But I have no respect for people who want to impose their view on others who have a right to decide on their own. Also such people often object on the basis of being told the book contains X or Y. They themselves have not read it, but they feel the need to tell the rest of us we cannot read it. It is responsible parenting to decide your child cannot read such and such. You set the values for your family and do your best to live by them. But you do not have to the right to tell me what to read or tell me what my kids or anyone else's can or not read. You don't want your kids to read something, that is what alternate reading lists are for. For all you know, I may want my kid to be able to read some of those challenged books. I may actually trust my kid to be able to make decisions about what he or she reads because I have taken the time to educate them and instill values to them rather than sending them to school and hoping the school will do my job for me.

Having said that, I cannot help but feel saddened that these kids are missing out on some great opportunities to discuss and learn to deal with issues such as racism or growing up because their parents fear their kids will learn some ugly truths. Unfortunately, the world is an ugly place, not always, but often enough. Literature is but one way to learn about the world and to reflect on how we can deal with such issues when the time comes. Shielding our children from certain issues out of fear is not doing them any favors. It just means they may be less prepared to cope with certain things.

Another reason I agree with Mr. Crutcher is the idea that the community does not trust our educators when a book challenge or ban comes along. In this case it comes down one of my pet causes, so to speak. The fact that teachers in this country are never really trusted to educate children. Teachers are highly trained professionals who have children's best interests in mind (yes, I know there are one or two exceptions out there of bad teachers, but for the most part teachers are a very dedicated group in a very thankless profession). You would think that parents would trust their teachers in making a good decision when it comes to the curriculum they teach their children. You would think that parents who claim they want their children to be critical thinkers, to be good citizens, to be excellent contributing members of society, would trust the educators they hire to prepare their children for their future. Unfortunately, what you get for the most part are people who would not dream of being teachers trying to tell teachers how to run their classrooms. This trend of book challenges is just another symptom of people who really have no idea what goes on in their children's classrooms clamoring to "protect" their kids when they are really doing them a disservice. But as I said, some feel strongly enough that their kid should not read something, so be it. Just keep your imposition out of the rest of us who may want to actually learn something different.

A local school library aide, probably has the most common sense in the whole situation. Her comment about the local school board is priceless because it is so true. Often boards vote to ban something so they can cover their "posteriors" (trying to keep it clean here, would not want a challenge on by blog now, would I? At least not today). The article states that:

Ardmore senior Sheila Foster, 18, who is a school library aide, said reading a book with profanity does not make her want to curse.

"I was brought up that I wouldn't get away with saying things like that," she said. "Kids can probably hear worse language riding on the school bus. Some books have pretty good points. You just have to get past the language."

Foster, who has not read "Whale Talk," said she understands the school board's concerns.

"I know the board members need to protect themselves because people file lawsuits for anything these days," she said. "But to me, it definitely would be hard to say, 'Don't let every person read this book.' Everyone is different."

Readers can find the article here, at least for now. You know how online newspapers are. After a set amount of time, an article will get archived, and you may have to pay to see it. But for now, that is the link. The article also provides a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2004 as provided by ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom. Here is a little challenge, why not add some or all of those titles to your ongoing reading list? I know I will.

Readers can find Crutcher's letter here. The letter makes for good reading, and it is addressed to young people in a way that speaks directly to them rather than condescendingly, a bad habit many adults seem to have. It also makes a nice statement about the risks and consequences of banning books. Anyone interested in this topic would do well to read it. And while they are there, they can also look over the author's website, which has a few other interesting features. At the end of his letter, he writes, "
It does my heart good to know there are many educators out there who understand that good education requires the opening rather than the closing of minds. " I know that is why I became an educator, and I know that is why I will fight however I can for the freedom to read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

E-mailing and lower I.Q.

I found an interesting little piece in one of the local Spanish language newspapers. El Dia (Houston) reports on a study in the United Kingdom commissioned by Hewlett Packard. According to the report, obsessive use of e-mail can lower I.Q by up ten points. The report also states that adult males are particularly susceptible and that effects are the equivalent of staying up all night (getting no sleep). Those who conducted the study explain that workers lose concentration at work due to being constantly distracted by e-mail and mobile devices. So, in addition to loss of I.Q., productivity loss is another issue. This is not really new; there are other articles out there discussing loss of productivity due to e-mail and web surfing by employees. Heck, I am sure someone would say I am being less productive because I am taking time to discuss this while I am at my desk. But I will argue that the extra time I do spend at work and the various tasks I do more than compensate for whatever moment I spend writing and reflecting on what I read or come across while keeping myself informed. The story appeared in the April 26 issue of the newspaper. The story appeared earlier in The Guardian for April 22, which adds that the greater effect occurs with people who are compulsive about answering e-mail, namely people who do not prioritize and manage their e-mail effectively. If nothing else. it is something to think about. In my line of work, and I am sure this is true for a lot of librarians, much of the communication at work is done through e-mail, especially if like me you use tools like Outlook. Little messages back and forth can be time consuming. In my case, I try to deal with them and get them out of the way, or ignore them for a while until I can get to them. I personally see no sense in rushing to deal with e-mail, unless it is some kind of emergency, which rarely if ever it is. Therefore, I get to them when I get to them. And to keep the IQ healthy (and the rest of my mind), I do other things like reading, writing, and just enjoying life as it comes.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Booknote: _On Bullshit_ (2005)

A little book on a subject almost everyone knows about because we have likely done it at one time or the other. The book is really an extended essay on the nature of bullshit written by Harry G. Frankfurt, a moral philosopher now emeritus at Princeton University (that means retired for those of you not in academia). There is no humor involved here. The conclusion: in essence, bullshit is short of lies, but not quite. This is strictly an academic essay that compares bullshit to other similar activities like lieing to conclude how bullshit is a unique phenomenom. Interesting, but not something I would recommend others to rush and read. It is written in academic language, meaning it is not really accessible to most lay readers. But at 67 pages, I was able to read it on my commute back home. So, at least it is a quick reading.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's Shakespeare's Birthday

The immortal Bard was born today in 1564. As an English major, I was exposed to his works at various points in my academic career. As a high school teacher, I had to teach Julius Caesar ("Beware the Ides of March") and Romeo and Juliet "Oh Romeo, Oh Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?..." which is asking why is he named Romeo, not where is he at, contrary to what many people think) and Hamlet ("To be or not to be, that is the question...") at one point or another. It was not an easy task with kids complaining and asking why it was not written in "English." I think in large measure, the ways students were forced to learn probably ruined the enjoyment. On my end, I always tried to bring a few different ideas to teach the plays, have them perform parts of it, but most importantly ask questions. For Romeo and Juliet, once they realize the protagonists are teens not unlike them, things move along a little better. What they often found amazing is how Shakespeare always had something to say to them, even though he wrote so long ago. Of course, being able to do creative writing assignments with it helped as well.
I will say I have not reread Shakespeare in a while. I still have my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare in my work station at home. It has the complete works, and it is a nice edition if a bit hefty. In terms of plays, Henry V is probably my favorite. I love the speech King Henry gives before the battle of Agincourt. I find it inspiring and uplifting, and at times, makes me want to grab a sword and go kill some enemies, hehe. But I do find it inspiring because it is the story of a young man who was pretty much reckless and irresponsible, and by the time he becomes king, he has matured and learned to be responsible. I also like Henry IV, Part One and Two (Part One a bit better) because of Falstaff. A pity he gets banished for somewhere I think there is a little place for the rogue. The speech of Crispian's Day can be found in Act IV, scene iii of Henry V. If you want to find it online, a search on or any other online book collection will likely provide it. As a small indulgence, I have pasted it below if anyone is interested. The text comes from, which uses the 1914 Oxford Shakespeare. The speech comes after Westmoreland makes the remark about wanting more men since the English are outnumbered.

Below the speech, I have taken the liberty to post a link or two which may be useful to teachers and others interested in Shakespeare. I hope they are useful.
West. O! that we now had here 20
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day.
K. Hen. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin: 24
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. 28
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires: 32
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour 36
As one man more, methinks, would share from me,
For the best hope I have. O! do not wish one more:
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight, 40
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us. 44
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian. 48
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, 52
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, 56
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d. 60
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered; 64
We few, we happy few, we band of brother;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition: 68
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Some useful links for educators (and others). By no means is this list comprehensive, but I think it can provide a good start:

Read Write Think from the NCTE and the International Reading Association have a nice page with a collection of links about teaching Shakespeare. The link is

If you want a bit of humor, you can now insult your foes with some class. Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, let him or her have it. Just use the handy Shakespearean Insult Kit.

A nice guide is Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet. It is a collection of various resources and guides.

A good place to find more items on Shakespeare, as well as literature resources is the Voice of the Shuttle. The site has changed a few times over the years, but it is still a useful and browsable repository.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Booknote: _The Prince_

I finished reading Machiavelli's The Prince this morning while on the commute to work. I read it in a translation edited by William J. Connell, published by Bedford/St. Martin's, that contains some related documents as well. I did not read the related materials since I was only interested in the work itself. Having seen Machiavelli's play The Mandrake recently (see my previous entry), it added a bit more context to the play and to his work. In essence, Machiavelli has a pretty negative view of human nature, or practical if you happen to lean more in that direction. One of the passages I liked is where he advises the prince to know when to be good and when to be bad and to use this ability accordingly. The idea is that men are not good themselves for the most part. Machiavelli writes:

"For there is such a distance from how one lives to how one ought to live that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns what will ruin him rather than what will save him, since a man who would wish to make a career of being good in every detail must come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary for a prince, if he wishes to maintain himself, to learn to be able to be not good, and to use this faculty and not use it according to necessity" (87).

I don't think there is much more one can say about that, especially given how society can run today and does run. Of course, he also advises that it is better to be feared than to be loved when it comes to leadership. It sounds exactly like one of the pieces of advice I got right before I went to do my student teaching. As a classroom teacher, it is easier to be a tyrant when you start out and loosen up later than to be loose and then try to regain control. A teacher is not there to be the kids' buddy or pal, no matter what the psychology feel good crowd say to the contrary. You are there to teach and educate, and your administrators want to make sure you can keep discipline in the classroom. If you don't believe me, ask around. Quite a few new teachers will say that one of the questions they constantly get during interviews is the question about how to keep discipline and how to manage a classroom. Often the question is asked before or over questions about content or subject knowledge. So I know I am onto something here. Sometimes you have to be good, and sometimes you have to be mean. A commonly cited passage from Machiavelli is the one about whether it is better to be loved or feared. This is discussed in Chapter 17 of The Prince where Machiavelli writes:

"Men have less fear of offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, since love is held in place by a bond of obligation which, because men are wretched, is broken at every opportunity for utility to oneself, but fear is held in place by a fear of punishment that never abandons you" (91).

I don't think I can say much further than that. Let them fear you first, you can always become more friendly later. Once you lose them, you can't gain them back. Machiavelli said back in his day, and countless preservice teachers are told something similar to this before they go into their first classrooms. As many readers I am sure are aware, there have been many books in the business world about leadership from key historical figures. For instance, "translations" and applications of Sun Tzu's The Art of War for managers and such. By the way, I also like The Art of War of which I have a copy in my personal collection at home. I have the edition translated by Cleary and published by Shambala if anyone wants to know. What we need now, and I might as well see if I can get to work on it, is some kind of book like that for teachers. Something that distills Machiavelli for future teachers, or maybe also add Sun Tzu, Plato's Republic (Socrates is already done), and a few others. If nothing else, might make for an interesting comparison and speculation exercise. Besides, I don't think I can do too bad when compared to the many "experts" that write about education and have never stepped into a classroom. At least I can say I stepped into a classroom and actually taught. By the way, I still do. At any rate, I do recommend the book. For those of you wanting to add a mark to your list of classics to read, this works. For those wanting to figure out why we use the term machiavellian, read the book and see that he was not quite as "machiavellian" as he has been made out to be. It is also a brief read for those who are tight on time.

A bit of quiet before starting the day

There is something to be said for arriving at work on the early side. I am usually here no later than 8am, usually by 7:30a. The library opens at 7:00a, but the Information Desk does not begin until 8:00a, which means the place is pretty quiet except for a few early students. The Reference Office itself is quiet since the rest of the librarians come in on the later side of the morning, and the Director, while an early riser, goes to her own office. So, I get the place mostly to myself. Came in, checked my e-mail, read through the Research Buzz, which I receive every week by Friday morning. It was brief this morning. She has not been writing a lot into it as of late, so I get through it quickly. It is one of those things I like looking through for new website ideas. She did recommend an internet radio station for those of us who like background music while we type. So, if you like indie, trance, and so on, SomaFM might be for you. I am listening to it now while I type this. I have to say it is pretty good. That and the Scout Report. I have a Collection Development Committee meeting later in the morning, and it looks like from the agenda it is mostly discussing a recent trial for ABI/Inform, which I did not do, but since we had it where I used to work, I am familiar with the database. I already know we are not going to get it given our funding situation. Then there is a proposal from Thompson Gale for a set of databases. Since the State of Texas has decided to cut back on its TexShare databases, it means for us that databases we could get on a good deal through the TexShare System we now have to pay for on our own. This is basically a big bite for us, so we'll see. One of the things we may be losing is one of our Spanish language databases. Spanish falls under my subject areas, so I am advocating for keeping it. Also, the University is considering the creation of a Spanish major, likely Spanish for Business Professionals, so such a product would be more desirable and necessary, but again, costs and funding will likely be the considerations. It is sadly one of the realities of academia, and libraries in general, that we have a society where the government can happily spend millions on the latest weapons to kill efficiently, but never enough to educate its citizens.

On a different note, I got a somewhat interesting reference question yesterday. I am finishing up the research for it this morning, and I will post the question and my answer later today. Well, I have to be at the Information Desk at 8:00a today, so I better get going.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Weeding

Weeding a library collection is one of those things that need to be done every so often, but no one ever wants to mention it, let alone admit to doing it. After all, weeding means you are taking things out of the collection and discarding them. True, you do it mostly for things that are out of date or are not circulating or are no longer useful, but in people's minds, they hate the idea of discarding books in any way. However, it is one of those things that have to be done if one is to be responsible with library resources, and space is one of those resources. So, while I wait for the Millenium system to compile the list I requested to do some weeding, I have a bit of time to read. As I type this, I am not sure the list will come out as I wanted. The Millenium Cataloguing System is capable of generating various lists, but it is not exactly the most intuitive system for librarians like me who don't actively do cataloguing. Unfortunately, this is one of those little things they did not teach me about in library school. Oh, I took cataloguing, and I know how to make bibliographic records, and I know how to use OCLC, but the Millenium system was nowhere to be seen. So, I am teaching it to myself as I go along. So I set my variables, looking for records in a certain call number range and located in the general collection, and we'll see what happens.

Where I work, weeding is sort of a necessity, but it is currently done as the librarian's time and other tasks allow. This is not inconsistent with the way other libraries do it since librarians have various tasks at hand. However, for us it seems a bit more imperative since due to lack of funding (and other reasons I won't go into now), we are at zero growth. What this means is that for every book I select, I should be taking something out because we are extremely tight on space. I have already done a bit of weeding for my subject areas in the Reference Collection, and now that things are slowing down a bit in terms of instruction, I trying to plan a move to the General Collection. I did a cursory look at the area I am starting with, and it looks like it has not been weeded for quite a while, so looks like I have my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A few miscellaneous things, or the Gypsy Librarian wanders in cyberspace

I have had some time to do some reading, and I spent some time exploring blogs by other librarians. I have bookmarked a few, and as soon as I figure out how to make better use of RSS and such, I may be in business, as they say. In the meantime, a few things I have been finding here and there. My thanks to the more experienced librarians blogging out there for giving me some things to read and learn and reflect upon.

  • had an interesting link to an 1935 Library School exam. And I thought I had it tough. It is interesting to see how some things have changed, and how some things stayed the same. Anyhow, for those out there who may be interested, the exam is at
  • I thought I could get away without commenting on any way about Michael Gorman's piece on bloggers, "Revenge of the Blog People." It was published in the February 15th, 2005 edition of Library Journal (in case the link I used does not work). In essence, he writes that bloggers are non-intellectual people who do not read anything other than blogs. To say I was offended is to put it mildly. A simple search on the web revealed that he clearly offended a lot of other librarians, bloggers and otherwise. I don't want to say much more because I think many out there have expressed my feelings of dismay and concern that the President-Elect of the ALA uses his position to slam on bloggers. The article displays a serious ignorance of what bloggers do and what they can accomplish. True, there are some bloggers out there with poor standards or quality of writing, but there are also some very brilliant writers and thinkers out there who use blogging. To lump them all in one category is simply a gross example of overgeneralization. Some of his defenders say it was satire, but in this case, he missed his mark.
  • There is also another string out in the blogosphere with the old debate of technology versus traditional library services, i.e. books. It is prompted in large part by the blog post Primitivist or Luddite and Librarian. While he makes some good points about not letting technology drive everything we do, he also seems to be a bit extreme in his back to basics argument. I am a believer that the truth must be somewhere in the middle, where we use technology to facilitate learning as well as pleasure in reading in literacy. And if you must ask, I am not all the way in the "give them what they want" approach. Buying 20 to 30 copies of the latest Harry Potter is not efficient use of library resources, no matter how it is justified. Then again, I am an academic librarian, so I worry over this less. But I do use my local public library regularly, and I would not want them to waste their resources that way. A couple of sample replies can be found in Meredith's blog and at LinuxLibrarian. I do remember having this debate in library school in various courses, including the courses on management. And at times I did get irked at those who worshipped at the temple of the Tech Goddess and her minions. But I know we can't just get rid of them. Libraries are about literacy and access to information in all its forms. By the reasoning of some advocating extreme "back to basics," we would not have access to government documents. The Federal and State governments now make hundreds of thousands of documents and resources available online, some exclusively online. Would we deprive patrons of this access to their democracy so we can just provide print materials and thus get "back to basics?" I would certainly hope not. I think what disturbs me about the luddite piece is that it was later claimed to be satire, in the line of Gorman, who was particularly inefficient in that regard (see above). So, do we need to have more books? Absolutely. We can never have enough books and other print media as well as computers and access to databases. It is a delicate balance we have to maintain in the midst of shrinking budgets and lack of community (or campus) support. Somehow in the great scheme of things, taking extreme sides on the techies vs traditionalists seems, well, small potatoes. Let them debate it. I am getting back to work at providing the best service for my academic community by any tools I have available.
  • also referred me to Michael McGrorty's piece about books and freedom. The passage where he writes about his time in library school is simply inspiring. I am glad I was not the only one who somehow knew he was a librarian. In my case, I suppose I did not realize it until I meandered around for a while. But in my case, there were things I needed to do as well, teaching for one, which in retrospect, helped prepare me for library school and to be a good instruction librarian(I am not saying great, there are others out there who are, more deservedly so) . I am taking the liberty to post his passage here not just to remind me of something inspirational, but for others who may be interested as well. Mr. McGrorty writes:
"I must confess that the reason I went to library school was more in the way of understanding the system and its operators than anything else. I thought they must possess some secret, something essential that I might discover and come away with. In the end, I found that it was nothing more than a set of skills set atop the same understanding of the library that I kept; half of me was a librarian all along. Sometimes I have seen it as love, other times as an obsession, but whatever it may be, the devotion to books and reading has saved me from worse fates, and the library, that temple of the book, has been my church, my rock and comfort since I was old enough to walk the stacks."
So, I thank all the wonderful writers out there who gave me some food for thought today. And I shall keep wandering.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Isabel Allende on giving

I recently came across this note from NPR. I am not a regular listener of NPR, but I do believe in the importance of public radio. At any rate, this comes from the program All Things Considered, where they had a small segment with Chilean author (and one of my favorite writers) Isabel Allende. It is one of the essays the program invites on the topic of "This I Believe." She wrote a small essay on the importance of giving to others and how giving to others connects her to others. I could not agree more. She writes towards the end of the essay:

"Give, give, give -- what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don't give it away? Of having stories if I don't tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don't share it? I don't intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine."

You can find the text, and also a link to listen to her reading it at the link below. I know it reminded me of why I do what I do as an educator and now librarian. I know I thrive in teaching because it is giving to others. At any rate, go take a look.

Glad I got out of Dodge? Maybe, possibly. . .oh yea.

Even though I moved to Texas, I still receive the postings for the Indiana Teachers of Writing-National Writing Project group since I am an NWP Teacher Consultant. I went through the program back in '96 before I went for my first graduate degree. The group is mostly made of school teachers, so very often the conversation threads go down to local concerns of teachers, complaints about lack of support, etc. In other words, the not-so-little details that make a teacher's job that much more difficult. I usually scan the list, since now and then people will post a request for some teaching idea, help in designing a lesson, or other reference type request that I may find of interest. Or sometimes they post their lesson plan ideas, reading lists, and other good items I find useful. Thank goodness for listservs.

So, why my remark about getting out of Dodge? I left high school teaching in large measure to pursue higher education, but I also left because of an unsupportive administration and because I was tired of parental politics that placed teachers as enemies. I always tell people who ask me that I enjoyed teaching young people, when they actually let me teach. Students in their teens are great for the most part, in spite of the negative images in the media. Unfortunately, you can't say that about their parents more often than not. What prompted to vent my thoughts was a note one of the teachers posted to the listserv saying that his particular district was making cutbacks, including cuts that would affect him. He is a high school teacher, and the effect on him right away was to be moved to one of the district's middle schools. Now, to some reading this, it may not sound like such a terrible fate, at least he still has a job for one. But this teacher was sponsor for the senior class in his school, and he had other strong ties and involvements that would be broken. With regret, he posted that he was looking for a better position out of state. The fact that the state has seen fit to pretty much not fund public schools adequately I am sure has not made it easier for him. What moved me more were some of the replies he received from other teachers, mostly encouraging him to go ahead and take any good job that may come along. I found myself looking over those replies, and I could see myself giving him the same advice as well.

Even more moving was the statement from one of the ITW-NWP directors that things in her district were so dire fiscally that it was boiling down to a confrontation of parents vs. teachers. The district is facing a major deficit this year, which will double the next. The superintendent said that health care costs for teachers and staff went up, and that was a large chunk. So, what do the parents suggest right away? Have the teachers pay more and cut their salaries. And while other options are being considered, this seemed to me the usual thoughtlessness of parents and community. After all, God forbid anyone suggests raising property taxes a bit to pay for the salaries and benefits of the ones educating their children. Of course, other items like summer school and extracurricular, also on the cutting board, parents are loud about keeping, but hey, just cut those teacher salaries. And while you are at it, cut their funding for professional development and travel to conferences and continuing education, like doing the NWP. After all, what do they need that stuff for anyhow? And how did I find out all the details of my old stomping grounds? Lexis-Nexis, a wonderful tool for news coverage, even if the company itself got embroiled in one of those stolen identities scandals. All I had to do was set it to Indiana news sources, and voila, I got a nice overview of the mess they are in up there. And it is quite a mess in that district. But, as I mentioned, what irked me is the quick cavalier attitude parents have about their educators, seeing them as selfish or not working hard enough, so go ahead and cut their benefits and support. And from the news stories, seems the lack of support I was familiar with has not gotten any better. I am not saying things in my new home are better. I know Texas schools are not known for their radiance either, but it does sadden me to see a place I had high regard for be in such dire straits, in part due to legislative disregard, and in part due to mismanagement.

I don't regret having left for graduate school and then higher education. I enjoy my work very much now, but I have some good memories of my school teaching days. Doing the NWP was one of the best experiences for me professionally and personally. So to see once colleagues be in straits saddens me a little. But, it does make me glad I got out of Dodge while the getting out was still good. And to that teacher, man, if you can, get out as well. The pasture will be greener on the other side.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Should our librarians get a blog? Some thoughts

Before I came to work in Houston, I worked at other academic libraries. At one of the libraries I used to work at, they had a reference desk log. It was accessible online, and it was made on the libraries' servers, namely, not a commercial product like this one. For the librarians and me, the usual ritual when starting the desk shift was to check the log for any ocurrences, ongoing assignments, etc. It was basically a tool to be aware of what is going on at the desk. When I came to work here in Houston, I found my library did not have such a log, and while the topic has been bounced a few times, I get the impression it is not on the high end of the priorities list.

I should say that we are a small group of librarians here. We are eleven librarians, so very often we just tell each other when there is something going on. But this form of informing each other does not always make it up the chain. I can tell someone in the morning about a particular class assignment, or a particular issue, but if the rest of the librarians do not remember to keep passing it on, the note likely gets lost. We have a binder to put in copies of assignments. Usually we get the assignment copies from students who allow us to photocopy their sheet when they come in. I usually do this, ask students if they will let me copy their assignment if it looks like I will get a lot of questions from the same group of students. The copy is then placed in the notebook, where I make a note of due date and date I collected the copy. Some librarians may also put copies of assignments they may get through BI sessions they do. The challenge of the notebook is keeping it up to date and tidy. If not me, the Distance Ed. librarian usually takes out the old assignments after a reasonable length of time (whatever that may mean, which opens another question). As instruction librarian, I tend to collect assignments and syllabi as sample artifacts because I find them helpful so I can know what is going on with students and their classes. It seems we keep it informal since we are a small group, but for me at least, life would be a bit easier if assignments were kept more consistently. This is one of my little projects: building a small file of sample assignments for other librarians to use as reference.

Keeping track of assignments is easy compared to keeping track of other Information Desk issues. Since the flow is pretty much word of mouth, or internal e-mail on Outlook when a librarian remembers, it is not consistent. The Outlook option is usually used to report incidents such as problem patrons. We have no way to report on questions that keep coming back, if there are campus events we should be aware of, if I taught a class and need to tell the others about it (I could e-mail them, but e-mails have this way of getting lost once people read them. If they don't file them, they likely delete them).

Concerns about making some kind of blog or desk journal have been logistics and access. One, how to make one? I can understand that. Making a webpage for one would not be a simple task, and I am sure I do not want to impose on the Web Content Librarian who has more than enough on his plate. As for access, placing it on the web could make it open to others, and this is something for our use only. What has not been suggested is using something like Blogger here. I have been doing a bit of browsing to see how other libraries handle this, and I have seen at least one library that keeps a reference blog through here. They set up a group for access, and then they post what they need to post. I think for us a concern might be if we have to name a problem patron for instance. In that case, I think sticking to e-mail for documentation works better (with all the caveats documenting such situations entail). But for basic reference issues, events, problems with a printer, etc. could work. Anyhow, at this point, it is just an idea for me prompted by the fact I just started using a blog myself. So, should we give it a try? At this point, I am not sure. I do know it works for me.

On an update note: I spent part of my morning doing some online searching on librarians and weblogs. In part, because I was interested in seeing what other librarians are doing out there with blogs, and in part to see if I found more information on how libraries use them. I found many interesting results doing a basic search on Google by typing in "library blogs" as my search terms. I found a nice listing of various library weblogs at this website, This page is part of LibDex, which according to its website, describes itself as "a worldwide directory of
  • library homepages,
  • web-based OPACs,
  • Friends of the Library pages, and
  • library e-commerce affiliate links.
The directory does not include links to terminal-based OPACs.

To be fair, I only looked at the weblogs list. I did seek for an about page, where I found the note I posted above. I always try whenever possible to see the About page of any website I visit. Overall, the list looks useful. I did find a few blogs of interest, which I bookmarked for later reading.

I also found an interesting article on how and why to use blogs to market library services. This was published by Information Today, and for now at least, it is at this website: I also found a nice piece on ethics for bloggers that was geared to librarians. The main point of the article seems to be that since librarians represent the profession through their online presence, they should be ethical and act like the professionals they are. So this means being accurate, being factual, not plagiarizing, and writing well. The author writes it much better than I do, but I am giving you the gist of it. You can find the article here: I do agree with most of it, especially the part about admitting to your biases and being accurate. It is something I try to achieve in my own blog. As for the part about not revealing one's name, I think that should be left to the blogger, especially if it is just a personal blog, and the blog is clearly labeled as such. For a more professional blog, knowing the blogger is nice, but in some situations, I might not be as bothered if their name is not there. For instance, if they say they are a librarian in a public library in Midwest Indiana, that is good enough for me pretty much (I am sure some librarians may not want their bosses to know they are blogging if they are doing it to vent over a bad situation. That whole pesky repercusions thing. Then again, this may fall under the personal blogging versus the standard bearing blog the author mentions). But I can see the author's view on it. Maybe it boils down to this. If you want to practice librarianship through blogging, then behave like a librarian. You want to simply post about your dog, the trip you took to the Adirondacks, and your beef with some political pundit, then go right ahead as well. Does this put higher standards on librarians? Sure does, but if we want to be treated as the professionals we are, we should act the part. Overall, there is plenty of information out there that I found useful.

Another day at the reference desk...or, what was that question again?

What I find exciting about working at the Information Desk are the many different questions that students and patrons can come up with. For instance, this morning, I have answered a question on treatment of women during the Romantic period for a British lit. student, and I answered another one on bisexual married men for a psychology student. The second question caused another student seated at a computer nearby to turn her head and stare in my direction as I was conducting the reference interview with the psychology student. Needless to say, she turned away quickly when the the student and I looked back at her and smiled. I bet that woke her up. At any rate, we did find her some articles using Academic Search Premier and PsychArticles, so she should be ok.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tax Day, and other thoughts.

Well, it has been another quiet Friday here at the library. If people are running around trying to get those forms filed on time, I have not noticed them here. I got mine sent out this morning. With the move, it took a bit longer for me to get some W-2's from out of state. I am glad I live in a state with no income taxes, so it means just the Fed form next year. Then again, if we did away with income taxes altogether, that would be nice, but it is wishful thinking I know.

As usual every so often (I think officially every other Friday), we had a librarian meeting today. Dogbert had a nice line about meetings once. I wish I had the strip handy to post a link. In the strip I have in mind, Dogbert is writing a book on management, and one of his pieces of advice when Dilbert asks about time management is to postpone meetings with time wasting morons. When Dilbert asks how he can accomplish that, Dogbert simply says to him "Let me get back to you on that." While I am not implying in any way that my coworkers are morons, meeting for two hours, sometimes three, on a Friday morning to discuss things which at times could be distributed in a memo seems, well, a bit of a waste of a fine morning. But life goes on. From the University Planning folks, we learn through the director that it looks like funding may be tighter than first expected. She does not want to sound pessimistic, but I think the rest of the librarians see the writing on the wall. We shall have to just wait and see.

The afternoon has been very slow, and at the last hour, the library is practically quiet save for a few students in the computer area (five of them to be exact). One patron came in asking for a tape to learn Spanish, and we had a nice set of Spanish learning CD's in three volumes. She took the first volume. I had one teacher from one of the local public schools looking for information on our MAT programs, which I provided for her, and I gave her the hours for the School of Public Service, which houses the MAT program. Unfortunately, they work the usual 8-5 M-F schedule, and it was almost 5:30p when she came in. While she got some of what she needed from the website, she was a bit dismayed they had closed over there because she is after all, a public school teacher in class all day, and getting to the campus is not easy. I could not agree more. I still remember when I taught public school myself. You never get out at 3:15p on the dot, or whatever similar time is the bell time. Often teachers have to work after school, so getting anything done during business hours is next to impossible unless you take a day off or such. And while we offer night classes, maybe the business office for the MAT program should open a bit later too. Hey, just an idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Booknote: _A Place Where the Sea Remembers_ (1994)

Sandra Benitez's debut novel is a short piece with a lot of sense of place. I will be adding this writer to my list of U.S. Latino writers to keep an eye on. The novel tells the story of Candelario and Chayo, who after many years of marriage are finally going to have the child they never thought they would be able to have. It is a joyous discovery, but it is one that leads to a chain of events in their small Mexican village, and the novel eventually ends tragically. For readers who don't like tragic or sad endings, this may not be the book for them. However, the novel is worth reading. As I mentioned, it has a strong sense of place. Benitez's descriptions are excellent, full of rich images and sensory experiences. The characters are well developed. The novel is written in short chapters focusing on a particular character, almost like vignettes. It makes for easy reading, and it leaves readers with a bittersweet feeling, for even though it ends sadly, the reader may not quite want to leave the place where the sea remembers. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy the works of writers like Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros.

Never stop learning, a reminder

Manny Garcia-Tunon wrote a small column for Hispanic magazine in the March 2005 issue about the importance of learning. It is a short piece, but a nice reminder that we should pursue those things we feel strongly about. So, the next time you say, "I would like to be able to do such and such," go learn it if you feel strong enough about it. He writes that "whatever it may be, the truth is that if you felt strongly enough about it, you would surely find the time and means to do it." Hmm, in a way, sounds easier than it is. Makes me think of my writing. I so want to get better at it, but as usual, finding the time is not as easy. Though, I am finding that using this blog for some of it helps, so maybe gradually I will find the time to further explore it. In the meantime, as an educator, I could not agree more that one should never stop learning.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Booknote: _The A.B.C. Murders_

Once in a while, I get in the mood to read something like Agatha Christie. While I am not a fan of the mystery genre, once in a while I do enjoy reading some detective fiction. In the case of Agatha Christie, I like her character of Hercule Poirot, but I can't really stand Miss Marple. I guess it makes me very selective, go figure. At any rate, The A.B.C. Murders is an excellent novel from this author which fans will likely enjoy if they have not made their way to it yet. As often is the case with Agatha Christie, the murderer is the least likely suspect. Well, he seems to be the least likely until the detective explains how he figured out the answer. In a way, it is like watching a magic trick and then having the magician explain how he did, only in this case, it does not loose the fascination by explaining the trick. In fact, one is more fascinated by the revelation. In this novel, everything points to one suspect, and the answer is not revealed to the very end. The reader will wonder if Poirot really will find the answer, but he does. I enjoyed very much the tale of a series of murders seemingly connected by the sequence of the alphabet. Was it a serial killer? Was it something else? I know the answer, now it is up to readers to discover it if they so choose.

Another interesting trait about reading Agatha Christie is that she often makes references to the genre that she writes in. She also makes references to other novels and stories she has written. For instance, in reading this novel, she has the characters discuss a certain crime that takes place while four people are playing cards. By coincidence, I recognized it as a reference to her novel Cards on the Table, which I recently read before I started this blog. I don't know if she does it to "reward" loyal readers, or just for poking a bit of fun at herself, but it makes for an added incentive to read her works. Poirot also is interesting, well, for many reasons, but he is interesting because he often looks down on the methods of Sherlock Holmes. At one point, he gives Hastings a Sherlockian description of a subject simply to ridicule Hastings's obssession with clues. For Poirot, it is the little grey cells that do the work. I myself am a fan of Conan Doyle's detective, but I have to admit I am becoming a fan of Dame Christie's creation as well. Having read both, it is interesting to see how the later writer, Christie, plays upon the earlier one. The novel overall is recommended for fans of the genre, and for casual readers wanting something light to read.

Friday, April 08, 2005

So, how are they keeping the Pope alive? (or, another "interesting" reference question)

I made it to the end of another week, and I am about to head home as soon as I wrap some details up. The library is closed, so the place is quiet, a good time to reflect a little.

So, what's with the title of this post? It is not as irreverent as it sounds. At 20 minutes before we close, I am sitting at the Information Desk with the Distance Ed. Librarian, who is on duty. I am just there for back up, so to speak. She answers the phone, and the lady says to the librarian, "I am a Yoga instructor, and I need to know how they are keeping the Pope alive?" That was the exact wording. The librarian grabbed my arm, and I wondered for a moment if everything was ok, maybe someone was calling a threat or something. As she speaks to the patron, she tells her, the Pope is dead, and the lady at the other end of the line says a bit distressed that she knew that, but what she meant was if theyt embalmed him or not? She was worried because she was Catholic (or claimed to be Catholic) and wondered if the practice was ok or not, yet the Pope was being viewed publicly. I helped with a web search while she continued talking to the patron. What we found out was the His Holiness was likely not embalmed based on the little reports that came from the Vatican. He was likely "prepared" which means he had some cosmetic touching up and minimal preservation efforts done. This was according to a report from the Associated Press dated April 5th; we just did a quick Google search. The search also leads to other reports in places like CNN which have some nice interactive features to explain the rituals and so on. So, we learned something new, since we also read about how previous Popes had been prepared for burial, but most importantly, we found an answer for the patron. No, they are not keeping him alive. Yes, he was only "prepared" for burial.

And thus ends another week. On a final note, may His Holiness rest in peace. Regardless of beliefs, the man was a man of peace, and in the world we live in, that is admirable.

Play note: Machiavelli's _The Mandrake_

The theater department here on campus staged Machiavelli's comedy The Mandrake. I had the opportunity to catch it on matinee here on campus, and I must say that the production was excellent. The acting was good, and the students were able to transform the small theater space into a little piece of Renaissance Italy. The customs were well made. And the comedy was right on target if the audience's laughter was any indication. The plot is basically one man's scheme to bed another man's wife. In the process, Machiavelli illustrates the ways in which man can manipulate his fellow man, showing that there is always someone to be manipulated as long as there is someone willing to manipulate. The play lasted an hour and a half with no intermission, but the pace of the play was so good that time just moved along. The opening of the play used a narrator, a character in period costume, a jester figure, who set up the scene and introduced the characters and the plot. It made for a nice way to open the play. The play had all the elements of an Italian comedy of Machiavelli's time: the cuckolded husband, the corrupt priest, the scheming man and his servant, and the woman object of his affections, all with a nice measure of play on words and bawdiness to keep it interesting. It was definitely a good afternoon of theater.

Knowing when to let go (off that patron that seems to keep asking for more)

In many professions, there are many things you learn at the workplace they don't tell you about in school. Librarianship is no different, and I have written about things they don't tell you in library school before. Odds are I could likely make that a regular column, or just another blog, as I keep discovering things they did not tell me about in library school. Actually, this falls under the "they did tell me about it, but I never thought I would actually see one" category. This happened yesterday afternoon at the end of my day, but I was so tired from the experience I could not get around to writing about it until this morning. So, here goes.

I had an afternoon shift at the Information Desk yesterday. Actually, I had two shifts, but this happened in the later one. It was a one hour shift. When I got to the desk, the librarian on duty before me was already dealing with this particular patron, and I recall distinctly the patron saying something along the lines of "I am being investigated by the FBI" and "I need to deal with this." Needless to say, that sounded kind of ominous, and I was about to get this patron as I was coming on shift. So, what happened then? The lady in question wanted some government information. That in itself is not a difficult request; any librarian with some knowledge of government websites and documents could find it with ease. That is the nice thing about the government; they very often put a lot of their information online to make it accessible, and they are doing it more often these days. Oh no, that was not hard. It was what she was asking for and the way she was basically monopolizing my time quite literally that spelled trouble. To make things worse, this lady was not in the best of health, constantly coughing in a hacking cough so bad I thought I saw the clouds of germs fly in my general direction. Even patrons nearby were shivering at the idea those germs were headed in their direction like Marines storming Normandy on D-Day. Our guess, the assistant director's and mine, was that she likely was indigent or at least of scarce resources. The body odor was the hint that gave us that idea. While we are an academic library, our university's location in the downtown area means we often get patrons the public library, which is a few blocks away, would get. At any rate, what did she want?

She wanted the following:

  1. A list of all (yes, all) the Representatives in the Texas House of Representatives. This had to include their names, contact information, and their committee assignments.
  2. The same type of list for the Senators in the Texas Senate.
  3. Then, do it all over again for the U.S. House of Representatives.
  4. And yet again for the Senators in the U.S. Senate.
  5. A description what the committees did and how they operated. In other words, who did what and who oversaw what.
  6. She had a list of a couple of agencies or organizations, and she wanted to know how they would appeal to certain committees, say the Appropriations Committee in the Federal House, to get their funding.
  7. A couple other miscellaneous items.
Now, questions 1 through 4 are not hard to answer. A visit to the respective websites of the State Legislature and the Federal Legislature will provide the lists in various formats. The level of specificity in the lists varied, but I was able overall to provide the information requested. The catch was she was an elderly lady who claimed was computer illiterate, namely I could not just put her on a computer and tell her go here and here, and good luck. The result was I had to locate the information and print it out for her, and this is part of what made this transaction so time consuming. Add to it the fact she would reveal only one item on her laundry list at a time, and the fact that she kept asking for the same thing more than once, and it made for a long afternoon. As she asked for a repeat item, I often had to tell her I was already printing it out for her. To which she usually replied, "you are doing good" in the same tone you would use to address a puppy dog who was being "a good boy." I figured as long as she did not reach over the desk and pet me, I would be ok. At least I hoped I would be ok, assuming the germs from the extreme coughing she was sending my way did not catch up to me.

The other questions were trickier, and I did a combination of passing the buck with using some print sources. I gave her our copy of the U.S. Government Manual, which is the federal document describing the structure of the government and its functions. While it did not have committees in the legislature, it had a few other pieces of information she likely wanted. For the Texas part of that question, we did have an older manual about the legislature that explained what she wanted, so I let her have that as well. She did sit down happily to look them over once I printed out and pointed out in the printouts the bits and pieces of the "puzzle" she was trying to put together. Initially I took the question as someone wanting to contact their local representatives, but when she asked for all of them, well, I had to wonder. However, my job is to provide the information, not ask what she was doing with it. I did suggest also that for some questions, she might have to contact some of the people on the lists, which made sense to her in terms of they would have better answers that I would.

In library school, when you take one of the reference service classes, they often tell you about knowing how much is too much time spent on a patron. This definitely falls under the example of knowing when to disengage. Now, this sounds nice and easy in the theoretical confines of a classroom, but in the real world, it is a bit more complicated than that. For one, every time I thought I was about to wrap up a query, she would come up with a new one, and this process repeated itself a few more times. I never got to see the whole "laundry list" until the end. Second, I am the type of fellow who finds it difficult to just say no to people. And I am sure a lot of librarians are that way; we are people persons for the most part (unless you are a cataloguer or such. And yes, I know this can be a stereotype open to debate, but I have also met cataloguers and other technical service types who love their computers more than people). So, it made it difficult for me to disengage because I wanted to make sure she had what she needed, even if she seemed a little distressed in the mental faculties area. Given what she was asking for, especially in terms of the later questions, I had no choice but to wonder about the level of sanity. However, since it was not bad enough to have to call someone, I just dealt with it. I am not sure what I can learn from this other than a reminder to know when to quit and tell the patron you have done all you could. She pretty much took over me the whole hour I was at the Information Desk. And to her credit, she was very conscious that she was taking my time and offered to pay for the printouts, to which I told her, "we don't charge for that; it's part of our service." Maybe there was a bit of satisfaction in that, I am not sure. Being able to say someone can come in looking for information, and it does not cost anything. Ok, so, she was a bit more needy (or clingy) than most. Maybe I am thankful I was a teacher before I became a librarian, since teachers have to be very patient, and patient I was last night. Or maybe, it was just one of those moments, one of those once in a blue moon events. I do know it was a draining experience; I was tired when I left for home last evening.

So, if any future librarians is looking to find out "how do I get that clingy patron to move on?," I don't quite have the answer. I think you have to find a logical point to stop and say you have provided what you can, and it is up to the patron to go the rest of the way. The trick is in finding that stopping point, and for me yesterday it was not easy because she kept adding on to her needs list. However, by the end of my shift, she had been satisfied with what she got enough to sit down, pore over it, and give the next librarian a break. I think I managed to find the stopping point; it would have been nicer to have found it a bit sooner, but things don't always wrap up so neatly. Just make sure you have some hand sanitizer handy afterwards.

P.S. For those wanting to locate some of the information:

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Learning a bit about how talk radio works, from article in _The Atlantic_

I keep a personal reading list of periodicals I try to keep read on a regular basis, well as regular as my other duties allow. Actually, I keep three lists: one for personal reading, one for collection development needs, and one for professional development (my areas of academic interest). These do not include the journals I read for library science, some through my ALA membership and others that all the librarians read at work. The personal reading list is somewhat fluent based on what I consider can be good things to read to keep up with various topics and what I consider interesting. I do it in part so I can be better prepared to work at the Information Desk, a way to stay informed, and in part because I just like to be informed and learn new things. Access also dictates a bit of what I read for these lists since I can only read what I have access to through subscriptions, online or in print, at work. Overall, we do pretty well I think in that regard.

At any rate, The Atlantic magazine for April 2005 has a feature article on talk radio. The focus of the article is on John Ziegler, host of a talk radio show for KFI AM 640 out in Los Angeles. While focusing on the radio host, the article also provides details and insights on how a radio station works as well as on the intricacies of radio media consolidation. The article's layout on the magazine is interesting as well, if a bit distracting at times. Certain words and phrases are highlighted in a color (blue, pink, so on), and this is an indication to read a footnote or sidenote explaining the term or phrase in question. Sometimes it is something explaining a radio industry term, such as "Prophet," which is "the special OS for KFI's computer system--'like Windows for a radio station,' according to Mr. Ziegler's producer." Some of the note boxes can be short, others can be longer, but they all provide little insights into how the station and the industry work. The article also gives some background on the emergence of talk radio and how it has become what it is today.

The author, David Foster Wallace, writes that "whatever social effects of talk radio or partisan agendas of certain hosts, it is a fallacy that political talk radio is motivated by ideology. It is not. Political radio is a business, and it is motivated by revenue. The conservatism that dominates today's AM airwaves does so because it generates high Arbitron ratings, high ad rates, and maximum profits" (55). The article goes into detail to discuss how ratings work, how ads are set up, the differences between local programming and syndication. Details such as these illustrate his point of talk radio as a business.

What I found most interesting in the article was the segment where the author describes the skills necessary to be a good talk radio host. And as good as I am with people in a classroom or working in front of people, I am not sure I myself could to talk radio. It is a bit lengthy, but I have copied and pasted the passage because it deserves to be looked over:

"To appreciate these skills and some of the difficulties involved, you might wish to do an experiment. Try sitting alone in a room with a clock, turning on a tape recorder, and starting to speak into it. Speak about anything you want — with the proviso that your topic, and your opinions on it, must be of interest to some group of strangers who you imagine will be listening to the tape. Naturally, in order to be even minimally interesting, your remarks should be intelligible and their reasoning sequential — a listener will have to be able to follow the logic of what you're saying — which means that you will have to know enough about your topic to organize your statements in a coherent way. (But you cannot do much of this organizing beforehand; it has to occur at the same time you're speaking. Plus, ideally, what you're saying should be not just comprehensible and interesting but compelling, stimulating, which means that your remarks have to provoke and sustain some kind of emotional reaction in the listeners, which in turn will require you to construct some kind of identifiable persona for yourself — your comments will need to strike the listener as coming from an actual human being. Someone with a real personality and real feelings about whatever it is you're discussing. And it gets even trickier: You're trying to communicate in real time with someone you cannot see or hear responses from; and though you're communicating in speech, your remarks cannot have any of the fragmentary, repetitive, garbled qualities of real interhuman speech, or speech's ticcy unconscious "umm"s or "you know"s, or false starts or stutters or long pauses while you try to think of how to phrase what you want to say next. You're also, of course, denied the physical inflections that are so much a part of spoken English — the facial expressions, changes in posture, and symphony of little gestures that accompany and buttress real talking. Everything unspoken about you, your topic, and how you feel about it has to be conveyed through pitch, volume, tone, and pacing. The pacing is especially important: it can't be too slow, since that's low-energy and dull, but it can't be too rushed or it will sound like babbling. And so you have somehow to keep all these different imperatives and structures in mind at the same time, while also filling exactly, say, eleven minutes, with no dead air and no going over, such that at 10:46 you have wound things up neatly and are in a position to say, "KFI is the station with the most frequent traffic reports. Alan LaGreen is in the KFI Traffic Center" (which, to be honest, Mr. Z. sometimes leaves himself only three or even two seconds for and has to say extremely fast, which he can always do without a flub. So then, ready: go" (58-59).

You have to start with an interesting topic. I at times have a hard time finding a topic to write about as a writer as is, so finding one that I can expound on at a moment's notice is not any easier. The being alone part does not bother me, since writing is a solitary act. True, there will be readers if you share your work, but when you do the writing itself, it is a very solitary act. Also, in writing, you can go back and revise and edit in order to have a better piece of writing, one that is interesting and well written. In talk radio, much of this process is impossible because the host has to think on his feet, say it, then as he is saying it, make sure he keeps track of what he is saying so it sounds coherent, and he is on the spot, so if he makes a mistake, there is no opportunity to fix it. Add to it that you have to provoke an emotional reaction so that callers and listeners will respond to you. And then there is the fact that you have to do all of it through your voice. There aren't any nonverbal cues or facial expressions to help you convey what you want nor any cues from an audience to help you see if you are on the right track or not. Regardless of where one stands politically, whether one likes or hates talk radio, one has to admit it takes a complex set of skills to make it work. It is kind of admirable in a way how they can synchronize all those elements into something coherent.

The article itself runs over 20 pages, so take time out to read it. I had to read it in bits and pieces over a few days since I have other duties, but it was well worth it. I am also making a note of this article because some of our Freshman Composition classes have a unit in their textbook on Clear Channel Communications and on the issue of media consolidation. The article would make a nice supplement to the readings in their text, and I am guessing it could prove useful to a student or two when they write their research papers.