Monday, January 30, 2006

Article Note: On Library Instruction and Peer Planning

Article citation:

Finley, Priscilla, et. al. "Enhancing Library Instruction with Peer Planning." Reference Services Review 33.1 (2005): 112-122.

I read the article on Emerald.

Even though this article applies to a larger academic setting than mine, I still found it useful. Some of the teaching ideas presented are things I could try in my practice, and other ideas may be helpful if I find myself doing peer planning.

The article describes a program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where a library enhancement team works with other librarians interested in improving their teaching craft. "Changes in the librarians' classrooms focused more on hands-on, active learning techniques, as well as teaching sessions with colleagues" (113). Participation in this program is voluntary, and it does not factor into the evaluation of teaching that the head of instruction does at the UNLV library. This is different from my situation where we do not have a separate instruction department. You would be looking at it if you met me, and I do "outsource" in the sense our other librarians do share in teaching some classes. What I mean is we do not have four to six librarians dedicated to instruction. However, there are insights from this article that can be useful for all campuses regardless of size.

Some notes from the literature review:
  • "Levene and Frank emphasize that peer coaching is a powerful process available for bibliographic instruction librarians who want to analyze and further develop their teaching skills" (113).
  • "Peer coaching librarians can experiment with new teaching techniques, polish already established skills, offer support where failures occur, and provide opportunities for reflection. The working relationship of the coaching pair offers an opportunity to prevent classroom isolation and build supportive partnerships" (113).
I will say that in some ways I see my teaching as the acts of a lone wolf. On the one hand, I am very demanding with myself, and if a class needs to be done, I'd rather do it myself. On the other hand, I can be surprisingly (to myself) very peer supportive. My classroom is always open if anyone wants to come in and observe. Someone wants a lesson plan or suggestions in and out of the classroom, and I am more than happy to provide. Maybe the wolf has a soft spot. I do think that someday I could make a good library school professor, but that would mean getting a doctorate (if I want something tenure track) and likely leaving library work. These are two things I don't see myself doing anytime soon. Then again, there is always adjunct work. Some of the best teachers I had in library school were adjuncts: practicing librarians who taught a class or two. Some did it for the extra income, but I am sure some did it as their way to give back to the profession. This might make a better scenario for me. But I am disgressing. In the instances when I have experienced peer coaching, it is indeed a powerful experience when it works. As a learner, it's great when you can learn from an experienced practitioner. As a mentor, it can be exciting to see someone blossom and grow.
  • "Daniels and Jurena (1997) found that is advantageous to have two librarians teaching a research course because two different teaching styles have a better chance of matching the varied learning styles of students" (114).
  • "Some general characteristics commonly associated with active learning include the following: students are involved in more than listening; less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing students' skills; and students are engaged in activities, such as writing or searching databases (Keyser, 200)" (114).
I mostly make note of quotes like these for myself. They are things I think are important that I want to remember. This article has a good share of little reminders about teaching. For example:
"When planning a class session, instructors should attempt to answer the following questions:
  • What are my desired learning outcomes?
  • What do I want my students to learn?
  • How am I going to get the students where they need to go?" (115)
Now, advice like that is found in many teacher education books. Any experienced teacher can give you a version of this. But this is the sort of advice that librarians need, especially if they have limited or no teaching experience. The authors mention this in the context of the opening discussions for their project.

I liked the next line because it is something I always work towards in my classes. The authors place it as part of their guidelines for lesson planning brainstorms, but it applicable to teaching in general. They write, "Encourage a problem solving approach. Keep coming back to the idea that it's not what we need to teach the students but what the students need to learn/do/know that is central. Then think about how we can facilitate this learning" (116). When I schedule a session, one of the things I always ask is "what do you need your students to learn or know?" I get more often than not the usual about showing some databases and mention about evaluating websites. I know that those professors (some at least) likely have some specific goals and ideas, but they need to practice expressing those goals and objectives. Regardless, I aim to teach the students what they will need with a sprinkling of why they will need it.

The article provides a complete presentation of the program from planing to implementation to assessment. Overall, it is a good guide for similar programs.

Booknote: Ultimate Spider-Man, vol. 4: Legacy

Title: Ultimate Spider-Man, vol. 4: Legacy
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Art Thiebert
Publication Information: New York: Marvel, 2004
ISBN: 0-7851-0968-4
Genre: Graphic Novels
Subgenre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

For those who keep track, this is a compilation that collects Ultimate Spider-Man #22-26. In this volume, Peter Parker, a teen is still struggling with the fact he has the powers that make him Spider-Man. He has just defeated Dr. Octopus, and he thinks maybe things will settle down. However, when the Green Goblin reappears and threatens not only his family, but to expose his secret identity, he knows that he needs to act. The art is colorful; I would say the quality is excellent. The story is good and entertaining as well. Since it is part of a series, it makes you want to read more. I will probably seek the rest in the series. For a casual reader like me, I remember some of the older comics where Spider-Man seems more adult, and his body build reflects that. In this series, he is a teenager, so the hero seems a bit smaller, to me at least. Having said that, the story is so good that a reader like me forgets that. I think this hero and series will have a high appeal to young adults. Peter Parker is a teen struggling with many of the issues any other teen trying to figure out his place in the world faces. Even with his great powers, he gets picked on in school and strives to keep up with school work and a social life like any other teen. He has the appeal of an everyman, or should I say "everyteen." My only bias comes from the fact I am not as a big a fan of Spider-Man as I am of X-Men and other heroes. I did enjoy this series very much. It is appealing; it is well drawn, and it has a story that readers can relate to, especially young adults. For readers who like some intrigue as well, a certain secret agent makes an appearance. Overall, I recommend this compilation.

By the way, in writing these notes for graphic novels, and in reading about RA in this area, I have noticed that knowing names of artists does make a difference. So I am trying to include as much as I can, even if some volumes do not always make this information as handy. We'll see how it works.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Booknote: Star Wars: Dark Lord

Title: Star Wars: Dark Lord--The Rise of Darth Vader
Author: James Luceno
Publication Information: New York: Ballantine Books, 2005
322 pages.
ISBN: 0-345-47732-4
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

I will start by saying that I don't read too many Star Wars novels. When the trend started with Timothy Zahn's novels, the trilogy set right after the original movies, a few years back I read those with pleasure. They were very well written. However, like many novels based on an established franchise (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.), the quality afterwards seemed erratic. You can find some very good novels and some very bad ones (or at least poorly written). I tend to get selective if I pick up one of these. I will add that I am a Star Wars fan (casual, I don't dress up, nor can I recite technical specs from vehicles or such). At any rate, I was curious about this new novel on Darth Vader. At the time I checked my public library's catalog, it was checked out. I placed a hold on it, and at the time, I was told that I was fourth in the cue. I figured it would take about a month for me to get the book. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the e-mail notice to go pick it up a couple of days later.

Overall, the book is a very light read, which is one of the strengths of novels in this genre. You can get some good entertaining escapism when you get a good one, and this one was good. I read this in two days, and I have to note that I am not a fast reader. I read it at a good clip. This is the story of how Darth Vader rose to power, and it is set shortly after the events of the Episode 3 film. I won't give away the ending, but it does lead nicely into the next three films (or is it previous films?). The novel has a good pace, and for fans looking for insight into Vader's character, this is highly recommended. It is a good entertaining reading. If you like Star Wars, this is a novel for you. If you are at least mildly curious about Vader's character, this is a novel for you as well.

On an aside note, I discovered from the list in the inside cover that James Luceno was one of the authors who wrote the Robotech series under the pen name of Jack McKinney. For me, this was icing on the cake as I was reading the Robotech series as I graduated from high school and was starting college. I may see if I find other novels by Luceno since I enjoyed that series very much. To me at least, a nice moment of serendipity.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Booknote: JLA: Riddle of the Beast

Title: JLA: Riddle of the Beast
Writer: Alan Grant. Various artists.
Publication Information: New York: DC Comics, 2001.
ISBN: 1-56389-873-X
104 pages
Genre: Graphic novel
Subgenre: Fantasy

I think that readers of Marvel 1602 might like this work, even if involves DC heroes rather than Marvel heroes. See my note on Gaiman's graphic novel here. Both works share in common the concept of taking popular superheroes and placing them in alternate places or times. Gaiman uses a historical setting (Elizabethan times) whereas Grant uses a fantasy setting. JLA: Riddle of the Beast is closer to stories by writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan.

The plot is a basic quest story of a young boy facing his heroic destiny. I don't say that in a negative way; I say it to help readers get a quick sense of what the tale is about. It is a good story, and it is one familiar to readers in the fantasy genre. The art is very good. The strength of the work in terms of art is that each chapter of the graphic novel is done by a different artist. It's like getting a series of works in one volume. The result of this technique is that readers get to see different styles; these styles integrate very well to the story. In addition, the lands in the story are different, so the different styles help to enhance this as the characters travel. I think this is a very neat technique. I am not aware others novels do this, but I will be on the lookout. Overall, this is a work I recommend. I think fantasy readers as well as comics fans will enjoy it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A little more on book lists and reading

Mark Lindner recently posted "The books I read last year post." He also wrote a reply to my post "The 50 Book Challenge? A little on book lists." As it often happens with a good and interesting idea, what started out as a comment to another post kept getting a bit longer. So I am replying to Mark's post here. When I posted my list post, I had no idea there was a "thing" that went around every year. Then again, I have not been blogging for a year yet, so maybe that was part of my lack of awareness in that regard. Can such ventures be narcissistic? Probably, especially if it becomes a spectator sport, but then again who is anyone who does this to call anyone else narcissistic?

So why did I do it? Make my reading list public that is. For a long time, I've kept some track in my journals of the books I read, but it was nothing shared. In the end, I think I did it for whimsy. I'd liked to think that maybe the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security will see it and get pissed, but I don't think I read anything terribly dangerous last year. Hmm, I may need to work on that this year.

Glad to hear you tagged some books Mark. That's the beauty and the rub of lists. You can always (strive to) get to them later. If you do get to some of them, I would love to read your impressions. And then there are the thousands of books unread. As the saying goes, "so many books, so little time." This means we make choices when it comes to our reading, well, in regards to our pleasure reading at least. Maybe we can look at these reading lists as paths, as the trail that a reader follows in their reading and literacy life. I hinted at this in my previous post but allow me to expand the idea a bit more. Around the time I was headed to do the National Writing Project, I had to write a literacy narrative, which in very simple terms, is an autobiographical story of your literacy. I may some day dig it up, see how I have changed and post a form of it here. Anyhow, I wonder now as I write this if for some people such lists could be a form of literacy narrative: this is where I have been; these are the thoughts and ideas that engaged, interested, challenged me; these are hints of who I am and where I would like to go. Some might say I may be reading a bit much into lists, but what if. . .? What if we asked some of those readers about their lists, about their choices, about what they remember? What if, for instance, we looked at the reading choices of librarians, or other people? Just a thought, but maybe one worth exploring. Another way to look at it can be the rise of social booklists sites. Maybe some of those could be a primary source to begin asking and answering such questions.

Is about the inner readers' advisor? I don't know. While I can certainly see myself doing RA in a public library, I would need to read more in the genres of fiction. Reading The Very Virile Viking is not necessarily my idea of fun. Although this particular title seems like fun. One of my classmates read it for our Adult RA class during our discussion of romance novels. We all giggled about it, but she gave it a good booktalk. Overall, what I find neat about RA is bringing readers together, like helping someone on their journey. If I did not do what I do now, RA and reference work in a public library might have been my next choice for a vocation. At any rate Mark, you might have a little RA in you, if the way you write about books and some articles is any indication. In the end though, as Joseph Campbell would say, you have to follow your own bliss. Or, if you prefer pop culture, as Mr. Spock told Captain Kirk, "Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material" (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, see this and other Star Trek quotes here). When that librarian told me, "you know, I think you'd make a good librarian," I knew I was on my way to my best destiny, but that is another story.

Booknote: Superman: True Brit

Title: Superman: True Brit
Writers: Kim "Howard" Johnson and John Cleese
Artists: John Byrne, Mark Farmer, and Alex Bleyaert
Publication Information: New York: DC Comics, 2004
ISBN: 1-4012-0022-2
Genre: Graphic novels
Subgenres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Humor

What would happen if Superman had landed in England and was raised by very proper English parents who emphasized that it was not proper to stand out in a crowd? One answer is this very funny graphic novel. Colin Clark grows up to become a tabloid reporter while doing his best to keep his powers a secret. After all, his parents are worried about what will the neighbors think. However, you can't keep a good hero down even if his heroics don't always work out perfectly. The tale features great humor. The art is colorful and bright, reinforcing the humor in the story. For readers who want an entertaining work, this is recommended. I think Superman fans may appreciate the humorous take on the well-known tale of Krypton's son. Definitely not something to take seriously. I highly recommend it as I really enjoyed it both for the story as well as its small pokes at British society. I also think readers will enjoy the ending, a nice little twist I won't give away.

Friday, January 20, 2006

On backstage tours

I read about this idea of backstage tour back in November 2005 at Wanderings of a Student Librarian, and I saved it on my Bloglines clips to ponder about it later. Well, this seems as a good a time as any to ponder. We don't do an open library orientation per se, but a lot of the introductory classes often request a "basic library orientation." Some of those classes will request an actual tour of the library as well. What I often do is combine some classroom instruction with a tour that gives some highlights of the major areas in our library (circulation, reference, the collections). They do see where the reference office is, but we have a shared office, so they actually see where the librarians are at along with the ILL operation since we share our space with them. Technical Services, given the way our library is built, is pretty much restricted access in the sense I could not just walk in there with 25 students or so. It has one entrance down a narrow hallway, which makes tours impractical. The second entrance that leads to the periodicals collection is locked. But would it not be nice if we could show students, "this is what happens when we order a book, and it comes in." Being a small library means that Technical Services is a personal operation. I mean this in the sense that we do not have armies of assistants. What we do have is some very good library students and some good library assistant workers. It's their space. I am not sure I could tell our Assistant Director of Technical Services, "hey, I am bringing a bunch of young students just to see where the operation takes place." Our building is not quite set up for that, but I do really love the idea of showing them how things work. Technical Services are such an important part of what we do. My cataloguing professor used to remind us that cataloguing is a public service. I know they make my work possible. But I am sure there has to be some way around this, some way to give students a glimpse of what else happens in our library besides the visible parts. I am intrigued by the possibilities, so for now, I will think it over. Odds are I may revisit this idea.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Top Ten Reasons to Read Narrative Nonfiction

This comes from Burgin's Nonfiction Readers' Advisory. Readers can find my note on the book here. I just liked this list, so I am putting it here to share with others as well as to have it for myself. Any parenthetical references come from the Burgin book. The list itself is on page 215.

"Top Ten Reasons to Read Narrative Fiction"

  • To indulge your curiosity.
  • Because real-life stories can be as exciting as fiction.
  • Because it "bridges those connections between events that have taken place and imbues them with meaning and emotion" (Nieman Foundation, 2000).
  • Because you have a personal or emotional connection with the subject matter.
  • To be inspired, touched, moved, or entertained (Goudsblom 2000).
  • Because it makes history come to life.
  • To learn something new, be challenged intellectuallym or be exposed to new ideas.
  • Because it transports you to another time or place.
  • Because the quality of the writing often rivals the best fiction.
  • Vicarious experiences--you don't have to climb Mount Everest yourself!
Why would you read narrative nonfiction? I know I have a few reasons myself, what are yours? And if you don't read nonfiction, why not take a chance then?

Something on L2

Ok, so that was about the best title I could come up for a label that to be honest is making me sick. If you are like me, sick of the label and hype, you can stop reading now. Believe me, you won't offend me because as of late I am avoiding much of the Library 2.0 discussion (if it can be called "discussion"). I finally read Walt Crawford's essay from Cites & Insights entitled "Library 2.0 and 'Library 2.0.'" I have been putting it off. I am a bit exhausted by the term. I know that it will either pass, or something will come to pass. Either way, the news will spread, and I will find out, and if there is something useful, I'll learn it and put it to use if I can. When I started blogging, and more importantly, trying to keep up with the many ideas librarians and information professionals share, this is not quite what I envisioned. At any rate, I am reading Walt's document, and much of this I wrote as I was reading, so in a way, it is not exactly the neatest document because I am somewhere between trying to make sense of things to myself and trying to stay away. I read his work because I respect the author, and I know I will find something interesting and thoughtful. The fact that he has basically provided a history to this whole L2 meme with a good critique is just a bonus. I also read it because more and more people are referring to the document, so it's about time I find out.

Like Walt, after a while, I needed an overview of what has been said, preferably an overview not written from Mount Ubertechno or from Luddite Valley. I don't see this forthcoming other than Walt's piece (at least not with the systematic attempt to cover the voices and what they said). So, in reading this, I am not sure what it is I am looking for. I guess I like the concepts of technology and service, but I dislike the bandwagon.

Walt writes about public libraries and the push to make them primary information centers. Yet public libraries are so much more. Sure, they provide information; they should be especially good at local information. I cannot thank enough my local branch that got me the information on registering my vehicle, the local schools, etc. when I was moving into town. They also let me check my e-mail with just an ID. Maybe we should be looking more at libraries as places: places to come together, places to get some good reading and A/V, places where you can get good information from experts. This last is not emphasized enough. Anyone can pull up information from the Internet, assuming they have access to it. Now, whether that information is good or not, relevant or not to the patron's needs is the real question. I don't visit my local branch as much as I could, but knowing such a welcoming place is there is very reassuring. Is this community mission not part of L2? I wonder. Am I asking the wrong question? As some bloggers have pointed out, some of these philosophies are not new, well at least the service part. I could be wrong, but for me it simply goes back to how do I serve my community. The rest is just details.

Walt's observations on IM versus VR made me think. He writes,

"I am inclined to believe that using IM for online reference is a good thing (presumably alongside email, phone, and in-person reference for persons with different needs and preferences)--but, you know, virtual reference was a Movement not all that long ago."
He suggests then we should look at any bandwagon carefully before committing. This resonates with me because I have a very open philosophy with my students when it comes to them asking for help. In-person, phone, e-mail are all open. Heck, if smoke signals worked for them, I would learn how to send them too. I have been giving thought to making my IM public to them. Not that I am expecting a sudden influx. I just see it as another way to be available. Yet to some this is something I should have done sooner, after all, according to Michael Casey, one of the defining moments of L2 is that 2005 was the tipping point for IM. I may be running behind.

I find it interesting to read the 62 points of view. They are diverse, and they are often opposites. Going on the basis of those lines, I don't see much of the overview or distillation I was looking for, not that we should expect one. Some of the views are disturbing; others make sense; still other views are more alienating. Maybe it's like a Zen thing, go with the flow or let it flow around you kind of thing, like a stone and a river. I certainly don't have the answer. Maybe I don't need an answer. Maybe I need to know if it (whatever "it" is) works and how it will help me assist my students and academic community better. Seems simple enough, well, to a simple librarian like me anyways.

I have to chuckle when Walt ponders, "I guess wanting to contemplate something in print form is awfully old fashioned." I chuckle because there is a lot I contemplate in print: articles, lesson plans, drafts for pieces I write (such as this one), books, and so on. If that is old fashioned, then so be it. I'll just say that there is something about writing the old fashioned way, making notes, etc. Pondering that may be a short reflection someday, but for now, I'll just say it works for me.

Maybe to a measure, this is part of what bothers me: the confrontation. As Walt asks, "why is it necessary to denigrate current service offerings in order to suggest new ones? How about saying 'We're doing great for some people. Can we reach others with appropriate library services within our resources?'" (emphasis in the original). Unfortunately, our profession has some who would easily denigrate their own colleagues if they are not keeping up fast enough. I made a note on that here if anyone is interested. I think we can do many wonderful things with new tools, but is providing books really so behind the times? As an educator, I am all for improvement and innovation, but I also see value in the things that actually work already. Yes, there is room for improvement, but we should also be taking pride in the things we do well.

Maybe a part of me is just rebelling. I am not very appreciative of experts (with or without quotation marks) telling me what to do, especially when they expect you to do it because they say so. "This is it, be with it or get dumped on the ditch of the information superhighway." This meme seems to be getting more of this vibe. Even the cases where some people want to be conciliatory, I get the impression they do it with gritted teeth. It's just an impression from the trenches.

I'll disagree with Walt on him not being sure that L2 can be parodied. I think it's just waiting to happen. If Web 2.0 is already being parodied, as this example shows, L2 cannot be far behind. Actually, this meme is just asking to be parodied, and it is a pity I am not the one to do it. Not one of my gifts I am afraid, but I have faith it will happen. If it happened to ALA'a Read Campaign, it sure can happen to L2. I am just wondering who would sue who if a parody happened.

So, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, what bothers me? The confrontational tone. The apparent fact that much of the movement seems to leave a lot of people behind. While librarianship often talks about equal access, much of L2, and Web 2.0, assumes what Blyberg calls permaconnected. Here is a question: what good is it for me to have the latest CD or DVD burner in a public library if I lack the technology to use what I created at home or on the road? This is just one question. There are similar questions that are not getting asked, or simply conveniently tossed aside, in the rush to have the latest in the bandwagon. The hype also bothers me, but hype has a way to pass. What's to like? I like the new tools and ideas, even if they seem to be proliferating faster than a bunch of rabbits, and some of it proliferating with a high redundancy. I mean, how many more social bookmarkers do we need? Choice is a good thing, but after a while, one cannot learn every single tool. I sure as heck ain't opening a new account on yet another bookmarker or other tool just because it is the hip thing to do. Show me it actually works, and I may look. If I am convinced, I may even pass it along. I also like the philosophy, if it can be called that, of striving to be better and to serve others better. It seems like such a simple philosophy, and yet some make such a fuss over it. I have not found any deep wisdom, but it was interesting to read Walt's compilation and reflection. Anyhow, I don't know about the rest of you, but I am headed back to my trench.

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

--Richard Feynman, U.S. Educator and Physicist

"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."

--Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

"A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization."

--Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Revisiting Nonfiction RA

I mentioned in my note to Burgin's Nonfiction Readers' Advisory that one of the reasons I read it was a practical one. Our university offers two Reading classes, which are basic skills classes. Every semester so far, I get some students from those classes looking for "a good book to read." The book cannot be a novel or fiction. As a result, one of the projects I started working on was a list of nonfiction works. I am not quite sure what I will do with the lists at this point. I made two lists: an annotate list and a second list of additional titles. The list features books that we have at our campus library. I did not include books in the other campuses of our system because these students usually want a book in their hands right away. As I did my search for items, I found many titles I wish we had, so I may be placing some orders soon.

As for the lists, one idea was to simply put them at the Information Desk for the other librarians to consult them if they need a little memory jog. My other idea was to add the list(s) to the library guides we offer, and let the students and other readers help themselves. I am sure there are other recreational readers out there who would appreciate such a list. While I was writing the draft for the annotated list, I had another idea. What if I made the guide into a wiki? That way, the list would be easy to modify and to add new titles over time, maybe even add brief review notes on items from other readers, and it would be online. The catch for me, so to speak, is that I may not have the space on our pages to do it (I definitely need to investigate this option further). While I could just used a Web-based individual account, I am not sure if I am ready for that step, not to mention the possibility of linking from our Web pages to something that may not appear as "official." Then again, considering that getting my own space on the campus servers to even put my own webpage up, which I have been wanting to do since I arrived here, has basically been an uphill battle (All I want is the space. I already know how to code basic pages and how to transfer materials. Heck, with good tools, I don't even have to code.), basically creating my own things outside of the system and giving the students links in my BI sessions and consultations is very appealing right about now. At any rate, I may create an account for one of those free wiki services anyhow, since I have been wanting to experiment with this. We'll see how things move along. For now, I may just make the list available locally somehow, and I will try to find some time to experiment.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday: Celebrating the Dream

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

-From Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech, speech given in Washington D.C. after the completion of the civil rights march, 1963.

It's a dream that many of us hold on to and a dream we hope to achieve some day. And yet, this day reminds us that there is still much work to be done for the dream to come true. It's the third Monday in January, and in the United States it is a federal holiday observing the birthday of civil rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The Dewey Blog has the summary of where in the DDC works on Martin Luther King, Jr. fall, so go find a few. And let's continue to work to make the dream come true.

Update note 1/18/2006: A Wandering Eyre provided this link to a site on segregation and the work of Martin Luther King. It is definitely worth a look. You can find the site here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Booknote: Nonfiction Readers' Advisory

Title: Nonfiction Readers' Advisory
Various authors, edited by Robert Burgin
Publication Information: Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004
ISBN: 1-59158-115-X
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, readers' advisory, reading

I got a lot out of this book, so my readers will find a couple of other posts referring to this book in the next week or so. Mostly some brief things I started thinking about from reading the book. I just saw this note was going to be very long, so I decided to split the draft into separate posts to make it easy on readers as well as help me see some things better. Now, on to the note.

The only thing I wish this book had was more book lists of good nonfiction. However, that aside, this book provides an excellent overview and guide to readers' advisory for nonfiction readers. I wanted to read this book for various reasons. First, I wanted to keep up my knowledge of RA. Second, I read a lot of nonfiction for pleasure. I especially enjoy history and microhistories, but I explore other areas as well. My third reason for reading this book is a bit more practical, and it has to do with some reading courses the university offers. I will be making a note on that next time.

The book is divided in four parts, and it contains a total of twelve chapters written by different contributors. The four parts look at history of RA and nonfiction, materials, readers, and practical advice. I found particularly valuable the discussions of appeal factors, the genres within nonfiction, and some of the practical advice. For those interested in librarianship history, , the historical sections may be interesting. I read them, but I could have skipped through those because a lot of the material is stuff I saw during my RA classes in library school. I do think they provide a good context overall.

I am going to make some specific notes from the book, some quotes and some of my ideas/responses to them. They are kind of reminders for me of things I would like to keep track of. For readers just wanting my conclusion, they can skip the bullet points and go to the end of the post. By the way, each chapter does include a list of references for further reading on the topic of nonfiction RA; these lists often include websites. However, with the exception of Chapter 10, there are no lists of the actual works.

  • From Chapter 3, some broad nonfiction categories: biography, memoir, history, contemporary issues. Other categories are science writing, sports, food and travel.
  • Nonfiction "shares with fiction the appeal factors that have been set forth in the library and information science literature, including Characterization, Pacing, Story Line, Setting, and Use of Language" (75). I had those four concepts practically drilled into me when I was taking my Adult RA class. Actually, they can be quite helpful to quickly evaluate a book.
  • From Chapter 5, reasons that A/V materials are not fully utilized in libraries: unfamiliarity with formats, lack of reference sources about these materials, and some difficulties with access (use of linear tape vs a CD or DVD) (88). The chapter does provide some good resources to address the need for reference sources including the Internet Movie Database and Video Librarian.
  • Chapter 6 looks at what motivates nonfiction readers. The material is based on actual interviews with readers. Some example of the open-ended questions asked of the interviewees:
    • "How do you choose a book to read for pleasure?"
    • "Are there types of books that you do not enjoy and would not choose?" (emphasis in original)
    • "What are you currently reading?"
    • "Has there ever been a book that has made a big difference to your life in one way or another?" (106). Actually, I wrote an answer to this question in March of last year. Readers can find it here.
  • Chapter 6 also gives 13 observations about nonfiction readers. Number one was "many readers read BOTH fiction and nonfiction for pleasure" (107). I will only say that this sounds self-evident, and it applies to me personally. Number four was "some readers reported that nonfiction was easier than fiction to read when you are more likely to be interrupted" (109). I am finding this to be true from my commuting experience. I tend to prefer reading novels at home, often before bedtime, because they do require a higher degree of immersion. Nonfiction tends to be easier to pick up and drop as needed. However, I will note that I have seen some people reading novels on the commute. My guess is they must have a higher level of concentration than I have (or they just prefer fiction). I do see a good share of people who read nonfiction as well. For instance, Joel Osteen's book Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential was very popular last couple of months. Anyhow, my observations on the commute are strictly anecdotal, but I wonder if it might make an interesting follow-up study to look at reading habits of commuters. Observation number eleven is "part of the joy of reading is serendipitous discovery" (115). This is very true for me. Very often I pick nonfiction titles to read on the basis they seem interesting, something different, on a chance than actually looking for something specific.
  • Chapter 12 provides a genre list, which is better defined than the categories on Chapter 3. Each genre includes three to five titles to illustrate. This chapter also contains a good list of resource websites, some of which I added to my RA bookmarks. The genres listed are: biography, autobiography, memoirs and diaries, true crime, travelogues or books with a strong sense of place, medicine, journalistic reportage or exposés of social issues, essays or short true stories, humor, overcoming adversity, adventure, disaster or survival, history, microhistories, science, technology and inventions. I am sure other RA experts may add or remove categories. I personally found this more useful in terms of defining a scope of nonfiction for pleasure reading in a concise way.
Overall, I recommend the book. New librarians coming to RA will get much use out of it. It should probably be featured in RA classes in library schools. If I was teaching RA, I would ask my students to have it, at least as an optional text (I am being cost conscious). The book works best when readers scan for what they need, which I think is what practicing librarians will do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's Christmas All Year, To me anyways (watching Polar Express on DVD helps)

This is just a quick note. The Collection Development Librarian brought me our new copy of The Polar Express to watch for verification (making sure it plays and works before processing it). I will say up front that I am not one for Christmas movies. I love the season, and I share the sense of wonder. The little bell definitely rings very loudly for me (if you watched the movie, you know what I mean. If not, go get it). However, when it comes to the films of the season, I pretty much hate the sentimentality, and in some cases, the plain stupidity (sorry, Christmas Story to me is probably the [insert choice epithets here] crock I have seen) in the majority of these films.

Having said all this, I am adding Polar Express to my list of favorite films. This I can definitely watch over and over. I found it to be a well made movie technically. It's amazing how they use computers to capture people so well. The soundtrack is great as well, a nice combination of classics and new (I do like Christmas music, so they got me there too). The movie went fast, which I guess is a good sign. I got lost in it. The two disc set we bought here includes the film on one disc and a variety of extras on the other (making of the movie, what most people expect, as well as a demo to a PC game and an online element). Overall, this is one film I would definitely recommend, and this coming from a guy who dislikes Christmas films (well, most of them. I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas for one. The animated one, not the more recent one). Now that the person tasked with watching these new things is back, I am not sure how many more I will get to see, but hey, it was nice.

Brief note on Educause Live's Presentation on ECAR Survey

On Monday (01/09/06), I hooked up to listen to the Educause Live! event "The ECAR 2005 Study of Students and Information Technology." I was waiting for the archive to become available before posting. You can find the archive to the event here. Some of the stuff I heard in terms of what the students do with technology were things I knew instinctively. The conference served to confirm some of those hunches. The ECAR survey is based on 18,039 students at 63 higher education institutions replying to questions about information technology, their skills with information technology, and how it adds to their learning. Here then are just some brief notes and thoughts.

  • We often assume that students come in with the skills in IT. Is this really true or not? How much skill do they actually bring? The survey looks at ownership of computers for instance and how the students see themselves in terms of their IT skills. However, as I listened to the conference, I found the survey seems to favor traditional institutions and traditional students. My campus, an open admissions commuter campus defined as a Hispanic serving institution, certainly is very different from those other institutions. We get traditional students, but we also get a significant older/nontraditional population. For many of our students, for instance, their only access to broadband/fast internet connection may well be our facilities. They may or not own a computer at home, and often if they do, they have dial-up. I know, I am sure a lot of readers cringe at the mention of dial-up, but that is the reality. So, I wondered about this issue of access.
  • A finding from the survey: Students like to manage their own learning experience. This is illustrated by their desire to see their academic progress and grades online.
  • According to the survey, 96% of the students own a computer. Over 90% have access to broadband. Freshmen are more likely to have laptops and music devices. A question was asked by a participant, "where was the broadband?" Actually, I had this question as well (see my comment above on access). The survey currently does not answer this; it does not distinguish between access to broadband on campus and off campus. I would have liked to know this. Also, could the ownership rate vary by the type of campus. Again, the access issue. On an interesting note, there was a comment that many students who do own technology often own appliances they no longer use, for instance, updgrade to a new computer and not get rid of the old one, or they have two or three cellphones over time as they get a new one but keep the old ones inactive.
  • Finding from the survey: In terms of electronic devices, they were first used for coursework, then for communication. Specialized applications (spreadsheets, presentation, graphics, etc.) are used less. As I type this, I have to be a little sceptical. Just based on my observations at the Information Desk of the computer lab, I see a lot more students either using things like MySpace (there is the communication aspect) or playing games (Yahoo! Games seems quite popular). Sure, they may eventually get to the academic coursework, but I don't think they are as diligent as they portray themselves. Having said that, they do make use of the course management software and seem to like it.
  • Finding from the survey: Students spend less than an hour a week using a library resource for an assignment. You do have to wonder about the significance of this and implications for libraries. Amazingly, in my estimation, none of the participants remarked on this. This finding does add a bit to the scepticism I expressed above.
  • Another observation is that students overall are averse to training. They prefer "on time at the point of need" training.
  • In terms of recommendations, there is a need in institutions to discuss the integration of IT into the curriculum. There should be asking of questions like how?, how much?, and what exactly do we want the students to achieve? Also, institutions need to monitor the use of technology (not in the surveillance sense, but in the sense of its use) in order to do assessment on what they implement. Assessment would seem to me to be the next area of study.
Overall, this was a useful hour for me. I would definitely recommend other workshops and urge people to connect if they find a topic relevant to their work or professional development. I did have a small connection glitch for a couple of minutes, but overall, a good use of my time.

The 50 Book Challenge? A little on book lists

I got the heads-up about the 50 Book Challenge via the Eclectic Librarian. Now that I am out of graduate school, I am slowly discovering that I can actually read for enjoyment. Sure, I read a lot of stuff related to my work and academic interests, but it is stuff I want to read, for pleasure, for fun, hey, for the many reasons readers read. A while back, way back, I came across the Listology website, which allows people to create lists of books and other media. Compared to other things out there, I think it is not the greatest, but at the time it worked for me. I started out a list of books read, and I somehow managed to keep track of my reading last year. Those interested in my list of 73 items can go here to see it (I included links to the ones I have blog entries to). Overall, looking at the list I see I read a pretty good selection, good variety. The list is pretty much just books. By the way, it is only the books I read; it does not include the ones I may have started and dropped (I am a firm believer in a reader's right not to finish a book). Might be interesting to make a list of articles, or not. That's what the blogs are for, just to keep track. Will I keep a list in this new year? Who knows? I may, but I am certainly not in it for the numbers. Though, hey, if we happen to read 74 next year, that would be a good thing.

At any rate, I am always interested in reading lists. I collect them, have a few files. Some for RA purposes, but others for personal use, mostly for just in case I need an idea on what to read next. I also like seeing what other people read. I think people's reading lists can be very revealing about a person. Maybe this is why some people worry over others finding out what they read. But leaving that aside, I think the lists people post in various forms show the paths and journeys readers have taken over time. It may be to alien worlds or to down to earth places; it could be meetings with famous people or the not so famous. So many journeys, so many possibilities. I always like seeing in blogs when people put up the lists of what they are reading or planning on reading. Some even put the music they are listening too or the videos they are watching. I am not as keen on sharing the movies or shows I watch. Compared to other writers, I don't see myself as a good commenter in that regard. However, it is still interesting to see the variety of books and media that bloggers inside and out of the biblioblogosphere read. Maybe it's an essay or study waiting to be produced, again who knows? In the meantime, I am looking forward to a new year of more readings and seeing what others discover as well.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Jaime Bayly says revenge is a good literary stimulus

Peruvian writer Jaime Bayly was interviewed for the December 2005 issue of Críticas. I think the interview gives a few good insights for writers and readers. The interview addresses his new work as well other issues. I really found this question and answer particularly neat:

“My best revenge is to publish novels that embarrass my father,” says Beltrán [a character in Bayly's new novel Y de repente un ángel]. Is revenge a good literary stimulus?

"Yes, of course. Writing means nothing else than avenging the wounds, defeats, and torments that life has inflicted on you. Writing is revenge because it allows you to relive the past and to experience, in fiction, those things that reality took away from you. But writing is also redemption because it liberates you from your worst demons. You make amends for your wrongdoings and, in a way, after so much agony, you feel renewed."

I dabble a little in fiction, nothing worth showing the world, but even in my creative nonfiction and other writing experiences, I can agree that you can relive the past and experience things reality may have taken from you. The best thing is that redemptive power of writing Bayly describes. Writing can renew you; it can help you see new things and find yourself. It's just great, and now and then, you can get even with some people, hehe.

As the Spanish selector, I have been ordering Bayly's works. I have not had time to read them as they come in, but as soon as I do, I will certainly make notes. I am really looking forward to discovering his works.

Booknote: Dewey Decimal System Defeats Truman!

Title: Dewey Decimal System Defeats Truman!: Library Cartoons
Author: Scott McCullar
Publication Information: Jefferson, NC: McFarland& Co., 1998
ISBN: 0-7864-0521-X
Pages: 95
Genre: Humor
Subgenre: Cartoons

I found this little volume while browsing in my local branch of the county library. I was looking for some graphic novels, which are shelved along with art books. Actually, I found a couple of graphic novels right when I walked in on a display, and I figured I would go to the stacks to see what else might be available. This little volume was tucked in the shelf. Being a librarian, I could not resist picking it up. It is a very light and quick read. Librarians will appreciate the humor in some of the situations. I think my favorite cartoon was the one depicting three reference librarians giving a score for a reference question, like in an Olympic event. The announcer says, "O-O-O-O, the judges didn't think much of that question. Low scores for the fact that he wanted the answer to a class-assigned research question, and that he waited till the last minute." I get that situation a lot in my library: students who wait till the last minute for a class assignment. It would be tempting to call out a couple of my colleagues with number posters and do that. However, no matter how last minute, we always strive to give them an answer, and at times, some reassurance they will be ok (even if they won't). The humor is light and offbeat, and the art is basic, in the sense of simple. But it will make librarians smile and maybe nod. I think other readers may appreciate it as well.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Remembering Epiphany, Looking Back

Today is Epiphany. In the Christian tradition, particularly the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the feast commemorating the day that the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised, January 6th is a big holiday regardless of whether you are Catholic or not. Children put out their little boxes with grass for the camels, and the Three Kings ("los tres reyes") leave them presents. The day is a holiday, so establishments close. It is a day to spend with family and friends. Those of religious persuasion will go to church or services. In the States, this day is just another ordinary workday. In fact, the holiday season ends pretty much on December 26. In Puerto Rico, the holiday season is still on, and will be on for a couple of weeks after Epiphany. The essay I am posting below was a piece I wrote many years ago. It is dated January 23, 1995. At the time, I was working as a high school composition teacher. The composition faculty formed a writing group, and we would meet, share our own writing, and try out ideas like portfolios. I wrote the essay for a prompt that called for writing about epiphanies in general.

* * *
"Remembering Epiphany"

A carver patiently shapes a little wooden horse for Balthazar to ride to Bethlehem. As the figure comes to life in his hands, a tradition that has lived for generations continues. When the first santeros molded the images of the Magi, they had never seen a camel; they had to use their everyday experience, and that experience involved horses. At home this past Christmas vacation, I can see the tradition is alive and well in the new carving my mother has added to her collection of saints.

Mom still embodies the significance of epiphany even today. She would go to our backyard with us to prepare for the arrival of the Wise Men. Out in the cool night, we would pull grass off the ground placing it on a shoebox. I remember the grass was short, and I pulled a lot, for after all, camels came from the Orient. I figured, or rather my mom explained, that the camels would be hungry after such a long trip. The box of grass along with a cup of water, for camels get thirsty too you know, was left next to our parents' bed. In the morning, the Magi had left gifts after feeding their mounts. Mom placed her box too and to this day still does even though our "wise man" doesn't ride a camel nor a horse.

Who arrives first--Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men? The naive, young child would answer Santa Claus only to have his godfather explain that the Wise Men arrived in January while Santa Claus came all the way out in December. This piece of humor is reflective of the changing tradition at home. After all, Christmas was, and still is, the celebration of the Holy Child's birth. Santa's sleigh didn't hit Puerto Rico well after 1898, and his arrival wasn't necessarily well taken. Countless Puerto Rican children were probably scared by the fat bearded man with the red coat, the big sack, and the bone chilling howl of "HO HO HO!" just like the regionalist writer (if this term can be used given it is the closest translation I can come to "costumbrista") pictured in "Santa Cló Va a La Cuchilla" ("Santa Claus visits La Cuchilla Sector"). The children in that classroom yelled and ran for their lives putting as much distance between them and the big red thing. Many years later, Puerto Rican kids, myself included, wait for jolly old Nick in December.

However, those children still wait for the Three Wise Men in January. Some of you may think that kids have it good down there. Getting gifts twice makes for a good deal (for kids anyway). Yet, this fact reflects two things. First, is the gradual adaptation of the American culture into mine, and second is the struggle and triumph of my native culture that refuses to die. However, as with Christmas in the States, our Christmas and Epiphany traditions are threatened by consumerism. The true significance of Epiphany at home is threatened just as Christmas is threatened in both countries. Yet my faith is steady that the significance of Epiphany will not be lost; it will live side by side with Santa and Midnight Mass and January 6th.

Next summer, my best friend will become my life companion. Such an event reaffirms my faith in Epiphany because some day it will be my turn to take the children outside to find foliage. Probably it won't be fresh tender grass, but the symbol will exist for them as it exists for me. Santa will come all in the way in December too, and the two traditions will coexist, but those times are off in the future. For the time being, I have not celebrated Epiphany with my family for a few years now. Due to the sudden cessation of the season after New Year's, I can't help feeling that another part of me was left back in my island just as the carvers that strive to preserve the tradition are still at home.

* * *

The time actually came. I got married that summer, and our daughter came shortly after. It seems only yesterday I was a young high school teacher. We have continued the tradition to the best of our ability. She went out last night, got her grass, so did we, and we opened our presents this morning. We had to get up a little bit earlier so as to be able to spend some time together before parents had to go to work, and she had to go to school. An epiphany is basically a sudden realization or insight about the nature of life. The Three Wise Men who visited that baby had their realization about the child. Educators are fortunate when their students experience an epiphany; I know I have been lucky on the ocassions I witnessed such. There is a sense of wonder, regardless of any religious persuasion or no persuasion at all. What I discover every year is the importance of family, of the times we make for ourselves, of the moments we will treasure, the memories we make. Epiphany reminds me of where I came from and where I have yet to wander.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What do bookmarks say about you?

I found this article through Mark Lindner's . . .the thoughts are broken. . . . Here is the direct link to the article itself, from The Believer. In brief, the article is a musing of what we can learn about readers from the bookmarks they leave behind. Bookmarks here can be anything from the objects we usually think of as bookmarks to more mundane objects like a laundry receipt or a movie ticket stub. Some ideas from the article that stuck with me:
  • "When we are reading, the book is our new land, our frontier; finding the distinctive marks of a previous reading is like discovering a fossilized campfire site or cave-wall drawing; evidence of ancestors." I love that image of a book as a new land, as a frontier. I would say as an undiscovered country if it is the first time you read the book. Unlike the article's author, I rarely find find bookmarks left behind in used books. I guess I must not shop at the right used bookstores. Having said, I have found stray objects now and then. My mother, an avid reader, was notorious for leaving little items in her books that I would discover over time when I got a hold of one of her books. One example was a receipt for the Club de Lectores de Puerto Rico (The PR Readers' Club), a sort of Book of the Month Club long defunct by the time I found the receipt. However, the receipt was actually handwritten with the title of the book and price paid. Apparently my mom ordered the book and then used the receipt to mark her spots.
  • The article focuses on bookmarks, but Atkinson also discusses marginalia and other examples of evidence of previous readers in books. Atkinson mentions the book Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson. I will have to look that one up sometime.
  • "Naturally, store-bought bookmarks, not unlike the polished seashells you can buy in tourist shops, hold no interest for me even if they're found in old books; how could anyone be so orderly and fearful and arid of mind so as to purchase and conscientiously use what should be found once and then found again and again, and thereafter bear the kismet of connectedness?" Atkinson mentions he has friends who collect bookmarks of bookstores that no longer exist. Personally, I like free bookmarks. I have quite a few of them from bookstores and public libraries when I can get them. I do have a couple of store-bought bookmarks, but they have been gifts from friends. I have never bought one myself. Why would I when I can get them for free is the way I see it. These free bookmarks vary in quality from very simple card stock to very ornate. I have bookmarks from public libraries that the libraries bought from ALA to hand out to patrons, and I have bookmarks from public libraries that the libraries have made themselves. I have bookmarks with poems, with little animals on them. One of the books I am reading now has a bookmark with a nice photo of a jaguar and facts about the feline. Since I always have two to four books going at the same time, I have bookmarks on each one of them, all different. While I have accumulated a lot of bookmarks this way, I don't really see it as a collection, more like a nice stock. I tend to use bookmarks until they wear out, at which time I toss them out and grab a new one from the pile. The nice ones that have been gifts, such as a leather one my wife once got me with the serenity prayer (you know, the one about God grant me the courage. . .), or the one my mother got me made by an artisan back in Puerto Rico, I keep at home. The rare ones like that are the exception to my bookmark as disposable rule, if you can call it a rule. I don't like to be without a bookmark, so in my personal journal, I have a few stashed in there in case I grab a new book, and I have not finished a book so as to switch bookmarks over. Sure, I will grab an index card or some other scrap in a pinch, but maybe I am a little too neat to want to leave my receipts out for the world.
  • "But otherwise and generally, bookmarks should be snatched from the jaws of your quotidian life, if only so they could be fished out of the book a half a century later and tell some unintentional but imperative thing about you to whatever book lover had the good grace to cross your bibliophilic path." See my note above as it addresses this idea. I guess I disagree with Atkinson on this one since I don't snatch my bookmarks out of my quotidian life. I guess I won't be telling much to any readers out there who may get a hold of my books someday. As for other readers, hey, just go with what works for you.
  • Something to keep in mind about these bookmarks and other found objects. "Nothing is definitive; this isn't art or science but a societal bridge constructed out of love--love for hopeful readers we never knew, and for the book glue that holds us together." I find the idea of getting a glimpse of someone's life at a given moment fascinating, pure serendipity. However, it looks readers of my stuff may not get as much based on my bookmarks other than bookstores and libraries I visited at various times, or the ocassional bookmark with some information or something quirky. I wonder what such choices would say about me. In addition to the jaguar, I have two from Half Price Books now, and one from Powell's in Chicago. By the way, they are starting to get a bit ragged, but they are still useable. So, ok, I like to shop for cheap books? I don't think that makes me terribly unique. Besides, how would the impression change if I had different ones in my books. Oh well, I will just leave the question for the ages.
  • On the community of readers, this seemed interesting. "When you consider the notion of a community of readers, you might first think of the neurotic fad for book groups--does any phenomena suggest so well a modern insecurity, that Americans now can hardly read by their lonesomes?--or at least a national throng of bookworms all consuming the same bestseller at more or less the same time, during the same summer or Christmas season, or overhyped market moment. But bookmarkery, taken as what we may call sociopoeia, is substantiation of a genuine, invisible society of readership, a vast and silent ecosystem of shared memories, allusionary communication, mutual understanding, communal essence." I am sure that a lot of book club members around the nation will have an issue with Atkinson's remark. However, I do have to say his observation about hype and markets may be valid. Just observe what happens every time Oprah announces her latest selection. Some of my readers may be interested in a note I made on a book about Oprah's Book Club. I would also note the appeal of recent One Book, One City initiatives taking place all over the nation. Personally, I have some mixed feelings about book groups. I love the idea of people coming together to discuss books and share their reading experiences. It's the risk of groupthink that makes me a bit sceptical, as in, if you do not agree with the rest of the group, your reading may somehow be seen as wrong or less valid. My experience a few years back with a particular book group for a class is what triggers this scepticism. We read a particular book which I simply hated for a variety of reasons. I was made to feel somehow something was wrong with me. While I know this experience is not the rule of book groups, it does color my perspective. I do try not to let it bother me too much because I do believe in the overall value of the activity.
Overall, this is an excellent piece of writing, and for readers who enjoy works about books, readers, and reading, this is recommended.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A little bit of rock and roll (on DVD)

The Collection Development Librarian brought me a copy of Time-Life's History of Rock 'N Roll. This is the volume that features the documentaries "Britain Invades, America Fights Back" and "The Sounds of Soul." I am watching it just to make sure the DVD is fine before it gets processed for circulation. The first documentary covers from the British Invasion by the Beatles, followed by the Rolling Stones and others, and it then looks at how America responded and the various groups and acts. This was a time where image and looks were as important, if not more important, than the music, according to some. The second documentary looks at soul music, its roots, its influences, its sounds. I found it interesting watching both documentaries back to back because all these different musical sounds and movements were happening close to each other, at the same time. And yet, very often, we think of the Rolling Stones on one end and of Motown on another end without touching each other. What these documentaries reveal is that the influences and currents went back and forth. The documentaries include narration, mostly through short memoir and interview features with performers, producers, and entrepreneurs, and it includes music clips. Unfortunately, the music is only is short snips; you don't get the whole song on the documentary. The DVD includes additional features such as interviews. I think for many it may just inspire them to go find the music.

Back from the Holidays

(Crossposted to the Itinerant Librarian)

Well folks, this is the first day back at work for me. Students do not return to campus until the day after the Martin Luther King Holiday (January 16). This means I have about a week and a half to do some catching up before the academic semester goes into full swing.

I noted before I left that we had planned to go up to Fort Worth. Well, the flu bug had other plans as it struck both my parents right around Christmas, so we had to stay away. Not that it did any good in the sense that I myself caught a cold right on New Year's (in fact, I am still trying to shake off "la cariñosa" as my father calls it. The term means "the loving one" because it holds on to you and does not let go). However, we still had a nice time at home for Christmas and New Year's. Since my wife took some days off from work, and I had last week off due to library closure, we had some time to relax.

Day after Christmas, like many Americans, we decided to go around shopping. We were actually looking for some wrapping paper and a couple of nice serving plates, but otherwise, we mostly went to watch people, for the amusement value. The mall was not as crowded as it could have been in my estimation.

The following Tuesday, we got some day care for the little one (the local YMCA is great in that regard, providing camps and such for kids when school is off), and then the missus and I went in search of some wine. When our stock at home runs low, we know it's time to get some more. We both enjoy drinking local wine when possible, so I hit a couple of Websites to see if there was anything nearby. I used the Texas Wine Trails Website. The site has a good map of the trails where you can click and get a map with links. We had tried a nice winery up north, Messina Hof, but it was a bit too far for us. Also, when we went, the place struck us as a little on the snobbish side for jean and tees sort of folk. We had also gone to a couple of places not far from Fort Worth, but clearly, that was not within driving distance. We decided to go find a place called Wimberley Valley Wines, in Spring, Texas. Since there was another winery in the area, Red River Winery, we figured we would just kill two birds on one stone. It was an easy drive to Spring, Texas once we got on I-45. When we got there, it turns out that there is this area known as Old Town Spring, which is basically a historical district. The Website I link to hails it as "the Mall Without Walls." The place is a small, cozy area of shops featuring antiques, collectibles, cafes, the wineries we went looking for and a few other interesting things. So, we ended up spending the afternoon walking along the streets, browsing here and there. I had no idea this little place was so close, and it only took us about 40 minutes to get there. Houston being such a big city did not seem like the place to contain such a little place. My wife was reminded of some of the small towns back in Indiana. We did enjoy some wine tasting, and we brought some wine home, making a note to plan on attending the Art and Wine Festival on March 18 and 19, 2006. Hey, any place where you pay admission and get a wine glass to go around tasting local wines sounds good to us. Indianapolis has its VintageIndiana, and we went there a couple of years ago. It's a big event in Military Park. They close off the park, and they have music, an area for kids, various craftspeople and artisans, food, and of course, the wines. They give you a nice etched glass, and you go around like a "beggar" for the winemakers to pour you some wine to taste. It was great fun. One of the things we always worry about is that we often travel with a nine year old. Some wineries are ok with that fact, even offering the little one some grape juice; others are not, not in the sense that they bar you, but more in the subtle hints, usually in the form of some discomfort level on the host's part. Overall, we have found that the smaller the winery, the less pretentions of grandeur it has, and therefore, the more relaxed the ambiance. Indiana had a lot of those, usually in more out of the way places, but since I am a gypsy at heart, driving was not an issue. Also, one of the things I miss from Indiana is the fact that many of those out of the way places still have that rural charm. I am not sure you can call it charm, but it's the feeling of hospitality, the feeling that it's ok to leave the door wide open for people to come in. The two places in Spring seemed to fall under the small and friendly category, and the prices were good too. I think I was amazed about Old Town Spring because being within the scope of Houston, I did not expect such a place. I would have expected it after driving way out of the metropolitcan area. It was a pleasant discovery. One of these days I will have to write that essay I have been meaning write about our travels to various wineries and vineyards. We have a wineglass collection at home from the various places we have visited, mostly in the Midwest, and now Texas. I think that would make a nice piece of writing sometime.

In the meantime, I wish everyone out there a Happy New Year, and Feliz Año Nuevo for our Spanish speaking friends.