readers advisory

January 2, 2008

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This blog isn’t dead, it’s sleeping. Or it has Seasonal Affective Disorder, or is consumed by learning French, or is training for a marathon. In the case of our Leets, she’s a mother to a brand new baby boy, and we’re so proud.

Anyway, in this slow season, I am inclined to draw on time-tested pastimes, namely, leisure reading. Kristy prolifically book-blogs all year-round, but for me the fire comes and goes. I never understand the things about beach reading, because for me in the summer, it’s getting tan, drinking beer and chasing boys, but in the winter, its books, books, books. One of the gestures I wish I had made more as a librarian is trying to engage my colleagues with questions about what they were reading. I mean, I don’t really understand the modern sci-fi/fantasy genre, aside from Octavia Butler, but a lot of librarians love it, and I wish I had gotten someone to passionately explain it to me. Unbashful book-talking is one of the things they teach you in YA and kid lit classes, but it seems like such an innate skill to me, and one that’s so socially conditional. Why do you think Nancy Pearl is so beloved? Like, you can talk to your friends for hours about sneakers, Stevie Nicks, Willa Cather, Herzog movies, and what you want to eat for brunch,  but can you talk to a stranger, on demand about those things?

So, fellow librarians, how do you book-talk sucessfully? And more importantly, what are you reading now? I’m rereading Seduction and Betrayal in memoriam of Elizabeth Hardwick, and am slowly working through Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show. I’ve run through John Cheever’s stories and am halfway through a copy of Falconer  I found on the street in Park Slope a month ago. And last, but not least, have spent the past few nights buried in Ceruzzi’s A History of Modern Computing.


Just Deserts?

November 3, 2007


Dario Argento makes the most lovely horror movies. They rarely make sense, but if you really care about that, you probably shouldn’t be watching them. In his 1980 film Inferno, Argento stages a key scene in a creepy library in Rome. The library stuff comes about 6 minutes into this clip. Jump ahead to the next scene if you want to see what price you pay for stealing creepy books about the occult from creepy libraries in the middle of the night.

And if you like Argento and horror movies with library twists, make sure to watch Deep Red, which ends with a gory twist in the city archives.


Back to School Shopping

August 21, 2007

In the words of my former retail manager, “I think JCrew does fall best.” Meaning that their clothes in the fall season are better than their clothes in spring or summer.
Evidence– the August 2007 catalog. As is appropriate for Back to School, there’s a whole library/book/reading theme happening–cashmere tees folded in the stacks alongside old bound issues of Pennsylvania Magazine, boots displayed on the h-k drawer of the card catalog, etc.

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So committed to the reading theme, JCrew folks did a photo shoot in an actual library. On page 028 we have two young ladies perched precariously in the alcoves wearing a not-very-flattering combo of the cropped pants and deep v neck sweaters. The butch one is wearing the “men’s tartan patchwork driving cap” and the femme one has her hair in an oh-so authentic co-ed messy bun. She passes a book down from the balcony to her eagerly awaiting tartan clad friend. And there’s a little bit of trivia in the right hand corner, and suddenly its like reading Martha Stewat Living, “WHO KNEW? The library pictured here is one of the world’s oldest, most distinguished independent libraries…Can you guess the name of this beautiful Boston landmark?”

Well I was hoping to flip the catalog upside down, Highlights style, to find the answer, but instead I had to look it up. Why of course! Its the Boston Athenaeum. Any self respecting back to schooler would know.


read the rich

August 14, 2007

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Reading Brooke Astor’s lengthy Times obit yesterday, I was struck by the attention paid to her patronage of the NYPL. Having far more knowledge of greatest generation socialites as a young someone from Texas really should, I was vaguely aware of her persona  (she drank Campari and soda) and her legacy in New York. And I did recall that she celebrated her 100th birthday by having a party with 100 librarians.  Her support of New York’s libraries (she was also a major patron of the Morgan Library) over the latter half of the 20th century had a major impact on those libraries’ life as city institutions, and more specifically, as vehicles for philanthropy. Ahead of her time, Astor was not only generous, but also personally involved with the institutions she supported.

Library development has in the ensuing decades become a beast all its own, but in a lot of ways I think we’re still talking this talk of the old guard rich as essential financial supporters and indicators of our real societal worth. How uncomfortable this makes me! But this outdated narrative is probably a sweetly arcane alternative to the post-globalization reality. The university library where I worked last had as major contributors to its capital campaign one of the most notorious white collar criminals in recent history, some major war profiteer corporations and the Saudi consulate- and this was met with chuckles.

I think archives and special collections are especially attune to the pressure to fundraise- they are often the flashiest parts of their parent institutions and a must-stop for donors. And it’s my impression that doing targeted stuff to appease and attract donors is necessary and expected. Some of it is survival, I understand, but it’s kind of a bummer. And it’s also no secret that any decent fundraiser or development director can command way more in salary than a librarian. So what does that say, when fiscal perpetuation takes equal or greater priority than library services? And recognizing the importance of private support for libraries, how can we do this better?


Summer dispatch

July 11, 2007

You may have noticed that this blog, like so many fashion magazines, has slowed to a halt in the middle of summer. As for me, I’m in the midst of a cross-country move, a career-track change, (more later) and some fun times visiting friends abroad. (I write this from a cafe in Istanbul. No joke!)

But I can earnestly say I’ve missed this, and great stuff around:

  • Sara Piasecki of Historical Notes from OHSU  posted a bit about this year’s RBMS preconference, including a post about a session on Minimal Processing . For those unfamiliar with the divide,  the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section  of ACRL covers a lot of the same ground as archival organizations, but there are precious few who are truly active in both spheres- thus, transparency and communication is, in my opinion, so necessary.
  • archivematica has a post about ICA-Atom’s GoogleMaps mashup. So cool. This isn’t the first foray into integrating geographic data with finding aids- I seem to recall a UNC project that integrated GIS data with finding aid indexes. Moreover, I’d look for more work in the near future that does this sort of thing- linking physical spaces and places with related archival materials.
  • And not really related but long overdue, check out Jeanne’s post on (and Google Code page for) ArchivesZ, a tool for visualizing collections.

And, I hate to even bring this up, Hip shushers. Sheesh! I’m not going to try to track the wide and varied, over-serious and goofy reactions to this. But I’m gonna give in and spill mine. The article seemed to deal first and foremost with NYC area LIS grad students, and not working librarians. I bristle at the idea of trying to live anywhere in America, much less in gentrified Brooklyn, on what NYPL and BPL pay their entry-level librarians. But what I haven’t seen addressed is that the newfound preciousness of going to library school isn’t about anything job or education related- it’s about a mass of college graduates, mostly female, with both real and percieved lack of career options casting their lot onto an arcanely feminized public serivice sector with a lot of inherent problems. I think that any enthusiasm or momentum coming to libraries and archives is ultimately good, but I also think that we should be talking about these things really critically.


down the drain

June 14, 2007

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Everyone and everyone who blogs about libraries has been talking about Michael Gorman’s blazes on the Britannica blog, and about some weird public blog dissing at NASIG. Okaaay. I think it’s because it’s the same old debate, floated for the millionth time.

Coming from the sphere of archives and special collections (and having an extremely fluid professional identity), I should hope I’ve developed a decent immunity to pretense, snootiness, and off-putting quasi-intellectual b.s.. Residual fear of change, pedestal-putting for “scholarship”, xenophobia, lack of empathy with everyone else, check! I ain’t saying it’s the norm, because I can’t live with that as my reality, but the air gets kinda thick, and you can’t get angry every single time. To put this in terms of relevance, Karen Schneider says, “To millions of people, he represents librarianship”, but I’m not so sure. I lack the reverence to think that someone who in the past had held a widely acknowledged as disastrous term of office in an everything-and-nothing organization has much real weight to throw around.

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But what bums me out so much about Gorman’s steez isn’t that he’s mean. Cause a good academic feud is a thing to behold! What gets me is that he has an opportunity to fulfill a role as a public intellectual talking about libraries, archives and information topics that are important to the public, and he blows it on a self-referential argument chasing some bygone ideal of what it means to have reasoned discourse (bypassing, like, the last 70 years of western thought!), and in a needlessly puffy and alienating style that would (in a perfect world) never pass muster in a “real” scholarly setting. That Scott Mclemee, danah boyd, and Tom Mann are in the Britannica bullpen for this makes me at least want to stay tuned in. (Does anyone else find the tagline “Where Ideas Matter” nonsensical and grounds for eye-rolling?)

As Jessamyn points out, information retrieval is becoming important in so many more aspects of life, not just in so-called scholarly pursuit. We are living a major social change! This is what I don’t get when folks tell librarians to step up the game, re: discourse. Information issues don’t need to be made important- they already are! The major struggle, I think, is clarifying this, to which knocking down everyone else doesn’t really help.

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That’s the snag, it seems, in the “Column People” debacle, wherein a NASIG conference presenter cited a post at Wandering Eyre as an example of frivolity, informality and presumably, the road to ruin for those who should know better. It seems like the argument was that “this doesn’t matter” as well as “too many in our community are engaging in this”. Which is kinda faulty. Let me say outright that I work with and respect Ms. Jane Eyre, and greatly admire the confidence she conveys in her blog.

Anyone who has any stake in this knows that blog informality is a really powerful use of rhetoric. Because dishing out issues of the profession while making cultural references and identifying statements is a form of self-assertion, and the more, the better: being privileged means you don’t need to censor yourself for survival. Obvs, I value informality in discourse, and anyone who thinks this is a free for all, all new due to blogs has yet to drink with academics. It’s a pecking order just like any other.

I still ascribe to the riot grrrl (Valley Girl Intelligensia?) idea that you should talk like who you are as a political statement vis a vis assertion of your experience. I’ve never taken for granted that it’s a risk, and that it carries weight. So what I do worry about is those with audience and prestige making trivial norms of the things they like and their manner of speech, thus negating the long and treacherous feminist discourse that made it possible to draw on our own experiences as something that matters.


Hookups at NYPL; MySpace rounding up predators

May 22, 2007
  • In honor of the opening of NYPL’s new Mulberry Street Branch, Gawker sends a Napoleon Dynamite/Bunny LeRoi impersonator to video report on the library as a pick-up spot.
  • Reuters and AP report, Broadsheet picks up: MySpace has been collecting personal information on registered sex offenders- over 7,000 of them- and state and federal governments have demanded it, thus possibly creating the first nationwide database of sex offenders (none existed before). Everyone’s bemused that MySpace now appears to be fighting sexual predators, and not, as accused, simply harboring them. But look for more handovers of this sort of data, and more overt use of networking sites for policing and surveillance in the future.