Archive for June, 2007

The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul

I’m making this post two weeks two late, but I did not want to let this feast day go past without some note. Saints Peter and Paul of course are two of the most important saints in church history, both being leaders of the early Christian community after the ascension of Christ. I did not make the time to write about this saints, but luckily Baptized Pagan covered this significant feast day. I wondered why Peter and Paul, ofte at odds during their lifetimes, would share a feast day. My theory was that the Church wished to teach humility, that Peter and Paul as important as they were to the Church, were just men, humble before God. BP mentions instead that it relates to their martyrdom in Rome and the establishment of the church in that city.

While at Baptized Pagan, check out his reflections on Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

More on Peter and Paul:

I hope my lesson learned is not that if I fail to do my work someone else will do it for me.

The Effects of Peanut Butter on the Rotation of the Earth

“The Effects of Peanut Butter on the Rotation of the Earth” from the Annals of Improbable Research.

Movie Review: Swingers

Way back when I saw a trailer for Swingers (1996) couldn’t figure out when it was set.  The characters all dressed in 50′s clothing and drove classic cars, but had the Club.  I read a review and learned that the movie was about a Los Angeles sub-culture where people dress like they did in the 50′s.  It sounded interesting, but it took me 11 years to finally see the movie.

Turns out that the 50′s fashion has little to do with the plot.  It’s more of a visual shoutout to the Rat Pack in much the same way this movie pays tribute to Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.  The plot of Swingers is very similar to Sideways in many ways, albeit 10 years earlier and the characters are 10 years younger (without looking at IMDB guess the age difference between Jon Favreau and Paul Giamatti).

The story is about Mike (Jon Favreau) a young man who broke up with his girlfriend in order to move to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting.  Despite this he his hung up on his ex and spends a lot of his time moping and hoping she’ll call.  Mike’s friend Trent (Vince Vaughn) continually tries to help out Mike by getting him to hook up with another woman.  Trent is a loudmouth jerk but turns out to really care about Mike when it counts. As they go to bars and parties and smoothly move about Los Angeles, hilarity ensues.  The plot of this movie doesn’t really count.  It’s all about atmosphere, witty dialog, and set pieces.  Eventually Mike does find love with Heather Graham at a swing dance, and his ex predictably calls the next day, but none of that matters.  As I said above, plot doesn’t count, and the movie is better when you don’t think about it.  Luckily there’s enough clever stuff going on that you don’t have to.

This movie makes me nostalgic for the nostalgia of the mid-1990′s.  The liner notes on the DVD case credit the movie with starting the Swing Revival, although I think it already existed.  Better yet, it’s stunning to watch a movie set in Los Angeles 11 years ago with nary a sight of an SUV nor a cellphone.  They did have those things back then although we were still calling them Jeeps and mobile phones.  That’s a time period I could go back to.

Book Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth (2000) by Zadie Smith is an ambitious, epic-in-scope, yet flawed novel. Starting in 1975 and continuing for two decades it tells the story of two families. First there’s the Jones family. Archie dumb but affable is a English man who narrowly escapes committing suicide on New Year’s Day 1975. Instead his celebrates his new lease on life by crashing a party where he meets Clara, an graceful, much younger woman originally from Jamaica who is escaping her tyrannical mother, a devotee of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have one daughter Irie who is intelligent but lacks confident.

The other family is that of the Bengali immigrants the Iqbals. Archie’s buddy from the army Samad is something of a curmudgeon about modern Western society but unable to strictly adhere to the Islamic beliefs he frequently proclaims. His long suffering wife by an arranged marriage is Alsana who is far more practical to adapting and raising a family in modern day London. They have twin sons Magid and Millat. In a critical part of the book Samad decides to send the slightly older and favored Magid to India where he can be shielded from Western ways and educated properly (much to Alsana’s displeasure and she responds by not directly addressing her husband for several years). Millat on the other hand is not at all studious and tends toward a life of partying and drugs. Still, he’s a leader among children his age (and often a dealer) but as he grows older and angrier he rebels by joining a fundamentalist Islamic group (amusingly called KEVIN). He’s also the object of Irie’s affections.

More than halfway through the book a third family is introduced, the overly confident intellectuals the Chalfens. The family is headed by the geneticist Marcus who is working on a project called FutureMouse, a genetically engineered rodent. All of the Jones and Iqbal children become involved with the Chalfens through their classmate Josh, and Marcus and his wife become an odd mix of mentors and second family. Josh in turn rebels against his family by joining an animal rights group.

For the first two-thirds of the book, this is an incredibly well-written often laugh-out-loud hilarious novel.  Smith provides spot-on social satire of the immigrant experience, family life, and the generation gap.  Her characters are fully fleshed out and true to life and through them greater social truths are told.  Unfortunately, in the final third of the book Smith loses track of her characters and gets caught up in organizations – the FutureMouse geneticists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Islamic fundamentalists, and the animal rights activists – as they all converge for the most anti-climactic climax on New Year’s Eve.  When telling the stories of individuals, the social message flows naturally and the conflict is nuanced, but when it comes down to these groups meeting up at the end it’s too obvious and the heart and soul of the novel is glaringly absent.

Despite this disappointment, I would recommend reading White Teeth if only to enjoy Smith’s brilliant writing style in the early chapters.

Tuesday at the ALA Annual Conference

Wow! Librarians certainly like to read a lot. I had 112 hits yesterday and my reports from the ALA Conference are looking pretty popular. It’s about time something gave my review of The Painted Veil a run for its money. I’m grateful for the Internet Cafe at the Washington Convention Center and apologize to all those librarians who had to wait in line while I was writing in my blog. Then again I’m impressed with how much I was able to write in such a short time. Over the next few days I’ll go back and revise the conference posts to add hyperlinks and more details as well as correct the inevitable typos.

So I’m back in Boston where it’s hot and stick. It was hot and sticky in Washington today, and the sun felt relentless on Capitol Hill where white marble is more common than trees. I began the day waiting a long time for the shuttle bus which up until this morning had be extremely efficient. There were more waits at the convention center for the bag check and to get into the Closing Session. Yet somehow I did get squeezed into a seat near the front and hear all of Garrison Keillor’s speech. It was nice to hear the warm voice so familiar from “The Writer’s Almanac” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” While Keillor’s ideas of libraries are a bit idealized and out of date, he did have a good sense of their being a quiet place where the imagination can grow, and that they are important for democracy. He particularly liked that they are places where children don’t have to perform for adults and believes the immigrant children he sees reading in today’s Minneapolis Public Library are America’s future leaders. The Library Journal has already written up a good summary of Keillor’s address.

Next I went down to the Exhibition hall to register for Library Day on the Hill.  This consisted of getting a red t-shirt and some hand outs and was all rather anticlimactic.  There was supposed to a big closing day party in The Stacks but it was just more vendors I didn’t want to talk to telling me about products I’m not interested and asking me to sign up for raffles in which I did not want to participate.  It was also somewhat depressing since a lot of vendors had packed up and left giving it a dying Main Street look.  I escaped up to the Internet Cafe to blog and otherwise find ways to kill time.

Just about noon I took a shuttle bus over to the Capitol.  I sat next to a lovely librarian from Prince George’s County, Maryland who told me all about Street Lit which is all the rage among her semi-urban patrons.  On Capitol Hill, much like Jimmy Carter, I had a crisis of confidence.  What on earth am I going to say to my Representative and Senators, especially if they had questions?  I stalled a bit in the exhibit space in the Rayburn Building and read up on my library legislative literature.  Then I wandered through the labyrinthine corridors of Capitol Hill and finally got up the gusto to enter Michael Capuano’s office.  And I talked with his legislative assistant, ever so briefly, leaving behind by contact info and sheet of library concerns.  The same pattern repeated itself later in the Russell Senate Building at John Kerry’s and Edward Kennedy’s offices.  I have to say that just boat loads of people were in the government buildings today. Most of them were in snazzy suits, but there were also other petitioners from the ACLU doing the same type of thing we were doing (they wore white & green t-shirts).  I was also touched by the wall of portraits in Kennedy’s office of big brother John.  Granted, every Irish pub in Boston has a similar display, but it there it was more meaningful.

In between visiting the House and Senate offices, I played hooky from my lobbying duties by taking a tour of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  I took a tour lead by an exuberant volunteer.  She liked to point out how the art and architecture of the building were paeans to the European culture that Americans aspired to in the late 19th-Century when the library was built.  It’s very beautiful.  I also looked at the exhibit of American treasures because I never tire of looking at cool, old stuff.

And then I flew home.  I have a lot to read and write and think about.  Luckily I work in a library.

Monday at the ALA Annual Conference

I had a slow start to the day and had to call Susan from my hotel bed to have her tell me to get out of bed and get to the conference center.  It turned out to be a lucky day though.  How often does one get a 1905 Indian Head cent in one’s change from the coffee shop?  For me never.  I can’t believe that it was still in circulation, but it isn’t anymore.  I was so excited about the cent I brought it by the US Mint booth in the exhibition hall.  They were not so excited and probably wished I was a teacher or a school librarian so that they could give me some literature.

Anyhow, enough numismatics, on to to librarianship.  I spent most of the morning in the exhibition halls.  I’m not really into gathering loot like so many of my colleagues seem to be but I did get a number of handouts from vendors.  I visited the Proquest CSA  “funhouse” (it really looks like a kid’s treehouse) and learned of their new historical annual reports services.  Of course they told me that they created the database with the assistance of my library, not that anyone there told Access Services.  Anyhow, that will be a useful resources once it debuts and I’m ready to let the secret out.  I also got a good demo at Ex Libris of Primo a kind of super catalog that searches through a library or a consortiums various catalogs and databases.   OCLC has a similar product in WorldCat Local.

The real eyeopeners were the Resource Sharing products.  The OCLC vendor demonstrated ILLiad for me which was so beautifully easy I could have wept.  I also saw scanners that scan quickly, clearly, in color if you need it, and don’t require profanity to operate.  I would happily use these devices if only my library would purchase them.

Also at the exhibition, Nick Hornby read from his new book for young adults Slam.  It’s a story of a sixteen-year old boy who is trying to avoid the news that his girlfriend is pregnant.  In the part Hornby read the boy wakes up and it is a year later and he’s learning that he’s actually become a good father.  It sounds like an excellent book.

Monday was not all fun and games.  I attended a session at the Grand Hyatt called “Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Anymore!”  Three managers talked about Access Services in their libraries and it is interesting to see how there is not even one agreed upon definition of what Access Services does.  Personally, Access Services are any staff who work on the front lines dealing with the public in person, on phone, and online.  The most itneresting examples I heard were about libraries where faculty and IT staff actually work in the library on the library staff.  That seems like such a simple but effective way of getting input and collaborating in an academic library.

The PLA President’s Program finished out the day.  I don’t work in a public library but author Armistead Maupin was the keynote speaker so I went to hear him.  Originally, Elizabeth Edwards was to speak, but as Maupin informed us, she was out on the campaign trail.  He said he liked the irony that he saw her on TV in San Francisco addressing a gay pride event while he himself was here in Washington addressing librarians.  He thanked librarians for putting the Tales of the City books on library shelves at a time when they were very controversial and was grateful that they are not so controversial anymore.

To conclude my day I returned to Arlington and visited with my friend Betsy and Randy and met their newborn baby girl Zoe.  And for supper, once again, we ate Thai food.

Sunday at the ALA Annual Conference

My third day at the conference continued the parade of celebrities I admire. Nancy Pearl is not only a hero but a Library Action Figure. She’s also written several books of book recommendations including Book Lust, More Book Lust, and the new Book Crush for children and teens. She spoke mainly on encouraging children to read and to validate the choices they make in reading. She also warned of the perils of a life of reading as a counterbalance. She told the story of how the Library Action Figure came about, and the 39 librarians with no sense of humor who sent her hate mail.

I’d scheduled myself to attend a Blog and Wikis Interest Group but I didn’t like the looks of it since it seemed to be another committee meeting (with laptops) and that was not where I wanted to go. So I quickly flipped through my program and discovered that a program called Harnessing the Hive: Social Networking in Libraries was taking place in an adjacent room. It was even tagged as being suited to New Bees. I can’t believe my luck, because this may be the best program I’ve attended yet. Three presenters showed off actual working collaborative tools that have improved services and research in libraries. I’ve got lots of links to follow up on this as well.

I left the convention center and returned to the U Street area, this time to attend Mass at St. Augustine, a predominantly Black Catholic parish. The priest preached for half an hour, two children were baptized, and the choir sang a whole lot of gospel so the Mass lasted 2 hours! Not that I’m complaining. The liturgy was beautiful and I felt very welcomed. I ate a veggie burger sub at the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl prior to returning to the convention center.

I didn’t have time to visit the exhibitions as planned, but did get to make yesterdays blog entry and head to the ALA Book Cart Drill Team Championships. It was hillarious. The team from Pennsylvania named “Get Down With Your Funky Shelf” definitely had the best name. However, the Divas from Texas who performed the Rosie the Riveter inspired “Riveted by Reading” truly deserved the coveted Gold Book Cart.

Thanks to the power of Youtube, now you <em>can</em> see the ALA Book Cart Drill Team Championships! At least parts of the event.

irst, the Readin’ & Rollin’ team from Milford, Ohio who took fourth place and the autographed DEMCO catalog:

Next, the Bronze Cart winning Delaware Diamonds:

The Silver Cart winning performance by Gett Down With Your Funky Shelf of Gettysburg, PA.

The Book Divas of Houston, TX took home the Gold Cart with their performance of “Rosie is Riveting”, only a snippet of it is available here:

After another long day of conferencing, I visited Northern Virginia to see my friends Annie & Mike. Additionally, a fellow librarian/conferencee/friend Camille (and one of her friends from Ithaca) and Washingtonian/friend Lisa Lynn were there. So the six of us (and Mike and Annie’s in utero son) went out for Thai food in Alexandria (no pun in the name). We actually talked about a lot of library and social networking stuff. Camille and I came up with a creative writing project based on odd reference questions. It could even be like the “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” game where three stories are told and you have to guess the real reference question. This originated from Camille’s story about IM reference where a patron first asked for everything they had about biotechnology and then followed up by saying an illegal alien was living in his apartment. We will be presenting this game at the next conference.

So it was another good, full day. I can’t believe that it’s gone by so fast and there’s only one full day left. I also can’t believe all that I’ve learned. I hope I don’t lose all these great ideas brewing in my head. It’s hard to find time to write them all down.

Saturday at the ALA Annual Conference

When I was a teenager I wanted to grow up to be Ken Burns, or at least a whole lot like him.  Of course I never became a filmmaker nor a professional historian, I became a librarian.  But Ken Burns is down with librarians and addressed us early on Saturday morning.  He spoke of how after The Civil War he didn’t want to make another movie about war because he didn’t want to be typecast nor be mistaken for glorfying war.  Two things changed his mind: 1) that 1000 WWII veterans die each day & 2) that a large (but unnamed) percentage of graduating high school seniors believe that the US fought WWII allied with Germany against Russia.  So he and Florentine Films made The War, a 14-hour film about the experience of ordinary soldiers and ordinary people on the homefront during the Second World War.  He showed us a half-hour preview of the film which focuses on four towns in the United States and how people in those towns were affected by the war.  The film was very powerful and contained the most graphic archival footage of the war I’ve ever seen.  If the 30 minute sample is any indication, this may be Ken Burns’ best documentary yet.  Burns closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln which he described as the best sentence ever written: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely the will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

From one childhood hero to another.  In the exhibition center Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline signed replica copies of the 1957 edition of Europe on $5 a Day.  I’ve been addicted to reading guidebooks and travel literature since I was a kid, and Frommer was one of my early favorites.  Back upstairs I attended the ACRL 101 session which wasn’t too different from the NMRT Conference 101 session but I got a few useful tips and handouts.

I rode the shuttle bus over to the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, at lunch and attended two sessions of RUSA STARS on resource sharing.  The first was a committee meeting on reavaluating resource sharing policies which I simply observed.  It was drowned out by the exburant speechifying and applause of another session in the next room.  More interesting was the Hot Topics in Resource Sharing session where my newly aqcuainted colleagues and I talked about customer services issues, copyright problems, and Ariel v. Odyssey.

Back at the convention center I went to the convention center to write an email to my friend Sharon who I didn’t see at the Ken Burns session in the morning.  Moments after I sent the email, I heard a voice call my name.  It was Sharon who was also in the Internet Cafe.  We went to the Capitol City Brewing Co. for dinner and talked about libraries and babies.

And that was that professionally for Saturday.  I had plans to go out Saturday night but didn’t do much as I wasn’t much in the mood, but I did go for a long walk around Washington’s 14th Street and U Street neighborhoods.

I’ll write about Sunday tonight or tomorrow.  The Book Cart Drill Team is coming up next!

Movie Review: The Hollywood Librarian

The Hollywood Librarian (2007) debut at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Do not be fooled, this is definitely a propaganda piece, not that that’s a bad thing. Filmmaker Ann Seidl wants to promote librarians and all we offer, and plans to distribute this film by having it shown in libraries across the country during Banned Books Week in September. She even suggests charging admission since a movie about librarians should garner the same respect as any other film.

With that in mind, I have to say that this is a fairly uneven documentary. At first it’s presented as seeing librarianship through the lens of Hollywood movies. Clips of films showing dowdy, glasses and bun-wearing librarians are contrasted with interviews with actual librarians and their active roles in their libraries and community. About halfway through, the Hollywood angle is ditched and it becomes more of an advocacy piece showing various librarians persevering against political pressure. Both parts are pretty good, but they don’t mesh together well. I get the sense the filmmakers weren’t certain what kind of movie they were going to make. Watching this in a room with thousands of other librarians made it all the more entertaining, especially the clips from vintage occupational guidance films were show. Even if I were alone, there was a lot in this movie that would make me laugh, cry, and cheer. What effect it will have on the general public, I don’t know, but it’s probably worth getting it out there. I think some people may like it a lot, but I fear that it may only end up preaching to the choir.

Watch the trailer here:

Other Reviews:

Friday at the ALA Annual Conference

I arrived Thursday evening and registered but didn’t have much else to do conference-wise, so I visited the Smithsonian museums of American Art and National Portrait Gallery nearby.  Later I met up with friends Edward and Charlene for supper at a restaurant punningly called Thai Tanic.

Friday morning I walked down to the Mall and visted the Air & Space Museum for old times sake and then the US Botanical Garden. 

After lunch I tried to visit the Library of Congress Open House, but the Capitol Police had the street in front of the Jefferson Building closed.  I gave up and visited the Madison Building instead.  The interior is eerie, and I wandered through the windowless corridors lined with solid, closed doors.  I visited the Periodicals Reading Room but there was not much to see there.  I had better luck at the Veterans History Project where the very friendly staff sat down with me and told me about their oral history program. They even took pictures of me for the LOC Gazzette.  Meanwhile another alert went up from the Capitol Police as the Adams Building was evacuated due to a chemical spill. The LOC staff seemed very blase about emergencies and alerts in this paranoid city (I went through 4 metal detectors this day by the way). I also stopped by the Manuscripts Division and saw Abraham Lincoln’s childhood sums book and Alexander Graham Bell’s somewhat childish drawings of the first telephone.  Finally I went to a reception upstairs and lots of LOC staff talked with me.

I went back to the convention center for the New Members Round Table Conference 101 program.  The room was packed, but I stole a chair from another room and was actually able to sit at the same table as my co-worker Leslie.

Following this I walked to the RUSA STARS Happy Hour at the Elephant & Castle pub.  As expected this was noisy and awkward but I did meet some friendly people.

I returned to the convention center for the premiere of the Hollywood Librarian, a moving and funny tribute to all of us librarians through the lens of the movies.  It’s actually a great documentary and a sometimes not too subtle propaganda people.  But our public sometimes need to be hit across the head.

There’s a long line waiting at the internet cafe so I will try to write more later.

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