google, the new yorker, and the economics of access

This will undoubtedly be making the rounds, if it hasn’t already, but The New Yorker has an article on Google Book Search that’s currently available online.

(The New Yorker, it is worth noting, is not committed to making its information universally accessible and useful, at least not unless you buy the Complete New Yorker DVDs. The magazine does not maintain an index of its articles on its website, and its indexing elsewhere has historically been somewhat sporadic. You can read more on the magazine’s indexing, or lack thereof, in the latest Ask the Librarians column at Emdashes, which is, to the best of my knowledge, a labor of love by a writer and New Yorker fan. I should note that, despite my snarky tone, I also am a fan of the magazine–I just wish they’d publish their past tables of contents online so I could remember what the hell issue I read, say, Calvin Trillin’s recently turned into a book piece about Alice. But of course then I’d have less reason to purchase the DVDs.)

more things that suck

Update–links should work now–Performancing was being weird.

If you’re looking to feel vindicated, or merely amused, you might take a glance at the Usability Assessment Report [pdf] for the ALA website, which is one of many fascinating tidbits to be found at the ALA Web Planning Wiki. (You may remember that the biblioblogosphere’s own Wandering Eyre was part of the web planning retreat in December.)

My favorite bit of the report is this quotation from the section on URLs, which begins on p. 15:

“/Section=long-urls&suck=yes” (Yes, this is an exact quote.)

Yes, yes they do. And I, at least, got a chuckle out of it.

in defense of the dinky library, among other things

I was hugely amused, in the wake of myriad posts on politeness, or on rocking or not rocking the boat, to read this post from Josh Neff about a post he wrote, and then deleted, and then rewrote, for his library’s blog. I’m glad that the library went with the post, albeit somewhat revised, and I’m glad that there’s already one comment on it.

I’m often glad about a lot of things. If you go back and read some of the earliest entries for this blog, they’re very much of the isn’t-this-cool-I-think-so-too variety. Partly that was because I had this idea that maybe my blog would be read by people at Dominican who weren’t reading other blogs, and partly it was because, well, I did think was cool. If Jenny Levine has said something, I kind of doubt that any of us need to repeat it in order to get the word out, but I didn’t know that in May 2005, and I kind of doubt that Jenny begrudges me for linking to something she wrote and saying “me too!”

I haven’t done as much me-too-ing lately, in part because I simply haven’t been doing much blogging lately (new job, exciting outdoor stuff to be doing, still finishing up school, etc., etc.), but also because I know there are many things that I don’t really need to say. Other people have said them or are saying them.

That said, though, in the spirit of honesty before politeness and of writing in my own blog instead of just commenting on other peoples’, here’s my little rant about one of last week’s memes, the suckiness of the physical library space.

I was a little shocked by the number of people who said that they don’t use their local public library (see the comments, and also many posts I’ve lost track of). Really. Of course, I am a public librarian, and I run, or help run, a dinky little library with terrible lighting, incredibly beat up books, tempermental computers, no outlets for laptops (though I’m working on that), and, in many areas, a seriously dated and sometimes nonexistent collection. We do have comfy chairs (which, incidentally, were a patron suggestion in our totally 1.0 locked suggestion box some years ago, before I got here). And cute story time chairs.

I have used public libraries and branches in just about every place I’ve lived. I was lucky enough to grow up with the wonderful Iowa City Public Library. I started going there in preschool, when my father took me and my friend to story hour every Saturday morning and the library was still in the old Carnegie building. I “studied” there in high school (read: listened to LPs and read young adult novels and children’s books), I saw that library through two renovations and innumerable OPACs (remember the very early touchscreen ones where you drilled down through alphabetic lists of titles, authors, and LC subject headings?), and, when I was in graduate school at Iowa, I’d guess that I went to the library almost every day for a book or a movie or just to feel refreshed.

But we’re talking dinky libraries here, right? I’ve been to some of those, too. A branch of the Indianopolis Public Library, before it was expanded. The Eastlake Branch of the Minneapolis Public Library (again, before renovation). The main library in San Francisco, actually, was kind of dinky at least in terms of its book selection when I was using it back in 1996. I once got some books a suburban public library near Boston when I was visiting a friend, though I’ve forgotten which one. It was tiny but cute, and they had a lot of Danielle Steel. I used the Poughkeepsie Public Library a few times when I was babysitting in college, when it still had a card catalog. I loved all of these libraries, and quite frankly, I would far rather go into any of them, or any other public library you care to toss my way, than into Saks or Nordstrom (which, despite Meredith’s delineation of the differences, seem about the same to me–big well-lit places where people want to sell me stuff I don’t want) or into your average big box bookstore. At the library I never feel like people think I’m out to mooch when I sit down and start reading the books.

I realize, however, that I may be in the minority here. I realize that many people want clean, spacious libraries full of fancy gadgets, just as many people prefer department stores to thrift shops. But whenever I read about snazzy new libraries or see pictures of them, all bright and shiny, I can’t help but think about the people who aren’t going to feel comfortable there. I can’t help but think about what policies are being written to keep homeless people from using the library and messing up the carefully planned decor.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, librarianship-wise and biblioblogosphere-wise, of late. Now it’s back to figuring out how to cut my juvenile and young adult book order in half, if there’s anyway to rearrange things in the library to give us more space, if there’s some useful way I could do a presentation on Medline for seniors and other interested people of wildly varying technical abilities, how to go about designing an independent study so I can finish library school. . . .

Oh, and for the record, I don’t get Second Life either. Of course, I should really say that, since I’ve never tried it. But if building a library there is your thing, I say go for it! After all, not everyone would want my librarian job, either.

2006 in books

2006 is the first year that I’ve actually kept track of all the books I’ve read, though I’ve often done so for part of a year–usually the summer. To celebrate this dubious achievement, I’ve decided to let go of my usually secretive reading habits and reproduce the whole list, with a few largely uninformative notes.

Books with an R in front of them are things I reread; those with an L are ones I listened to. You’ll notice that I tend to reread a great many books.
Leaving You: The Cultural Meaning of Suicide by Lisa J. Liberman–I think I found this listed in the footnotes of another book, but I’ve forgotten what book that might be (here, I suppose, is where something like Google Book Search could come in handy).

R All New People by Anne Lamott

Revolting Librarians Redux edited by KR Roberto (now an ALA Councilor!) and Jessamyn West–I brought this along with me when I was interviewing for my current job, and I read some of it on the plane and some of it in the Irma Hotel in Cody. Note to Dominican: last I checked, your copy of this was missing, but I promise you, I didn’t take it. I got the one I read via interlibrary loan.

R Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott

A Couple of Comedians by Don Carpenter–Anne Lamott mentions Don Carpenter so favorably in her nonfiction that, after my little Lamott kick, when I ran into one of his books on the shelf at the Franklin Park Library, I had to check it out. It was pretty good–the story of a couple of guys who write for Hollywood, and full of the kind of unapologetic drug use that you find in the years before Just Say No.

L A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson–I started reading this around the time it was published, when it was sitting my mother’s bathroom. In the next few weeks, I’ll finish reading it, since we’re talking about it for this month’s book discussion. It was great fun to listen to.

Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay–I feel much the way Your Fairy Bookmother does about McKay’s books.

The Friend Who Got Away edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell–I keep reading these anthologies of essays mostly written by affluent white New Yorkers, and I don’t know why, since they invariably piss me off. This one had an interesting premise, but I didn’t think any of the essays really worked.

The Boyfriend List: 15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs, and me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart–a YA book with footnotes. I love footnotes.

Caribou Rising by Rick Bass–the book I got when my mom said one day at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, “Why don’t you pick out a book?”

Holes by Louis Sachar–I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading this. It was good.

R Winter by Rick Bass–This book starts in the fall, so it was a bit odd to be reading it when I first moved to Wyoming, at the very beginning of spring, but it seemed appropriate.

Sight Hound by Pam Houston–Pam Houston’s fiction has gotten more sentimental and less edgy over the years, but I think perhaps she’s a happier person, so while I mourn the loss of the voice that’s in Cowboys Are My Weakness and (particularly) Waltzing the Cat, I still find glimmers of it from time to time.

Oil Notes by Rick Bass–Bass is kind of an odd creature–an oil geologist turned environmental writer. Oil Notes takes place in Mississippi, where he lived before he moved to Montana, as documented in Winter.

I Am the Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes–a book I bought for the YA collection at my old library and finally got around to reading at my current library.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier–read on the recommendation of my friend Felicia. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s ideas about what happens when you die, and Brockmeier’s world of the dead is particularly appealing. And I’m down with any book where Coca-Cola takes a hit.

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall–another excellent recommendation from Felicia. It could also get a subject heading of Living Apart Together, as the main characters are married but keep separate apartments, if only Sandy Berman had more sway over the Library of Congress.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson–who came to read in Meeteetse!

Torch by Cheryl Strayed–I read Strayed’s essays when they were appearing in literary magazines and The Best American Essays and loved them, and so I was thrilled to see she’d written a novel, which, I’m happy to report, was also good.

R Black Sun by Edward Abbey–one of Abbey’s favorites of his novels, and also one of mine, even though it does kind of read like soft porn in the wilderness at times.

L’America by Martha McPhee–a good book to read if you like reading about food, art, Italy, doomed relationships, and the children of hippies.

Everyone Else’s Girl by Megan Crane–chick lit, pure and unadulterated. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

R The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

L Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

L The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen–Reading a new book by Sarah Dessen is sort of like finding out that there’s an episode of My So-Called Life that you somehow missed.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell–I wrote a bit about the differences between the audio and print versions a few months ago.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer–my coworkers loved this. I was sort of unmoved.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger–which is just as good as everybody says it is.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews–did you know that “Maternal deprivation–Fiction” is a subject heading?

L Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry–it seems like everyone in Wyoming has read this book, or at least seen the miniseries. Since I had done neither, I decided to listen to it. It took a very long time, but it was worth it. I have heard that Wolfram Kandinsky’s recording of it is better.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel–if graphic novels were more like this one, I could really get into them. Also, I encountered nine words in this book that I didn’t know, which is probably a record.

London is the Best City in America by Laura Dave–chick lit dressed up in a nice cover. Eh.

Walking it Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness by Doug Peacock–Peacock reflects on what it was like to be the model for Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang, and relates many Ed Abbey stories. Recommended to me by the former Meeteetse librarian.

R Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer–for our first book discussion.

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn–I picked this book out for our second book discussion based solely on some reviews and on the intriguing sounding premise–a woman leaves Ireland to go to Australia in the early 20th century and, at age 54, goes to live among the Aborigines. It’s an interesting book, but not one I’d recommend for a book discussion, though I would have loved to discuss it in a writing class. I did, however, have the opportunity to use librarian blogger connections in prepping for the discussion: I asked CW if there was any way she could get an article about Daisy Bates from an Australian newspaper for me, and, through the wonders of modern technology, the article got from microfilm in Australia to my inbox in Wyoming a day or two later. So cool!

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markhoe–a book in which dogs talk.

You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen–set in Madison, which I’ve only been to once, for the first National Conference on Media Reform, but which feels like an old friend anyway.

Postcards from Ed by Edward Abbey, edited by David Peterson–a disappointingly slim collection of Abbey’s correspondence.

R The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein–I read this book whenver I get really sick, as I was right after my birthday until right after Christmas (perhaps with the same bug that got the Librarian Avenger–I’m glad the librarians won).

R The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley–McKinley is my favorite writer, and I’m quite fond of this retelling of Robin Hood, though I know many people who don’t much care for it. I just learned all about the difference between different kinds of retellings (adaptations, versions, fractured fairy tales) from the ESSL Children’s Literature Blog, and you can, too.

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez–another book I found while browsing the subject heading “Radicals–Fiction.”

L Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

A Fabulous Creature by Zilpha Keatley Snyder–an odd entry in the Snyder ouvre–kind of good, but I can’t think of whom I’d recommend it to.

Marley & Me by John Grogan–I was reading this over Christmas. I was near the end one evening when I started crying. “The dog is dying!” I said to my mother. “That’s why I almost never read those books,” said my mother. “The dog always dies.” Grogan is overly wholesome for my taste, but the book is funny as well as sad. I once heard Adam Hochschild give a talk about learning to write from a newspaper editor in San Francisco who encouraged him always to put a dog in a story. It’s not bad advice.

I also read a great many blog entries, a lot of articles in newspapers and the New Yorker and The Nation, and a handful of zines.

planes, trains, and automobiles

I live a long way from just about everywhere.  (When the New York Times claims that they have nationwide home delivery, what they really mean is “nationwide home delivery if you live in a relatively populated place near a coast or major urban area.  They do not mean Meeteetse, WY, or even Cody, or, for that matter, most of the state of Iowa.  The Cody library usually has the Times about 3-4 days after it comes out, because someone who lives in Cody and gets it by mail, 2 days late, brings it over when he’s finished.  I know, I know, you can get it online.  And I do.  But I still find their advertising offensive.)

But never is it clearer just how far away I am than when I decide to go someplace else, as I did over the holidays.  By some string of miracles, I avoided all the bad weather on my drive to Denver, flight to Chicago, drive to Iowa City, train back to Chicago (detouring to Morning Sun, IA to meet up with my friend Sara and her mom and stepdad and then proceding to Burlington, IA to catch the train), flight back to Denver by way of St. Louis, and drive back to Meeteetse.  I even made a little map on Google, though it’s somewhat deceptive, since some distances were as the crow flies rather than as the car creeps. 

Anyway, I mention all of this mostly by way of saying how thankful I am to have had such an easy (if long) trip, and how sorry I am for all the folks who got stuck at Denver International Airport.  I hope you are all home and sleeping on comfortable beds by now, and that the holidays are starting to be a good story and ceasing to be such a vividly miserable experience.  I mention it also, though, because I think it’s worth remembering, from time to time, that, as I’ve noted before, the world is not flat.  We don’t all travel at broadband speeds, and things like the weather often have a greater impact than we imagine.  I find that strangely comforting.

I hope that all of you who travelled over the holidays did so safely, and that the days were merry and bright, even if the nights were long.  Happy New Year!