bibliobloggers at the round table

Some time last year a few folks in the biblioblogosphere were tossing around the idea of having a Bloggers’ Round Table in ALA. I rather liked the idea, although it did occur to me fairly early on that since half the bloggers I read aren’t ALA members (and many don’t plan to be), it might not make much sense.

I have, despite my idiosyncratic and uncompromising nature, almost always been involved in a group of some sort, from Operation US Out (a coalition that opposed the “first” Gulf War) in high school to Vassar College Campus Patrol to UI Students Against Sweatshops (it seems I specialized in groups with under-construction websites) to, now, the biblioblogosphere (I love that word, but damn it’s long!). Of course, the last is a rather different sort of group. Though we’re often in agreement (let’s hear it one more time–just how badly does the OPAC suck?), we don’t have a mission. Though some of us get to meet occasionally, we don’t hold regular meetings. And, of course, though many people list their blogs on their resumes, no one that I know of adds “The Biblioblogosphere” to the list of groups to which she belongs.

A lot of people become bloggers, I think, because they have ideas that they wish to express that aren’t getting expressed in any organizational or institutional way. Those ideas are often quite good, which is why organizations try to latch on to the people who have them, which is how you end up with something like Karen Schneider’s most recent post on the ALA TechSource blog. Many of us have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions (or so I would assume–if I didn’t have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions, I wouldn’t be shelling out the money to pay for my own webhosting) and with groups in general.

I would argue, however, that despite the many and large ways that it differs from other kinds of groups, the biblioblogosphere nonetheless is one, and that even though Blake Carver is right (in the cover story of the March issue of American Libraries–gosh, it’d be nice if I could link to the actual article) about the difficulties of getting bloggers to do things together, we are all, in our alternately blundering, sophisticated, discursive, clever, and downright uncompromising ways, working toward the same end, or at least a similar one.

We want better libraries. We want better librarianship. We want to discuss our ideas with others who may have wildly divergent ideas but who are similarly fired up about them. We want to be around others who are as passionate as we are. And, perhaps frivously but perhaps most importantly, we want to be colleages, comrades, friends.

Last week, when everyone was Twittering, debating Twitter, denouncing Twitter, defending and defining Twitter as the next big thing, wondering what the hell Twitter was, and, in probably more than one case, wondering why no one had invited them to Twitter or why no one cared what they were Twittering about, I was feeling somewhat downcast. Twitter seemed wonderfully, and horribly, symbolic of everything wrong with the world and my place in it: it was a fun but largely pointless tool that all the cool kids were playing with and I was missing out on. Missing out on the latest Web 2.0 trend is sort of like missing out on prom–you know it’s probably not all that great and that most of the people involved are probably just posturing, but it seems like a seminal experience that you’re missing out on that will divide you from the rest of the world for the rest of your life, or at least the rest of next week (which in high school tends to feel like the rest of your life).

In the midst of that general train of thought, I went down to get the mail (there’s no mail delivery in Meeteetse, so every day I walk down to the post office to pick up our newspapers (no newspaper delivery, either) and whatever catalogs and interlibrary loan packages and journals have shown up in our box–when my IM away message says “getting the mail,” that’s what I’m generally up to–that and chatting with all the people I meet along the way–it’s all library outreach). In my PO Box was this postcard from Australia from Jessamyn. It put a lot of things in perspective. For one thing, I really had no idea Australia was that big–and now I hang my head in shame for my Mercator map view of the world, with all apologies to my colleages down under. But it also reminded me that Twittering (or whatever) is not the only way to communicate, or to belong, and that sometimes it takes awhile for a message to get around the globe, or even across the room.

Impatience is another trait of the biblioblogosphere (I want a standards compliant social OPAC with relevancy ranking, faceted navigation, command line capabilities in a user-friendly format and, of course, more cowbell–and I want it NOW!), and that’s often a good thing. But it’s also worth remembering that sometimes the news takes time. I worked with UI Students Against Sweatshops for over three years, and in terms of broader world impact, about all I can say is that there is one factory in Mexico that has a union now that didn’t before. I can also say that the UI has more policies and procedures in place that might help make that kind of gain a reality in more places, but I can’t say it’s happened yet. The biblioblogosphere isn’t working with a list of demands or even a list of points of unity. We’re just firing rockets into the night, hoping they ignite something and that that ignition causes a conflagration, and that that fire is the kind that does not simply destroy but also makes way for new things to be born. I’m eager and interested to see what will happen.

january and february reading

I’ve been thinking lately about how I might become a better librarian in the next year. The first thing that popped into my mind–read more books. I know, I know, we’re about more than books. We have CDs! and movies (VHS and DVD!) and databases! and downloadable audiobooks! But seriously, the most frequent question I get at the library, even more frequent than “Where’s the bathroom?” is, “What’s a good book to read?”

So, in the interests of reading more books and, perhaps even more importantly, retaining something about them, I’ve decided to do updates about what I’ve read a little more frequently. It’s halfway through March and I’m just now getting to my January and February reading, but so it goes. Someday maybe I’ll write proper reviews of books like Rick and Maggie and Nonanon and Jessamyn, but for now I’m just trying to get them down with a few notes. Again, an L in front of a book means it’s one I’ve listened to; an R indicates a book I reread. A couple of the pithier notes and reviews below (at least I hope they’re pithy) come from the New Books Newsletter that I recently started for the library, which I am distributing by (gasp!) e-mail and which is also included as (are you sitting down?) part of the Friends of the Library’s new newsletter, which we pring on paper and send through the mail.


Archangel by Sharon Shinn–I used to love fantasy when I was young, but grown up fantasy books very rarely live up to my expectations. My mother told me to read this a long time ago, and a friend said I ought to read it recently, and on the plane home after Christmas I finally did. It’s still not the fantasy experience of my youth, but the notion of a society in which people sing (well), all the time, is a pleasant one, and if you like the kind of romance in which people who hate each other finally fall in love, you should give this a try, even if the fantasy/science fiction angle isn’t something you’d go for normally.

Sick Puppy by Carl Hiassen–I read Team Rodent right after I graduated from college (a great short nonfiction book about how Disney has destroyed central Florida), but I’d never read any of his fiction. I picked this one up based on a review in Jenna’s zine. Her review noted that the main character was “like Eric but with a trust fund and less anger management,” which sounded up the alley of some people I know, too. Good fun.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin–I picked this up because Dirty Librarian (who writes the best short reviews I’ve ever read) liked it and it was on the shelf at the library. It’s kind of your basic YA disaster novel in which there are kids living with an abusive mother, but it’s somewhat novel in that it’s written as a letter by the oldest kid to the youngest. It’s a fast read, and I think I saw it listed somewhere as a good one for reluctant readers, which it might well be.

The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne–Even if you love your family, a holiday spent in close proximity to them can be intense. In this novel, two sisters, their families, and their father, from whom they have long been estranged, reunite for Thanksgiving and all kinds of old secrets come out.

L Empire Falls by Ricahrd Russo–I keep hoping for another one of Richard Russo’s books to be as funny as Straight Man. None of them quite are, but they’re all still good. This one starts slowly, but by the end I had to bring the tapes in from the car (where I do most of my audiobook listening) so I could go on with the story. If you’ve read Nobody’s Fool, this is like that (small dying upstate New York/New England town, motley cast of characters, funny but not always laugh-out-loud funny) but richer.

R Coyotes and Towndogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement by Susan Zakin–Some people read thrillers. I read books about activists. This is one of them. And now I live in Wyoming, where some of this takes place.

Alabama Moon by Watt Key–Give this to the kids who like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet. It’s a darker story, dealing with a father who’s a survivalist-type and what happens to his son after he dies, but it’s full of details on living in the wilderness and making your own food and shelter and so on. And the Alabama setting is fascinating–I think we tend to forget that there are areas of wilderness east of the 100th meridian.

The Ninemile Wolves by Rick Bass–Have I mentioned that I love Rick Bass? Hint: if you come to Wyoming, do not mention wolves–although you can get this book at our library. It was written in 1991, before the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, when that was still jsut a pipedream, but the fights are still being fought, and several people whose names I read in the paper every week or so are characters in this book.

I also reread much of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which was our book discussion book for January. So far as I could tell, everyone loved it. The problem with reading funny books for book discussions is that the discussion tends to go like this: “Oh, remember the part where ___ happened?” “Oh, that was so funny!” “Oh, and the part where ___!” “Oh, that just made me laugh and laugh!”

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood–Ten semi-autobiographical stories that read like a slightly disjointed novel. Here’s Atwood’s official and rather peculiar website, and an older but still interesting interview from January magazine.

Him Her Him Again the End of Him by Patricia Marx–You can now read an excerpt online at! I myself was drawn in by the opening:

I was in high school when I read The Bell Jar and thought it was about a lucky girl who wins a contest and gets to go to Europe. But what about Sylvia Plath’s trying to drown herself? After she strings herself up and before she swallows pills? To tell you the truth, I don’t think I looked at that part.

The narrator of this book by former Saturday Night Live/current New Yorker writer Marx, is answering questions at the marginally bloggish site

Miniatures by Norah Labiner–If you do not care for passages like this

Lord grant me the cloak of disguise that Athena loaned to Odysseus so that I may meander through the ruins taking stock of chattel and charnel before the spell breaks and my all-encompassing swath of darkness is transformed into black wool. Lord grant me but a secure hour, a sand-bagged story, a nimble pen, a wandering eye, a leper’s lassitude, a loner’s intemperence, a fetishist’s foot, a poet’s prudence, a pen pal’s prurience, a playmate’s provocation, a pornographer’s persistance. Grant me a sensitive syntax, weak-roped gallows, safe Southern passage, and a face impossible to remember.

–you will probably not like this book, which involves a young American who goes to Europe to avert various catastrophes at home and ends up working for a couple of expatriate American writers and discovering letters and long-lost secrets and so on. The male half of the couple was once married to a woman whose life bears a remarkable similarity to that of Sylvia Plath, but the story goes all over the place from there.

R Road Song by Natalie Kusz–our February book discussion book. Kusz’s mother and father and their children, who were all quite small, left California in 1969 to move to Alaska, where they made a life for themselves despite varied and numerous hardships. Most people liked this book, and we had an interesting discussion about why people feel sympathy toward Kusz’s family, which went unprepared into the wilderness, and rather less sympathetic toward Chris McCandless, from Into the Wild, who did likewise.

L The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton–I saw the TV movie of this several years ago and have been meaning to read the book ever since. Angela Jayne Rogers does a fine job with the narration. If you like the young women from poor backgrounds overcome obstacles but not in a Horatio Algerish way, you’ll probably like this book too.

election time

Update: Some more information from current ALA Councilors–Heidi Dolamore notes in the comments that you can, in fact, log in and out again multiple times, and Michael McGrorty points us to a PDF of candidate statements. Thanks to both!

I am frequently glad that it is not my job to organize the ALA election each year, since it always seems plagued by difficulties. Instead, I settle for organizing candidate information.

I’ve tagged (using all the blog posts and e-mails (thanks, pasta!) I’ve run across giving recommendations and endorsements for the ALA elections this year. You can find them at If you know of some I’ve missed, please send them my way by commenting here, sending an e-mail to newrambler at gmail dot com, or tagging them ALAelection07.

Official candidate information is also online, according to ALA, but you have to log in with your election password, which I just received this morning. I’m not sure if you can log in to look at the candidate information and then log back out and log in again later to vote, so I haven’t tried it out yet.

free as in . . .?

Via PublishersLunch from Publishers Marketplace, news that Jonathan Lethem is proposing to subvert the dominant book/movie copyright paradigm, at least somewhat.

Also, I trust others have reported this, but according to US News and World Report, we’re among “25 professions that will growing in demand as baby boomers age, the Internet becomes ubiquitous, and Americans seek richer, simpler lives.”  While I’m happy to get positive press for librarians, I can only assume that the reporters for this story did not spend much, if any, time perusing the many listserv and blog threads on the myth of the librarian shortage.

one year in, lots more to go

One year ago today I started my job here in Meeteetse. I put together a handout of some of the things that we’ve done–and I should emphasize the we, because most of these things would not be possible without the work of my coworkers–in the past year for the Legislative Reception last month. I thought that for my one-year anniversary, I’d post it (with various self-promotional hyperlinks) here.

In 2006, the Meeteetse Branch Library. . .

There are many more things I’d like to do, and many I’d like to do differently, or better, but for today I’m just focusing on all the stuff that we have done, which, if I do say so myself, seems like quite a bit.