Friday, April 30, 2010

Shocked, shocked and appalled

Man Dismayed to Find Library Books End Up in Trash

The link above is for a story that appeared in the Bucks County [PA] Courier Times. Read it and come back here.

I see a similar story every few years. A citizen, somewhere, is appalled to discover that his local library is throwing away books. Books in good condition, relatively can this be? (In this version, they were headed to recycling.)

The journalist, Peter Hall, does a good job showing both sides of the story. The library director interviewed explains why the library is taking this action and what alternatives they explored before they made the decision to recycle the books. No, it's not so simple to sell or give away the books, it's not even that simple to recycle them--we once had Boy Scouts slicing off the covers of discarded books with box cutters, and it made me a little uneasy.

 In the article, and in the comments section below it, librarians and library users hash out the issues. I think there are some very interesting questions raised in this discussion: what is the purpose of the library? To be a Citadel of Fine Literature? To be a Wi-Fi equipped-alternative to retail book stores? To preserve the culture? To change with the times, have more DVDs, fewer books?

Ideally, impossibly, what people want is a library that can be all things, for all people: that buys every new book/movie/CD/magazine published and keeps them forever; is open every day and every night; is staffed by volunteers (with Master's degrees), and heated by fairy dust.

The truth is, we work within our means. We make choices all the time about what we'll buy and what we'll weed, and it's never easy. Well, sometimes it's obvious: take a peek at  Awful Library Books

The concerned citizen in Bucks County was looking for a particular book, which the library had recently weeded. At the very end of the piece (spoiler alert) he actually finds the book in the dumpster. The author mentions that the title is available on for $.01. Once I wondered whether to discard a book that hadn't circulated for decades. I took it off the shelf. The next week, a person walked in, and asked for that book. I made an interlibrary loan request, and had it for her in 48 hours.

The reality is that the library has limited resources. It always has. We have to make the best choices we can, and there will always be people who aren't satisfied with the choices we make. If we didn't make anyone unhappy, ever, we wouldn't be doing our jobs well.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

When I was a kid, one of the big thrills in the school library was the filmstrip collection. We couldn't take them home, but we could use them there. Thinking back, they were really less than exciting, but then there were only five channels on tv back then. I used to bring home, and read, a book a day.

Nowadays you can borrow not just books, but magazines, music, movies and audiobooks. You can download eBooks, audiobooks and movies from the Upper Hudson website from the comfort of your own home. We, and many of the libraries in our system, also have museum passes which you can check out. They usually offer free entrance for two adults and two children--we have them for MassMOCA, the Berkshire Museum, and the Schenectady Museum. Each of these is a great attraction for all ages. Here is a shot I took at MassMoca, which is the largest center for contemporary visual and performance arts in the United States.

We used the giant blobs like funhouse mirrors. Hey, art can be fun.

Because we believe in the Healing Power of Handiwork, we also circulate Knitting Kits, a handy bag with a pair of needles, a short instruction booklet and a ball of yarn. I worked at a library that circulated fishing poles. It was common once upon a time for libraries to circulate framed paintings and prints. I know of libraries that circulate jigsaw puzzles, board games, and computer games. And I've heard of libraries that circulate shaped cake tins--isn't that a great idea?

Our library moved into its new space last September--what new item would you like to see us circulate? 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reduce, reuse, recycle...the library is way ahead of you...

Last night I watched most of "No Impact Man", a documentary about the Beavan family, who spent a year trying to reduce their carbon footprint to zero. (There's a book, too.) They tried to eat locally, buying only food that did not come in a disposable container; they got rid of their tv, refrigerator, etc., and eventually phased out all electricity. What's interesting is that they did this from a cramped ninth floor apartment in Manhattan. In some ways that may have made it an easier experiment--no need for a car, or a lawnmower--but in some ways tougher. Where do you hang your (handwashed) laundry? Where do you keep your worm composting bin? And just how do you live without toilet paper? (Hint.)

Of course, the library is a terrific resource in efficiency. For a truly modest investment, the whole community shares a vast collection of books, magazines, music and videos, plus the daily papers, and the use of computers, and Internet connectivity. You can't beat that. Whenever someone returns something and sadly tells me that it doesn't play, or that it's falling apart, I check to see how many times the item has circulated. Many of our movies go out 60 or 70 or 80 times. To see what kind of value you get from your library, try this handy calculator.

The library is also a resource to learn about the reduction of unnecessary consumption, and new ways to be thrifty. May I suggest "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping", by Judith Levine, as an excellent starting point. To find more books, search the catalog for the subject heading Consumer Education. I suggest you sort the results by date--while some ideas may be timeless, it won't be useful to read a book on how to research the purchase of a car if the book was written before the Internet existed. And, of course, you can find loads of information on how to cook from scratch, start a garden, and recycle materials to make new things. You'll save money, learn something, and have fun.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Becoming a Librarian

So, Keith Richards, you want to be a librarian? (He says he does.) Here's the rules:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.
These rules were written by A.S. Ranganathan, librarian, and published in 1931. That's all you need. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

The coolest librarian I know is Nancy Pearl, the real life model for the Librarian Action Figure. She was the first to introduce the concept of a community-wide book read, which has since spread around the world.

Here's a photo of us together.

When the Librarian Action Figure came out, it was criticized for looking stereotypically "librarian". Nancy says that the original dress was only dowdy when it was re-created in plastic. I say she's info-science hot.

I have three of these. When we decorated a book cart in the Pimp My Bookcart contest run by the library comic strip Unshelved, it was made into a pirate ship, and a Librarian Action Figure was the captain. Aargh.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Does the Earth know it's Earth Day?

When I was a child I was a big fan of tv shows in which people had wild animal friends, living happily together: Flipper, Gentle Ben, and Elsa the Lioness. While this was long before reality tv, at the time I believed that this was an accurate representation of what life would be like if you committed to a life in khaki clothes.

Radiolab recently aired a show entitled Lucy , which tells the story of a family who raised a chimp from infancy, as an experiment, to see if one could be integrated into a human family. (Radiolab is an hourlong radio show that explores issues of popular science, in an inventive and humorous style.) That this has been tried before, and always fails, and can have tragic consequences, seems self-evident to us now. There was a recent book about a similar experiment, Nim Chimsky: the Chimp Who Would Be Human, and it is also a compelling story.

The show featured the writer Charles Siebert, who has written about Lucy and other human-ape encounters, in his book, The Wauchula Woods Accord: Towards a New Understanding of Animals. Lucy's story is a good example of why I like to read non-fiction--if it were a novel, I wouldn't buy it, I wouldn't believe it could really happen. Truth is so much stranger than fiction (another example: The Lost City of Z)

Our local public radio affiliate does not air Radiolab, but you can listen online, and download a new podcast every two weeks. I have learned of many interesting books from the show, and also new favorite musical artists, like Juana Molina. (This link will lead you to the one recording available in our system, she has many more...)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cooking the Books

I just recently discovered that one of my credit cards was awarding me points that I could use to buy books with. Well, you don't have to tell me twice. I immediately selected three titles, two of which are cookbooks.

Cookbooks are one of my favorite genres. I love trying new recipes, learning about food, and eating at home, especially with an appreciative guest at the table. I grew up in a traditional family, with a mom who poured her love into the food she placed before us. My dad, on the other hand, could not be trusted to operate a can opener properly. He was not one of the fathers who made his famous pancakes on the weekend, or who ruled the barbecue grill.  The invention of the microwave bacon holder rocked his world. He did have the more adventurous palate, however, and I have fond memories of the two of us going out and sampling exotic foods together.While they gave me a good grounding in tasty, healthy eating, neither parent taught me the finer points of cookery. I learned much of my kitchen craft from many well-loved, now-grimy cookbooks--my 20-something year old copy of The Moosewood Cookbook is probably composed of 50% actual food at this point.

These days, men and women are equally at home in the kitchen. I do see a generational difference when talking about cookbooks in the library--younger people like them to have lots of illustrations. Having grown up with the photo-free "Joy of Cooking", I don't see the need, but they probably did not grow up as I did, seeing food prepared from scratch on a daily basis.

I've even heard some people say we don't need cookbooks anymore, given the plethora of recipes available online. There are plenty out there, that's for sure, and it can be very helpful to consult YouTube in some situations--say, when rolling sushi for the first time.

I still favor traditional cookbooks for a few reasons (1) when I find a cookbook writer who is a good match for my tastes and skill level, I look forward to a books-worth of recipes to peruse and experiment with. I can think of three writers off the top of my head, who I feel like I know personally, whose trusted, knowledgeable voices keep me company in the kitchen: Lorna Sass, Nigella Lawson, and Madhur Jaffrey; (2) there are some great cookbooks that are plain fun to read, with witty asides, or intriguing anecdotes. Jewish Cooking in America gives me the history of my grandparents' generation, as they made their way in a new world. Extending the Table: a World Community Cookbook, includes many poignant culinary vignettes culled from the experiences of Mennonite travelers around the world. Blue Jelly: Love Lost and the Lessons of Canning, will tell you everything you need to know about making jelly, and cooking your way out of a rut in your life; and (3) there are some cookbooks that are enormously fun to read, but include recipes you'd never make, or even want to eat, such as White Trash Cooking, and Eat Me: the Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. The first might come in handy if Elvis drops by, the second I can't describe, just read it for yourself, if you dare...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Books You Carry With You

I love books, their size, weight, smell. I love book covers, endpapers, dedication pages, versos. I love it when books have a little ribbon book mark attached to their binding--why don't they all have that? I love paperbacks, hard covers, audiobooks, and I would have one of every electronic reader if I could afford it, which is why I don't have any...yet....I love bookstores, new or used, brick or online, independent or chain.

There are specific books that I love so much I've read them more times than I care to admit, and I buy copies of them over and over to give as gifts. One of those is "Operating Instructions: a Journal of My Son's First Year", by Anne Lamott. She went on to be one of the regular columnists for the online magazine, for a section entitled "Mothers Who Think". I am a fan of her non-fiction, which I recommend you listen to, if you're into audiobooks. She reads them herself. When an author is also a gifted reader, it's a doubly exquisite experience. (If you don't believe in audiobooks yet, try something by Bill Bryson, or Frank McCourt, or listen to Eat, Pray, Love. Quick, quick, before the movie comes out.)

Recently one of my friends announced to our stitchery group that she would disown us as friends if we didn't read Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder. I happened upon a copy a few days later at a book sale, but haven't read it yet. (Don't tell her.)

What about you? Do you pick up Pride and Prejudice every summer? Set sail with Master and Commander from time to time? Do you have a go-to book when you need a good laugh (Mapp and Lucia), or a good cry (the last two pages of Sounder)? Did you give all your friends The Color of Water? Tell everyone to try Bad Monkeys? Tell me....I'd like to know...

Friday, April 9, 2010

How-to how-to’s…

There’s a new genre of self-help–books with tips on everyday tasks that everyone used to know. I’m thinking of How to Sew a Button: and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, by Erin Bried. Some of you still possess this sort of knowledge, and will be surprised to hear that there are people who must be told that chicken stock is made with leftover chicken bones….just the other day I was making a shrimp marinade in the kitchen and heard “Gross! What’s wrong with those shrimp? Aren’t they supposed to be pink?” To which I replied, “Not when they’re raw. Have you been in this room of the house before? Do you know what it’s for?”
How to Sew a Button is for people like my young friend in the kitchen. The author, Erin Bried, lives in New York City, and we know this because in the foreword, we find this line: “It’s been so long since I’ve done my own laundry that I can no longer remember if you wash clothes in hot or cold.” For reference, she uses a cadre of grandmas. No offense, gents, but your grandma probably took care of your grandpa in a way you won’t be getting from the mail order bride of your dreams. They just don’t make housewives like they used to. My mom ironed Dad’s hankies into perfect little squares, and wore a dress to do it, too. These days she’s hoofing it to Vegas and buying rotisserie chicken to go…
The book covers most of adult life–there are chapters on Cooking, Gardening, Cleaning, Fitness, Budgeting, and Relationships, romantic and otherwise. It may sound mostly housekeeping related, but there are sections entitled How to Sing in Harmony, and How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Can any book cover this much ground thoroughly in any given area? Probably not. But it’s a fun read. Whether the people who need this information will know to look it up is another story. Some of it is clearly for entertainment purposes only–I offer a free darning egg from my collection to the first person to show me evidence that they’ve read and put to use the steps in “How to Darn a Wool Sock”.
I think Martha Stewart’s method for folding a fitted sheet beats the one in this book. Here’s a link to her website, with helpful photos. You just can’t beat the Martha….