Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check is a way for us to share what we are reading at the moment, no matter how brilliant, menial, or embarrassing.
What with the high demands of information school, I haven’t had much time lately to read anything of my own choosing. I set out this weekend with that singular goal: read something I already own, have not read, and will not be citing for any schoolwork. I’ve reached five pages of that goal, but the book itself is looking promising. I’ve had War of Words by Simon Read sitting on my shelf for months, just waiting for a chance to be savored. With a subtitle like A True Tale of Newsprint and Murder, and the riveting combination of the Old West, pistol duels, and newspaper editors trying to make a buck and tell the truth, I am sold. The prologue (the extent of my reading so far) depicts a man, James King of William, making a living in the mean world of San Francisco newspapers in the 1850s. The foreshadowing does not look good for Mr. King. This seems like a guilty pleasure I won’t have to be ashamed of, and corrects the distinct lack of exciting non-fiction in my life of late (no offense Derrida).
I’m just starting Changes by Mercedes Lackey. The novel is the third book of The Collegium Chronicles, which follows the establishment of the Heralds’ Collegium, part of Lackey’s extensively developed world of Valdemar. What I have read so far has been thoroughly enjoyable, as were the first two books, and has focused largely on an exhibition game of kirball. Kirball is kind of like a combination of Quidditch and capture-the-flag, but with horses, foot-soldiers, Heralds, and Companions. I promise it all makes sense if you’re familiar with the world, or even if you start with the first book of the series. My take: two thumbs up, and I hope I’ll have enough time in the next three weeks to finish it before it’s due at the library.
I’m finishing up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed these books (especially the last three, considering I’ve read all of them in last than 2 weeks), especially Percy’s development as an annoying pre-teen to his more mature (if a little cocky) 16-year-old. The pacing of the books is great, mixing action, adventure, a hint of romance, and realistic life lessons. I’m almost 2/3rds through the last one and I wish I could be reading it instead of reading about how video games can change education (hint: they really can’t, at least not with the education system we have now). On my graphic novels front, I’ve taken a break from Sandman (mostly because the 4th volume wasn’t available at the Library) and have gotten back into Locke and Key, a thoroughly terrifying horror/thriller story. The story is heavily helped out by the incredible artwork, which is highly detailed and beautifully colored. The story itself is intriguing and complicated, if a little risque at times. A truly great graphic novel.
Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check is a way for us to share what we are reading at the moment, no matter how brilliant, menial, or embarrassing.
I am reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Actually, that’s not the proper title of the book. The proper title is the picture of Earth that you see on the cover. If you look closely, you will notice a little asterisk next to the picture with the corresponding explanation (in this case, the words being used as the title) underneath Bryson’s name on the cover. Since pictures can’t be titles, I guess we will have to make do with words, unless anyone wants to take on that blatant metadata challenge. Anyone?
I’ve been a fan of Bryson’s for a while now, starting with Mother Tongue, which is about the English language and features an entire chapter on the history of swear words. Fascinating, I tell you. For an etymology geek like me, Bryson’s combination of curiosity and a keen sense of the ridiculous made a book that was already of interest into a wildly entertaining read. Bryson’s humor and curiosity have followed him through years as successful writer on travel and the English language to science. The book ostensibly covers “nearly everything” as the title implies, but I’ve only just made it past the creation of the solar system, so I’ve got a ways to go yet. The book is extremely well written and researched but presented in a very accessible way. The chapters are relatively short and are frequently broken up into smaller chunks, which makes this book perfect for bedtime reading – funny and engaging but not overwhelming and presented in digestible portions.
I am currently about halfway through Cast in Fury by Michelle Sagara. Cast in Fury is the fourth novel in Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra. The main character, Kaylin, is a sort of private investigator in a world with a number of species that are relatively at peace with one another, but still negotiating living together. In this volume, Kaylin’s supervisor (a Leonine) is under investigation for murder. While Kaylin is assigned to another case, she does look into the details of what happened with her supervisor and encounters a number of cultural norms that make the case delightfully complex for the reader and not-so-delightfully complex for the character. Sagara has developed a rich world. As a former anthropology student, discovering the variety of social and cultural norms through the plot rather than plain exposition is enjoyable.
I started reading this series several years ago, and when I was pulling together this post I realized that I had somehow skipped the third book. I guess I’ll just have to read that one next! You can read the first chapter of Cast in Fury at the author’s website.
One of the few things that I love as dearly as old books is old photographs. Due to various internet sources, especially the always fabulous mental_floss, I first heard about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs months before it came out. Due to what sounded like an eerily fascinating story, combined with extensive use of an old photo collection, I knew this book would catch my attention. It rather slipped my mind, until it was recently brought to my attention then kindly given to me as a birthday gift. I’m not too far into the book yet, and the adventure is about to begin. Already, though, we have met a teenage boy, Jacob, largely friendless, who has spent his life listening to his grandfather’s stories about monsters and strange characters from his past. After his grandfather is seemingly killed by a monster, Jacob sets out to make sense of his grandfather’s last words and find the truth in what had seemed like fantastical stories from his childhood. This will lead him to an island near Britain, and (I hope) more wonderful photographs interspersed with the story. I’ll admit that it’s a bit slow going, moreso than I had hoped, but there is still plenty of time for the plot to develop in exciting, delicious, and creepily picturesque ways. Check out the trailer here.
For this upcoming month I was asked to choose the book for a speculative fiction book club. Going with the theme of horror (for Halloween), and because it was on my list to read anyway, I selected Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is more well know for Fahrenheit 451, but I feel like this book better showcases his talents as a storyteller, intricately weaving three stories together. The story is set in the midwest and focuses on two 13-year-old boys, William “Will” Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who are best friends, next door neighbors, and connected by the fact that they were born the same night, but on different days. One dark and stormy night a carnival comes into town, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’m drawn to the descriptions of the boys, who are the same in so many ways, but are also opposites, one light and one dark. The growing mystery also intrigues me, Bradbury did a fantastic job of building the tension within the story, as well as blending the lyrical storytelling with the movement of the plot.
It must also be said that I’m reading The Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman. I’m still on the fence about it in many ways, sometimes I finish a chapter and am intrigued, the next chapter I’m disgusted. The artwork is visceral and moving, the story is only so-so (at least in the first one, the second one picked up a bit).
As the time has come to once again return to the proverbial grindstone, shoving my nose into the books that now largely exist in PDF form, I can’t help but notice what my course list is telling me about necessary skills and knowledge in the information profession. Of my four archives-oriented courses, two are distinctly about social theory, while two are practical computer and programming courses. Half my work is theory, half is computer-based. I’m sure that 50-50 split is not exact regarding the demands of the profession, and there are many other skills that are also crucial (I still long for the days of my physical preservation class last year), but theory and practice are both crucial to performing an accurate, thorough, complex job that, hyperbolically speaking, can impact all of society.
This is why going to library school is important. Much as teachers must also take psychology courses in order to understand their students, librarians and archivists, at least the good ones, should understand the theories of the profession and know how to understand their users and their needs. Learning how to code XML means nothing if I don’t know how the XML will be used. Meanwhile, knowing what is important for users in a cultural framework is irrelevant if I don’t know how give them an accurate finding aid.
As information professionals, we must remember that we are here to help to create access to what people need, and there are multiple facets of both users and information that we must understand in order to do so. Perhaps jolly old fellows like Proust and Derrida are always lurking below the surface, telling us what we need to think about before touching a line of code or a single subject guide.
As one of the final elements of this summer, I attended the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual conference in Chicago. This was my first professional conference. The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest national professional organization for archivists, so the conference is quite large. I was nervous! But, armed with my business cards and a schedule, I had a great time.
I would agree with past suggestions for conference attendance, but here’s some observations and recommendations of my own:
1. Swag can be a great way to network. At SAA, ribbons that attach to your name badge are all the rage. While many are provided by the conference itself (for example: student, new member, SAA fellow, etc.), members also print their own (such as: I like beer, fancy, deranger, etc.). Tracking down ribbons gives you a reason to start a conversation. Also, some ribbons may encourage others to speak to you. I found that by wearing a student ribbon, folks were extra friendly!
2. Chose something unexpected. While many of your session choices might be motivated by personal interests or work responsibilities, selecting a session about something different can be especially beneficial. You’re more likely to learn something new and identify opportunities for growth and collaboration. Plus, you get a little mental break while still taking in valuable conference activities.
3. Use twitter! Before grad school, I thought twitter was seriously silly. I’ve found that it is a great tool for professional development – you can follow fellow professionals in a less formal relationship than through listservs or Linkedin. During conferences, twitter can be particularly helpful for gleaning information from sessions you aren’t attending, finding someone to have lunch with, or hearing about event changes. Using a twitter app (I use Tweetdeck) to organize your twitter feeds is very helpful in this kind of situation. Just be sure to use the correct conference hashtag when tweeting or searching! You can explore tweets from SAA here.
Have you picked up any other great conference tips? Tell us about them in the comments!
Customer service and providing excellent goods and services is at the heart of Librarianship.
This thought stemmed from an experience I had recently. My local library was hosting a summer game series, part of which was online and part of which was reading 5 books, filling out a form, and turning it in at the local library. When you turn the form in, you receive a code for an online badge, which also entered you into the grand prize drawing for various electronic gadgetry. I got an email update about the end of the contest looming and decided to venture to my local branch to secure my entry. I printed off the form, filled it out and went to the reference desk, where I was met with blank stares and lots of um-ing and ah-ing. “Oh, the online contest is over, it ended last week,” was the response to my query about gamecodes. I was confused, certainly the only reason I’d come in was because of an email received the day before reminding us that the end was nigh. The reference desk attendant then sat back in her chair and started doing whatever it is she was doing on her computer. The other attendant hadn’t even bothered to look up. Now, I could have fought and been obnoxious (in another lifetime I would have, but my more adult self has learned that won’t get you anywhere), instead I decided to try another branch. The second branch turned to be much more useful, the reference desk attendant took my form, gave me a coupon for free bread at Great Harvest, and added the badge to my online page, it took less than five minutes.
The question I ask is whether the first person had know the game wasn’t over and wanted to get back to checking her Facebook status, if she didn’t know how to add the badges to the online game, or if she truly thought the game was over. In any case, the answer is that she provided incredibly poor customer service and, if I were a less determined individual, she might have discouraged someone from coming back to the library.
Coming from a customer service background, the antipathy that is shown to patrons by classmates and colleagues is disheartening and destructive. Now, I’m not saying we should treat patrons like traditional customers (they aren’t always right, after all), but we should at least take the initiative to provide excellent care to them. Sitting at a desk, eyes glued to the computer, is not encouraging someone to seek your help. Neither is giving quick answers then immediately returning to your computer work, without making sure that the answer is enough or truly what they are looking for.
Being a librarian is a service position, the entire job should be focused on providing quality services to your patrons, which includes providing them with someone who is friendly, responsible and happy to help them. Because, without these returning patrons, libraries really are screwed.