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 just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I am, once again, late to the party on this book, but I finished it in time to see the movie. Does that count? Anyway, I’d heard some conflicting reviews, which made me a little cautious to begin reading this one. I picked it up last week, and within 15 pages I was hooked. As Darth Vader might say, “The voice is strong with this one,” and, as a reader, voice is one of the crucial elements that I require of a story. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The world is on the verge of some crucial events, and Jackson is a flashpoint on the issue of civil rights. The story has three narrators: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minny are black domestic servants while Skeeter is a rich white girl recently returned from college with the dream of becoming a writer. Skeeter sells a book idea to a publisher in New York – she’s going to write about what its like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South. The only problem is, she needs to convince at least a dozen maids to tell her their stories. Aibileen and Minny sign on first. As each narrator takes a chunk of the story, we see many different aspects of the white/black tension present in Mississippi at the time as well as peeking into each narrator’s personal life. Some critics have said that this is yet another book about black people’s lives from a white person’s point of view, and while they’re not wrong, they are missing the point. The author has included an afterward, which, in contrast to the usual afterward full of hot air and empty words, is a part of the story that pulled it all together for me. She says, “I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.” This attempt, while undoubtedly imperfect, is still an attempt, and it if it has opened a few more minds, it has done its job.
I have a little bit of book ADD right now, mostly because I’m reading at least 2 books and shoving in graphic novels in between.
The first book I’m reading is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (mostly due to Meggan’s recommendation last month). It’s the story of Oskar Schell and his quest to solve a riddle left by his father, who died in the World Trade Center. Oskar is one of the best narrators I’ve read, his voice is distinctive and fascinating, but also rings true of any 9-year-old you might happen upon with his stream-of-consciousness though process. I’m excited to get into the bullk of the story, since I’m only about 100 pages in.
The second book is quite a different one, in terms of tone and audience. It’s called Leviathan and it is by Scott Westerfeld (who you might know from the Uglies, Pretties and Specials trilogy of books). Leviathan is a re-imagining of World War One, with the addition of steam powered walking artilleries (think The Empire Strikes Back) and genetically modified animals. The Clankers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and her allies, and the Darwinists, England and her allies, are coming to odds due to their differing opinions of industrialization. We view the story from the point of view of Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy in the English air force, and from Alek, the crown prince and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire after his parents are murdered in Sarajevo.
I really enjoy how facts are intertwined with the steam-punk elements, it’s a nice history lesson. The one aspect that nags at me is that he Darwinists have genetically modified and combined animals to make things such as flying whales, which rival the hydrogen powered Zeppelins of the Clankers. It’s a rather large leap of faith that they are capable of such advanced technology, not to mention the moral problems of enslaving and changing animals.
I won’t bore you with a summary of the graphic novels, but I read Echo Volume 1, 2, and 3 by , Chew Volume 1 and 2 by, and have just started The Walking Dead Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman.
My tendency to get overzealous about books and start five at a time has really come back to haunt me, and I’m now determined to stick closely with one at a time until the task is completed. Right now, I’m getting deep into Six Days by Elinor Glyn. She was a well known romance novelist of the 1920s (I hope somebody out there has heard of It, the origin of the term “It girl,” which was made into a movie starring Clara Bow. That was Elinor Glyn). Anyway, the story follows Laline Lester and David Lamont, who first meet in Washington then again cross paths on a steamer bound for Europe. I am only halfway through the book, and have just begun the “six days” stage: David Lamont’s six days of vacation time between assignments. Of course there is a dash of mystery and political intrigue, what with the recent end of World War I, and the blurb promises a cave collapse and plenty of grand adventures for our heroes before the story ends. This book was lent to me by the erstwhile Mimsi Marsh, who masterfully discussed the book on her blog (warning: she does give away major plot points, so if you have any hope of reading the book, you want to only read the beginning of her post – it is worth it). Sometimes, a romantic adventure from the 1920s is the best cure for a serious case of summer.
Recently, I was catching up with a friend. We chatted about our respective summer internships and the projects we were working on. He asked me, “Do you like the work?” At the time, the question startled me. “Do I like the work?” I repeated to myself, and half a second later I replied without hesitation, “Yes, I like the work.” “So do I,” he said.
What has struck me about this conversation is that simple question. Do you like the work? It is so easy to get caught up in the schooling: the circular discussion on topics that aren’t relevant to the day to day workings of a library or archive, the professors who haven’t worked in the field in years, the seemingly pointless assignments with ridiculous hoops to jump through all in the name of a degree that doesn’t guarantee that you can actually perform the job you are striving to win.
In the last year, it has becoming obvious to me how far the schooling is from the actual work of a librarian. Without an internship or part-time job in a library, it is very easy to lose yourself in the forest of minutiae and and wonder how these things apply to real life. After my internship, I am not only certain that I like the work, but I can see how many of the endless debates that have annoyed me about school have given me a valuable frame of reference with which to approach my work as a growing information professional. Here are some tips that I’ll be using in the next year to keep myself focused and remembering that I am headed in the right direction:
1. Work in a relevant environment. This might be through an internship or a part-time job or both. Get exposure to the actual work that you think you want to do. You might change your mind, and it’s much easier to switch up part-time jobs and coursework before you’re searching for a full-time job.
2. Talk to the people who do the job you want to do. Or even just people who work in similar environments. I have found that every time I talk with an actual librarian, I feel centered, capable, and focused – a complete contrast to the way my school work makes me feel. Find out what they are looking for in a new librarian, the kinds of skills that are crucial to the job and ways to go about gaining them. Ask them for tips to get ahead, about trends they see in the field, and about crucial resources for the profession. Don’t forget to stay in touch! This might mean the occasional email or a few minutes of chatting at a meeting.
3. Go to conferences. Yes, they are expensive, but they’re not getting any cheaper and student discounts can help out with the cost. Conferences will show you the real state of the field, plus there are lots of real librarians to talk to about their work. Check out the poster sessions, the vendor booths, and the meetings. Find out where your interests align with the field and then pursue them.
4. Frequently search job postings. Many schools and listservs will send out job postings daily. Scan the ones that look like the kind of work you want to do and then turn yourself into the person with those skills. You will probably also find, as I have, that your coursework applies to resumes in unexpected ways. It is never too soon to start doing this, so if you’re new to library school, don’t be afraid to flood your inbox with this kind of thing. You’ll have days when you just mark all as read, but you won’t be able to avoid them, and that’s important.
5. Find ways to turn your coursework into professional work. Can you turn the paper you wrote that your professor liked so well into something publishable? How about that project? Could it be a poster session? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for these things. Use the coursework you’ve done in new ways that will help you to get excited about actual work you hope to be doing.
It’s no surprise that these tips will probably also help in a job search – keep your eye on the prize. To survive the second year, I’m doing all these things, but I’m also making an effort to keep my mind open to the assignments and debates that seem off-topic or irrelevant. Who knows where they might lead?
Oh, look, it’s Adriana talking about the past again! I promise I won’t glorify it beyond its worth (I’m trying to live up to Theodore Roosevelt’s standards), but I do want to discuss a recent effort by the Smithsonian, publicized a few weeks ago by NPR, to better connect people to a relic that has long seemed largely useless. Go ahead, take a look. Stereoviews!
These stereo images make history feel real. Just by looking at those few images available, General Sherman and his comrades feel far more like real people and much less like historical legends. They now feel a lot less like Paul Bunyan and more like, say, Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan (how’s that for non-partisan?) – Sherman has physical depth and fits into an actual world with three dimensions, rather than filling the pages of what could be just another storybook, even if it is one based on fact. The Civil War happened in the same world we share now; maybe I’m alone in this, but for all my love of the past it has always felt distant, different, and it’s easy to forget the people and places of previous centuries look just like ours. We rarely have the chance to see them entirely as they were, without artistic intervention and literary flourishes.
I realize that I’m probably spouting off big vague ideas again, and many people, especially those most in need of opinion shifts, might be unimpressed by this technology that is still not an Avatar or even a Smell-o-vision. But this stuff is real! This is a nearly tangible connection to the past that we cannot even receive from the photographs themselves, and one of the moments when I concede the value of computers and advanced imaging technology in relating people to the past. The big issue standing between a minor diversion and a useful tool for teaching history is this: will people use these images? Will they make any difference? I hope I’m not alone in drooling at my computer screen over this fantastic effort from the Smithsonian.
This past week, Meggan and I attended an afternoon-long unconference about copyright called “Copyright Camp”. Unconferences are much less structured than regular conferences, and are typically attendee driven. There are lots of different ways unconferences encourage attendee participation. Copyright Camp’s was pretty informal. About half the time was spent listening to a keynote, and half on breakout sessions. There were several options during the breakout sessions: you could get a primer on copyright, attend discussions on attendee-chosen topics, play a game about open education resources, or talk to experts about options for Creative Commons licenses.
The keynote was from Deb Wyeth about the Brooklyn Museum‘s work on making digital images of their collection available under Creative Commons licenses, and putting them in non-museum websites like Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons. Her work was particularly relevant to me, since I’m currently working with similar image collections. And to top it off, we have the same favorite work on copyright for archivists and librarians: Peter Hirtle’s Copyright and Cultural Institutions, which is even available for free as a pdf. Deb also provided a list of other great copyright resources.
I spent the latter half getting some delicious snacks (unfortunately, there were no s’mores) and participating in two of the discussions sections, one was about the future of media ownership and the second was a continuation of concepts from the keynote.
Unconferences are unpredictable. While I had a great time, the more informal parts of the day happened to be very interesting but not as relevant to me at the moment. Still, it was great to hear from other professionals about what they think about copyright and how they tackle it with regard to their collections. The event reminded me of just how important and complicated copyright is, especially for the collections I work with. However, I feel more confident that I have the right knowledge and resources to at least make a start.
Notes from Meggan:
I agree with Anne’s experience at unconferences. While the topics are usually interesting, the discussions as they unfold are not always relevant. At this conference, I was particularly struck during the keynote with Deb Wyeth’s willingness to take risk with copyright. Copyright is a very complicated issue, but Wyeth repeatedly stressed the importance of taking risks, being flexible, documenting appropriate steps, and communicating with patrons and artists about the project and copyright. After the keynote, Wyeth was asked how the culture of the Brooklyn Museum supported this acceptance of risk. Wyeth admitted that not everyone is as on board with the risk factors as she and her team is, but that the museum has a reputation for being leaders and risk-takers among cultural institutions which helps to move a project like hers forward. In the end, copyright exists to promote creativity and creation of new works, and I loved her attitude.
And, speaking of crowd-sourced projects, you can help the Brooklyn Museum geotag old photos with current locations in the “mapBK mysteries” set on Flickr. If you happen to know Brooklyn well, head on over and help them solve a mystery!
Remember this post about going to ALA? Well, it happened, I went, I saw, I feel like I have a better idea of how to handle myself next year. Top 5 of things learned at ALA, in no particular order:
1. ALA in New Orleans at the end of June, city yes, time of year, no. While I loved the city
and the food, you walked outside and were immediately and totally drenched in humidity, not pleasant for dressing professionally. Midwinter in San Diego last year, should have gone with that one and skipped the Michigan chill.
2.Make a gameplan for walking through exhibits, not all vendors and displays are created equal and you don’t want to spend half your time lost in the automated systems you don’t care about (although, that’s where the good food was hanging out sometimes). Also with this, don’t pick up a book just because it’s there, or you’ll end up with a stack of books that you probably don’t want and will never read (and you really don’t want 90 tote bags that you’ll never use).
3.Go to the early sessions and sit in front (not the very front). The early sessions tend to be sparsely populated, leaving room for more interaction between the audience and presenters. Along with this, how can you participate in discussions when you’re in the very back?
4.Bring extra business cards and don’t be stingy with them, I mean seriously people, how else are you supposed to keep track of who you’ve talked to and what you talked to them about (I liked to write contextual information on the back of their card so I wouldn’t forget). I also think it’s a great idea to email them and thank them for their help. Especially good if you’re looking for a job, but it’s just general manners, really.
5.Act professionally always, because there are tons of potential employers there and they will remember you (one panel member talked about a former student of his puking over a balcony railing, that’s the only thing he remembers about the kid now). Not to say you can’t go out and have a great time, just do it in moderation.
It was a great experience in all, I feel much more confident and ready to navigate the next conference (mid-winter in Dallas, annual in Anaheim, we’re see which one works out better). Meanwhile, I have a whole mess of books to read.
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 just finished Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’m a bit late to the Jonathan Safran Foer party, but I’m immensely glad to have finally showed up. I read this book on recommendation from my cousin, and I sincerely thank him for his suggestion. Oskar Schell is nine years old. He has begun on an a secret mission to find the lock that matches a key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. Along this journey, we see his mind working through his grief over the loss of his father in both very adult and childish ways as he meets people in the five boroughs of New York. His capacity for openness in reaching out to people and making connections while still protecting himself from the infinite pain and sadness of loss is incredibly moving. There is much more to the story line that I can’t divulge without giving away crucial plot elements, but the story is both realistic and fantastic, the characters are quirky but true to life, and the prose is approachable and precise. Hands down the best book I have read this year. Excuse me while I go and read it again.
I also just finished up a book, The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg. The protagonist, Portier, is the librarian at the Collegium, the only place where magic is taught. As a failed magician and distant cousin to the king, he’s pressed into service as a detective when crimes against the crown point to a magical mastermind. The novel reads very much like a whodunit. There are lots of twists and turns – I was unsure of who was responsible until very close to the end. The book leaves several plot threads incomplete in order to set up for another book. The plot does have some slow points, but I enjoyed it very much overall.
I am sometimes behind the time in my book reading, and only recently got my hands on Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. I’d heard of it, knew it was just the sort of book I would enjoy, and finally I have proven that correct. As a history student, I always advocated exploring subjects and learning the complexities of history, and have always asserted that the reason kids don’t like history class is because they’re not getting real history. Timelines do not come remotely close to giving real stories. What do we actually know of the past? Loewen does a great job of making the flaws of history education apparent, and even makes it seem possible to fix the system if we have a few teachers who care. I have only read half the book thus far, but look forward to its conclusion. Anyone interested in education, history, or the lack of accuracy in the mass-market world should definitely give this book a go. (I’m also still slowly chipping away at Decline and Fall, which I discussed last month).
I’ve been continuing on my tear of Young Adult fiction, reading The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (of Ender’s Game fame). It’s the first in the Mithermages series about a young mage named Danny who discovers his true powers. It was fascinating for so many reasons, the mythology that Card explores could be compared to the Norse god mythology, but with a modern twist. I really enjoy the way Card throws you into a word and lets you explore the entire story without a lot of exposition, it allows you to discover the secrets of the world along with the character. The only unfortunate thing is that Card is really busy writing multiple book series, working on the Ender’s Game movie, and generally being an author-about-town, so it might be a while before we get the next book in this series.
I just started The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is really something I should have read a long time ago (especially considering I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as my obsession with The Hobbit movies and anything having to do with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman). So far, I’m about 40 pages in, I’m enjoying the lighter and easier tone of the book along with small snippets of history that make LotR a much richer story.