Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greenland

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich is part memoir and part history, intertwining the author's story with that of Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen and, to a lesser extent, the artist Rockwell Kent. I'm not sure I was in the mood for this book, which only served to reinforce my suspicion that authors tend to include these vaguely related histories in their books because they don't have enough of a story themselves. I think I snoozed during most of the Rasmussen parts, but the stories about the author's experiences in Greenland were intriguing.

The overall atmosphere was of cold, darkness, and isolation. The land was devoid of trees and the meals described consisted mostly of seal meat - no vegetables were to be found in this barren country. The lack of color, light, and food may explain why sometimes the writing meandered into the philosophical:

"The panting and trotting of the dogs was all I heard. Was I seeing through a glass darkly or into an empiness that was bright? It is said that emptiness inspires compassion, but first you have to wade across the waters of uncertainty." (p.346)

and

"That night I asked Stephen Hawking's unanswerable question: Is it possible to remember the future? Light penetrated my eyelids and landscape slipped from sight in the curvature of space-time; over the falls in a barrel it went. To talk about a future seemed wrongheaded, calling up the old insistence on linear time, and so did the Christian fantasy that we are living out some sacred tragedy of sinful lives from which we must seek redemption." (p.111)

I wish there was a little less of that and a little more of the folktales about women marrying their dogs, or anecdotes like the one about the crew who had to desert their ship and then spent six months, floating on an iceberg and surviving on seal meat, before being rescued 1300 miles away from where they started. I suppose the long and short of it is that learning about Greenland was interesting, but reading this particular book was not quite so interesting.

I also got the strong sense that this culture, which is so far from what we know in the US, is slipping away along with the polar ice caps. Dogsleds are giving way to snowmobiles, hunters are finding it more difficult to get by without outside income, and in 2001 when the book was being written, Greenland's first commercial airport was being built. Indeed, there are now direct flights from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Kangerlussuaq. Already, the communities that Ehrlich visited must have changed a great deal.

The author briefly mentioned something I found particularly interesting: "During the Korean War, a large hospital in Naarssarsuaq received soldiers so badly hurt that the Americans sequestered them in Greenland, so the extent of American injuries would not be seen." (p.144) This hospital, which Wikipedia calls a legend, was also the subject of a novel I read not long ago, No One Thinks of Greenland by John Greisemer (I must have gotten both these titles from some Greenland-themed bibliography). It's an engaging story about a corporal who is sent there to work on the hospital's newspaper, but then finds himself facing censorship from those who really don't want anything about the hospital published, even internally. His developing friendship with one of the patients and the difficult conditions of living in Greenland round out this much-overlooked novel. Other than whatever source originally led me to it, I have heard absolutely nothing about this book and consequently have been promoting it at the library every chance I get. Come to think of it, you should read it too!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FO: Weekend Pullover





Pattern: Weekend Pullover by Veronik Avery, IK Fall 2006
Yarn: Plymouth Encore in color 0204
Needle Size: 5
Modifications: Neckline - more on that below

I finally finished over the weekend and, sadly, the day these pictures were taken was cold enough that I wore my new sweater for most of the day. I'm very happy with how it turned out. I had some problems involving the neckline, documented here, and rather than making a turtleneck, I just picked up stitches and knit an inch or so of cross-stitch rib to match the hem and cuffs. Originally I was hoping to decrease near each shoulder to preserve the shape of the neck so I cast on a few extra stitches, but when I realized that a)I didn't add enough extra stitches, and b)decreasing would really screw up the rib pattern, I just knit straight. Although a few people recommended just leaving the neckline as is, I thought it needed a little something to make it more finished-looking. I appreciated everyone's helpful comments and suggestions! Here's a close-up of the neckline:



This sweater was fun to knit, what with all the cables and lace and whatnot, but now I'm very happy to go back to stockinette items that can be knit successfully while watching movies. I feel like this sweater took forever. It is now packed away for the summer with all my other sweaters and I will most likely forget it exists until I come across it this fall. What a lovely surprise it will be!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Let us be honest

There was a recent conversation on the Publib list about a library that purchased a copy of Directive 19 on the request of a patron, but then did not put it out on the shelf. They would loan the book, but only if patrons asked. This reminded me of a situation in a library where I once worked. The A/V department had a copy of The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, which resulted in some complaints from patrons. The director checked it out to take it home "for review" and kept it out for well over a year, thus effectively removing it from the collection. Both of these situations illustrate a dilemma faced by librarians, whose strong sense of intellectual freedom may be at odds with their obligation to be accountable to their communities and the taxpayers whose money ultimately funds the library.

All of our collections are somewhat defined by the needs and tastes of our communities, as they should be. My library has a large collection of books in Spanish and Portuguese, but no books in Hindi or Russian. The Clark County Public Library in Las Vegas, which I recently had the opportunity to visit, subscribes to a number casino and gambling journals, but none on boating or sailing. Should it be any different to reflect the conservative (or liberal) values of the community? Surely a librarian shouldn't be obligated to pay for a subscription to National Review or Out magazine if it is never read. Is it so wrong for a librarian to say "I won't purchase that item because it is not a priority in this conservative community?" or "We regret purchasing this item and will remove it from the collection"? Maybe it isn't, but there is an awful lot of pressure on those whose profession essentially comes with a requirement to categorically oppose censorship.

In an ideal world, so the thinking of librarianship goes, we would have unlimited budgets and space and could purchase everything that is published and our collection would represent all views on all subjects. We would not have to make these difficult decisions! But how ideal would that really be? Our limited budgets give us an available excuse not to purchase truly controversial materials like pornography. If our budgets are unlimited, what will be our excuse for not subscribing to Penthouse? Would we subscribe and face the inevitable wrath of our communities? If we didn't, how would we defend our claims to be such strong proponents of intellectual freedom? Perhaps we should be glad that it is not a perfect world and we do not have to admit that our support of intellectual freedom has limits, and we can continue to find indirect ways of censoring our collections. On the other hand, maybe we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our patrons to be honest about the decisions we make.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Top-down raglan progress

I don't usually use variegated yarns but wanted something interesting for this sweater since it's entirely in stockinette. I really wanted to use Noro Silk Garden, but this is my first time knitting a sweater without a real pattern and I just couldn't justify the cost for something so experimental. What I love about Noro is the transitions between the colors and unfortunately I've never seen another yarn variegated in quite the same way. After much anguish, I opted for Reynolds Smile and I really like it a lot. I think the colors look like they are drawn with crayons! It's also a pretty bulky yarn, so this sweater will be for the coldest winter days.



I'm using Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top as a guide, though I've also consulted Stefanie Japel's site and followed some of her instructions. After attaching the armholes I knit an inch or so only to realize that it was going to be way too big, so I ripped back and added some decreases. The instructions say to increase a set number of stitches every other row until it meets under your arms and then join. Perhaps with a yarn this bulky the increases should have been less frequent. This is definitely a learning experience, but I'm really happy with how it's turning out. I also love that it's so easy to try on the sweater as I go along. It does take a long time to put all the stitches on waste yarn and then put them back on the needles, but that hasn't stopped me from doing so a number of times already.

Soon I will have to make some decisions about the hem, cuffs and the neck. I can't picture ribbing on this sweater for some reason, and I think it may be too thick for a sewn hem. Should I just let it roll? I've already made a bulky sweater with rolled edges so it feels like a cop out. I'm considering a turtle neck, but I'm not sure about that. I think I'll need to look at lots of other sweaters before making any decisions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

My love/hate relationship with Library 2.0

All the libraryland articles and blog posts on Library 2.0 started becoming tedious almost instantly. How many articles can one person read about gaming in libraries when what you really want to read about is forming a reference collection development policy, or how to get your city to install enough electrical outlets for your computers? All the chatter about wikis and IM reference and why your library should have a blog just bored me to tears and I started ignoring it as so many trendy buzz words strung together. I also resented being made to feel guilty because I don't spend my days working on wikis or creating gaming programs for my patrons. But there really are a lot of useful ways to make our libraries more present online and therefore more relevant to the lives of many of our patrons, or those who should be our patrons.

I certainly think that the time for IM reference has come, though I'm not sure we all need to hire a Gaming Librarian . Maybe I'm just jealous because my library doesn't even have an assistant director or intact carpeting. I have no issue with gaming, in fact I attended John Beck's talk on the Gamer Generation at PLA last spring and he had some really great points about the kinds of skills developed through gaming. But what are our responsibilities as librarians? If people who sign up to use the internet at my library chose to spend their hour playing Runescape I'm certainly not going to stop them (though a few of them look like they could use some fresh air and exercise) but I'm also not going to suggest we buy a Wii for the library, especially since we don't even have the money for updating our computers. The job just seems so specific, like having a whole position devoted to music because the AudioVisual Department head can't possibly be in charge of movies AND music AND audiobooks. (Or do other libraries with more robust salaries already separate these positions?) At any rate, I'm very curious to hear about the new Gaming Librarian's progress and how it affects his library, and whether other libraries find room in their budgets to add similar positions.

Another interesting piece of 2.0 news is that a $40,000 grant was just awarded to Alliance Library Systems in Illinois to provided consumer health information services within the online environment Second Life . The grant from the National Library of Medicine/Greater Midwest Region will allow ALS to "provide training programs, outreach to virtual medical communities, important consumer health resources, and one-on-one support to Second Life residents." Libraries have been getting involved in Second Life for a while now, but I think the implications of this sizeable grant are pretty fascinating.

What I'm worried about is all of this being taken to a level that is no longer patron-friendly, or rather is friendly only to patrons using newer technology resources. For example, this blog post categorizes "no cell phone" policies as "unfriendly," and suggests that we allow library patrons to use their cell phones in libraries so they can text message librarians for help. One could argue that anyone too lazy to walk up to the reference desk when they are already inside the library may not deserve our help, but more relevantly, what about the ways in which cell phone usage disturbs other library patrons who are trying to read or study? A recent editorial from a disgruntled library patron addresses this very topic. And this is just the guy who bothered to take the time to write to the newspaper. How many other patrons feel that their libraries are no longer useful as places for research or study? Do we really want to cater to one patron at the expense of another?

Clearly, there needs to be a compromise between traditional and newer library functions that some of the 2.0-ers aren't quite grasping. Integrating new technologies into libraries should not be done at the expense those who are using "1.0" resources such as, say, books. Our patrons should still be able to come to the library and read quietly or work on their resumes without being disturbed by groups of teenage boys playing video games like the author of the editorial above. It's not fair for some patrons to be able to behave in ways that inhibits other patrons from being able to use the library for what they need.

One great example of an innovation to close this gap is the installation of cell phone booths at UMass Amherst's Du Bois Library which allow patrons to talk on their phones in the library without bothering other patrons. With prices starting at $2,400 it probably isn't financially feasible for many libraries right now, but it's nice to see that these products are out there and that solutions are possible.

Another concern is the way librarians are being perceived, and the trend to talk about 2.0 librarians as if they are a separate breed when in fact ALL librarians should be up to speed on new technologies and trends. Remember when card catalogs gave way to OPACs? There was no label for librarians who embraced that change vs. those who didn't so why create a false dichotomy now to alienate our professional peers? Change is slow in public libraries, and resources are scarce. This perceived division of 2.0 Librarians vs. Those of You Who Refuse to Get With the Program isn't particularly helpful to anyone.

Some things that are helpful include free online programs like 23 Library 2.0 Things and professional symposiums like this one sponsored by ALA. Hopefully, some education and professional discourse will help to work out the kinks and find something that will work for everyone. We just need to not lose sight of the fact that many patrons are just looking for a good book.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

As promised: the Sweater of Despair

Looks lovely, doesn't it?



Now look more closely.


The armholes are way too tight, so they don't go all the way up to where they should sit. I can force them, but I then have an armpit stuffed with wool and that's not comfortable.

Perhaps I'm being melodramatic - despair is a pretty strong word - but I worked hard on this sweater for what seems like a very long time, and I'm not sure how this problem could have been prevented. The armholes and the sleeve caps fit together okay, and the measurements all seem right. It's not the wrong size because the body of the sweater fits really well. Now I'm supposed to pick up stitches around the neckline and knit a turtleneck, but that will pull the shoulders closer together and then where will I be? At least I can get into the thing now. I definitely won't be taking the sweater apart, as I haven't had great luck undoing seams in the past, and I'm actually ok with how this sweater sits on me if only I can figure out how to finish off the neckline.

I can do without a turtleneck, and honestly was thinking of doing something different around the neck anyhow. But what kind of a finish should I use for the neckline? Do I need to pick up more stitches than required so it doesn't pull the shoulders closer together? Has anyone else had this problem? What did you do? Any and all advice would be appreciated!

ETA: I already tried blocking in hopes that the armholes could be stretched, but that didn't work.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

I should read less

No, seriously. It may sound blasphemous for a librarian to say such a thing, but look at this - these are the books I read during the month of April:

How to be Good by Nick Hornby
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
Jesus Land: a memoir by Julie Scheeres
Housekeeping vs the Dirt by Nick Hornby
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene
Confessions of a Tax Collector by Richard Yancey
A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Count them - eight books! I'll confess that a few of them were very short and most were quick reads, but surely this cannot be healthy. And I didn't even include the few books started and abandoned, and the graphic novel I read and didn't understand (The City: a vision in woodcuts by Frans Masereel which contains no text whatsoever, and which two of my co-workers exclaimed was "brilliant" leaving me to nod with a knowing look as if I had any idea what the book was even about, much less how good it was.) It was all such a blur that I had to consult my library record to see what I had checked out in order to compile the above list.

At the end of the month, after finishing The Road (which I read because it won the Pulitzer for fiction, not because Oprah told me to) my outlook was so bleak that I couldn't find anything else I wanted to read. Why bother? The world is ending and all I have is this shopping cart and hungry cannibals waiting for an opportunity to sneak up on me and help themselves. You would understand if you read the book. Anyhow, in the past week I've managed to get more done than I did in the entire month of April. I set up this blog, finally found a way to listen to the library's eAudiobooks on my ipod, and made a great deal of progress on the sweater I've been working on since back when it was actually cold enough to wear it. I even spent some time with my new pets. It's like a whole new book-free world has opened up for me! I may just start playing video games soon, or finally learn to rollerblade properly.

But I don't want to dismiss these books as a waste of my time because some of them were quite good. In particular, Firmin was one of the best books I've read in quite a while. The title character is a rat who lives in a bookshop in Boston's Scollay Square leading up to its demolition, and finds himself isolated from his fellow rats by his ability to read and his resulting love of literature. He turns to humans for companionship and after some disastrous attempts at friendship, befriends a failed science fiction writer and they live together happily, at least for a while. At the end of his life Firmin reflects on what a great life it was, which made me incredibly sad. I suppose it was great for a rat, filled with more than most rats get to experience, but it was such a small life of loneliness, isolation, and an inability to communicate with the only beings who would be able to understand him, if only they spoke the same language. The story is beautifully written and if I had a copy in front of me I'd share a few quotes, but unfortunately you'll have to settle for my commentary. Or read it youself. It's only 162 pages, so you have no excuse not to.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

It's good to have goals

I didn't want to start a blog, really, but all the cool kids are doing it and the peer pressure is just too much. It's hard to be a librarian these days without feeling compelled to familiarize oneself with every new and popular technology out there, and 23 Learning 2.0 Things is too much fun to resist. One of the assignments in the program is to start a blog, so here I am.

In addition to simply learning about blogging, I'm hoping this project will help keep me in line with a few other goals:

Share knitting progress, which in theory will force me to keep plugging away on my projects at a more steady pace than I have been. I find other blogs very helpful when they discuss different patterns and any problems that cropped up in the process and perhaps my posts will be helpful to others working on the same projects as I am. Documenting my knitting problems and issues should also help remind me of, for example, the importance of washing and blocking my gauge swatch before jumping into a project (a painful lesson that I apparently need to learn over and over again).

Learn to take decent pictures so I don't need to rely on Mr. 3goodrats Eric to do it for me, and have an easier way to post them in a more timely manner, cuz heaven knows I certainly haven't updated my website since I first put it up (though I hope to do so soon).

Comment on issues pertinent to librarians and public libraries. I subscribe to various library-related blogs and lists and read a lot library news and I do have opinions which up until now I have only shared with co-workers, Mr. 3gr Eric, and a few friends whose eyes glaze over the moment I begin the librarian-speak.

Review books. Not formal reviews, but I read a lot and it's a shame not to spend a little more time formulating cohesive thoughts about what I read. Usually I just return the book to the library and move on to the next one.

If you know me, then you know that I always feel that I should have goals, but can't ever quite figure out what they should be, or else I have ideas but can't seem to commit to them. (What if they aren't the right goals?) Here then, are some sensible goals written in stone and now I have something to work towards.

Coming soon: The Sweater of Despair and its Unfortunate Armholes