Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Senator's Wife: a review

The story is familiar, yet compelling - a senator and his wife are estranged because of his numerous affairs over the years. The characters are realistically complex, almost recognizable. Despite, or maybe because of, their faults and shortcomings I couldn't help but sympathize with each one of them.

Delia, despite her troubled marriage, has created a happy solitary life for herself and has taken advantage of her separation. She has a volunteer job that she loves, and an apartment in Paris to which she frequently escapes for extended visits.

After moving to the neighborhood with her husband, Meri finds work at a radio station and is happy in her job, but soon becomes pregnant with a baby she is neither ready for nor excited about. She is taken with her neighbor, Delia, from the first time they meet, and becomes secretly and invasively interested in the history of Delia's marriage to the Senator.

The story is well-rounded and complicated and sad, but I especially love the little details that Miller uses to create a rich reading experience: the slant of light coming through a window, the smell clean sheets, the crispness of an apple. Her descriptions add texture to a story that consists in great part of internal struggles and memories, and somehow anchors it.

This was the first book I've read by Sue Miller, but it certainly won't be the last.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

As it was foretold... it is coming to pass.

The Marathon County Public Library in WI has eliminated three librarian positions and replaced them with customer service positions, which were offered to the librarians whose positions were eliminated. "The reorganization also aims to meet the ever-changing needs of customers, [the director] said. Librarians today do less complex work, she said -- calling for pay adjustments and more technological assistance." The poorly written article doesn't clarify what this "more technological assistance" means, and it also refers to the librarians as being "demoted" though clearly that's not exactly the case. Nevertheless, we get the general idea of what has happened.

This news item has been discussed at length on Publib and on various blogs. Many people are outraged that the librarians are being treated this way. But it's not a surprise. I posted about the deprofessionalization of librarianship in a 3-part series here and here and here. John Berry's column in the latest Library Journal (2/15/08), "The Vanishing Librarians," speaks to the same issue. Annoyed Librarian blogs about the trend frequently. Even though US News and World Report insists that librarianship has a bright future, encouraging even more people to enter the profession, those of us who are already there know that our careers as we know them are in danger.

What has happened in Wisconsin is exactly what I talked about in my previous posts. The role of libraries is changing. It isn't good or bad, it just is. It seems good for communities because people are getting what they want - and that is why we exist. It appears bad for librarians because we are losing our jobs. But I don't think our jobs should be saved for the sake of having jobs, do you?

Furthermore, you need the right people in the right positions, and if a library needs a customer service person or a program planner then they should hire someone qualified to do those things, not someone trained to do cataloging or reference or collection development. It doesn't do anyone any good to keep librarians in positions for which they are not suited.

Some librarians' jobs, as the director states, may very well be less complex. But I would argue that the role of libraries is becoming more complex and the Marathon County Public Library, from what I can see, is simply doing its best to adapt.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hats, from the top

It makes sense to knit hats starting at the top, so that you can try them on as you go. This way you can be sure that you don't end up with a hat that's too short, freezing your ears, or too long, covering your eyes. In theory, anyway. In reality, knitting hats top-down is difficult in its own way. I'm using the pattern from The Knitting Man(ual), which is more of a general guideline, and one that isn't working out well for me.

The book says to increase every other round "until hat fits head circumference." The problem with this is that you can't tell if it fits your head circumference because it's just the TOP of the hat and you can't try on a hat with no sides. You can set it atop your head, but that is not very informative. I've started two different hats, ripped back, re-started, done some math and still I'm ending up with hats which seem too large.

Here is the first, made with Sublime yarn, a very soft extrafine merino:

The gauge on the bottom part of the hat, after the increases, came out larger then at the top. My options are to rip back far enough to rid the hat of some of the increases, or to rip back until just after the increases and switch to a smaller size needle. I'm just frustrated that I did a lot of calculations to make this come out the right size, yet it continued to grow after I finished increasing.

The second hat, made with Classic Yarns Cashsoft Baby DK (I think this is from Rowan) is still in progress and a bit more promising.

I ribbed it so it would be stretchy, thus accomodating different sizes better. This may actually work. It feels loose on me, but not terribly, and I may make it long enough to have a folded-up brim which should make it more snug.

Adding a pattern during increasing is tricky, and may be one reason for the seeming unpopularity of top-down hat patterns, but I like how it looks.

It's a little messier than I'd like it to look (especially the very top) but in general I like the look of the ribs sprouting off one another. This is a great prototype for the top-down cabled hat I've been planning to make for myself for a while now.

These hats are especially difficult as I'm making them for my mother whose head is larger than mine, but she will be losing her hair from chemotherapy so they should probably be a little more snug than usual. I'm a little nervous because there are "chemo cap" patterns and I'm honestly not sure what makes them different from other hat patterns. I made sure to choose the softest yarn I could find though, and I chose DK yarn so they'd be less bulky. Will they be warm enough for winter in Maine though? I hope so.

Hopefully these will both be done in the next week, and I'll post final pictures before I mail them off!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New automated book machines!

It's too bad that I no longer enjoy the city of San Francisco, because they are doing some very innovative things with their libraries. First came their Book a librarian program, and now they are installing automated book machines in BART stations.

I was disappointed that the article starts with the notion of "saying goodbye to our neighborhod librarian." Such a negative spin on something that is actually so positive!

First of all, the book machines are obviously not a replacement for libraries, as they are of limited usage. They contain only the most popular books, and clearly there is a lot more to libraries than bestsellers. And of course it can't make book suggestions or answer your reference questions.

In addition to convenience, this could be a fantastic marketing tool. Every person walking past the machines during their commute will be reminded of the library. If they are smart about signage, they will post library hours for the closest branch, post about upcoming events, and remind people of other services available when they visit the library.

Finally, I was not surprised to learn that these machines are made by a Swedish company and have already been used in Scandanavia. If you want to learn more, here is a lengthy video which includes a lot of coughing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

February: Heart

This month's theme for the BAM Challenge is heart; suggestions included romances, books about cardiology, and titles containing the word "heart," including a long-standing book on my To Read list, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Though the writing was somewhat inaccessible, this short novel was strangely compelling. The protagonist travels deep into the Belgian Congo, to a place so removed he likens it to entering prehistoric times. He is searching for Colonel Kurtz, who has gone over the edge, is killing for ivory, and living in a hut surrounded by human heads mounted on stakes. The strength of the story is not so much the plot but the atmosphere - whispering voices, the blur of running bodies just behind the trees, drums beating in the distances, and a vague sense of disorientation.

At the risk of sounding a bit less smarty-pants than I like to think I am, I have to admit that the entire time I was reading Heart of Darkness I kept thinking of Lost. The atmosphere is so similar: the whispered voices from nowhere, the crazy man who understands the jungle/island and doesn't want to leave, mysterious dark secrets just out of your grasp. Strangely, in last week's episode Sawyer referred to Locke as Colonel Kurtz, and then an article appeared in Entertainment Weekly comparing Lost with Heart of Darkness.

Is it a coincidence that I happened to be reading this book when these other events took place? Anyone on the island would say that it was fate...

"The horror! The horror!"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Retro Rib Socks

These are from Interweave Knits, Winter 2004 issue (I guess I'm a little behind!) I used Zwerger Garn Opal, which is quite lovely yarn and comes in generous skeins of 465 yards.

This is a very enjoyable pattern to knit because it's so simple - just knits and purls - but creates a nice texture. It's also easy to memorize.

I'm so glad these socks are done because I've been very antsy to wear them! Once you start wearing hand knits socks, there is no going back, and right now I don't have nearly enough pairs to get me through the week.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What library schools SHOULD be teaching

In the spirit of AL's post Courses I Wish I'd Had in Library School, I give to you course descriptions of classes that would be useful in my professional life. I'm sure Simmons GSLIS will add these to their curriculum soon.

Argument Without Reason: Illogic 101
You will not be able to argue with many patrons and co-workers without this course. Learn how to win an argument with anyone, including the mentally ill or those who have simply been in their jobs for too long. Emphasis on volume, facial expression, and intimdating body language.

Identification and Removal of Stains and Odors
Library budgets are strapped and that means no improvements to carpets, upholstery, or plumbing. This essential course, now with a lab component for hands-on learning, will teach you all you need to know about common stains and smells as well as a thorough exploration of cleaners, sanitizers,and disinfectants.

How to Choose your Second Job
You will never be able to pay for this education with your salary, so now is the time to explore options for your complementary career. High pay is key to making your work hours worthwhile, and with that in mind you will learn how to break into the sex industry. Stripper, phone-sex operator, escort, and adult film actor are only some of the glamorous career options we will explore in this class. Free pasties with registration!

Dulling the Pain: Choosing the right substance for your mood
If you think the drug you take to cope with the public is the same one that will get you through a long boring staff meeting or help refrain from crank-calling the library trustees, think again! The varying effects of pharmaceuticals and liquor are discussed in this comprehensive course, which includes all you need to get you through your day, and beyond. Bonus section on using hallucinegic drugs to create more imaginative displays.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sweater, now with 50% more misfortune

My vacation, I thought, would be the perfect time to correct the mistakes of the Sweater with Rib Pattern. So last week I prepared to measure, take notes, calculate and set my course toward a successful sweater. The first thing I did was to lay out my sweater on the dining room table to take it apart and get a good look at what needs to be done.

Right away I noticed something that had escaped my attention earlier: the front and back of the sweater aren't quite the same color.

As you can imagine, I was not happy to see this. I'm using Caron Simply Soft which is cheap, acrylic, and declares "no dye lot," which apparently doesn't mean what I thought it meant. I assumed it meant "no need for a dye lot because the materials are all fake and completely uniform." But no, it seems to mean "Hey buddy, you're on your own. Good luck with that." For some reason, this color issue is only visible under the dining room light, which is why I hadn't noticed it before. (And is inexplicable - it's a crappy old chandelier with those stupid little chandelier bulbs.) I didn't even attempt to capture the issue in a photo. The long and short of it is that if it's so apparent in one room of my house, it's sure to be apparent somewhere I will go wearing the sweater, so it must be fixed.

I assembled all the skeins of the yarn together and divided them up based on the color differences. There is enough of one shade to at least do another front (or back - they are the same). Worst-case scenario, the sleeves will end up being slightly off color. But there is no avoiding having to do another whole large piece, and this is in addition to ripping back and correcting the lace pattern.

One thing I try to do every time I have vacation in the winter is watch Pride & Prejudice, the 5-hour BBC version. While doing so I ripped back and re-knit most of one piece with the lace coming out higher up. A little too high. So I ripped back again (this is becoming a theme) and finally finished that piece. Third time's a charm, as they say.

Now I just need to make another whole piece like this. Again. Let's hope I get to wear this sweater while it's still cold enough to do so.