Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thing 15!

Here we are on Thing 15, because that is the one that comes after Thing 13. Right? Right.*

Thing 15
is about attending, presenting at, and organizing conferences, which is something I know a little bit about.

Attending conferences

I've attended the NELA Conference many times over the years. I've also attended MLA once (just for a day), and the PLA Conference once when it was held here in Boston. I'm looking forward to attending the NELA conference in just a few weeks in Burlington, VT. Back in Thing 7 I talked a little about why I enjoy conferences, so I won't repeat myself here.

Presenting at conferences

I'm fully convinced I'll do this some day when I figure out a topic I know enough about to present a program on it.

Last year I had a tiny taste of presenting when I had to introduce the presenters for a couple of programs. I feel fairly comfortable (meaning "not terrified") about public speaking and I put a lot of effort into being natural and not just reading someone's resume or the bio from their web site. Does anyone even listen to those kinds of introductions? I always zone out.

Organizing conferences

The reason I introduced presenters last year is because I was on the conference planning committee! I mentioned it in my post about the conference here. At the time I was planning to be on the committee again this year, but for various life-related reasons I didn't.

Being on the committee was a great experience in some ways, most notably in being able to influence the programs offered at the conference. I do enjoy having power and influence and it happens so rarely. It's also a great opportunity to work with other librarians from around New England.

There are a couple of down sides to being on the planning committee. One is that, obviously, you have work to do. This committee is pretty large so each person isn't responsible for very much but as a first-time participant I found it confusing. I got the impression that most of the people on the committee are on it every year so certain things aren't spelled out. For instance, we were told to bring program ideas to the first meeting but I didn't realize that if you suggest something it means you are the one planning it and have to come up with a presenter. I wasn't prepared for that. I'm also not a fan of paperwork and chasing people down to fill out forms, which is a large part of the committee work.

In addition to the extra work, the other down side to being on a committee is that you are locked into attending certain programs. You can't plan a program and then not attend. Also, every program needs a helper, so between planning and helping, there were something like 5 specific programs I was required to attend. This isn't really how I roll at conferences. Normally I go through the conference program ahead of time and circle each program I want to attend. I do this again when I arrive and get the final copy of the program. Then when the time arrives I go to whatever I feel like attending at the moment, which about 50% of the time are the programs I circled. It works for me.

Although I haven't decided whether or not to join the conference committee again, I do want to continue to be professionally involved and possibly help plan or organize something. Maybe it's time to organize another librarian cocktail party...

*Ok, Thing 14 was on citation tools. I haven't been in school for a while, nor do I work in academia, so I couldn't get myself interested enough to download and install the three tools listed. But I'm sure they're great.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bittersweet Symphony

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (1998)

We are introduced to two former lovers of Molly Lane when they meet up at her funeral. Horrified by the circumstances of her illness, during which her mind swiftly deteriorated, Clive and Vernon make a euthanasia pact. But soon their longtime friendship begins to fall apart. Clive is a composer, under intense pressure to finish his symphony celebrating the turn of the millennium. In his efforts to avoid distraction he fails to report a potential crime. Vernon, a newspaper editor, comes by some compromising photos of a top government official and wants to use them to boost his failing paper's circulation. Each disapproves morally of the decisions the other has made, the stress of their disagreements only serving to make their individual problems worse.

This short novel contained some beautiful passages describing music, and Clive's composition process during which he struggles to capture the elusive strains of notes he is searching for. I wonder if McEwan has a background in music.

He is adept at character development and at describing internal turmoil. As is typical with his novels, Amsterdam was somewhat painful to read. Misunderstandings arose and the consequences made me cringe. It's like watching an accident in slow motion and being unable to stop it. I don't really like the feeling, but I keep reading his novels so it must appeal to me on some level.

Unfortunately I found the ending a bit contrived and disappointing. A winner of the Booker Prize, I had high expectations for this novel, but of the five McEwan novels I've read I wouldn't say it's my favorite. (That distinction would go to Atonement.) Although I enjoyed the buildup throughout the novel, in the end it fell flat.

Have you read it? Do you think it deserves the praise and awards it has received?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Look at the skirt I made!

Listen up, I am becoming one with my sewing machine! Not only did I just make an actual wearable garment for the first time,* but in the process I actually had to dismantle my sewing machine and clean the feed dogs and shuttle race. I didn't even know I owned such things. Also, I adjusted the bobbin tension which I hadn't realized was possible, but which has made the sewing go far more smoothly.

But enough about my tribulations and learning experiences. Here is my new pretty skirt!

This is the Easy Breezy Wrap Skirt from Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp. The fabric is that thin cotton that wrinkles every time you look at it, but seems to be the fabric that is most available everywhere, especially in cute patterns such as these yellow and white flowers.

I like it more than I thought I would. It's a little challenging to wear though, because of the ties on the front. When I figure out a way to tie it that's flattering and less awkward it will help. I've got a couple of shirts that would look really nice with this colorwise - one is green and one is turquoise - but they are longish and tight enough that the ties would bunch up underneath and look weird. But I do prefer wearing colors with this rather than white which just feels lame and uninteresting to me.

Also, because of how thing the fabric is, a slip is required. Since I don't yet own a white slip I've worn it with a pair of white spandex shorts underneath. It seems to do the trick.

The best part of this project? No zipper, no buttonholes! Not only does that make the project easy, but it doesn't require buying matching notions. You can just whip one up with whatever fabric you have hanging around. I've already started another one in pink and black.

*First time without supervision anyhow. In high school Home Ec class I made a shapeless tunic-like shirt, and not long after that my sister helped me make a dress.

Monday, August 22, 2011

There's gold in them thar hills!

The Floor of Heaven: a true tale of the last frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum (2011)

In the last days of the Old West, the unexplored areas in Alaska and the Yukon beckoned. After the California gold rush the search for wealth continued and some started exploring these new areas. The Floor of Heaven follows the trails of three men whose paths converged during the this exciting time in the far North.

Charlie Siringo, a former cowboy searching for a new path, married his true love but after being left widowed started a new career as a private detective. George Carmack, a military man gone AWOL joined a tribe of Native Americans and went on to become the man who first discovered gold in the Klondike. Finally, Jeff "Soapy" Smith, a gifted con man, was always looking for the next place take his game and ended up practically owning the boom town of Skagway. These three fascinating men are at the heart of the book, and Blum creates tension and anticipation as the reader watches their separate paths slowly converge.

Blum acknowledges the number of conflicting stories about the events and, based on extensive research, has chosen which parts seem most likely to be true, weaving them into a well-crafted story of adventure, hardship, and violence. Adding so many details about the men's personal lives and families, as well as their adventures and aspirations, makes them more three-dimensional and realistic. It's a fun tale to read, but also an important part of US history that I knew almost nothing about.

There were some surprising elements in the story, such as when George Carmack finds gold and immediately tells everyone he meets so they can stake claims in the same area. He was sticking to the unwritten prospectors' code at the time, but it is completely counter to the competitive and secret way in which we would do things nowadays. Also included were some brief asides about Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy, who I've always thought of as legend. But they were indeed real and crossed paths with the characters in this book.

If you want to learn more about this part of American history, or are just looking for a story of exploration and adventure, the Floor of Heaven is an excellent bet!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thing 13: Google Docs, Dropbox, and Wikis

This week in cpd23 we are looking at online collaboration tools. Fun!

Google Docs

I use this at work for backing up my documents. It's easy to use, though I feel a little weird about using a personal account for work stuff. But opening another gmail account would mean having to log out from one and into another which is a huge pain. Anyhow it has come in handy when I've been at home and had nagging questions about how much of my budget for travel books I've spent. Not that I think about collection development at home. Ahem.

I don't use it for sharing as I don't do anything that requires sharing documents with other people, but I'm sure it's handy? I guess?

It sounds basically the same as Google Docs except that you have to download and install something and I don't want to do that or sign up for anything else right now. Again, I'm sure it has its uses if you need to work collaboratively.


At my last library I worked in the Tech Services department a lot and they had an extensive wiki with all the information on how to process each type of item, including codes, call numbers, and labeling/stickers. It was incredibly useful!

I wish wikis were more utilized. They would be incredibly useful for any reference department as well - policies, procedures, updates, notes on problems with equipment and the status on fixing it, and all the other quirky things we need to remember could all be saved in the same place and everyone could access it. SO much more helpful than the messy system of binders and paper-clipped notes junking up most reference desks.

Are you all totally sick of the 23 Things posts? I know I am, but I'm sticking it out cuz that's the way I roll. Only 10 more Things to go!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Murder in the Pine Tree State

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron (2010)

Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden who hasn't spoken to his father Jack in two years, when late one night he receives a cryptic voicemail from him. Soon he learns that his father is the prime suspect in the murder of a state trooper and a paper company executive. Although Mike acknowledges his father's faults, he remains firm in his belief that Jack is no murderer. Risking his career and relationships, Mike sets out to investigate the murders and track down his father.

I won't say much about this in the way of a review, because I made the poor choice to listen to the audio version while driving and honestly my mind drifted away a bit too much. I think I would have liked it more had I read the book version. If you like audio though, I think it's a good bet - although I maintain that male narrators cannot do female voices, I mostly enjoyed the sound of this narrator's voice.

Despite my inattention there are some aspects of this novel I definitely enjoyed. Born and raised in Maine, I always appreciate authors who can capture the authenticity of Maine and its people, which Doiron (the editor of Down East magazine) does most deftly. Also I admired Mike Bowditch and his struggle to balance his strong sense of what is right with his loyalty to his father.

This is more of a crime novel than a traditional mystery, and though I don't read much in this genre I think the setting and characters are unusual and interesting. I will keep an eye out for more from this author, but I'll be sure to skip the audio version next time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"This above all : to thine own self be true"

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011)

Three sisters, Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, are all having crises. Rose is engaged to a fantastic guy who has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in England, but Rose is firmly committed to staying in her hometown. Bianca - known as Bean to her family - is a polished, high-maintenance city woman who has just been fired for stealing money from her employer. Cordelia, the youngest and an aimless drifter, is pregnant. When their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer the sisters find themselves, for the first time in a very long time, together again in their parents' house. Here the women all must come to grips with their problems and fears, while navigating the treacherous waters of family relationships.

Although the plot revolves around the mother having breast cancer, the story isn't overwhelmed by that. (Which is good because I've lived it, and I am so done with mothers having breast cancer.) But it was an effective way for the family to be brought back together, and of course this sort of crisis brings out the worst, and best, in everyone. Both parents played roles somewhat in the background - still important, but the focus was on their daughters.

Told in first person plural, the sisters are collectively referred to as "we," but each sister individually in the third person. Somehow it works. Their father is a Shakespeare scholar so in addition to the women all being named after Shakespeare characters, the entire family communicates through the Bard's quotes. Although this could easily be annoying at the hands of a lesser writer, here it just improves upon the already well-crafted story.

It's hard to say what exactly I liked so much about this novel. The characters certainly, and the relationships between them. I liked the style of the writing, straightforward and poetic at the same time, and the quiet feel of the atmosphere amid such chaos. Somehow everything just came together very well and it is a mighty beautiful thing. I liked it a whole lot, but I think someone who really enjoys Shakespeare (which I do not) would like it that much more.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thing 12: Putting the social into social media

This week's Thing is about the social aspects of social media. We are asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages, whether it helps us make contacts with people we wouldn't have had contact with normally, whether we used social media before CPD23 and whether we will continue to do so, and do we think it really helps foster a sense of community.

I definitely see advantages to being Facebook friends with so many other librarians, sharing articles about library news, information on what's going on at their libraries, and programs they are doing. Twitter is a bit different as it's more one-sided - you can comment on others' Tweets, but there are no threaded conversations that you can see all at once like on Facebook.

I did use social media before CDP23 and will continue to do so, unless I suddenly become overwhelmed by the huge news feeds and run away to live in a yurt with only a notebook and pen. Which sometimes feels like a distinct possibility. Probably the biggest drawback of social media is that there is so much of it and it is so easy to be in contact with an overwhelming number of people and keeping up with the feeds sometimes feels impossible and not worth the effort. I don't want to spend every moment of my free time staring at a screen reading people's updates. I have books to read!

Although I'm already on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (which I rarely use), and I've been on and off the Publib email list for years, there is still something missing. I have always wished there was a good online forum for librarians, with discussion boards where you can post questions about programming, collection development, displays, whatever. Like Ravelry for librarians. There used to be a forum at lisjobs but it was very focused on job-hunting and career advancement. Nothing else really works the way a good discussion forum does.

Social media hasn't really put me in contact with people I wouldn't have otherwise, but it has helped me stay in contact with people I've met. For instance, two years ago when I attended Library Leadership I met a whole slew of amazing and interesting librarians who I mostly haven't seen since, but we all friended each other on Facebook and have stayed in touch in this way. It's not the most meaningful communication, but it's easy to send a message to someone if I have a question and I do like hearing about what's going on at their libraries when they post about it.

The thing is, I don't really find social media especially social. It's a lazy way to do social. Sure, it can provide access to information and people you wouldn't have otherwise, opening up a whole world of ideas and opinions. But it's so easy to be overwhelmed, so time-consuming to sort through all this stuff for one nugget of helpful information or a new perspective. And it doesn't replace being social in the world. Following someone on Twitter isn't having a meaningful communication with that person. Social media doesn't replace the librarian dinners or cocktail hours, or the conferences. Social media does sometimes help foster a sense of community, but on a fairly shallow level.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Parcel is still growing

I've been working a lot on my Parcel sweater, despite my lack of updates. Unbelievably, the last peek of it I showed you was this, back in March.

I finally took another progress shot:

It seems very long, even when I hold it up to myself, but I know from tragic experience that garments stretch width-wide rendering them shorter and wider.

It's really a fun project and easy enough to work on while watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but still with enough cabling that it's not completely boring.

I'm feeling very optimistic that my sweater will be done in time for appropriate weather in which to wear it. And in case you were wondering, I'm still in love with the color!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yee gods and little fishes!

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (1941)

As anyone in town would tell you, Mildred had great legs. She was also a fantastic cook, resourceful, and wouldn't take crap from any man. At the opening of the novel, Mildred is kicking out her husband Bert, who is having an affair. Left alone with two daughters, she is barely scraping by and sucks it up and starts looking for a job. But it's the Depression and work is scarce, and Mildred is picky, thinking she is too good for most of the jobs out there. Finally landing a job as a waitress, she gets a very ambitious idea and despite the tough times ends up opening her own restaurant. It would have all been very tidy if it weren't for the poor choices Mildred made in her personal life. She unfortunately had two major weaknesses: she kept getting wound up with the wrong kind of men, and she let her daughter Veda walk all over her.

Despite her flaws, I felt a kind of kinship with Mildred. She was admirable in many ways, but would also be fun to hang out with over cocktails. She not only works hard, but knows how to have a good time. But the poor gal, she couldn't resist certain money-sucking cheating lying men. Furthermore, the musically gifted Veda, for whom Mildred sacrificed so much, was not only ungrateful and snobby, but completely manipulative and dishonest. Veda had little respect for her mother, of whom she admitted to being ashamed, and was very free with the insults, name-calling, and emotional blackmail. Mildred had only herself to blame for allowing such horrid behavior and by indulging Veda's every want, but I don't think she ever came to realize that she contributed so much to the way Veda turned out.

The story arc had some unexpected turns, a major tragic event coming almost halfway through the book and taking me by surprise. I like Cain's steadily paced writing, straightforward and peppered with a lot of short action statements. "Then she hopped in. Then she started the motor. Then she started the wiper. Then she tucked the robe around her." In particular, I liked the industriousness of the descriptions of Mildred's business, how she managed her restaurants and baked her pies. The reader will not forget the era in which the story takes place - the talk of Prohibition, bootlegging, and FDR keeps us firmly rooted, not to mention that the language and expressions are very much of the time. I didn't always know exactly what the characters meant when they spoke, but I liked it all the same.

Mildred Pierce was my book group's August pick as part of our effort to read classics in the summer. Less well-known than many titles that spring to mind when we think of classics, it was an excellent pick (if I do say so myself). If you've overlooked this title, I urge you to give it a try. There's a lot to love about it!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Things 10 and 11

This week's Things are about our paths to librarianship, and professional mentoring.

Path to librarianship

During college I worked in the cataloging department of the library and liked it well enough. Later, when I needed an escape from my first job out of college - a nightmarish retail job - I leapt at the opportunity for another tech services job at a college library. It was while working there that I decided to work towards librarianship as a profession, which in the US means getting an MLS. It was a few years before I was in a position to go back to school but eventually I went to Simmons (which I will be paying for until I retire, and I wish I was exaggerating). Although I've worked in corporate and academic settings, my heart has always been in public libraries. It's been a rough road. For several years I searched in vain for a department head job in an effort to advance in my career, and then two years ago I was laid off. After five months of unemployment, I started working a temporary job at a large library system for extremely low pay and no benefits, even though I worked full-time hours. After two years of job-hunting I'm finally working full-time again, at a nice library the next town over, in a good job with good benefits.

Sometimes I'm a little bitter about the profession and the lack of opportunities. Simmons keeps churning out graduates with promises that many librarians will be retiring soon and there will be lots of available jobs. True, there are many librarians of a certain age and they may retire, if they can afford it, but who says their positions will be filled? It doesn't matter how good you are at what you do if cities and towns are cutting positions and there's nothing for you to even apply for. In the past couple of years while I was job-hunting I spent a long time thinking about alternative career options and I'm incredibly grateful that I didn't end up having to switch careers because I didn't come up with one viable, appealing idea. My new job has a lot of potential and I'm feeling generally optimistic about my professional life again.


I've really never been involved on either end of any sort of formal mentoring, and I'm not sure there's even such a program for librarians. Being sort of mid-career, I'm not even sure which end of the relationship I'd fall on. Certainly I have a lot to learn (don't we all?) but I'm not a new librarian anymore. I do have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are librarians though, and we definitely depend on each other for advice. I wouldn't want to be restricted to advice from just one person, nor would I want to be the sole guide for a new librarian, so I have to admit I don't see the value in mentoring. I looked at the recommended articles here, but none of them explained WHY mentoring is so important, or what value it has that can't be gained through a network of professional contacts. Isn't it best to have MANY different librarians from whom you can solicit advice and get varying perspectives? I would think any sort of professional involvement would have these benefits.

But maybe I'm missing something. Do you have a mentor or have you been one? What sort of benefits did the relationship have that you couldn't have gotten through other types of professional involvement?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It really does take a village

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner (2011)

Beautiful, lonely Jules is fresh out of Princeton, working hard for little pay, but wants more than anything to send her father to rehab. When she is approached by a man representing a fertility clinic asking if she would consider selling her eggs, it seems like the perfect solution. Annie, a housewife married to her high school sweetheart, is struggling to raise two young sons and pay the bills. Though she yearns for the college education she never had, she decides that what she is good at is having babies, and being a surrogate would pay very well. Thirty-eight (or forty-three?) year-old India has changed her name, her face, and her life and has finally snagged herself a rich man. A baby would financially seal the deal, but India and Marcus are unable to conceive and turn to surrogacy. However, India's plans are threatened when her step-daughter Bettina, a young woman as poor in social skills as she is rich in money, decides to hire a private investigator to dig up dirt on India's background.

As always, Weiner's clean writing flowed well, propelling the story along. Compared to her other novels there was more sex and, unfortunately, less humor. But having four main characters and frequently switching perspective meant that I didn't get to know any of the four women as well as I would have if the book were more focused. They were interesting women though, and I'd be happy to read an entire book about any one of them.

Although I didn't like it nearly as much as her other books, I still enjoyed it well enough. Her style is engaging and easy to read and I always enjoy her plots. This was no exception - the issues brought up with egg donation and surrogacy are complex and I like how she drew everyone involved into the story. For Jules, donating her eggs was a simple process, but there were other interesting aspects of her life explored in the novel. On the other hand, Annie's marriage was affected by her decision to be a surrogate. I've always wondered about this aspect of surrogacy and I'm so glad someone wrote it into a novel. She was also a fascinating character because she married so young (arguably too young) and missed a lot of things that many of us experience in our youth. Her whole situation was rather touching and I felt more sympathetic towards her than the other characters. At times I was surprised at Bettina's actions as they didn't seem to fit with her character, but it was hard to tell as I found her to be the least developed of the four women. India was complicated and somewhat surprising and could easily be a book unto herself.

As an interesting aside, the cover shot is an exact scene from the book, right down to the outfit Bettina wears as she perches atop her father's desk with her cup of coffee. This was surprising and refreshing in an age when most book covers are stock photos with only tenuous relevance to the content of the book.

Bottom line: Then Came You is a fun read and I absolutely think it's a great choice to take to the beach this summer. But if you're new to Jennifer Weiner, I'd recommend starting with one of her other books.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Visit to a small town

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001)

Miles Roby is, in a lot of ways, living the life I always feared. Although he tried to get out of his small town in Maine and make something of himself, when his mother got sick he dropped out of college and moved back home. Ever since then he's been working at the Empire Grill hoping that someday when the owner dies it will be his. He's in the middle of a divorce from a woman who cheated on him with a much older man who enjoys coming into the Grill and challenging Miles to arm wrestling. He is still hopelessly in love with a waitress he's known since high school and has no more of a chance with her now than he ever did. He worries about his daughter, worries about his father, worries about his brother. He is regularly harassed by a cop who seems to think they should be friends and that Miles has somehow wronged him. He is the unwilling object of affection of a disabled woman who has always been in love with him and has tried to commit suicide over him. Inconveniently, it is her mother for whom Miles works and, coincidentally or not, for whom Miles' mother also worked. He is stuck in a life that isn't what he had planned, is not what he wants for himself, and he's not very happy.

But Miles is also incredibly endearing and his problems have all come about despite, or possibly because of, his repeated attempts to do the right thing. Just as interesting and complex as Miles are his ex-wife Janine and daughter Tick. Janine wasn't quite as likable as Miles, but I found her intriguing and complicated. Meanwhile, Tick faces her own struggles at school where she tries reaching out to John Voss, an ostracized secretive student possibly hiding some mysterious goings-on at home. She was a little heartbreaking, equally earnest and sullen, and I really wanted everything to turn out well for her.

At its core, Empire Falls is about how the choices people make in an effort to escape their destinies can be the very choices that trap them in the end. No matter how hard he tried, Miles could not escape the Whiting family, nor could John Voss escape his inner demons. Watching both of their stories unfold so differently was a fascinating study of human nature. Experiencing it from such a talented storyteller was a treat.

The slow detailed pace of the novel was neither plodding nor boring, but rather like a meandering walk on a pleasant day with interesting company. I appreciated the opportunity to get to know the characters so intimately and share in their lives, and they were quite a colorful cast. Russo's humor also hit the mark: "Earlier that year when Janine had suggested that she take some modeling classes, Tick had sneered that maybe she would, after her lobotomy. Which had pissed Janine off even before she looked up the word 'lobotomy'."

I have a soft spot for anything Maine, and this town and its inhabitants were recognizable and authentic. How nice it would to drop by the Empire Grill the next time I'm in the area, if only it actually existed.