Sunday, October 30, 2011

Socks, such as they are

Somewhere on the second sock I went a little off-kilter with the pattern so the top of the foot looks different for each one.

It's probably hard to tell from the picture which is, mercifully, a bit out of focus.

Here are the backs. I was a little upset to see how frayed my jeans are. They're my favorites.

What can I say? They're done. It took me around 6 months, and for no good reason that I can thing of. There are actually a number of mistakes (it was easy with this pattern) but most will be covered by shoes. This is what I love about making socks. As long as you're in the general neighborhood of following the instructions they'll probably be fine.

Pattern: Herringbone Socks from Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn
Yarn: Zwergarn Opal Handpainted
Needles: Addi Turbos size 1, I think.

I've just begun Cookie A.'s Milo socks in orange. I have higher hopes for these, in terms of turnaround time if nothing else. I'll post about my new orange sock soon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (2011)

In a slightly different United States than we all know, Hannah Payne has been arrested for having an abortion. As her punishment, she has been injected with a virus that turns her skin bright red. She must live this way for the next 16 years. Her punishment would have been less had she named the man who got her pregnant, or the man who performed the abortion, but she refused. She is still in love with the married pastor with whom she had an affair, and didn't want to reveal his indiscretion, thus destroying the faith her family - and many others - have in him. Now she has been released and she's an outcast who can't return to anyone who cares for her, or at least used to care.

This world Hillary Jordan has created is not so far-fetched. After a breakout of what is euphemistically called "the great scourge" but is in fact a very powerful form of gonorrhea, many women have become barren and the birthrate plummeted. In response, the government passed Sanctity of Life laws which were designed to encourage more procreation by, among other things, outlawing abortion. Control was in the hands of religious zealots and religion became ingrained in every aspect of life. Prisons became so overcrowded that the conditions were widely considered inhumane and an alternative was found in melochroming, the process through which Hannah was turned red. Different colors were chosen for different levels of crime and thus, an entire class of untouchables was created.

This new feminist dystopia is much more than science fiction - it asks many questions about prejudice, loyalty, faith, courage and strength. Hannah began as a very sheltered young woman on a narrow path, but once she stepped off just a bit, the consequences change her whole life. There is a vast gulf between her former life, which is shown in flashback, and her new reality. She learns a lot about herself and she is tested over and over.

The only flaw is that Hannah mentions a few times that she was upset about the abortion and felt like she was a bad person for having done it (even though she stood by her decision), but I didn't really see that come through. She didn't frequently think about the abortion, or speculate on what life would have been like with a baby, or even express doubt about the decision. I think someone who actually regretted an abortion would think about these things a whole lot.

Hannah was an otherwise well developed character who took responsibility for her choices and went through a huge transformation throughout the novel. Not just through the experiences of her punishment, but also through the people she met who she never would have crossed paths with in her cloistered life, and their views and opinions which were very different from those in her narrow-minded community.

The society was fascinating, and just close enough to reality to be possible, and that makes it especially scary. But within this framework there's a great story arc as well, taking us from the solitary ward where Hannah woke up after her procedure, to a rigidly strict sort of recovery house, followed by a dangerous and complicated attempt to leave the country. Hillary Jordan has crafted a story that makes us want to keep reading, and want Hannah and her friends to survive. It kind of knocked my socks off.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Before I Fall

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (2010)
What would you do if you knew you were about to die? Would your entire life flash before your eyes, or just a "greatest hits" of your favorite moments? If you are Samantha Kingston you would apparently live your last day over and over until you got it right.

Samantha is living the life every teenager wants. She's friends with the most popular girls in school, she's dating her dream boyfriend, goes to lots of parties, even gets along well with her parents and little sister. But when she is involved in a fatal accident, she has the opportunity to learn just how much she had going for her and, hopefully, a chance to save her own life.

Lauren Oliver took a big risk with the Groundhog Day-like theme (and indeed referenced that movie early on), and she pulls it off amazingly well. It's not repetitive at all since Samantha is making changes every day; the focus is on those changes and how it affects the outcome and what Samantha learns from that.

Before I Fall contains one of the best examples of character development I've read in young adult lit. Usually a novel contains one major event or problem from which the character learns and grows, but here Samantha has the opportunity to go through SO many changes. One day she does all kinds of crazy things without regard for the consequences (like trying to seduce her math teacher), and other day she skips school entirely and hangs out with her little sister. She learns a great deal about herself and her friends each day, and watching the resulting metamorphosis is what this book is all about.

I liked the complexity of the supporting cast as well. Samantha, Lindsay, Ally, and Elody are popular girls, they pick on the less popular kids, they are pretty much bitches, but at the same time you can totally see why they are all friends - you see their good qualities, their loyalty, their humor and sense of fun. As the novel progresses, we learn more about Samantha's friends and realize that although it's tempting to think they're bad people, it's not that simple. They are plagued by fears and insecurities and practicing the only sort of self-preservation they know. (Ok, I still think Lindsay is a bitch, but she's a complicated bitch.)

Also, Kent! He is the dorky, but really adorable, boy who has had a crush on Sam for years but who she always thought was a loser until she got to know him a little more, and matured enough to stop being so judgmental. (And realized what a jerk her boyfriend was.) Their budding romance was very swoonworthy.

My only qualm at all was with the ending. Samantha relives the day over and over because there is a way that it is SUPPOSED to go, and she had to do everything right to get this day to stop repeating. But I don't understand why that way is the right away. I don't believe in fate or destiny at all though, so I'm probably the wrong person to complain about that.

Although it was 470 pages, this novel is fast-paced and easy to just sink into. Written in a very conversational tone, it feels light even though there's a great deal of personal change, self-discovery, and tragedy. Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thing 21

Thing 21 is all about identifying your strengths and promoting yourself in job applications and interviews. As some of you know, I just spent two years looking for a job after being laid off and now that the job hunt is behind me I have no desire to revisit it. So I won't relive my interview experience here by listing all my strengths, skills, and interests as we are asked to do. Instead, I will cut to the chase and dispense with a bit of advice. It's just a rundown of how I prepare for a job interview, but I've pretty much gotten it down to a science.

Here's what I do:
- As soon as the interview is scheduled, decide what to wear and make sure it's clean. If needed, take it to the cleaners.

- Spend some time looking at the library's web site and reading any press about the library.

- Deconstruct the job ad, making lists of all the requirements, needed skills and experience, and spend some time thinking about how my skills and experience fit in, and make notes about this.

- Spend some time reading sample interview questions and thinking a lot about how to answer them. Most of my preparation just involves thinking.

- Set up my interview binder. This is incredibly important and is what gets me through the interview successfully!
On the left is a folder area where I put a copy of the job description, a couple copies of my resume, a list of my references, any extras that seem relevant to that position (I usually bring some readers' advisory brochures I made) and directions to the interview.

On the right hand part of my binder is a pad of paper and on the top sheet I write my prep notes. This usually includes 5 main parts:
  1. Basic interview info: Name and address of library, interview time, names of interviewers, any specific instructions about parking, etc.
  2. VERY basic notes about the job - basically a list of keywords from the ad that seem important.
  3. Stuff about me: a list of words describing my style, experience, strengths, and any other descriptors that may come in handy when answering questions about myself. 
  4. Examples to use when I'm asked questions beginning "Describe a time when...." and those sorts of things. Plus anything particular I did that I want to be sure to mention, such as a particular program or service I started. 
  5. Questions to ask the interviewers. This is truly a 2-way street - you need to know what you may be getting into, and if you'll be able to work with these people. I usually have questions about the position and the library, the director/department head's leadership or management style, and how well staff work together.
On interview day:

- I always figure out how much time it will take me to get there and I add AT LEAST a half hour to that estimate. Usually this means getting there really early, but that's good. You have plenty of time to park and find the correct entrance, and then you can just relax and look over notes, and there will still be time to hit the bathroom before the interview. And one time I did hit unexpected construction on the way to an interview, and although I was delayed a LOT, I was still a few minutes early.

- Based on all the above preparation, I usually have an agenda. When I interview, I have certain things I want to get across because they are my strong points or things I've done that I'm especially proud of, and I make a point to work them into an answer to some question, somewhere.

Is this helpful? Do you have any advice to add? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (2011)

I live in an old house and there is a part of the basement we refer to as "scary basement." It's separated from the main part of the basement, lower-ceilinged, and I joke that that's where the previous inhabitants used to hide the bodies. This no longer seems so funny.

In Chris Bohjalian's new novel, Chip Linton moves to Bethel, NH with his wife and twin daughters. In the basement of their big old house, Chip discovers a mysterious door fixed shut with 39 carriage bolts. Coincidentally, 39 is also the number of passengers who died when Chip was forced to land his plane on Lake Champlain just months before. It was the guilt and grief from that accident that drove Chip and his family to Bethel, but now in their new house he is more haunted than ever by the dead passengers.

Their eccentric new neighbors, who all seem to be named after herbs, seem strangely interested in the couple and especially their 10-year-old daughters, Hallie and Garnet. Although the herbalists ostensibly want to be friends, they begin to look a little sinister to the already-vulnerable family. Chip's strange visions become more real and more threatening than ever, as Emily and the twins are drawn further into the group of herbalists.

This is quite a departure for Bohjalian, but he pulls it off quite effectively. It begins with the creepy basement, but that becomes the least of the family's worries. Though the story starts off slowly, you begin to see things taking shape and as the suspense builds, the pace speeds up. I'm not a very fast reader but I flew through this book - admittedly, I didn't want to put it down but when I sat down to read, I read more pages than I would have expected.

The thing is, you really want everything to go well for this family. They've been through a lot, you've gotten to know them, and you want to protect them from harm. As a reader, of course, all you can do is watch them succumb to powerful forces and hope they have the strength to pull themselves out. The Night Strangers is a gripping novel that made me incredibly tense. I recommend reading it, but be sure to stock up on your anti-anxiety meds.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coraline has begun

I've swatched for the Coraline cardigan before, but couldn't get gauge, and with this pattern you need to get row gauge as well as stitch gauge. Moreover, the pattern calls for DK weight yarn which, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, is more expensive than other yarn weights. Consequently I haven't been doing much experimenting. But. Recently I found this lovely purple yarn - Queensland Collection Rustic Wool DK - and I think it is perfect.

Coraline is knit from the bottom up with a folden hem. I have made a folded hem before on my first and second versions of the Hourglass Sweater (sorry for the Ravelry links, this was pre-blog!) but Ysolda's design is a little bit different.

The basic idea of a folded hem is that you cast on provisionally, knit a bunch of rows, knit a bunch more rows, fold it in half, then take off your waste yarn and knit the provisional stitches together with your live stitches. Then just keep knitting.

With the hourglass sweater, there was a purl row which I think the pattern referred to as a "turning row" between the front rows and the back rows (if that makes sense). This clearly defined the fold. On Coraline there is no turning row, and also the pattern says to slip the first THREE stitches of every row. I've never seen such a thing before. Of course I forgot to do this on my first 15 rows and did not want to rip it all out because these are some long damn rows. I'm sure it will be fine. (Just as I'm sure those are famous last words.)

Here's a picture of the back - I've gone just a few rows beyond where the hem is attached. See how neat it looks where the hem attaches?

Now that I've finished the hem, I have to knit 95 rows in plain stockinette. Easy peasy. This means that I have to either a) find a good show to watch, b) find some good podcasts to listen to, or c) finally figure out how to read and knit at the same time, from the comfort of the papasan chair where I have been recently living.

Tonight I am watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, a desire inspired by recently reading this book. I wonder how many rows I will get done?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Like the Willow Tree

Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918 by Lois Lowry (2011)(audio)

Lydia and her brother Daniel live a regular life with their parents and new baby sister, Lucy. But they begin hearing about a deadly disease arriving in Maine, and soon their school is closed and they have to stay inside and can't even visit their friends. Then, their parents and Lucy all become ill and in just days they are dead, leaving Lydia and Daniel alone. Their uncle comes and brings them to his house but he and his wife already have more children than they can really care for, so one day he takes Lydia and Daniel to live with the Shakers at Sabbath Day Lake.

Their new life with the Shakers is very different - they cannot keep their own possessions and Lydia has to give up her copy of The Secret Garden and the ring from her grandmother which is very precious to her. All material items belong to everybody here. In addition to school, all the children must work and Lydia learns to knit, iron, and make baskets, though what she really can't wait to try is candy-making. Boys and girls live separately, for Shakers do not every marry and there is little interaction between the sexes. Also they must regularly "open their minds" to one another, which is similar to the Catholics' confessions.

Part of the Dear America series, Like the Willow Tree was a very fun slice-of-life audiobook that was perfect for my commute. It covered such a short period of time and I was really curious whether Lydia would come to embrace the Shaker life long-term or if she would return to "the world" (as the Shakers say). I was prepared to not have these questions answered - it's a children's book after all, and only meant to cover what it was like at that place and time. But to my surprise, the book included an epilogue which answered my questions. As if that weren't enough, there was additional material about the historical period as well as some performances of Shaker songs.

Although I found the narrator's voice a bit grating at the beginning, I grew used to it and came to really look forward to listening. I enjoyed this book a lot - I am always a sucker for old-timey novels - and will absolutely consider other books from this series in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boston Book Festival!

Today was the 3rd annual Boston Book Festival. I'm not sure how I missed this the last two years, but you can bet I'll be there again next year! It's like a huge literary conference and book sale and it's FREE. Amazing! And these are not little-known authors, they are big names. The kid's keynote speaker was Mo Willems and tonight's keynote is Michael Ondaatje. Other authors in attendance include Jennifer Egan, Mitchell Zuckoff, Andre Dubus III, Julia Alvarez, Gregory Maguire, Karen Russell, Richard Russo and many many others. Not to mention several WBUR personalities including Tom Ashbrook, Robin Young, and Christopher Lydon (no longer on WBUR, but I have very fond memories of listening to The Connection every single day.)

I started my day by attending Steampunk, hosted by my former co-worker, the always funkily-dressed Maya Escobar. The panel included Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, who co-edited a steampunk anthology, artist/creator Allison DeBlasio, and young adult author Holly Black. I have heard many wonderful things about Black and she was just lovely in person (as were all the panelists). In an effort to define the genre, Holly Black said "Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown." Clever!

The next session I attended was YA Fiction: On the Edge. Amy Pattee from Simmons, who I've enjoyed as a presenter at NELA, was moderator. Ellen Levine wrote a novel called In Trouble, set in the 1950s, which was rejected by many publishers because one of the characters has an abortion. Daniel Nayeri recently wrote a collection of novellas on his iphone, and was a great speaker with a fascinating background. Danica Novgorodoff shared excerpts from her graphic novel Refresh, Refresh, a coming-of-age story about teenage boys in Bend, Oregon whose fathers are fighting in Iraq. This was a very well-balanced panel of authors who did very different work that is edge in different ways.

After standing in line for over a half hour for what was, thankfully, a fantastic sandwich from Roxy's Grilled Cheese truck, I was late arriving at Fiction: Truth and Consequences and had to sit in the overflow room. Unfortunately the screen was set up in such a way that only the first few rows could actually see the panelists. It was again a great group. Ha Jin spoke about his new book Nanjing Requiem. Jennifer Haigh, author of The Condition (link is to my review), spoke about her newest novel, Faith. Last but not least, Vanessa Diffenbaugh,whose first novel The Language of Flowers is getting lots of buzz, spoke about being a foster parent and about the Victorian flower-based code, both of which are fascinating subjects and really made me want to read her novel.

It was so fantastic to go to an event that was all about books, and just swarming with people who love books enough to spend their Saturday listening to people talk about them. It was inspiring and now I have even more books on my list waiting to be devoured. So now you'll have to excuse me, I'm going to go read!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thing 20

In Thing 20 we are asked to blog about our library roots and routes - how we got into the profession, and the path our careers have taken, and to link the posts to the Library Routes Project Wiki.

Roots : how and why you got into the profession

It may have been destiny. When I was a kid I had a set of Little Golden Books with records, and they all fit into a neat little box with a cover. All the titles were listed and numbered on the back. When I recently took this set from my mother's house after not seeing it for years, I opened it and discovered that I had gone through the set as a child and written the number corresponding to the list on the box on each freaking book with a marker, and then assembled the books in numerical order.

My high school work experience all consisted of babysitting and food service, so my work-study assignment in college was of course the glamorous job of working in a dining hall. But I stayed on campus one summer and scored a job in the library, where I continued to work until I graduated. It was a great job but I never thought of it as a career path. Then when I graduated from college and had no idea what sort of work to look for, I ended up in a horrible retail job from which I was fired after one excruciating year. Desperate for more relaxing employment, I applied for a job working in the cataloging department of a library at a college in Boston.

After working there for a while I began to consider libraries as a career option. At some point I also worked my way through "What Color is Your Parachute?" Library school seemed like the answer. It was expensive though, at least if I went to the local school. I considered moving away for library school but was just becoming acclimated to Boston and didn't want to make another move. So Simmons it was. I couldn't afford it on what I was making so I left that job for a better-paying job at a small company that did fund-raising for non-profit organizations. I learned a lot about databases, lessons that have served me well in my library career though I had no idea they would when I took the job. I started library school part-time, but soon grew impatient to start my new career, so I quit that job, got a part-time library assistant job in a corporate library and went to school full-time.

Routes: the career path you've taken so far

"Path" isn't a good descriptor for the shape of my career so far as it implies a linear, forward motion and my career, sadly, has not taken that form.

I graduated from library school 10 years ago and got a job as a reference librarian. After a year or so I started looking for a department head job. I am still a reference librarian. Competition is fierce, the economy sucks, and at the risk of sounding cynical and jaded, my impression is that nobody wants to hire someone for a job that they haven't done before. I've gotten little bits of supervisory experience here and there, including as a volunteer (which I'll talk more about in Thing 22) but when I've interviewed for Reference Head positions (or Circ Head or Assistant Director or any number of managerial positions for which I've gotten interviews), no matter how well I interview - and I interview very well - it always comes down to someone else having more experience. And there will always be someone else with more experience. I've been stuck in this loop of purgatory in which I can't get the right experience because I don't have the right experience.

But right now after being laid off and spending two years job-hunting, while working at a part-time/temp job, I'm pretty damn happy to have a full-time reference job again. Also? I am doing a shit load of collection development which I've always wanted to do, but haven't been allowed to do much of in the past. I did a little collection development in reference (boring!) and ESL (interesting, but a small collection). Now I'm buying music CDs, knitting books, large print, Russian books and all manner of interesting items. There is a lot of change at my workplace and I've only been there for about three months myself, but I think I'll have opportunities for all sorts of programming, outreach, and other fun things.

Yes, someday I'd still like to be in management. I have no idea how to get there. It seems like the best way is to apply for a job within the organization where you already work, but people in libraries tend to stay in their jobs for a loooong time and if they leave there are no guarantees. At my last library the union dictated promotions according to seniority, not based on strengths of the applicants.

Anyhow, I'm done with applying for jobs and interviewing. I spent so much time and energy in the last two years trying to land a full-time job that I'm just not interested in doing it again for a long long time. Right now I just want to work on my projects and stay at my job long enough to see them evolve, and take an active role in making my library a better library.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What You See in the Dark

What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz (2011)

In the late 1950s an actress and a director come to Bakersfield California looking for the perfect motel for their movie. That perfect motel - which they ultimately aren't given permission to use - is owned by Arlene Watson, a waitress at the local diner, and single mother of a young man named Dan who is much admired by the local ladies. But not all is peaceful in this sleepy little town, and one day Dan's Mexican girlfriend is dead and Dan has left town.

I almost didn't make it past the first chapter, and surely would have put it down if I weren't reading it for my book group. The first (and last) chapter was written in second person, to a co-worker of the murdered girl. But that wasn't very clear and I still don't understand why this choice was made. I found it incredibly confusing and disorienting.

Otherwise it was a well-crafted story, and I found myself re-reading a few sentences here and there to savor his choice of words. This atmospheric novel is the first from Muñoz, who has two short story collections to his credit. Moody and noir-feeling, the style in some ways echoed the Hitchcock film that serves as it's backdrop.

I'll admit I didn't care much for this novel. Once I got past the first chapter, the straightforward third person perspective was much easier to read, but the book is simply not to my taste. Dark and slow-moving, there is a certain amount of distance between the reader and the characters. Aside from Arlene, with whom we spent a great deal of time, we barely scratch the surface of what is going on with the characters, and have few facts about what is happening. It wasn't my kind of book, but if you like that sort of atmospheric novel where the details are hazy but the mood is strong, this may be up your alley.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thing 19

I've fallen far behind in cpd23. The final Thing has been posted and I'm still on Thing 19!

This purpose of this Thing is to look back and reflect on everything covered so far in the program and think about how I've integrated what has been covered.

I was already using RSS feeds, LinkedIn and Twitter (though I've started trying to use Twitter a bit more these days). Additionally, I was already involved in professional activities such as attending conferences. Many of the Things are new to me though, so I've learned about many tools I was unfamiliar with.

While many of them aren't useful to me (such as citation software), I have started using Evernote a lot. I use it to prepare and organize blog posts, and to make to do lists. I have a notebook for work that contains to do lists, but also notes about various areas of responsibility. For instance, I have a note called "Foreign Language" where I've been storing bits of info I've gleaned about vendors of foreign language books, along with a partial lists of books in Russian I want to order and notes to myself about sources to check for help with collection development in this area. I have a "Large Print" note in which I have compiled information about the discounts from various vendors, as well as a list of books I'm considering ordering if I have enough money but which aren't priorities. I have another note in which I'm making a list of things to talk to my boss about the next time we have a one-on-one meeting. Really, anything I want to remember goes in an Evernote note. I'm trying to just replace my former system of messy notepads and post-it notes. It's been incredibly helpful, plus web access means I can refer to it from any computer.

Although Evernote is the only thing I've integrated into my life as a result of cpd23, that one thing makes it worth it. Some of the Things have also just been good reminders of ways to stay professionally involved. Even the things I haven't necessarily used have been good to know about. I'm now aware of tools that I hadn't heard about before (like Jing) so that when someone mentions them I don't have to ask what they are and feel like an uninformed Luddite. So, hooray for knowing about stuff!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)

Sixteen-year-old Jacob has grown up hearing his grandfather's fantastical tales about the peculiar children residing with him in the orphanage where he lived as a child. One could levitate, one had inhuman strength, one could produce fire with her hands. As Jacob grew up he realized the stories must have been tall tales. But when his grandfather dies suddenly after whispering some cryptic last words to Jacob, he realizes there may be truth to the stories after all.

Jacob and his father journey to Wales so Jacob can find closure in his grandfather's death by visiting the ruins of the bombed-out orphanage. But really he is searching for the other children from the orphanage, using only clues from his grandfather's dying words and a 15-year-old letter from the orphanage's mistress, Miss Peregrine. Of course Jacob finds more than he bargained for. Told in a mixture of text and photographs, the book is a work of art. The photos are all real, assembled by Riggs from various collectors of vintage photos, and the page numbers have fancy little graphics around them.

It was a good story, though I wasn't drawn in as much as I had hoped. I liked the characters and the story and I loved the creepy package. I don't think I'll read the sequel, but I'm still glad I took the time for this unusual book. Riggs is a talented and creative writer and although I wasn't grabbed by the novel, many people have loved it. I recommend giving it a try - at least look at the pictures.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2011)
During World War II the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and many people there were removed and sent to prisons or labor camps. In Ruta Sepetys' novel, she imagines a teenage girl whose family has been separated, her father sent to prison and she, her mother, and little brother sent to a camp in Siberia. Lina is 15 and dreams of becoming an artist, but those dreams are all but forgotten when she must struggle just to stay alive in the arctic with only bread rations to eat and people dying around her every day.

I've read so much concentration camp and labor camp literature that I generally no longer go near. (The other recent exception was The Book Thief) But when I read a review of this book on a YA site, I was compelled by the lesser-known plight of Lithuanians during the war.

I listened to the audiobook, and at the end the author spoke about why she wrote the book, which was very interesting - I don't know if this part is included in the paper version of the book but it was a great addition to the novel. The narrator has a good reading voice, but very saccharine and a little over-emotional. Perhaps this was to make up for the bleak subject matter - little about this story was uplifting - but it was distracting at times. 

It was a well-crafted story with many moments of tension, as well as flashbacks to happier, more carefree times. There were moments of hope in the story, and reminders that there are good people everywhere, and sometimes their goodness is just hard to see. I liked Lina, who was the sort of person you just know will come through ok even if she doesn't believe it herself. I'm glad I took the time to spend with her in this book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Leftovers

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011)
 After millions of people around the world simultaneously disappear into thin air, the residents of the little town of Mapleton are shell-shocked but struggle to go on. Some are convinced that the Sudden Departure was the Rapture foretold in the Bible; others feel it was more random, based on the religions and perceived morality of those who are gone and those who are left behind. Some colorful cults have sprung up such as Guilty Remnants, the Barefoot People, and the Healing Huggers.

The novel focuses on one family in particular, which remained intact, but not untouched, by the event. Kevin, Laurie, Tom and Jill Garvey were all left behind, though they all know people who disappeared. Instead of learning on each other their family becomes fractured. Kevin appears unscathed and becomes the town's mayor. Laurie and Tom both end up leaving and joining cults, while Jill remains behind feeling alone and lost.

Most people are unable to connect with each other, and they can’t even really mourn for those who they’ve lost because they do not know where they are. Are they dead? Are they just somewhere else? What if they return just as suddenly? Up until the very end I found the characters’ motives unclear and their actions unpredictable. It is a town of people who have been stripped of eveything they believed and are trying to rebuild their lives and find some way to go on, stumbling, changing tactics, then heading off in another direction in search of some purpose, or at least relief.

Although the writing is relatively upbeat and not without moments of humor, at the end I was left feeling haunted and sad. The people in this town cannot reclaim what they lost, or even explain what happened- how can they go on without knowing if they will again suddenly be completely gobsmacked? Will life just go on, or is there a part two to this event as some of the cults insist? They cannot obtain closure.

I'm struck by how many reviews insist on referring the event as the Rapture, when even Perrotta describes it as a "Rapture-like event." Indeed, it is never explained in the book and there is a reason for that - the story is about how people behave and cope (or don't) after a major catastrophe they cannot explain. Well played, Tom Perrotta.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NELA, Day 3

My last post for this conference! Day 3 was short, and I only attended two programs.

Displays on a budget

I'm always eager for advice on making good displays. I'm not very creative and I'll admit I'm a little lazy about this, but I think displays are important and work really well in promoting our materials. I got more than I bargained for here: the presenters shared advice not only on temporary displays but on long-term merchandising strategies.

In addition to particular displays and their setup we got some good general advice, like displays don't have to be in the building. Cambridge Public Library once had some books displayed on the T. I imagine there are other opportunities in the community for this type of thing. We are always saying we need to get out into the community - what better way than to attract patrons with our shiny sparkly materials somewhere they didn't expect?

We should be looking at the outside of our buildings too - what can patrons see through the windows? Do we put up banners on the outside of our buildings? What draws people inside? And once they get inside, what do they see? Apparently, studies have been done on how people enter buildings, and have found that people don't usually see anything in the first 10 feet because they are trying to orient themselves. So all those signs plastered on the front doors and in the foyer go unread. Paco Underhill and his books, such as Why We Buy, were recommended for his expertise in this area.

I have my own philosophy on displays, in that I think we should change them very frequently and, therefore, not spend too much time and effort getting them just so. But the reality is that most libraries do leave displays up for weeks at a time, and there are situations in which I would deliberately do so too. Lots of great advice and inspiration at this session!

Checklist for digital divide readiness

with the lovely Jessamyn West!

Her checklist is as follows:
1. Statistics: 21% of people still have no internet at home, and the rate of adoption is slowing.
2. Know your area. In many rural areas broadband is not available.
3. Know the divides: Are they economic, usability, or empowerment divides?
4. Outline YOUR problems. What do people in your community need?
5. Check yourself - who's responsible for the digital divide? (Librarians are pretty much it - who else is going to help people get online and up to speed?)
6. Evaluate your offerings. Is your website standards-compliant? Can blind people read it? Do you have books about technology?
7. Take good care of patron computers. These are the only computers many of them have. Clean them.
8. Offer clear information, clearly presented.
9. Play "what if." What's your responsibility in awkward situations when they need more help than you would normally give? What if there's a crisis?
10. Celebrate successes!

She is an engaging speaker, and more funny than I expected. I've read her blog for a while, and though I find it informative her incredible sense of humor doesn't come across. This session was a great way to end the conference! If you want more information she has her presentation and lots of additional resources here.

Altogether a great conference! Usually I feel like there are some strong sessions and some I would have been better off skipping. But every single session that I went to this year was good - I got something out of each one of them. That's a success to celebrate!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NELA, Day 2 (Part 2)

Howdy Partner!

A library consultant shared lots of great advice on partnering with community organizations such as other libraries, schools, non-profits and businesses. She emphasized good planning - well-thought out partnerships can solve real problems and result in new resources and services. Libraries are desirable partners because of our expertise, resources, and our reputations - we are trusted and valued in our communities. But be selective - your partners should support your strategic goals, share a mission and core values. They should compliment what you have, not duplicate it. They should have a good reputation, adequate resources, be well-managed, and understand win/win. Libraries are often taken advantage of. Davis also highly recommended having a signed agreement, and recommended the book Partnering with Purpose for more good advice.

Interestingly, she cautioned against the most common type of partnerships - that between libraries and local schools. They seem like obvious choices because of a shared mission of learning, but frequently fail because of the vast difference in policies, cultures, and rules.

Much of the session was an open discussion of participants' partnership examples. There were some great ideas such as a library that holds an open mic night at a local coffee shop, and customers who show a library card get a discount on their orders. Another library secured an LSTA grant for a One Book program centered around Last Child in the Woods. They partnered with some local conservation groups - all parties planned programs, and they were all promoted jointly.

But I was troubled by some of the so-called partnerships some of the librarians were sharing. For instance, one library described an attempted partnership with a large business. Librarians submitted an application to the company and in return they were supposed to get $500 and some volunteers to help run a barbecue the library was sponsoring. They depended on the money to be able to execute the event, but at the last minute the company said they couldn't drum  up the 5 needed volunteers and so the library lost out on the volunteers AND the money. In another instance, a bank offered up a table to a local library so they could promote their wares, but when the library called to follow-up, other bank officials insisted they only offered such tables to businesses. In another instance, a library shared this "partnership": they gave us money and we put their logo on all our stuff.

I asked a question: I understand why we would partner with businesses, because they are part of our communities just like other organizations. But how can we do so without crossing a line into something else? If a company gives us money and we in turn put their logo all over our promotional materials, isn't that just advertising?

The speaker's answer was "You know, there was a time when we could take the high road but these days..." I tried to clarify. I asked for examples of library/company partnerships that were ACTUAL partnerships, but the speaker appeared to think my question was rhetorical. I may have come across as though I was criticizing the very idea of partnering with businesses, but I honestly wanted to know the answer.

After the session was over, I talked about it with a colleague. We tried to come up with ways in which a library and a business could partner within the constraints the speaker had outlined, but honestly how many businesses have a shared mission and values with public libraries? I think the coffee shop open mic night was a good example, and I could see partnering with a bookstore, but it seems like the very idea is fraught with ethical as well as practical issues.

I'm not criticizing the speaker, only her answer to that one question. I truly enjoyed her presentation and found her advice invaluable and the discussions inspiring. I'm only troubled by this one issue I'm struggling to understand.

I'm really interested in investigating this: do you know of any successful partnerships between public libraries and private businesses? If so, I'd love to hear about them!

(And for the record, I believe we can ALWAYS take the high road.)

NELA, Day 2 (Part 1)

I began day 2 of NELA with Zumba at 7am, which was surprising even to me. This is the first time I've gotten up early for what they call Limber Librarians, but I've been wanting to try Zumba for a while and it was absolutely worth it. (Plus I woke up at 5:30am and couldn't get back to sleep.)

Rudyard Kipling in Vermont
Jackson Gillman, Kipling re-enactor and storyteller who works Naulakha - the house where Kipling spent four years in Dummerston, VT - spoke about Kipling's life and stories and performed a few of the stories. He was quite good, though I'm not a Kipling fan.

Net Neutrality and Intellectual Freedom
I went to this session because I know that net neutrality is a really important issue and I don't feel like I understand it. I still don't, but I know more than I did. The speaker was Lauren-Glenn Davitian from CCTV who gave a thorough overview of the history of the issue and laid out a 5-point plan:
1. Understand the issue
2. Protect yourself (updating your Facebook settings is a good start)
3. Spread the news
4. Pay attention to the FCC and FTC
5. Develop a local/regional security plan

There was some great discussion about the collection and use of our data. Many things to think about! It was kind of a downer as the situation feels a bit hopeless, but education is empowerment, right?

Over There: Wisdom from Social Media Mavens Across Disciplines

Shay Totten from VT newspaper Seven Days and Seth Mobley from VCAM (VT Community Access Media) shared advice about using social media.

From Seth:
- redundancy is a plus and consistency is a must - use the same or similar bios and avatars across various social media
- pay attention to how people in your community use social media and incorporate this
- there are thousands of social media experts out there - feel free to ignore them!

From Shay:
- keep some of your inner Luddite happy
- have people behind everything you are doing online - don't just have your twitter feed set up as an automatic feed from your blog, for example
- young people aren't on Facebook
- use TweetDeck to focus, schedule tweets, and keep yourself organized
- use categories you already have (for libraries: reference, young adult, children, etc)
- ask yourself what matters to people in your community who are using these tools
- follow relevant local hashtags

Part 2 to come
I attended one more program on the second day, but I have a lot of thoughts about it and rather than make this post even longer, I will address it separately.

NELA, Day 1

There was so much great stuff at NELA this year, that instead of an overview of the conference I decided to post about each day. I had hoped to do it during the actual conference, which I realize now was completely unrealistic. So two days later, here's my rundown of day one.  

Killing Librarianship The keynote address was delivered by R. David Lankes, director of the library science program at Syracuse University. He spoke about how recently there are a lot of little ideas - some examples were particular types of online services - but there haven't been any big ideas in a long time. He talked about 3 big ideas: innovation, participation, and democracy. He said that when you add up those three things, you have librarianship.

He reminded us that the mission of libraries is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in our communities. We work with our communities to determine what it means to "improve society" in that community. In terms of innovation and change, he says that what we've done in the past was important to get us here but it may not take us where we need to be in the future.

Although I didn't come out of this session with specific ideas, it was very inspirational and motivating and a good reminder of our big picture.  

Social Media at the New York Public Library
Lauren Lampasone gave a great overview of the social media that NYPL uses, including blogs, twitter, facebook and some really cool crowdsourcing projects like and and

Fun cpd23 note: she apparently used Prezi for her presentation and I thought it was very effective. It was interesting, well planned, and since it was about social media there were a lot of visuals including screen shots and video.

Some of her advice for posting in social media:
- Ask questions so people will respond
- People love quotes
- Have a social media policy.
- NYPL also has a crisis plan in case of a bad PR event.
- They have training for staff, ongoing support, even mini-conferences.

And of course they take reference questions via email, chat, text, twitter, anywhere! 

Touch My Junk
Yes, it was called that. This was a panel discussion from NELA's ITS section about patrons bringing their own devices to the library asking for assistance. Do you touch their stuff or take a hands-off approach? There was, of course, disagreement among the panel. I'm more in the "talk the patron through it as THEY do the actual touching" camp.

The discussion moved in related areas, like: What defines a reference question? How much technology should we have to know? At what point do we become free tech support and how do you tell if you're crossing that line? There were some comments of the "why do we have to know this?" variety. As I have said before, I don't think we can decide what is and is not a reference question. This is our new reality. (Indeed, the conference theme was "Navigating the New Normal" and this absolutely spoke to that theme.)

Another cpd23 related note: there were positive reviews of Jing as a screencasting tool, as well as Screencast-o-matic, which does not need to be downloaded.

Takeaways and thoughts from this session:
- Make appointments for patrons who need more time-consuming help
- Staff should be able to do the things patrons can do in the library
- If the question involves library resources and/or information/digital literacy, it is in our purview and we should help
- One panel member says if there's a staff member who won't/can't learn technology he schedules himself on the desk with them for a few weeks so that when technology questions come up they can work on them together
- One panel member has created helpful handouts for patrons including one of keyboard shortcuts
- Various people mentioned having staff-only blogs or wikis to share tips and information
- One library had B&N come to the library to show patrons how to use devices
- Another library has an ongoing technology petting zoo, with various devices locked down but available to use
- I want staff competencies. We should have a list of things we should be able to do in our jobs, and resources to help learn those things. How can we provide good service to patrons if we can't even do the stuff they need help with?

Dinner banquet with author Frank Delaney

I've never read Frank Delaney's work but he was a great speaker. He talked a little bit about his books and mentioned that he'll never again sign a contract that requires his books to be a certain length. He spoke a lot about other authors and books, which I really enjoyed. He's doing an interesting project - every week he airs a podcast about one sentence in James Joyce's Ulysses, estimating that it will take something like 25 years to complete. Regarding the project, he quipped, "There are many ways in which to go mad. I think this is one of the more pleasant ones."

My main takeaway from this event was that I really want to re-read The Great Gatsby.

I'll post about NELA Day Two soon!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thing 18

One last post before I head off to NELA tomorrow.

Thing 18 is about screen capture tools and podcasting.


Jing is software that allows you to take screenshots and annotate them or make short videos. This is probably very useful for situations like creating computer instruction. In fact, the example on the "how it's used" portion of the website is a librarian creating a tutorial on how to use the library catalog. There's a 5-minute limit on videos but I'm sure that's enough for anything you'd need in a library (and probably about as long as most people's attention spans.)

It seems very straightforward and easy to use. I didn't download the software because I don't have a current use for it, but I'm glad to know about it in case I ever have to make instructions for something.


Back when I first got my iPod I used to subscribe to some news podcasts, in hopes that I could learn something while walking to work. I had the same problem as I have with audiobooks - my mind would wander and I would realize I had completely missed what I was listening to. I'm much more a visual person than audio but I've been thinking of looking for good podcasts that don't require a lot of focus to listen to while knitting. Any suggestions? 

The Thing recommends the Podwhating course on how to create podcasts, which I'm interested in trying out sometime after cpd23 is over. I like the IDEA of making a podcast, but I don't have an idea for one. And do people still even listen to podcasts? When video is so easy to make and widely available, why just listen to something when you can also watch?