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Banned Books Week

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Decided to do a few things different from your typical BBW display:

1) Focused on adult books instead of poaching from the Teen and Children section. They’re not the ones looking at the displays in the adult section anyway.

2) Explained why they’re banned, and where, and by whom. I think this is supremely important if we’re really going to open a dialog about it, instead of throwing titles up without any sort of context.

3) Chose mainly books banned by governments instead of continuing to slag on conservative parents in the South. Turns out they have nothing on 1930’s Australia.

And meanwhile at Library Numero Dos:

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Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments

Oh, PubMed.

How you never cease to confuse and anger me.

Here is what I think I know about your chameleon nature:

You are not really a database. You are a search engine. Why are you in the list of iCONN databases? I don’t know. It makes it sound like it’s awesome that you’re on their list of stuff, but really, you’re free for anyone to access.

You are good friends with MEDLINE, which provides some, maybe most, of the journal articles that come up in your search. MEDLINE doesn’t include everything out there in the medical world, but what it does have is nice and shiny and has been graced with the glory of a controlled vocabulary. (That’s MeSH.) It’s like the difference between searching a blog for keywords or title and searching for tags that the blog author uses.

In addition to MEDLINE, you also search for articles in different stages of the publication process, and older articles that just haven’t been indexed yet by MEDLINE. And stuff that MEDLINE will not condescend to include in its biomedical clique.

So you can find all this information in the articles, but what if you want the article itself? That’s where the riddle gets wrapped up in the enigma inside a Snickers wrapper. Sometimes the writers, or publishers, or somebody out there, will make it available for free. Then PubMed will give you directions to it. But it really comes down to your institution’s subscriptions, and I guess if you’re part of a medical library, those directions will magically appear. Do you need to be searching PubMed from that library’s IP address? Is there a login you can use at home that acknowledges your affiliation to the library and lets you download offsite? No idea.

So the nice Yale Medical affiliated lady who called earlier asking if we had PubMed? Yes, we do. But PubMed isn’t what she was really after. Access to PubMed is access to MEDLINE but not access to actual articles.

Argh, what is the point of having such search engines?!

To further confuse things, PubMed Central is a search that will bring back ONLY full-text articles. And MedlinePlus is a cruel, cruel doppelganger. You would think it’s MEDLINE, and it’s Plus, so maybe it’s going to offer everything full-text or somehow be better and shinier than MEDLINE, right? No. It’s consumer/patient info, which is all well and dandy and needed, but I don’t know why it’s implied as the superlative of the health professional/researcher info. It’s like how some generics will brand themselves as “Great” or “Super” to make up for the lack of quality compared to name brands that just call themselves Stubb’s or Heinz or something about farms or whatever.

So why is this so confusing, with catalogs of catalogs and opaque access rules? I think knowing that it’s a .gov extension explains it quite well.

Bluford High Represent

Yesterday a gregarious teen came up asking where we’ve got books with “crazy stuff” – high schoolers dealing with romance, drama, sometimes drugs and violence, etc. I tried feeling out exactly what she wanted during the elevator ride to the teen section, and she got wide-eyed and excited when I told her we had the Bluford High series, and she called her sister over to examine the shelves with her. I struggled to find another series or book that engaged her or her sister, and it occurred to me that despite their popularity, I didn’t really know what Bluford High was about. (Bad librarian, I say to myself. If I keep seeing a certain series on the reshelving cart, I should learn about it!)

So the Bluford Series is 20 books strong now, each of them 200 pages or less and focusing on teens dealing with problems you’ll see in inner city high schools – surprise pregnancies, drug dealing, alcoholic and abusive parents, failing grades, the urge to solve problems with violence. The series has gotten a lot of praise for its wide appeal and has appeared on several of YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. The list has a lot of silly zombie books and other sci-fi, but I’m happy to see there’s a couple other real-life titles that are similar to the newest title in the series, Paul Langan’s “Survivor.” They have a lot of the same elements as its bigger brother, street lit, but it’s not quite as gritty. (I made a street lit pathfinder once, but it’s only last night that I actually started reading the genre with Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever.)

There’s another great thing about this series: audiobooks. In my experience working in an urban library, audiobooks in all genres are a necessity, considering the poor or nonexistent reading skills of many patrons. We’re talking about a school system with a 70.5% graduation rate after all, and you know that many of graduates are just being pushed through the system and are at a reading level way below their age. So yes. I like this series.

Library Services for Youth in Custody, part of the Colorado State Library, has compiled some great reading lists that deal with teens in tough situations, like all of the above, and homelessness, and parents in jail. They also have street lit read-a-likes. So next time somebody comes in who loves the Bluford Series, I’ll know better than to pluck It’s Kind of a Funny Story off the shelf and I’ll turn to the LSYC list instead.

 

What I’ve been consuming (aside from lots of taco salads)

Okay, so I’ve read a few books in the last couple months that I keep meaning to mention. Like how Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has one of the most meaningful, stunning, tragic endings ever that just slaps you upside the head suddenly (plus it’s barely over 200 pages). Or how Jesmyn Ward’s new memoir Men We Reaped is downright heartbreaking in its portrayal of Black Southern poverty and her descriptions of the grief she carries with her, and despite some structural problems, it was an emotionally tough read that had me near-crying several times. Or how I spent a day binging Augusten Burroughs reading his memoir Dry and I probably scared my neighbors with my loud cackling, but it’s now my second-favorite thing by him after his essay collection Magical Thinking.

Or how Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided had some highlights but overall was just okay and made a few too many stretches I think, and Kevin Fong’s Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine and John E. Douglas’ Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet were too dry for me to get past the first couple chapters (Tim Wise’s White Like Me might also have a premature rendezvous with the book drop, too). And though I liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s super short novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, it didn’t quite hook me like his short story collection Strange Pilgrims did.

Come to think of it, the movies Carnal Knowledge and Enough Said were also disappointing. Or maybe it just bored me. How many movies can we possibly have where actresses are portraying deeply flawed 30-or-older women in quirky / ridiculous / unsustainable jobs that they seem to hate but continue to perform? See also: Orange is the New Black, Bridesmaids, The Office after Jan gets fired, Young Adult, et al. Dexter, on the other hand, has been a great binge watch the last few weeks, and I love how it explores universal issues of identity through what amounts to a grown-up version of Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, just packaged as a cop/detective show.

But after noticing that if I come across an article in Feedly that’s more than like four paragraphs (six if they’re easy reading), I say “ugh” and skip to the end, I’ve decided to not write a big huge blog post on those. Nobody would read it, plus I’ve waited so long to write about this stuff that I don’t remember enough to give them each substantial paragraphs. Plus, most of that I read is old, and somebody out there has probably already done a better, more timely job of covering the newer stuff.

So there. This is paragraph five, so here’s a cartoon I found on Twitter that made me laugh. It makes me miss my husband, who has absconded to Petrozavodsk, Russia, until the beginning of August and has left me to my own devices. Which apparently includes binge-listening audiobooks and reading Twitter and eating taco salads for a week straight. Anyway, cartoon:

Bonus image: a taco salad. Ground turkey with some of that packet taco seasoning, plus a lazy dressing of just sour cream mixed with salsa.

Taco salad

The perfect reference interview

So I just came across this recent blog post on Agnostic, Maybe, where he lists some informal rules about doing reference. It’s definitely worth a read, whether you’re fairly new to reference or it’s old hat and you could just use a couple reminders. My favorite part? He describes the perfect reference interview:

For me, the perfect reference interview is the one that makes someone’s day. It doesn’t have to be important or big, but just right to make them leave feeling good. It means I have them more than they expected, whether it is materials, information, time, and/or patience. The last two can overshadow all others because it shows a level of care and concern that translates at the human level.

Yes and yes and more yes. People really appreciate when I take extra time to help them. Yeah, it probably interrupted the workflow earlier this week when I spent almost 30 minutes fighting with the 3000th update Yahoo Mail and tried to help a lady print some online gift certificates… but 1) the poor lady was frustrated and starting to snap at her partner, and I hated to see them leave the library empty-handed and angry 2) for all I know, the certificate could have been for necessities like food, diapers, medicine, etc. 3) that’s exactly why I’m there! They were super grateful that I stayed with them until their printouts were in hand, but that’s just what you’re supposed to do as a good librarian. On the surface it may look like libraries are about materials, but the connections we make with people are really why libraries exist.

RA Unconference! #rauncon

I finally boogied on down to Darien Library for my very first unconference on Friday! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but oh man, I would absolutely do it again. Right now. If you’re not familiar with how unconferences work, there’s a general theme but instead of offering pre-scheduled sessions, all the attendees vote on the session topics, and the content is completely decided by whoever shows up to the session. After keynote speaker Emily St. John Mandel read from her upcoming book Station Eleven, we voted and ended up with the following topics (I’ve highlighted the sessions I attended):

  • Rethinking book groups
  • Nonfiction that reads like fiction
  • Marketing librarians as experts
  • Recommending books you haven’t read
  • How to booktalk
  • Social media & RA
  • Passive RA & displays
  • Recommending outside your comfort zone
  • Getting staff excited about RA

What materialized in each session was lively, nonstop conversation to which everyone was able and eager to contribute, and for those of us livetweeting at #rauncon (pronounced ron-con), there was barely any time to send out and check tweets. I, with my still-fairly-new Galaxy, was out there tweeting with everyone else, and it was definitely a new experience (not just because I was actually being encouraged to check my phone while other people were speaking). The list of Twitterbrarians I follow has grown about tenfold since I’ve now seen the pros in action and have been able to interact with them within a meaningful context.

(That bit about context sounded awfully academic. I apologize – hubs is frantically reading for his upcoming comprehensive exams, so 90% of my conversations at home include phrases like cultural constructs, perceptions of identity, narrative as political tools, normative experiences, social and economic contexts, etc.)

The Nonfiction That Reads Like Fiction session ended up being about 45 minutes of throwing out title after title, with some tips for pursuing more NF titles. I was able to decode my hastily scribbled notes and typed them up. I’m thinking this is a good beginning to a public pathfinder down the line.

It occurred to me that I never had formal training in RA. So, it’s super good that I attended and was able to better my skills and see what other sort of conferences are out there. I learned some excellent things like:

  • Coworkers are one of the cheapest and most accessible sources of RA. Keep a mental log of which genres your coworkers read so you can refer patrons to them. Include an RA component in your regular meetings so you can share your latest reads.
  • Printed RA: Darien has bookmarks with three recommended titles on a topic.
  • To open up a conversation with patrons and let them know that you’re available to provide RA without being too aggressive or invasive, hand out your printed RA materials or ask patrons if they’re received a copy already.
  • Come up with a list of 3 or so “sure bets” for popular authors outside your genre. I need to do this for romance and mystery, for sure.
  • At the same time, the patrons who ask me about these genres could talk circles around me, so at the same time, is it worth it to find Nora Roberts’ or James Patterson’s top three? It’s fun, and good RA, to push people out of their comfort zone. E.g., “Relish” is about food and it’s a memoir, and it just so happens to be a graphic novel.
  • You can get adult patrons into graphic novels by suggesting they read one to see if it’s appropriate for their kid.
  • Another note for concerned parents and preventing offended patrons: though the book jacket is usually fluff, scanning Amazon reviews will immediately alert you to objectionable content.
  • There’s a difference between “recommending” titles and “suggesting” titles. If you suggest, there’s less culpability on you if a patron is unhappy/unsatisfied/offended with your selections.
  • “Books I hated that everyone else loved” would be a very popular display. Remember in Early Book class when they talked about how, way back when, the Catholic Church would publish an index of banned books, and how they became wildly popular titles as a result of the controversy?
  • However, it’s not the best idea to publicly announce to a patron if you hated a book. It could alienate the patron you’re helping, as well as any patrons nearby who might overhear your conversation. Patrons could end up avoiding you because they don’t think you’d be able to recommend them titles they’d like, or they could be ashamed that a professional disliked something they loved and they wouldn’t want to approach you. Either way, it negatively affects your accessibility and the service you deliver as a professional. (I’ve been nicely honest up to this point, saying I don’t personally read certain genres or I didn’t think such-and-such a book was as good as another and why, but it’s worth thinking about other ways to further remove my own tastes from the equation and mask my own preferences. Even if it’s a familiar patron who would love to hear my own opinion, there are still other patrons within earshot. Food for thought.)
  • Use neutral language to suggest books. I do say things like “that book has been very popular” if I haven’t read it. You can also do “my coworker couldn’t put it down.)
  • If you dislike a title, you can still suggest it. RA is not about you, it’s about the patron and connecting them with the right title. After all, “the first rule of RA is listening.”
  • Some patrons view circ-desk RA as an invasion of privacy. I happily tell patrons I enjoyed a book or movie in their checkout pile or ask them if they’ve read/watched anything similar (patrons are awesome RA), but I should probably use a little more discretion in choosing which patrons to engage.
  • There are lots of RA-specific roundtables out there, like Readers Advisory Round Table in Western Massachusetts, and the Chicago-area Adult Reading Round Table (they were the inspiration for #rauncon)
  • Pretty much everyone loves the Awesome Box idea from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. For the visually inclined / lazy, they have a cute little slideshow that explains the concept.
  • In addition to having regular good book reviews, Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life occasionally does reviews tagged “I read it so you don’t have to!” for pop titles. Think Game of Thrones cookbooks and Snooki-penned novels.
  • Almost all of my previous conferences had been through state-level organizations, but when a library goes out on their own, it attracts out-of-state attendees. It seemed like the place was filled with professionals from Massachusetts and New Jersey. Surprisingly few attendees were from local systems. (A more traditional RA conference was happening a few miles away in Westport, so maybe that’s where they all were.)
  • That might be because tech-savvy conferences beget tech-savvy attendees. Almost all Darien communication went through Tumblr and Twitter, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that the out-of-state librarians were also the most active Twitter participants.

So, very much looking forward to my next unconference!

Lit Review: Lolita

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“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue making a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

Thus starts Nabokov’s Lolita, one of many books I felt obligated to read, and appreciated its art and literary significance, but desperately wanted to end so I can get back to reading about contemporary real-life tragedies and science goodness.

As you can see, the writing is absolute poetry, so dense and rich it’s almost impossible to believe that English is not Nabokov’s native tongue. And considering the subject matter, the poetry is how Lolita can work as a story. At its barest, you’re following a story about a near-40 lit professor who obsesses over prepubescent girls, marries a woman to be close to her 12-year-old-daughter Dolores, and becomes her primary caretaker / rapist. For several years. Then she dies. Everything is funneled from Humbert Humbert’s unreliable point of view, and the “nymphet” who is central to the story is never given her own voice. It was very challenging to let myself be led through the narrative by somebody who made my skin crawl. I couldn’t see Humbert as anything less than a monster – or, at the very least, I didn’t want to. The beauty of the prose couldn’t balance out the fact that I was reading about an erudite rapist who’s trying to justify a relationship with, and pin the blame on, a naive preadolescent girl. It’s ironic, I know, but it’s asking too much from me.

There are genuinely funny parts, like Humbert’s depiction of Dolores’ mother “the Haze woman,” and when he meets his double Clare Quilty right at the end, but it took me about 3 months of ugh, I should really finish Lolita to reach that part because of its lyrical density, its subject matter, and the French phrases peppered throughout that broke up the narrative for my functionally monolingual self. Plus the novel didn’t seem to be following a trajectory or building up to anything for the middle 150-or-so pages. It gets interesting again when Humbert starts cracking at the seams, but I skipped most of the poems he writes (they don’t add much, and the prose is challenging enough / more artful). I’m glad I finished it, but I don’t ever see myself revisiting it.

One more thought from my perspective as a grad student’s wife in the current economy: how could a professor of literature, rich European background or not, afford to go on a two year roadtrip and fall into a job immediately after returning? Then make enough money to go on another roadtrip just months later? In 2014, that’s the most ridiculous thing in the entire novel.

If you like dense, reference-laden prose, also tryUlysses by James Joyce.

If you don’t think you could handle Ulysses, try: The story story collection The Dubliners. Joyce is a master of beautiful prose, and it’s a shame his most inaccessible works overshadow the rest of his canon.

For further watching: Breaking Bad also challenges you to sympathize with a character who grows more evil with every new season. However, you’re shown Walter White’s redeeming qualities, and his narrative doesn’t overpower those of other characters.

Want to see a film adaptation?: try Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film. I tend to automatically assume that films are shot in an objective POV, so when I saw this a couple years ago, I found Lolita to be a complete spoiled brat. I think I’d get it now after reading the novel and knowing it’s completely Humbert’s story. However, Kubrick’s characters are so verbally reserved, and his visual style isn’t stunningly beautiful and wouldn’t echo the prose, so I think it might lose something without Humbert’s constant narration.