Friday, January 29, 2010

Grad school, the first report

Here's the stats:

Who: Simmons graduate school of library and information science, or GSLIS, pronounced Giss-Liss. I am taking classes at GSLIS-west, the satellite campus at Mount Holyoke College. It's been going since 2001; in addition, Simmons recently started offering two masters degree programs in children's literature and writing for children at the nearby Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Love to take those, but first things first.

The other "who" is a really interesting, eclectic mixture of men and women, in ages from early 20s to late 50s, it looks like. People come from as far away as Albany, Brattleboro, Keene, NH and Branford, CT, and as close as Amherst and Northampton (that'd be me). Many of us have little or no previous library experience, but others have quite a lot. Everyone has really interesting experience--their work includes musician, former textile company owner, curator, teacher, journalist (yours truly, but there's at least one others). For the most part I've only met the people in my classes and the dozen or so of us who are entering this semester, and so far it's very white--I've seen two black people so far. Well, this is western Massachusetts, after all. But Simmons has a very strong emphasis on diversity, by which I mean not just increasing diversity in the school but in the rest of the world as well. They have specific initiatives along these lines, and I believe I can take courses in working with diverse communities, as well.

One professor suggested at the beginning of class that we listen as we introduce ourselves and consider who we might want to work with; they've been stressing collaboration already, which is right up my alley. Other generalizations:
--Librarians love acronyms, and you have to speak up if you don't know what OPAC or LC is. I'm not taking reference, I'm taking 407.
--Librarians like to kick back and have a couple, so says a couple of folks I met, but as a friend says, they say that about teachers too, and other professions.
--They are personable and friendly.
--And I can tell you that, based on the few I've been meeting lately, they are smart, current, curious, diligent, focused, and chatty. Love that. Feels like my peeps, like I've found my new home.

What: Note that the degree isn't just in library science, it's in library and information science, which means there's a lot of computer work. Technology is a required core class for everyone. I'm taking reference, and information organization, aka cataloging.

When: I'm taking two classes, three hours each, on Saturdays, starting Jan. 30 and ending May 8. Intense, yes. Also focused, fun, overwhelming at times.

How: Same as always--one day at a time. Once class, one assignment, one reading. Gotta stay in the present or else I'll freak out. I'm strictly limiting my outside commitments, now. I've canceled yoga in my house on Tuesday mornings. I am leaving Sundays and nights free, as much as possible, for Dave and Lily. It's going to be tough but they can able to handle it--probably better than I can!

What else: I'm very anxious about the work load. Everyone moans when I say I'm taking reference, which is a required, detailed, labor-intensive course. I'm avoiding doing it right now! The other course is information organization, which in a previous life would have been called cataloging.

Here's what I've learned so far: There's nothing like library science to make you realize how radically the world is changing. We are in the middle of a revolution as profound and significant as Gutenberg. I learned on Saturday that the title page of a book, the page with all the copyright and printing and ISBN information, hasn't really changed in 500 years. It's essentially in the same form it was when it was codified within about 50 years of the invention of the printing press. A digital card catalog essentially looks the same, has the same information.

But it certainly doesn't need to.

For instance, all the information on a catalog card is very specific, in a very specific format, and I'm sure part of its brevity is because of space constraints. A key word is not the same as a subject heading--in fact, there are five enormous red volumes, issued by Library of Congress catalogers, that denote what a subject heading is. I think I have this right. Subject headings come from a controlled vocabulary. So, for instance, if you want to find books on World War II, the most thorough and efficient answers will result in searching for World War, 1939-1945. "Senior citizen" recently changed to "older people."

Catalogs--originally called card catalogs, right, but what's a card catalog today?--have been around 100+ years or so (developed as the world got smaller and people were actually more able to share books and information) and are set up to be searched in the old, very specific way, when everything was done on paper, last name then first name, for instance. But when I go to search an online catalog--and of course they are all online now--I instinctively want to input the first name then the last, and maybe a few key words; I have learned how to search from Google. And Google has a fantastic algorithm for searching; it's fairly successful most of the time.

So what's going to happen? Are we all switching to what I am calling in my ignorance the Google search style? People are writing dissertations about this stuff and I find it way, way cool. I would love to take this class,

LIS 421 - Social Informatics "Social Informatics" refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization - including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not that you asked . . .

. . . but this letter to the Times last Friday captures my current feelings very well.

To the Editor:

Re “Obama Weighs a Paring of Goals for a Health Bill” (front page, Jan. 21):

President Obama now indicates that he may shift positions on health care reform and throw the notion of universal coverage under the bus.

That would be another miscalculation. From the moment he chose his cabinet, Mr. Obama set a course of nonprogressive ideology, defined by corporate-friendly policies and double-edged social policies that please nobody.

He miscalculated on health care reform, ignoring polls showing that a majority of Americans favor a single-payer system and instead counting on a Democratic majority in Congress to pass a compromise. His attempt to usurp corporate opposition by letting insurance and pharmaceutical companies shape the legislation was a slap in the face to millions of voters. Nobody wants a health care bill cobbled together by Congressional sellouts and corporate lobbyists.

By failing to lead our nation in a new direction, Mr. Obama has given rise to a tidal wave of reactionary conservatism while at the same time alienating his base of progressive support. Indeed a shift is in order — toward the kind of reform that the president’s soaring rhetoric promised during his campaign.

Steve Blank
Middleton, Wis., Jan. 21, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Harry Potter, you've got mail

I was in the kitchen about to head out with a friend for a walk in the woods about 3:30 today, when all of a sudden I saw a great swath of wings flying by the bird feeder wired to the deck. I guess I've learned something being here: I instantly thought: hawk! Tthe wings were too big and too tan to be one of the song birds that we typically see behind our house.

In the couple of seconds it took to think this, the wings swooped out of sight below the kitchen window and then reappeared, gliding up, as the barred owl, for so it was, landed on a branch in a nearby sapling and stared down at the bird feeder, waiting for dinner to present itself.

It was huge. It was silent, and it just sat there, blinking oh so rarely in that awesome way, turning its head around like Linda Blair to check out the menu options in back. I don't see any cats around, I said to my friend, but it certainly could have grabbed Chance if she'd been out there. Take a sparrow if you like, but please, don't take the cardinals!

It sat there for about 10 minutes while we ooo-ed and aww-ed, and I snapped some photos through the glass. My friend went out the front to get her dog; I turned away for only a moment, and it was gone. As Frost says, "for once then, something."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Talking to Chance

A friend told me recently that she had worked with a woman named Dawn Allen, who is something called an animal communicator. Dawn was very helpful in giving my friend insight into her diabetic cat. So naturally I decided I wanted to see what Chance had to say. I am here to report that it was really fun, really helpful, and if you are at all inclined and have the money, go for it, especially if you have a problem with your animal (I gather she communicates with all kinds).

Dawn and I talked on the phone this morning for a half an hour, mostly about Chance. I described the cat to her and told her we think she's a little bit over three years old. And I explained that I wanted to know about her overall health and happiness, and I wanted to hear how she felt about us getting another cat or dog. Dawn listened and then said she'd be quiet for a couple of minutes while she talked to your Chance, and then she would tell me what she said.

After a minute or two of silence, Dawn said, with some surprise and delight, "This is one of the most well-adjusted cats I've met lately! She says she is very happy living here, she's comfortable in any room, she is happy to be here. She likes how she's handled and she's fine with anything, within reason." Any kind of handling, she meant.

The negative news was not so bad: Chance misses the summer and the windows being open and the fresh air. She doesn't have enough to look at outside. She doesn't like the smell of our heat, which could either be the new woodstove or the forced air from the furnace. I told Dawn about the woodstove and commented that she always sits in the chair in front of it. And Dawn said, "She likes to be warm! These are minor things, not life-altering. She really likes crunchy food." I gather she doesn't care for the stuff we have now, she prefers something we used to have. I had Lily get her this cat treat called Greenies and as Chance went over and devoured them, Dawn said, "Oh, yes, she really likes those!"

Other comments: She would love to go outside, she's a very outdoorsy cat and loves anything about the outdoors. But she's not sure she would like to go on a leash; that could be enjoyable or frustrating. She attacks our legs because she doesn't have anything else to hunt, and she felt bad about almost knocking Lily down the stairs the other night, she certainly wouldn't want to do that. She likes to play with us, but when I play roughly with her, like when I put on the leather oven mitt and we wrestle, she says it's a fine line between fun and aggression. She feels bad when it goes to far, she feels like we've been in a fight. She doesn't want to fight with me. She does love to play with any of the toys, however, like the mouse on the string, for instance.

She is open-minded to the idea of another animal, either a cat or a dog, but it really depends on the animal. There was something about how she doesn't mind dogs visiting unless they're annoying but my notes aren't clear there.

Why did she dig out all the soil in those three large pots the other day? "That was really fun! Yes, the litter box was dirty and she doesn't like that." But mostly because it was fun. She drinks the plant water and nibbles the plants because she likes to. Again, she's very outdoorsy.

As for the Japanese soaking tub, which she seems fascinated by and has fallen into a couple of times, Dawn said,"Sometimes she gets carried away with exploring and experimenting. If we were to make a really shallow tub, or bowl, she'd like to play with that. But it's not like she's not longing for fun. She finds her own fun."

About her eye, which was punctured before we got her, occasionally it feels sticky, and perhaps that's when we notice that it's tearing. She can feel the eyelid stretch over the eye, which isn't normal, or comfortable. But that's the worst of it. She is surprisingly tolerant of our wiping it clean and she feels really healthy overall.

I asked Dawn to please convey to her that we are thrilled that she chose us, we really love having her as a part of the family, and if there's anything else to please let us know. Also, does she need to talk to Dawn another time? "Of course she's thrilled you feel that way," Dawn said, "she is really a family cat. She loves everybody in the family. She has no specific need to speak with me, she conveys herself and explains herself very well." That's sure the truth! And hey, I was happy with that response. It occurred to me as I asked this that the response could easily have been that Chance needs to speak with me every week for $50 for 30 minutes. Thank goodness it was not.

So since I had a couple of minutes left I asked Dawn about Felicia, the Seal Point Siamese that I got when I was 11 who became my mother's cat when I went to college. She's been dead for 20 years or more, and Dawn said she could try to communicate with her but it wasn't always successful.

I explained that my mother felt bad because she hadn't taken Felicia to the vet every year, so had missed that the poor thing had an abscessed tooth. People were much more casual about animals (and other things) in those days, and she didn't know that was something she should do. Once she figured it out she ended up putting Felicia down, because she was also dehydrated, and it wasn't clear she would survive the hydration process, never mind the subsequent tooth removal. My mom still feels bad about that, and wishes she'd just paid the money. I think she still misses Felicia, who was a really important part of her life. And perhaps this is coming up because we have Chance--everyone who comes here says, what a great cat! that's a great cat!--and also she and Don are thinking about getting a cat themselves.

So Dawn was quiet a few minutes, and then she said, "It's so quiet, so sleepy, I wasn't quite sure I was talking to anyone! But what I'm getting is that Felicia says the past is the past; she is at peace; she is fine. I thought from the way you described it that the home was neglectful, but she says it was a very good home, that she was appreciated and loved. Her health experience was internal, not external, and she doesn't see humans as responsible for that.

She felt she was well-cared for and appreciated. She kept your mother company, that was her job--and she was really good at it! It didn't occur to her that your mother didn't do enough."

She certainly was good at it. Dawn and I discussed how veterinary dentistry is a whole new field, and isn't dentistry in general taken much more seriously, in the last 20 years? I don't remember being told to floss until I was in my 30s, but Lily is told to floss every day and we insist on it. I felt much relieved to know that Felicia bears us no ill will, and that she felt loved and appreciated, because she certainly was. And of course I am delighted that Chance is so happy here, because we adore her.

Is it hokey? Is it nonsense? Who knows? I remember hearing a friend tell a story about how once, when he was having a really hard time in his life, he dreamed that he was drowning and someone tried to reach out to save him. And when he told a friend about it the next day, she said, that's odd, I had a dream last night that someone was drowning and I tried to help him. My friend concluded that there is more going on than we realize. And that has been my experience too.

I was reassured and comforted by my conversation with Dawn today, and that's all that matters. Draw your own conclusions. By the way, she offers workshops. You can go to her website and see if she's coming to your town. You can develop your own ability to talk to your animals.

Monday, January 18, 2010

First Night Northampton

Just a quick note to say that one benefit of being unemployed is that I didn't have to work on New Year's Eve. I got to spend it with my family, instead, going around to First Night events. I like to brag that I went with friends from high school to the first First Night, in Boston, in 1976, and it was indeed a gas, although it was so cold we left around 10:30 to go home and party.

(I also went to the first 4th of July on the Esplanade, with the Boston Pops playing the 1812 Overture, complete with cannon booming and fireworks over the Charles River. It was my mother's idea. We got there with a blanket and some food around 4:30 that afternoon and sat in the Oval between the stage and the river, so we would have a good view of the fireworks. These days people line up hours in advance, and it would be days in advance if the city let them. By the time I went back two years later, the Bicentennial and it was wall-to-wall people.)

At any rate, First Night Northampton 2010 was mild, gray, and full of kids and activities and music and art. Wicked good fun. We heard Lily's flute teacher, Sarah Swersey, and her musical partner, Joe Belmont, play wonderful guitar and flute. We saw the Paintbox Theater, kids theater, perform their version of Mother Goose, complete with slides of several drawings (Jack and Jill, a strong mouse, and others) by Lily herself up on a huge screen.

The best of all, though, was the Yoyo team from A2Z, which bills itself as a science and learning store. It's a great, great store, and the best part is they teach kids how to yoyo really, really well.
The show included a pretend competition with very funny mom judges--"I loved number two's green sneakers!" "He has a wonderful haircut!" A teenager actually threw a stringless yoyo from a string it was riding on all the way from the back of the 490-seat theater down to the stage, where it was caught by another teenager on his string. This was a big deal and got a rousing round of applause, even without the prompt of the scantily clad woman who out every now and then with a big applause sign.

My favorite, though was when current national champion, Eric Koloski, acted out a movie ad, creeping around the stage dressed in all black with a ski hat over his head. The voiceover, complete with action movie music, announced that it was 2029, Massachusetts had been taken over by robotic aliens, and the only one who could save them was Eric, with his yoyos. The movie's title: "Robo Yoyo in Noho." And the sequel, "Robo Yoyo in Noho part II: Doublefisted" (he's famous for working two yoyos at once). Hilarious.

I saw lots of things in Brooklyn, but I never saw a yoyo team with a national champ being silly and funny, and an applause lady getting lots of laughs, and while there was tons of community there, it was usually centered around a school or a workplace or a church, not the entire town. I didn't really have the sense of the whole community coming together that way to celebrate their town, which is what it felt like.

the snow and cold, such as it is

I have some friends who would love love love to live here. They'd love the mountains, the rivers, the politics, the music, the food, the people -- all the things I love about it. I say to them, you should move to the Pioneer Valley! And to a person they say, nope, couldn't do the winters. Too cold! The obvious rejoiner, of course, is that with global warming it's not nearly as cold as they think.

(Our local paper is the oldest continuously publishing paper in the country and recently, among the snippets it runs from 20-50-200 years ago, there was an item from 100 years ago that talked about harvesting 14 inches of ice from the Connecticut River and storing it for the local school to use during the year. I don't think I've ever seen the Connecticut frozen over, or any river, really. It just doesn't get or stay that cold any more.)

But this has happened often enough with enough different people for me to realize that some of us just love winter and cold and snow. Maybe you had to grow up with it, but it's sure in my bones, and the cold and the changing seasons are a primary reason I wanted to move here. Personally I'm more of an observer of snow than a participant: I tend to look out at it from my Japanese soaking tub, steam rising around me, or through the doors to the deck next to the blazing woodstove. But I do like to snowshoe and ski, and I've written a lot here about how I have measured out by my life in produce--maple syrup in February, asparagus in May, strawberries in June, tomatoes and corn in August into the fall, pumpkins and root vegetables and apples in October. Like that. Like that.

And in the winter? Snow! Skiing, snowshoeing, skating, sledding, wood fires, hot soups and stews. And eating the frozen vegetables and soups and applesauce and tomato sauce I spent several weekends making. I hear people say it's too much work, all this cold and snow. I appreciate central heating and while I love my wood stove I have no need to split all the wood I need to heat my home. But getting two or three cords in the late summer and stacking it over a few weeks doesn't feel like work. I enjoy carrying in three tons of pellets, one 40-pound bag at a time. I like coming home these days and bringing in an armload of wood, or spending an hour one morning carrying wood to the porch and then filling up the pile next to the stove in the living room. I guess this is how a gardener feels about digging and planting and weeding. It ain't work. It's fun.

So it stinks now that it's warming up. The maple syrup industry is getting hammered from the poor weather and Asian long-horned beetles. The tomato blight took out much of the Valley's crop this summer. The Valley is famous for their tobacco but those farmers lost 80, 90, 100 percent of their crop this summer.

And we woke up this morning to a couple of inches of wet snow. Every time I get a snow emergency email from our fair city, I get excited -- snow! But this winter has been so disappointing. Either there was no snow at all, or there was just a couple of inches. This nonsense we have on the ground and in the branches this morning was pretty for a couple of hours. It was enough that the city plowed and Dave had to shovel the end of the driveway -- gotta time your driveway-clearing, so you don't shovel where the plow dumps it over and over. But it's wet and heavy and now the temperature is over 35 and it's starting to melt. We're not supposed to have mud season in January.

Everyone here in my corner of the world is really disappointed that this winter has been such a let-down. Florida, you got our cold weather this month and we want it back!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

small towns and libraries

My excuses for not blogging: three days of hosting Christmas and a week of recovery afterward, so I got out of the habit. Getting sick -- stomach thing for two weeks and a cold in the middle. Lazy. Facebook. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. The challenge of FaceBook is to be as concise and pithy as I can in my status, unlike bloviating all over my blog. And no one gets into a dialogue on my blog, whereas the right status update can generate quite a discussion.

Enough excuses. Now's the time to write. I've had my tea, Lily is upstairs playing with a new sleep-over friend, Dave is at the Hill Institute registering for beginning carpentry (for him) and beginning sewing (Lily). The Hill Institute, which offers kindergarten as well as adult and youth classes, is amazing: cheap, great instruction, really nice teachers. People line up two or three hours beforehand to register for their classes. He and Lily will really like those classes. Dave's also going to go to CitizenSchool, hosted by the mayor's office. That'll be 10 weeks of learning about city government, taxes, budgets, all kinds of things. So he has a really interesting spring coming up.

When he signs up for things like carpentry and CitizenSchool, when I can drive over to the vocational high school for my H1N1 vaccination and be done in 10 minutes, no wait, I reflect on what he said this week: We live in a small town. Actually he said we live in a train set town. We have a grocer, a fruit stand, a bakery, and also a jail, a courthouse, a school, and hey, we even have a train! With any luck we'll have Amtrak coming through here in the next few years. Cross your fingers. It's just like those Lionel villages. Kind of hilarious.

The Bermuda Triangle of the end of year holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, is now over. The weather is kinda yucky (see next post), and I have my own interesting spring coming up. I start grad school in two weeks. In case I hadn't mentioned it, I am about to start at Simmons College for library science. Simmons, which is based in Boston, has a satellite campus here on the Mount Holyoke campus, and I am starting with "cataloging" and "reference" (dum dee-dum-dum) (everyone sighs at reference and talks about how intense it is and how much work). That's all day Saturday, two three-hour classes, from the 30th until early May.

For a couple of months now I've been frequently asked if I am getting excited, which just kind of make me laugh. Not! Jeesh, it was months away! I had to get through the holidays first, and the rest of life!

But now it's starting to get real, and yes, I am really getting psyched. That's partly because in an effort to get up to speed I've been volunteering at the Hadley library, the Goodwin, a really nice, small-town library, for a few weeks now, and I also just started last week at the Forbes, the main branch in Northampton. Between the two I can start to see what my life might be like as a public librarian. Hadley is a small town, which the library struggles to serve on limited funds. It's a lovely building, and has fantastic services, given its size and budget.

The Forbes is a big library in a small town, with a gorgeous, large building, extensive city and area archives, as well as the usual services, which include DVDs and CDs these days, but also Kindles and ukeleles! Three each to loan. How cool is that! The Forbes is cataloged using the Cutter system, the precursor to the Library of Congress. Only four libraries in the country use this system, which was invented by the Forbes' first librarian, Charles Cutter. TMI, I'm sure, but it's kind of fascinating to me and will be useful to know when I start classes.

Much as I love libraries, I really have little idea what a librarian does, but I'm learning. And I've been helped and inspired over the years by so many different ones, at so many different libraries, that I am delighted to be joining their ranks. I don't think I've ever met a librarian I don't like. They all seem to be friendly and engaging and smart, smart, smart. If I can generalize at this early date, they love books, information, and their work. They love bringing people together with what they need to know, or don't even know that they need to know, maybe.

I really can't say much yet, it's too soon. When people ask what kind of librarian I want to be I say, employed. But I went to Simmons wanting to be a public librarian, and to be able to volunteer at the Forbes and the Goodwin is to catch a glimpse of what might be my future. I'm ready. Bring it on.