Sunday, February 28, 2010

my admissions blog is up

Click here.

and wish me a happy birthday -- I'm 49 today! I've been saying I feel mortal, but not old. I think it's time for another tattoo (got the first for my 40th). The question is what -- and where. Something to make me laugh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"This Book Is Overdue!"

A gift of the library gods: I stumbled on The Dead Beat, a book about obituaries and the people who write them, when I was volunteering at the Hadley library in December, and lo and behold, it turned out to be by Marilyn Johnson, a former colleague of mine at Life magazine. I know firsthand what a wonderful writer she is--I'll never forget fact-checking her lovely profile of Lady Bird--and the topic was about an aspect of journalism, so I took the book out and really enjoyed it. It's smart and funny and such an unusual, far out topic. Who knew how interesting obits could be, not to mention their authors!

So I looked Marilyn up on FaceBook, natch, to tell her and say hey, and come to find out that her second book was about to come out, and it was about librarians! How cool was that! I ordered five copies, mostly as gifts, and on February 2 her book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybarians Can Save Us All, came to my house. There's very few writers I'll preorder from -- Rosemary Mahoney, both because she's my old friend and because everything she writes is extraordinary, and Harry Potter, of course. This one was very worth it: hilarious and inspiring and wonderful, and the perfect book for a nascent librarian to read. It renewed my faith and gave me hope that perhaps all is not lost in this crazy world, not as long as we have librarians.

Check out this from the first chapter:

"Librarians' values are as sound as Girls Scouts': truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they're not trying to sell us anything. But as one librarian put it, "The wolf is always at the door." In tight economic times, with libraries sliding farther and farther down the list of priorities, we risk the loss of their ideals, intelligence, and knowledge, not to mention their commitment to access for all--librarians consider free access to information the foundation of democracy, and they're right. Librarians are essential players in the information revolution because they level that field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D. In prosperous libraries, they loan out laptops; in strapped ones, they dole out half hours of computer time. They are the little "d" democrats of the computer age who keep the rest of us wired.

In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste."

page 8 from:
Johnson, Marilyn. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. New York: Harper, 2010.

I love that and it's really what I'm about. Not for me any more, the cynicism of journalism, the competitiveness, the drive to look clever and smart and hip. I'm too old for that and I was never hip. I just want to be useful. This book is so reassuring about the power of libraries and librarians. It's smart and very well-written. Marilyn inserts herself just enough as a character but really lets the librarians tell their stories, all the different sorts. If you like libraries, or reading, or technology, or anti-technology, or just a good yarn with interesting characters, don't miss this one.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

new blog

So I'm blogging weekly for the Simmons admissions page. My post goes up on Thursday. I'll link to the site on the side of this page, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Asking for help, aka librarian anxiety disorder

I am learning that most people have no idea what they are looking for, when they go to a library, and they have no idea how to talk to a librarian--and often, that they even can ask. Apparently there really is a condition called librarian anxiety disorder, and I have totally had it, in the past. When I see the kinds of questions people ask a librarian, real and imagined, I think--who knew you could ask a librarian all this kind of stuff!

Did you know you can go to a reference desk and say, I really enjoyed Harry Potter, or Amanda Cross, or A Tale of Two Cities, or Maus, what else is there out there? And they will say, oh, I'm glad you asked! Let me tell you, show you, show you this long list, take you to the stacks and have at it. It's called a reader's advisory and it can be as simple as that list or as complicated as, "I'm doing research on how the U.S. Constitution is an outdated antique that should be thrown out entirely; most countries in the world have revised their constitutions since the end of World War II, and of all the 150+ new ones since then, all have parliamentary systems, none have our reactionary 250-year-old system, originally devised as a response to the 18th century British system." I sure want to write that article, but is any of that true? A reference librarian sure can tell me.

I am volunteering at my local library and yesterday the woman who is supervising me gave me a list of real questions patrons had asked her and her colleagues. The first one was someone wanting information about the guy who known for using a certain drug that has three letters and was particularly popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s until it became illegal, and the question that was posed was, who was the guy who invented DNA?

It's like the patron thought they had to figure out the answer before they asked the question, something I've suffered from my whole life, in a different context. And what happens is the librarian has to dig and dig to get at the real question. This is a part of the human condition, one of the librarians tells me. He's been in the biz for 30 years and he says that when he's on the other side of the encounter he still poses questions that way, much as he knows he's not supposed to.

That is, if people even know they can ask. Librarians, and reference librarians in particular, are amazing, and we should all bow down and give praise for their existence. I'm reading "This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All" by a former colleague from LIFE, Marilyn Johnson, and it's a very exciting field right now. I'll comment more on that book when I've finished it.

By the way, I am blogging for the Simmons admissions office and my first post is up. I'll be posting every Thursday. And if you click on my name or photo it takes you to my bio. Tell me what you think.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Caroline, Or Change is in Brooklyn

Attention Brooklyn (and NYC): "Caroline or Change" is playing at the Gallery Players in Park Slope through Feb. 21. DO NOT MISS IT.

If you are within the sound of my voice you should run, not walk, to the Gallery Players' production of Caroline, or Change.

I'm sure the production will be excellent, because Gallery Players always does a good job. But more than that, this is one of those not-to-be-missed shows. It's sung-through, created from the brain of Tony Kushner (book and lyrics), with music by Jeanine Tesori and first workedshopped at the Public Theater in 1999, directed by George Wolfe. It came back the Public in 2003 for a few months, and not much later moved to Broadway, in 2004, for a short run.

Caroline is the black maid of a Jewish family at the end of 1963 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The mother of the family has died and the stepmother, for various reasons, tells Caroline that when she finds pocket change in the clothes of the nine-year-old boy, Noah, she can keep it. The themes are big, big, big: race, class, anti-semiticism, JFK, the civil rights movement, music, kids, family, grief--you name it. As the Wiki entry says, the music is a whole mix of spirituals, blues, Motown, classical music, and Klezmer, and folk music, and even a little Christmas music. Aniki Noni Rose won a Tony for her portrayal of Emmie, Caroline's older daughter.

I listen to it often, and it still gives me chills and brings me to tears. It's at the Gallery Players through Feb. 21. Dave and Lily are going to visit Grandma on Long Island next weekend so they're going to see it on Friday night. I sure wish I could see it too, but I have school.

If you don't make this, but you should, get over to the Gallery Players some time soon. They do excellent productions, often with Equity actors, on a shoestring. I've never been disappointed with a production there.

The Gallery Players is the theater that gave me my first gig as an assistant stage manager in 2005, god bless them, the job that led to production stage manager with the wonderful Henry Wishcamper, who recommended me to Will Frears, which led to my getting my Equity card when I got hired (with money!) for Will's production of God Hates the Irish at the fabulous Rattlestick Theater in the West Village. But that's a different story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You call this a snow day?!?

We have been ripped off this winter, those of us in the Connecticut Valley. We moved here for a reason, at least I did--snow!--and there has been so little it's pathetic. We keep getting these storm watches and snow warnings, and then we get nothing. We get all revved up--Northampton, UMass, and even Simmons College, canceled classes today--and there's nothing. I don't blame anyone, not even the weathermen, certainly not the people closing all these places. How could they know?

We sit and watch all these places all over the eastern seaboard getting hammered, places with no snowtrucks or sand and people who don't ski or have warm gloves. The ritual of a snowday is one everyone I know looks forward to, adults and kids. All bets are off, you get to stay home all day and make cookies, or sleep, or Wii, or watch movies. You are with your family, you can bundle up and go outside and make a snowfort. If you're really lucky you have a potluck with your neighbors. If you're really, really lucky you wake up and the trees are heavy and at least a foot has fallen overnight.

And then when you do go back into civilization, there's a certain quality of the air, a very blue, cloudless sky on all that fresh snow, the freshly plowed streets, seeing your neighbors, getting into the woods or on the slopes to enjoy the stillness and the light. There's nothing like a full moon on snow. I never really understood how light can be cold until I saw that. "I'm being followed by a moon shadow"--what the heck is a moon shadow? Now I know.

And then, in late February, when everyone is sick of it, and it's sugaring season and everyone comes out of the woodwork on the weekends, to stuff themselves with overpriced pancakes and fresh syrup. Then it's the mud season of March, and early April. But we start to get buds then, and even some flowers, and the birds come back, and the clocks change and we get our light back. It's all so worth it. But I have to have a solid, snowy, cold winter to make it all worth it. Otherwise it's just cold and rainy and muddy for three winter months and who wants that.

Productive snow day

So no snow today, well, it's coming down now, at last. Lily had the day off, but so did Dave, so I took off this morning and drove the 20 minutes down to Mount Holyoke College (MHC) to get my print sources done.

What "getting my print sources done" means is, we have a list of, say, 25 different dictionaries, from the OED to Merriam Websters 11 to Black's Law Dictionary to a slang dictionary. We have to find the exact volume and edition--they're all available in the Mount Holyoke College reference room, although if we can find them elsewhere that's perfectly acceptable--and review it, briefly. Look it over for a few minutes. There's an acronym, LURES, to look at encyclopedias, that I find useful:

Level of user (high school? grad student)
Updating policies (every decade? monthly online?)
Research aids (bibliographies, maps, charts, etc.)
Electronic availability (CD-ROM? website?)
Special features (a music dictionary with a CD in the back, with music clips, e.g.)

And lest I'm not being clear, we have 25 dictionaries this week, and 25 encyclopedias, mostly in print, so I have to be at the library. We had 25 sources last week, and most of them were online, actually. In the end we'll have 250+ we have to know for the final. Yes, that's a lot.

Anyway, the room at MHC is gorgeous, a Harry Potter Great Hall-style high vaulted ceiling with several huge lattice wood arches that span the arch in several places, lots of light from the high windows that line the walls. They have that old fashioned, kind of melted glass that I can't remember the name of and am too lazy to look up. The room is more modern and warm that HP, it's lined with bookshelves, carpeted, with big open spaces and tables and comfy chairs. It was pretty full today, with people working and eating and reading.

I worked with my iPod in, listening to Caroline or Change (!) for awhile, until my classmate Graham came and we doubleteamed it. We're part of a five-member study group that hasn't actually met altogether yet, but maybe we will some time. Actually what happened was, he was my Library Slave and got all the books and brought them back to our table for us to review. I did one round of picking, but then I got behind, and he'd finish first and take back the stuff we'd used and pick up a new stack for us to review. We took our notes and chatted from time to time. I still have a few more dictionaries to do, but I feel much better now.

Lily helped me put together a 3-ring binder last night, with subject dividers and name tabs. She made me labels for each section of references, things like dictionaries, encyclopedias, business, gov docs, indexes and full text, stuff like that. When we ran out of dividers and label tape Dave even took her over to Staples and got some more. It was wicked fun and I felt like, okay, maybe some of this will rub off on Lily. (Now I have one more thing to role-model--being a student!)

I've made Word files out of each list of topics, about 15, and I am annotating each item. Each of us in the class is assigned two to four every week, and I'll include their comments too, of course. But it's important for me to be able to look at them too, so I can say, oh, The Encyclopedia of Judaica will be a good place to start for that question on the origins of Passover, or try the Dictionary of Symbols for an interesting take on Jung.

Being a reference librarian appears to be something like a general interest reporter--you have a set amount of skills that you use to find information about topics ranging from tide pools to Anika Noni Rose to the origins of grokking to different types of crosses.

What this all means is, today was a good day. Even though I'm behind, I am starting to see what the task at hand is, how it all falls together, and what is being expected of me in the semi-weekly assignments and the papers and the final. In the final we will have 75 minutes to answer 50 questions about what sources would answer a particular query. It's open book, at this lovely reference library at MHC, and if I know my stuff by then, it will be total gas. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Britannica vs Wikipedia

Among my reading for reference this week is a discussion of Wikipedia versus the Encyclopedia Britannica. I actually really appreciate both encyclopedias, but found this statement a bit astonishing, at the top of one comparison article:

Searcher readers, especially those of us who went to library school, remember the hushed reverence with which the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the last published in the U.K., was spoken. Here was a classic work of scholarship that was so definitive, so monumental, that it was still unmatched decades after its completion in 1911.

--Berinstein, Paula, Searcher, 10704795, Mar2006, Vol. 14, Issue 3
(I'm learning about the importance of citation, and how to find websites that do it for you.)

Even before I learned that the 11th edition wrote in favor of the KKK, didn't include Marie Curie even though she'd won two Nobels, and wrote in favor of eugenics (yup, I've been reading the Britannica entry in Wikipedia), I assumed it would be Eurocentric and 19th century in tone. Hard to defend those statements ever, never mind in the late 20th century.

Having said that, I vote for both, as very different animals, both extremely useful and both with limitations. As long everyone is aware of those, why not use both? This debate seems like a prime example of this information revolution we're going through right now--what is knowledge, who owns it, who defines it. The old way says only certain people with certain methods can answer those questions. The new way says that everyone should have the right to have a voice in defining it--it's mushier, but certainly more egalitarian, or at least attempts to be.

I find it fascinating that as our society becomes what I might call more financially feudal--more money in increasingly in fewer hands--we are simultaneously increasing our individual insistence on defining for ourselves what The Truth is. Turns out that everyone's is different, which makes things a tad complicated. You could write a book about this stuff!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pictures of Chance

The bottom two were taken by our friends Ruth and Jay, who housesat for us last summer. I love them. The photos, I mean. And Ruth and Jay, of course!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Learning Curve

"Learning Curve" sounds like a good name for a band. Maybe a newly formed band. At any rate, I am on one, and it is so steep it's practically vertical. I hope and assume and trust that it'll flatten out eventually, but it can't be too soon. Not only am I back in grad school, but I'm in a field I know nothing about except as a user, added to the fact that education is now so online, there's a lot to adjust to. Phew.

So I spent most of my days this week studying and thinking about studying and playing around on the computer and trying to make up systems to learn something I don't know a thing about yet. I am taking reference, the dreaded required class that I call the organic chem of library science. It's a three hour weekly class and then at least 20 hours a week of homework. I spent, oh, four hours on the reading. I spent, who knows, 10 hours on answering the reference-type questions -- a harried student from UMass runs up to your ref desk and says she needs a copy of Harry Potter book six in Spanish. So you have to dig through all the online catalogs to find it and get it for her. And yes, the questions get much more complicated than that.

All my turn-in homework is done, hat I have not done, and what's making me anxious, is reviewed the list of 25 sources we need to be familiar with--databases, reference books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, periodicals, etc., in print and online. I wrote up the required one and posted it to the Wiki for class (an adventure in itself) (thank god I've done my non-credit technology class already), but I haven't reviewed the rest of the list and I'm panicked about that. We have to know 250 of them for the final. Eek!

There's so much noise in my head I find it hard to concentrate, so I do things like blog instead of study. So this morning I meditated for 10 minutes. If I do that every day for a week I'll feel a bit better, that and get to the pool or a yoga class or even a brisk walk. Pray for me!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

library ethics

Librarians have a strict ethical code and they take it seriously. As a former journalist I tried to follow similar principles, and many of my colleagues did as well. But I've never heard of or been taught an industry-wide suggested code of ethics for journalists, and I suspect that field might be doing better, in certain ways, had they adopted one. The most I got in grad school was one or two non-credit lectures, a dog and pony show, really, courtesy of Fred Friendly, and believe me, he was no George Clooney.

"The search for consistency is flawed from the outset"

We wanted all of his life to make sense, all of his choices to be good choices. It’s the sentiment of a child to want your parent to be consistent at all times. And one of the conclusions we came to in making this film is that the search for consistency is flawed from the outset, and that real change happens in inconsistent moments, in gray moments, and that the only way that we’re going to move forward as a nation is by not being afraid to act in those moments.

Sarah Kunstler, on the NPR show Tell Me More, 11/19/09

I love this quote more and more, every time I read it. It's from one of William Kunstler's daughters, who with her sister made a documentary about him. Her words are so helpful to me on several levels--as a parent, a citizen of this troubled country, and a human being trying to be a better person. She reminds me life, personal growth, communication, and as she says, change, is really all about shades of gray and ambiguity. It's scary to be uncertain, but what I have found is I feel safer when I trust in that small still voice and make my decisions and take whatever action, based on listening to that.

I am learning to trust in that voice more and more, and how I hear it is through prayer, meditation, listening to others--really listening, not sitting at the edge of my seat waiting to shout my story--being in the woods or on the water, floating in a canoe, helping other people, trying to see other people the way God might see them. That last is very Quaker:

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.

George Fox

Fox was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (ain't the internet wonderful?)--Quakers--and this is from, specifically from this link.

I love that. I attended lots of Quaker meetings when I was in my teens and twenties, and what has always stayed with me is that phrase, "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone." Sometimes it's more academic than realistic, the idea that God, or the Light, or whatever you choose to call it, is in everyone, and that my task is to see that and respond to that. But I do try to remind myself that everyone is always doing the very best that they can--ha, even me!--and that helps to keep me out of resentment and anger and fear.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Library school is cutting edge

What I've realized so far is that library and information science offers some of the most diverse training I could hope to find. I can do anything with library science -- our director out here spent the summer working in Belarus, there's a big Asian connection, and some folks are in Managua now, working with their librarians. I'm not sure what you do, exactly, in other countries, but then, I'm not sure what you do in my local library either!

Library science is hugely international, developed and developing. Think information organization and transfer and plain old ownership. Who owns the information? Librarians are on the cutting edge of technology, that's for sure. I am starting to learn the tools of how to find the information I need; my need is less for the information and more how to find it.

What I like is how I can do anything with this: art, music, drama, corporate, medical, but also school, public, international, teach, research, not to mention archives and preservation--how do you archive and preserve a digital record--and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out.

Who knew? Wild stuff. And a perfect transition for a journalist.

One last story: A guy in reference class said he decided to become a librarian when he was writing a short story that took place near the public library in New York City. He thought it would be nice to mention the trees out on the street near the library, so he filled out an information request on their website. A day later he got back what was a thick packet of information. The librarian had gone outside and noted all the trees, their size, bark, and leaves. H/she'd spoken to other librarians about the trees, and more. My classmate said, that's when I knew I wanted to be a librarian too. Love that story.

Being an older student

So it's been 20 years since I was in school, and boy, have things changed! It's all computers. We didn't have email when I was last in school. We still used typewriters on occasion. People still read books and went to the library to take out the reserved readings.

Today the syllabus and specific assignments and many of the readings are all online, not to mention discussion groups and chatting with your professor between classes and lots and lots of resources. I can take notes directly on my laptop, and I intend to. The teachers mostly use Powerpoint for their lectures, and you can also take notes directly on those print-outs. I find it all utterly overwhelming, which is why I am blogging instead of at least doing some reading. I am scared to start actually trying to find my reference assignments, so I guess I'm avoiding it. Ugh. I'll get over that very soon--I'll have to!

For now, I'm just trying to keep up with the homework. I'm stressed and it's only Monday. Last week I finished my TOR, my noncredit online technology class, thank god, so I now have some basic information under my belt. I spent much of the week loading up on some software offered by Simmons, souping up my computer, learning where and how to log into all the various web pages offered by the school. Wish me luck. And I'll be delighted to talk to you--in early May.