Monday, May 24, 2010

the school update

So I've finished my first semester! Yahoo! It went great, in the end, and I am delighted to be referring to reference in the past tense. The beginning of the term I was so overwhelmed I wasn't sure how to make it -- thank god cataloging wasn't that demanding at first. But, as Anne Lamott says, you just have to take it all bird by bird, one step at a time, the only way you can do it. In this case, week by week, assignment by assignment.

My first semester down, thank god, I will never have another" first semester back in 20 years" again. I ended up with good grades, some nice new friends, a part-time job on the circulation desk at my local library, some important new skills, the beginnings of some other new skills, and a sense of belonging that is priceless. I can see myself making the transition to this new field and I find myself spending less and less time comparing journalism and journalists to librarians and library science. Similar fields, but not at all the same, and frankly, librarians are a lot more fun and take themselves a lot less seriously than journalists. I can't imagine the journalists I know dressing up and doing precision book cart drills, for instance.

An old friend from journalism school said to me a few months ago, library school is perfect for you because you love books so much. I thought that was interesting, to be seen as a lover of books, which I am, of course. But also, the comment introduced the notion that not everyone is a lover of books, and that seems odd to me. Doesn't everyone who is literate and involved in the world of information read books? Well, no, I guess not.

People are starting to pass along articles and books about libraries, in that thoughtful way that people do. And I am now a sort of expert among my non-library associates about the world of libraries, books, and information. Are books going away? Are libraries becoming obsolete? Can we eliminate postal service entirely? Why do we still have phone books? These are some of the questions and comments I've seen raised recently. The short answer is, don't be ridiculous. Have these people not heard of something called the digital divide? I think these questions reveal a lot about the many vast differences in class experience in this country.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project writes a lot about the digital divide. Here's a link to their April 2009 report on the digital divide. And here's from their website:

In a national survey between November 30 and December 27, 2009, we find:

74% of American adults (ages 18 and older) use the internet -- a slight drop from our survey in April 2009, which did not include Spanish interviews. At that time we found that 79% of English-speaking adults use the internet.

60% of American adults use broadband connections at home – a drop that is within the margin of error from 63% in April 2009.

55% of American adults connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone. This figure did not change in a statistically significant way during 2009.

Those are huge numbers, but what strikes me is how many people are not included; those are also huge numbers. In this part of the country, and I'm sure elsewhere, it's really hard to get internet access beyond a dial-up. The cable and phone companies don't want to lay the lines for broadband because the number of users they expect to gain is small compared to their costs and they won't make the profits they desire. Personally, I don't think dial-up counts as internet access, it really just means you have email. That's not insignificant, but it's not full access.

The federal government is required by law to make all its laws and materials available to citizens. In the past that's meant printing everything and putting it all in federal repository libraries. Much of that information is migrating to the internet, however. So the folks who don't have a computer, or broad band, go to their public libraries. And guess what! Public libraries -- where usage is skyrocketing, by the way, and they aren't just coming in to use the internet or take out movies, they're taking out books, paper and cardboard books, in record numbers -- are being forced to cut back their services and hours because of budget cuts. I was told that people looking for disaster benefits after Hurricane Katrina had to file online (and using Internet Explorer! They couldn't use Firefox, or Safari, even. That's like saying you had to call on an Erikson phone. It's just wrong). So what do you do if you don't have a computer, or internet access, or the skill to use them, and there are no other options. You're outta luck. Don't get me started on how hard it is to live here without a car. Yuck.

But I digress. My point is I have learned this spring that information in the world, whatever its form and location, whether online or in print, is expanding exponentially; that millions of Americans (never mind people in other countries) do not know how to access it (much of our time in reference class was relearning the poor searching skills we picked up from looking for stuff on Google); and that at the same time that access to all kinds of information becomes more and more crucial, it is being restricted by closing libraries and paying for costly internet connections and computer hardware, never mind learning how to use the stuff.

There's lots of work out there for people trained in library skills. I'm excited to be joining their ranks.

Blog catch-up

Hello, faithful reader,

Didja miss me? It's been more than a month since I've blogged, and this time no one complained. Oh well! I am happy to be back. I missed it. Lots has been going on, and often I find myself thinking -- I have to blog about this! but then I don't.

First of all, bears: We had our first sighting of the spring in April, a mother and two cubs. They like to walk the stream next to our house. We have tender skunk cabbage and other tasty tidbits. We've seen them several times since, the latest being last night. Lily was on the screened-in porch and saw one of the cubs out, alone. We felt all proud -- our baby is growing up, out on his/her own for the first time! I gather the cubs stay with their mothers for two years, and this one, while clearly still a youngster, is definitely getting more independent. Later, Dave showed me fresh scat, right on the path behind the house. Very exciting.

Friends said they didn't want to go camping because they were afraid of bears, and I said you just have to put your food and garbage in the car when you leave or go to sleep, but otherwise you should be okay. When people say they're afraid of the bears, I feel a mix of, don't bother! and, should I be more worried? No one who's lived here any length of time seems to fear them much. They respect them, don't get me wrong. They stay inside when bears are around, and most people store their garbage carefully and take down their bird feeders in the spring. But no one panics when they walk in the woods, say. I think the bears are really shy, and if they hear me in the woods they go the other direction. When I walk alone I sometimes carry a bear bell and ring it from time to time.

But most of the time the bears are just the bears, a fact of life, wild but accustomed to living near humans, more shy of us than we are of them, to be treated with respect but not panic. A bear expert here told me you were safer around bears if you didn't let them know you were afraid of them. Stay away from the mamas and their cubs, and from a mating pair. Otherwise, you're good to go. And no one has been attacked here in something like 150 years.

The cat: She escaped! But she's back. We had a party for a friend after her UMass graduation (PhD!) and someone forgot to close the screen door to the back porch. I let her out onto the porch the next day and she must have been ecstatic to see the door to her cell just hanging open. I didn't notice for an hour, but bless her, Chance came when I called her. She came out of the woods behind our house, slinking along on her belly, the way she does when she gets outside, like she doesn't want to be seen. I just scooped her up and brought her in, no worse for the wear except for a small slug clinging to the fur on her underside.

Lily and I took her to the vet for her annual check-up and got this new comb for her and it's AMAZING. It's called the FURminator, here's a link, and we recommend it to anyone with a cat or dog or rabbit or whatever. It thins the undercoat, and Chance loves it. We can't do it too often, she's getting bald -- not really, but it takes out gobs and gobs of hair and it all goes everywhere and you throw away great handfuls of the stuff. Kind of icky, but it better that than on the sofa or carpet.

Chance is very excited that the weather is nicer and there's more to see outside. She's been spending hours in one of the basement windows, looking outside. She hangs there and the back porch, both very exciting for her. Nice cat.

Lily is doing great at school and is really turning into a lovely flute player and musician. She's had several concerts recently, including two choral concerts. One was with a local group called Whole Children, which provides fun and services for special needs kids. They hired Joan, her choral director, to conduct the Whole Children kids and general population kids, like Lily, in a chorus to sing along with Dan Zanes. The show was a First Churches, in downtown Northampton, on Mother's Day. Lily and a boy named Aidan introduced Dan. Afterward he stuck around for photos and autographs. As Joan said, Dan is a real class act. He sang a few songs to kick the show off, but he knew this was all about the kids, the kids, the kids. There was a wide variety of experience and skills. At least one was non-verbal. And they had a gas, you could tell, by how they sang and danced and hung around after, focused and joyful. Lily loved it.

Here's Lily with Joan, her amazing conductor, and of course, the dude in the pink suit is Dan.

One more Lily image to put here: She was invited to a space-themed birthday party a couple of weeks ago. So she decided to go as a glam Star Trek alien. How 'bout this! A lot easier than a robot or something.

Simmons blog link

My Simmons blog bio and entries (see the list at the bottom) is here.

I'll be posting every couple of weeks or so during my summer class. I'm taking the required library management course, which meets all day for the first three Fridays in June and the first three Fridays in July. So it starts on June 4 and my job now is to read as much as I can to get ahead.

I'll try to post the Simmons blog links as they come up, but if I forget, go to that link above, or the one listed on the right side of this page.