Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Nonfiction November

Hello Reader,

I haven't posted for awhile because like many dispirited Democrats, 2017 has been one wretched rollercoaster on the national level.  For anyone with a heart or a conscience, watching one side of the country be ravaged by hurricanes and then smelling the smoke coming from the wildfires destroying huge swaths of the North Bay locally, while simultaneously seeing the lack of care, coordination, and concern from the highest levels of government...yes, that's what 2017 has been like on the large level.

All of this is also oddly bewildering considering that for your Bookcharmer, things are going gangbusters.   I've busted out of higher education and have landed in a darling library where there is so much happiness that if I'm dreaming I don't want to be pinched.  More on that another time.  Let's just say I'm more aware and grateful for my blessings and good fortune than ever, ever before.

So let's get down to business.  Today we going to get ready for nonfiction November, and I'll tell you why, and then, as usual, I'm going to shake you down for some cash or signal boosting for some important causes.  Ready?

Nonfiction November.  This comes on the heels of an October instagram challenge, which I mostly finished, called #ShowYourArt2107 that was an activity sponsored by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts to celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month.  I am guilty of keeping my poor little phone so crammed with photos that I can barely squeeze on another in time to keep up with photo challenges, so there is going to have to be some serious downloading/deleting if I'm going to keep up with Nonfiction November. 

What is Nonfiction November?  Well, meet some new internet friends to find out!  Go here:




and maybe even here:


or perhaps here:


Wherever you choose to land, I hope you'll participate and signal boost nonfiction with me in November, because it is clear to me now more than ever that facts, realities, truths, and proofs need elevating and attending. 

I remember reading a column by Steven J. Gould years ago, in Discover magazine I think, where he provided an analogy of Americans' level of science literacy as being like offering someone a chocolate truffle to discover they choose to eat the wrapper instead of the truffle.  And I'm afraid that's more true now than ever before. 

And if you need some inspiration on how studying the very presence of nature in search of understandings still leaves room for awe and joy, let me direct you to one of the all time best videos on the internet, happy scientists on the Nautilus delighted to catch sight of a whale coming by to check out the deep sea rover:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkBpummjR5I

So that's the deep joy side of nature.  Nature does not play however, and all the crap we've dumped in the oceans, all the pollution we've pumped into the air, all of the pavement we've spread all over the earth is coming back to repay us in the form of extreme weather that has creating devastating hurricanes and floods in some parts of the world and drought in others.  Add to that lazy habits in attending to infrastructure, negelected maintenance of power lines, some Santa Ana winds, and just like that, nearly overnight in wine country fire took the lives of at least 42 people and destroyed 8,700 homes and buildings.

So it is a time to get serious and get serious about sharing and supporting and caring and rebuilding and fixing.  Here are some places where you can help:





Nonfiction November, let's get started.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Your Yarn Your Narrative

Hello Reader,

As I was pressing "new post" just now, I quickly noted as the screen began to change that I have 99 previous posts, could that be true?  Is this post 100?

You'll note in my banner this blog began as a record of how I search library databases.  This was part of the 23 Things project that many libraries participated in some years ago to get people who work in libraries more comfortable and proficient with social media.  And just as library databases have grown and expanded and also become less easy to use, so have the topics I am interested become more cumbersome.

When was the future ever uncomplicated?  Technology has delivered on some of the jet-pack promises (hear the voice of beloved family and friends across long distances, instantly post pictures of beloved pets, have a variety of items delivered to your door if you have lots of money) but the Pandora's box of technology has also robusted the evils--the destructive powers, the ability to distort narrative with fancy visual technologies.

I opened up the blogger website with the intention of updating you on what happened in regard to the Harriet Tubman photo that was indeed auctioned by Swann Galleries.  As you might recall, the Harriet Tubman House was fundraising in preparation to meet an expected auction price of 25,000. The final price for the album containing this photo and other historic photos was in fact 130,000 and I'm greatly relieved to tell you it was purchased jointly by the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. And this quote appeared in the April 1 edition of the Washington Post:  “The institutions have agreed to joint ownership and will digitize the photographs as soon as possible,” she (Gayle Osterburg of LOC) wrote. “The intention is to make them as widely available as possible through online images everyone can use.”

Thank goodness.  But I am a little wistful for the Harriet Tubman Home, because without their signal boosting of the photo's sale, it might not have come into public hands.  So thank you Harriet Tubman House, thank you for getting this dialogue and this image into national light.  I hope to visit on a future trip to the east coast.

Now, let's turn to the fact that the LOC and the Smithsonian, both federal institutions, had to suddenly come up with 130,00 to make this joint purchase.  As two of the biggest federal institutions in the country, I am very pleased they were able and chose to make this purchase.  For smaller museums and libraries, one of the very important funding streams that is under threat is the Institute for Museum and Libraries Services.  For information on this important federal agency please see the fine write-up and campaign here:  https://votelibraries.nationbuilder.com/nextstepstosaveimls

Why do we need libraries and museums?  Not just for pleasure reading and community building, not just to support small businesses and lifelong learning, we need them as the living repositories of your story.  You have the yarn, you can weave your narrative.  What or where are your family photos? What perspective do you bring to the larger national story?  Because you do.  You matter.

And the elders and the immigrants, the people who know because they have lived through terror, we need your knowledge and your testimony.  Among the many appalling statements to come from the current federal administration is press secretary Sean Spicer denying that chemical weapons were used by the Axis in World War II.  His statements were discussed in a variety of news outlets, I'll direct you to the discussion in the Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/spicer-nazis-chemical-weapons/522708/ I don't think I could have dreamed up a more significant example of the dangers of not knowing history, even recent history, because hardly a generation's difference in event and description and Spicer is attempting to justify the actions of our current administration with revisionism.

Which also made a fine distraction fest from a new abomination, a destructive device called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB and according to the New York Times it can obliterate everything within a 1,000 yard radius.

This device--how does it exist, how is there something that in its own way just as bad as a nuclear device?  When someone asks me in 20 years if I know why my country dropped such a "device" on another part of the planet, what will I say? Why must we always be inventing new weapons instead of building diplomacy?

There is no easy way.  (I) You have to find out for (my) yourself.  You will find out things you don't want to hear, or things that make you sad.  Learning does not come without understanding, and understanding requires that we challenge ourselves. But in your journey you will have the pleasure of learning from others.  

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bring Harriet Home

Reader, I've been mulling the topic I'm going to address for awhile but have found new motivation just today.  I've spent the past year and a half as interim director for the special collections and archives unit of my library, which in many ways has expanded my skills as a librarian.  I'm happy to have had this chance to get to know a collection in depth, mostly for the exposure to the amount of art found in archives (illustrations, paintings, photographs....photographs) but have also come to realize just how much information a. never makes it into an archive b. languishes once it does.  More to follow at a later date on point b., but today is all about point a., information that never makes it into an archive.

Being the Interim Director has had the perk of lots of lovely catalogs crossing my desk.  The antiquarian book world knows its audience--it knows we want color photos and lavish pictures (similar rant may ensue about the art history in auction catalogs, but stay focused Rebecca)  and detailed descriptions about provenance, condition, and other juicy book details.  Dealers in antiquarian books and ephemera are also purveyors of letters, posters, postcards, photos, maps, menus...and it is a genteel free for all of what gets sold and where it goes.

To the point:  Swann Galleries has listed for an auction an incredibly rare and previously unknown photo of Harriet Tubman, one of the most significant women in American history.  You can see it here along with another photo that is for sale:


What's particularly ugly about this is that it is being auctioned.  Auctioned.  Auction.  The image of Harriet Tubman is something that not only should not be sold, but to auction it?

Now come on.  Seller, whoever you are, and Swann Galleries, you cannot tell me you are blind to the deep inherent wrongness of auctioning a photo of Harriet Tubman.  This is an appalling level of insensitivity if not an ugly act of racism and potential erasure of history.  To sell this photo is bad enough, to auction it is reprehensible.

The Harriet Tubman home is currently fundraising to have a cash reserve to bid on the photo that should rightly be in the Tubman home already.  For those of you who have done fundraising for cash strapped non-profits, you can imagine the incredible stress this puts on the board and staff.  Just think what else they could do with that 25,000?  But raise it they will and I'm going to help.  Please join me.

1.  Ask Swann Galleries to ask the person who has consigned this item with them to consider donating it to the Harriet Tubman Home.

2.  Ask Swann Galleries their policies on auctioning vital pieces of American history that should transcend ownership by an individual.

3.  Give, give, give.  Even if there is a change of heart by the owner/auctioneer, I'm sure the Tubman Home could use some additional funds.

4.  Signal boost, retweet, write your own post, tell people you know.  Copy in historical societies, filmmakers, historians, writers, photographers, archivists, librarians, your family members.

I have often been surprised when I leaf through those gorgeous catalogs from antiquarian dealers at the things I think "why isn't that in a museum?"  I know, many museums are busting at the seams right now and archivists are wise to not accept collections that they don't have room for or money to process.  But this is one photograph, one rare precious photograph, that so clearly deserves to be in its rightful home.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I got the ebook blues

Publishers.  Publishers!  C'mere.  Let's chat.  Sit right here in my office and let's look at this entirely reasonable request from a faculty member, who wants to know if two art history titles published in this decade by two different entities are available as ebooks.

They are not.

In the ongoing drama of what is where and what is accessible, not licensing academic titles as ebooks is detrimental to both of us.  Libraries can't afford to buy multiple copies of books, yet some course sections run to 50 or 70 students on my campus.  If you don't offer an e-book that we can license and make accessible to students enrolled on the campus, guess what?

Guess what indeed.  I continue to be shocked and amazed at the expectation of what people think "is on the Internet."  Much of the world's useful content is paywalled, but a great deal more is simply only available in one format.

I feel as if publishers are slow to embrace the e format for books much in the way radio stations responded to music videos in the 1980s.  But ultimately, what did those delicious little videos do?  Why they made us consumers even crazier for music!  Music we could download onto little devices and carry around with us so we could have music all the time!

Yes, I love print books.  You love print books.  Some of us love books too much.  But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of getting the content that authors have labored over, editors have overseen, and you, dear publisher, have chosen to offer, it doesn't make a lot of sense to squeeze access into one channel.

Dear lord, what might happen if readers had access to a greater array of intellectual content?  Pretty sure they will read more.  Just going to make that speculation.

I feel silly telling a faculty member "no" when I'm asked if an e-book version is available so her students have easier access to the content she has chosen.  Especially when the book was produced in this decade so I'm pretty sure it was produced, gasp, on a word processor and computer software was used to layout the book.

What can we do? The Art History Publishing Initiative is a very good start but we are going to need more than four presses to fully support this field.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this over the course of the semester.  It is an "interesting" time in the sense that new technologies are emerging but old technologies remain necessary, yet there is an expectation, at least here in Silicon Valley, that the new technologies are much more robust than performance demonstrates.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


On this January week-end that marks Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, it would be a relevant time to talk about the graphic novel March by Representative John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.  Given the blatantly racist and hateful statements being said about Representative John Lewis on social media, it is a necessary time to talk about this graphic novel series.

Have you read a graphic novel?  I've been an avid graphic novel reader for a few years now and I've had the benefit of librarian colleagues who have introduced me to this fine category of books.  So I had the good fortune to know about March when volume 1 came out and then eagerly awaited volumes 2 and 3.  I devoured volume 3 when it came out this summer and it has been on my mind frequently since I read it.

The history contained in these three books is history every American should know.  I knew the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, but I did not know that even as the legislation was being signed that a circuit judge in Alabama issued an injunction against public assembly in Selma to stall the work of civil rights activists. I did not know of the arrests,beatings, shootings, church burnings, and bombings that took place in the summer of 1964.  I am so grateful for these books because they illuminate why Civil Rights are essential to society and how very hard people have been working for them.

I want to talk about the illustrations.  Graphic novels are a bit of a challenge for a text monster like myself, because you have to slow down your reading pace and really look as well as read.  But the combination of words and illustration becomes irresistible, and as you slow your pace you fall deeper into the narrative, and find your connection to the book proving itself in the tear that rolls down your nose and splotches the page.  One of the most compelling illustrations in book 3 is on page 225.  It shows that painful moment when you view an injury, lifting the bandage to survey the damage and check for signs of healing.  I was so deep into the book when I turned to that page that my own scalp ached.

Representative John Lewis' strength and resilience and commitment can never be doubted.  Even after being insulted, beaten, arrested, he never gave up.  Never quit.  He is 76 years old and serves as U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district and he has written a series of books that will inspire and educate generations.  

The visual storytelling of this series is fascinating.  I'm deeply impressed with how Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell crafted so many important scenes and poured a great deal of content into a highly engaging presentation.  My favorite spread is on pages 186-187.  I love every detail on those pages.  I'm not going to post another word about them though--you've got to see them for yourself.  

Go get it!  What are you waiting for?  Don't be a lazypants and order it from Scamazon though.  Use the Indiebound page to find out which local bookstores have it:  http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781603094023

Or you can be really daring and go to a comic book store http://www.comicshoplocator.com/Home/1/1/57/575 and ask for it.  

Or see if a copy is available at your local library.  

If you live in one of the country's many book deserts or if you want to order a digital copy of it, or the slipcased edition, please go to the publisher's website:  http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/congressman-john-lewis

Get it, read it, and let's talk about it. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Pastor's Pin

Dear Reader,

I write to you from the shortest day, the longest night of 2016 and as you well know, there have been so many long dark sad nights this year.

I started the day as I usually do, waiting to pick up a screeny device until I have my second cup of coffee in hand.  Ideally, the second cup has been carried upstairs and I've been followed by the cat, who will join me for a few minutes of reading and lounging (I read, he lounges) before plunging headlong into the day.  I look for cheerful family and friend news on one social platform before turning to short blasts of news on another.  Today the short blast of news platform directed me to the online version of a local newspaper, where I read a few articles before choosing a Letter to the Editor.

Prefatory note:  I've been following for some months the SafetyPin topic.  If you aren't in the know, choose the google box of your choice and see what various voices are saying about the idea of wearing a safety pin in an obvious place on your clothing to identify yourself as a person of character.  The childrens' literature crowd did it best of all, drawing their beloved characters with safety pins as a way to reassure their audience that there are grownups who care and are protectors.  If you want to see the best of these, go visit the Book Riot blogpost featuring some of these wonderful illustrations: http://bookriot.com/2016/11/14/childrens-book-authors-and-illustrators-respond-to-election2016-with-kidlitsafetypin/

On the other hand, I have seen equal amounts of dismissal of the SafetyPin idea from people who experience racism and they make the clear point that white people have a lot more work to do than just putting on a pin. See relevant comments here from April Reign and Ijeoma Oluo (and follow them on twitter).


So, what's a middle aged white female librarian to do?  Safety pin or no?  I've been turning this idea around in my mind for a little while, but this morning's reading made me want to go get the biggest shiniest safetypin I can possibly find and put it on my coat next to an equally large Black Lives Matter pin.

Here's where the original post is as of today:


In case it gets deleted or the web address changes, here is the gist of this article,

"It is my way of saying, “Not on my watch.” It requires of me a vigilance to remember that wherever I go, I am accountable to my brothers and sisters of whatever backgrounds to be available if they need me. I know that some may not ask or even notice that I am wearing my pin. But I know. And I will do my best to live up to my promise.

We are one human family and I am determined to be a compassionate presence no matter the circumstances. I hope you will join me."

These beautiful words were written by a pastor.  A pastor!  Rev Kristi Denham of the Congregational Church of Belmont.  How could anyone take issue with such a thoughtful reminder from a pastor, during the holiday season, to be vigilant about the safety of the people in our community and to step up to the commitment that wearing a safety pin implies.


I am certain I will never need Botox, because my eyebrows are still sitting close to the top of my forehead after reading what commentors wrote.  A few choice excerpts:

Commenter 1:  "I have a similar item I use as a symbol I like to wear to give me strength. My fashion statement is a red "Make America Great Again" baseball hat. It is my way of saying that we will no longer accept the redistribution of wealth, corrupt politicians and the attack on our private property rights."

This actually makes no sense considering who the PEOTUS is appointing in his cabinet, so I'm don't know what I could say to this individual.  I do worry he considers a Trump hat to be a fashion statement when it is actually the new dunce cap.

Commenter 2:  "Rev. Denham - your remarks are disgraceful. Your remarks are offensive to all the decent folks who have been shot, run over by vehicles, raped and assaulted by people who entered the country illegally.Your words, Rev. Denham, encourage illegal behavior and are dangerous."

Ok, this is worrying.  Calling a pastor's words dangerous?  Wait that sounds familiar...

Commenter 3:  "I wear a pin on my lapel too, it’s the American Flag. It’s not a “fashion statement”, it represents my gratitude and commitment to our great country."

Commenter 3 continues in this vein for awhile and then also invokes the " criminals who were not supposed to be in our country" rhetoric.  I'm not sure if this commenter is objecting to the safetypin idea or is just promoting Patriotism via pin wearing (c'mon, the only person who really rocked this concept is Madeleine Albright, so until you up your game to having brooches  in your jewelry box for representing political concepts appropriate to multiple countries and cultures a little bitty probably not made in American flag pin is just kind of silly.  See:  Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box.  Melcher Media 2009).

and here's what I wrote

Dear Reverend Denham, thank you for your thoughtful post. We are all accountable to each other and must leverage awareness and compassion to bring forth a better world. This is a time to find connections with everyone around us. In this holiday season, may we all find the best ways to reach out and communicate strength, faith, and generosity.

Happy holidays, reader.  I hope to write more frequently in the New Year.

Your Bookcharmer

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I say Book

Reader, when I say "Book" what comes to your mind?  I have had a wonderful, wonderful bookish summer that ranged from shiny new titles at Book Expo to the soft pages of old books at the Newberry.  I was lucky enough to be in Chicago in May and August, and I'm going to write a little about those adventures here.

But first, what came to your mind when you thought "Book."  It is just one word, but let's consider what it can represent.  I'll go first, let fly the reins of conscience:

a beloved tattered much loved family copy of a children's book

the skinny  bindings of the Little Golden Books

a hardcover book:  "grown up book"  trade books, remaindered copies, the endless copies of That Book that show up relentlessly in used bookstores

treasured copies of a paperback you've dragged around since college, your marked up copy of 100 Years of Solitude, the Foucault you thought you understood

Comfort books, the books you feel are a part of your home, a novel, a book of poetry, a book that belonged to your grandmother

The missing books, the ones you gave away too soon and haven't repurchased

The gift books: two kinds, the glossy heavy type that see to be more of a object than a container, and the gifted book, one with perhaps a provenance known only to you, or one with a precious inscription.

The must have book, the extra book in case you finish the one you have going, the book packed with research notes that you wish would transform themselves into paragraphs.

What is your "book" feeling?

So on to the adventures:

May was pure indulgence--I had an invite to the divine Audio Publishers Awards gala and I relished every moment of that elegant evening.  The rest of my time in Chicago was divided between some research hours at the solemn Newberry and gorging on books at Book Expo.  I confess--I have a totebag of new books I still haven't unpacked, that's how many books I scored.  Book Expo is a truly fascinating gathering:  publishers from all over the world showing upcoming titles, authors and illustrators generously signing until the supply of books ran out.  I happily gathered signed copies from artists like Herve Tullet and Kwame Alexander.  My professional interest in art books was well sated by spending time at the Phaidon and Abbeville booths.  I was slightly perturbed at the number of publishers that have jumped on board the coloring book craze, c'mon now, be a little more original. I saw scores of enchanting picture books, more mysteries than I care for, and not nearly enough reference books, although it is true the reference books publishers are more likely to hang out at the library conferences.  Memoirs, biographies, novels, some but not enough graphic novels, all in all a worthwhile time.

Fast forward to August, when I found myself attending the Art Libraries Section meeting, a satellite meeting of IFLA, back in Chicago at the Art Institute.  I felt _very_ Mixed Up Files (remember that book?) as I got to enter the museum before opening time, and head past exhibits into an auditorium. This was one of the best and most humbling conferences I have ever attended.  My limits as an English only speaker/reader were never more in evidence as I heard speakers from around the world describe their collections.  Here on the edge of Americ-uh, the titles I purchase are 99% in English, yet so many of the world's documentation about art is in Italian, Spanish, French, German, Dutch...you get the idea.

I heard from several major institutions about the significant, physical spaces being constructed for the housing and consultation of print books and the plans and operations of digital support for exploring them.  I am much much in mull-ation over the constructs of searching vs. scanning vs. summarization, how researchers explore topics, and their awareness in comfort zone in seeking beyond what is seen.  More on that in a second.

I truly hope, and will begin to lay plans, to visit the Salle LaBrouste when it reopens in Spring 2017 to see a collection of art books from the Doucet, Louvre, and the INHA.  You may practice your French and read about it here:  http://blog.bibliotheque.inha.fr/fr/posts/un-ecrin-pour-les-livres-la-salle-labrouste.html

I must also see, soon in this lifetime, the Warburg Institute collection.  I almost fear to tell you my lack of knowledge of this collection, having so immodestly proclaimed myself the Bookcharmer without even known about it barely a month ago.  But listen:

"The categories of Image, Word, Orientation and Action constitute the main divisions of the Warburg Institute Library and encapsulate its aim: to study the tenacity of symbols and images in European art and architecture (Image, 1st floor); the persistence of motifs and forms in Western languages and literatures (Word, 2nd floor); the gradual transition, in Western thought, from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy (Orientation, 3rd & 4th floor) and the survival and transformation of ancient patterns in social customs and political institutions (Action, 4th floor)."

from:  http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/library

Now that's a collection!  Forget about Dewey and LC:  consider arranging by Image, Word, Orientation, and Action!  I almost fainted two times during the presentation--especially when I heard that one call number can apply to one thousand books.  Now that's browsing!  Can you imagine?  No, I cannot, I must see it.

What do you think about when you think about "Book"?  I have 2 major frames of reference, my personal books and the library collections I have worked with in different places.  I learned about reference sources at University of Missouri in the Ellis Library when I was in library school, I handled hundreds of them at University of South Carolina, especially when answering questions from a certain publisher of a certain dictionary of literary something.  But the reference collection of my intellectual heart was at James Madison University, when I really learned the power and strength of bibliography from Mr. Gordon Miller, the history librarian.  I learned that you can know more about a topic and how to approach it from a solid 20 minutes with a quality subject specific reference sources than 3 hours of fragmented database searching.  Reference collections are in varying states these days because migrating a print reference tool to a digital platform successfully remains a challenge for various reasons, but let me not get on that soapbox today.

Reader, how do you remember a particular book?  Is it the way it felt in your hand, the weight it occupied in your backpack, the person who gave it to you?  I ask because I am teaching a class at the end of the month where the professor wants the students to see as many books as possible on a topic area in the class session perhaps picking up a different book every four to five minutes.  I am intrigued in this idea and willing to give it a go, but I'm also not going to rush someone who falls in love with a book.  I want to give them, or encourage them to create, their own method of bibliographic recall.  Me, I love my library catalog party tricks, and one of them is a take-off of 'Name that Tune.'  "Find that book" in five keywords or less!  What is the subject heading you could use to find that book again?  I'll let you know what happens.

For librarians of my certain age, who came of age when Major Reference Sources like the Dictionary of Art and the  International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences were a big deal...well, let me not generalize.  But I'm trying to get better at capturing my awareness and recall of books and their relationship with their representation in the library catalog.  Geeky library words aside, what are my tools and strategies for remembering what Ellen Lupton said, and in which book?  Or how a certain Dashwood is described in Dictionary of National Biography?

I put a book in front of you.  What book is it?  How will you remember it?