Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reading Memory and Writing

Greetings reader!  Punctuate the title of this post as you like.  It could be:  Reading:  memory and writing.  Reading, Memory, and Writing.  Or just as it is reading memory and writing.  All three words and concepts go round round with each other.

How do we remember not only what we read, but where we read it?  I mention writing because, as some recent articles have pointed out, the act of handwriting has an impact on knowledge and retention. There is an expectation, I think, that having access to more knowledge implies the facility to manage the information it contains, especially digitized information.

But here's what I want to focus on today:  How do you remember what you have read?  Let's talk about personal reading and academic/professional reading.  This post is for Robin, my fantastic SLIS intern from SJSU in Spring 2014 who is well on her way in librarianship.  We had talked about ways to manage the sheer number of texts you need to recall quickly as a librarian, especially with Readers' Advisory, a new skill she was taking on.  We decided to check in with each other in October for a comparison of how our approaches and tactics over the next six months have worked.

In personal reading, some authors make it very easy for you.  I expect to long remember certain phrases or descriptions that float to mind, bringing the author and title information forward as quickly as a catalog entry.  For example, in Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, when the protagonist writes of stale biscuits, "they were hard as plaster and tasted of shelf."  That is absolutely one of my favorite lines in literature, it so precisely describes the taste of old cracker that you eat because it is one of the few remaining items in the pantry.

The newest author memory post came my way last night.  I am devouring Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, which had been on my To Read list for ages, but got bumped to first place when I got a really nice copy at Green Apple Books, hardback.  Here's it is:

Is that not the best description of doubt you have ever read??  Say it aloud if you want to, "Doubt begins like a thin crack in a porcelain plate."  We have all seen that hairline fracture, some of us have also felt it.

But what about when you are trying to remember more prosaic prose, like something about, ahem (sorry, profession) "the role of information literacy competency assessment in a base line environment juxtaposed with Common Core Outcomes in a mixed media environment."  I mean, who is going to know what that even says, much less who is responsible?

For some reason, and maybe it is the years of handling the print objects, and handwriting then typing citations, elements of a citation are like handles for my brain.  I can envision the article title inside the journal;  I can recall an author's point when I take the time to write out a notecard with the author's name and the page number in the upper right of the index card.   But I have to process it somehow--with the advent on online books and journals, I get annoyed very quickly when e-book vendors make it time consuming or simply impossible to easily copy and paste a quote.  E-journals are slightly better, but copy and pasting from a pdf sometimes creates a weird alphabet soup.  So...what?  Print everything out?

For reference sources I know well, it is because I either took time to intentionally learn about them, either through reading reviews or looking carefully at the item itself, or because I used them over and over again.  I also have a little trick when I'm learning a new reference source--I'll look up the same topic in three or four similar subject sources to quickly figure out which one gives the "best" entry if I needed a lot or a little information, which one has the best bibliographies, which one is illustrated...

But as I now face down the long barrel of some long-term projects I'd like to bring to fruition, I can also see where I have turned the process of research into a bit of a security blanket...oh look, another book on my topic, let's read and make more notes!  I'd like to balance that bad habit with a more efficient system.  To be sure, I have had my wild fling with RefWorks, and I'm still indebted to it for storing as of this writing 1,193 references, probably about 450 of which I really need to actively work with for the aforementioned projects.

I'm running together memory and process because for me they are intertwined.  I'm not going to remember a book or a journal article if I don't engage with it in a written process, and for the moment, that is a mish-mash of print and electronic interaction (please don't talk to me about Google Drive just now thank you.)  But I have also ordered some delicious paper from Levenger to lure myself into writing on it.

So gentle reader:  what works for you?  Something electronic, like LibraryThing or RefWorks?  Are you still running ProCite off a generator in the basement?  Or do you have artfully arranged notebooks filled with your exquisite script?  Photos (rated for all audiences) or descriptions of your process welcome.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


With the alarmingly imminent end of the semester looming in large and small ways, getting a grip on reality is diffused by the high levels of caffeine and stress, both of which are available in large quantities on campus just now.  In reviewing some of the less charming themes addressed in this blog this past year, I decided to throw myself back into some good old bookcharmer habits and set aside worries about technology and access, just for a little while.

If you need a good dose of biblio charm and want to set your worries aside for a little bit, please join me in a virtual visit to Special Collections.  Maybe by the end of this post you'll want to make an in person visit to enjoy the same sort of knee-buckling swoon worthy printing I'm about to describe.

I labeled this blog post Perspective to remind myself to keep on task about seeking a fresh perspective but also to try to make some kind of wonderful wordplay about Perspective as a subject heading, which it is.  However, the muse of wordplay is off doing sudoku or something, so I can't present you with something witty and intriguing.  I can, however, provide you with the catalog record for Andrea Pozzo's Rules and examples of perspective proper for painter and architects, etc.  Here it is:

How many subject headings?  Just one.  Perspective.  But what else can we know about this book, from the catalog record alone, that will lure us to Special Collections?  The date, of course, 1707, even with a question mark.  Printed in London.._for_  J. Senex.  I'm skipping ahead to tell you that is John Senex, well known printer especially for his maps, but what does it mean printed for instead of printed by? Well, those are enough interesting facts to get me upstairs.

I should say something instructive and thoughtful about how powerful catalog records are, if you understand how to decode them, and how commercial book records from purveyors such as Slamazon (who has been called out by no less than the New York Times for its ham-fisted playing of favorites in recent days) will never be able to compete with the scholarly approach and knowledge employed by Library of Congress Subject Headings for illustrating the content of books but I won't be able to do that without bringing out my grouchy side and I am determined to remain charming at this point.  Please continue reading.

The subject heading Perspective in this case promises so much when you add in the tantalizing details of date, place of publication, and engravings on the "best paper."  Have a look:

Are you sighing yet?

How about now?  Did the words Farneze and Rome catch your eye?  Do you feel a brief warmth in your lungs as if you have entered a chapel built in 1685?

Go ahead, treat yourself to a journey so completely unnecessary that it becomes the most necessary thing of all, adjust your perspective with a trip to Special Collections.  

Today's Bookcharmer magic is brought to us by this scholarly discussion on Pozzo's Rules and examples of perspective proper for painters and architects, etc. from the University of Reading's very nice write up on their copy: 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Materiality of Periodicals

Greetings, Reader!

I write to you from the mid-way point of Spring Break, where the to-do list is not half way completed but Spring Break is half over.  Clearly, an opportune moment to blow the dust of this blog, having not even posted about our rousing defeat by USC Gleeson Library in the library shelfie contest a few months ago.  They were gracious winners and even sent a nice consolation prize in return.

No time for such light hearted librarianship today.  A convergence of data provider announcements and an actual reference inquiry converged in a mighty specific way early this morning, and an early burst of social media activity leads me to believe I might just get to 15 seconds of Internet Fame.

What am I talking about?  Scrolling this morning's twitter feed, I noticed this announcement from Dow Jones and quickly replied:

The Bookcharmer's reponse to DJ

I am a seasoned enough (i.e. old) librarian to remember a functional iteration for Dow Jones, before it was even called Factiva.  When a dear colleague and as yet unindicted co-conspirator trained me how to use the new version, she began by saying, "Take everything you know about Dow Jones and forget it.  It is not ever going to work the same way."

Truer words have really been spoken in libraryland.  Factiva has long been an inducer of eye-rolling.  Sure, it has specific uses, which is why we pay for the darned thing in first place, but it has not been keeping up with the user driven environment in which we live now.

Steady yourself, I'm about to praise Ebsco and Proquest.  Are you ready?

One of the most frequent things we look for in library land are specific holdings of periodicals.  I believe I have ranted previously about how we are paying for the same content in multiple places.   However, when it comes to some periodicals, we are forced to go to exactly one place.  This is the case of the periodical Bon Appetit and Factiva.

Why is this a big deal?  Look what happens when I go from our catalog holding indicating we have access to Factiva and what I get when I arrive at that site:

Catalog sez goes to Factiva

This what you get when you arrive:

Surprise!  This is where you go to do a search for a specific title.

Here's how to do that title search, don't go looking for a source search option in the search form:

I had reason to discover this dis-functionality because I had a reference question asking for assistance in locating this exact title.  On the very morning Dow Jones had announced "We are pleased to announce a series of enhancements to Factiva, designed to improve the overall user experience."  No wonder my patron couldn't find it!  I'm going to leave off with my Factiva disgruntlement here, except to say that vendors such as EbsQuest or ProCo and MuseStor and etc. are able to provide a stable URL to specific periodicals which we can use as links in our catalog to take patrons to the exact journal they wish to search you can too, DJ.

I'm going to set that particular grudge aside for the moment because a much bigger issue was raised for my hunt to find what my patron requested, which was a photo layout by a well known photographer she is researching.  In the end, the Factiva holdings of Bon Appetit would not have helped us at all, because it is a text only site.

The print periodical collection saved the day again.  Should I ask, Bon Appetit, how long it will be until you offer your backfiles, complete backfiles, for libraries to access electronically?  

Yes, these are unbound issues.  I'm not happy about that either.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Shelfie Time!

Greetings Readers!

The Bookcharmer has been swept away by Social Media and is grabbing your hand to pull you along.  A friendly little competition between USF's Gleeson Library and the SJSU King Library has emerged in celebration of Library Shelfie Day!

Here's the breakdown:  if the #SpartanShelfie and #LibraryShelfie @SJSU gets more pictures posted on Twitter/Instagram tomorrow, SJSU Wins!

And we're going to win!  We have 8 stories and a Lower Level of collections, so charge up your cell phones, update your twitter and instagram account, and get ready to show our Spartan Pride!

I'm going to check in with my esteemed colleagues at USF Gleeson for the other rules and proprieties we should observe, but for now, please read their challenge on this phenomenon known as #LibraryShelfie:  http://gleesongleanings.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/instagram-library-shelfie-day-12914/

What are the stakes, besides Spartan Pride and bragging rights?  Well, currently on the table:  USF ponies up with a nice box of Ghirardelli, we'd have to supply a tasty box of San Jose's own Schurra's chocolates should we somehow not manage to crash the internet with our #SpartanShelfies.

More details to come...but USF Gleeson?  We're partial to dark chocolate...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Bookcharmer wants to put the Current Back in Current Periodicals!

Greetings and welcome to 2014!

When, years before, you thought about a year such as 2014, did you imagine it one complete with technological ease and convenience?  Surely, we never thought of such things as igadgets and PlusPhones, but here we are.

What you and most certainly I did not expect was that the world of Current Periodicals would have found itself paralyzed, almost in a Polar Vortex, in a tightfisted grasp of greed.

What am I ranting about?  Well, here's a visual:

Yes, see there, that issue of the periodical Design Issues, Winter 2014.  It is now Winter 2014, am I right those parts of the country enduring the Polar Vortex?

So why can't I read it?  I want to read it.  Don't you, having seen the article title and abstract, also want to read about the relevance of Artisanship?

Well, you can't.   Unless you are a personal subscriber to this periodical.  You may very well be.  But if you are a student looking for articles for a researcher paper, perhaps you are not.

Well, why not go consult the print issue you might ask.  Possible if your academic library had not had to cancel the print version in 2004.

Academic libraries, and our students and faculty, have been on the painful horns of this dilemma for too long.  Faced with increased costs for online access, we've had to cut every other place possible.   So publishers, it is time we have a Family Meeting about this particular practice.

The previous issues of this journal are available in several databases to which my institutions subscribes.  See the following list:

So, we're not only paying you for the content, we're paying you multiple times for the same content, because, for those of you who don't already know, five of those databases on the list are owned by the same company.  Yup.


So, what is it going to take?  We really pay for the same content more than two times if you consider the fact that if a student or faculty member decides yes, I really do want to read that article and places a request through InterLibrary Services, my library pays a fee to get it.  (I'll gloss over the fact that we paid for the intellectual content for the back issues, since I get that we are now paying for the electronic hosting and 24/7 online access of said back issues.)

But I'm tired of my library having to pay for the same content multiple times while vendors of database packages continue to raise the prices while withholding current content.  Stop it.

Reader, if you need more facts and figures just google the phrase "cost of periodicals" but have a nice pillow in your lap for when your jaw drops.

Vendors, we can make this happen.  When I teach students how to effectively search databases for relevant information, I don't want to try to explain why the most recent information is not present.  Trust me, you don't want me explaining that in public.

Instead, make 2014 the year we all fall back in love.  Let the word "embargoed" apply no more to current periodical content.   Put the Current back in Current Periodicals!  That's all I want.  Valentine's Day is just around the corner!

The Bookcharmer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reading and Memory


I wrote earlier this week about a project I'm very enthusiastic about, and if you are interested in seeing this documentary it is not to late to support this project!  Here's the link again:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aplacetostand/a-place-to-stand-final-cut

Supporting literacy is more important than ever, because the requirements of navigating an increasing digital world are based on first being literate.  But what of memory?  How do we remember what we have read, and how do we know it will come back to us when we need that knowledge?

The qualities of my memory have been commented on by various acquaintances.  It's true, one must have a good memory to be a good librarian.  Of course, a love of office supplies and liberal use of them is an excellent supplement to memory.  But what of cultural memory, regional memory?

I write today because of a social media explosion happening over on a site called ValleyWag, demonstrating that one is free to write whatever one likes on the Internet, but you are also painting a huge target for responses.  Check it out for yourself  http://valleywag.gawker.com/happy-holidays-startup-ceo-complains-sf-is-full-of-hum-1481067192

I gave up reading the comments after just a few minutes as one of the other aspects of social media is a toxic level of vitriol.  Instead, I decided to reflect on something that I read many years ago when I lived in South Carolina.  This was in the early 1990s, and the city of Columbia and the state was mired in a discussion about what to do with the Conferederate Flag on the Capitol building, which had not, as some claimed, "been there since the Civil War."  It had in fact, been put back up on the Capitol in the 1960s as an insult to the Civil Rights movement.

A long time civil rights activist, Mrs. Modjeska Simpkins was quoted as saying, ""Oh, let them wave their old rag. That way you know what's in peoples' hearts." I was struck then as I am now by the wisdom in this statement.  It isn't often you get people to admit their true hearts, so when they do it is a watershed moment that calls for reply.

The uproar about Mr.  Gopman's comments is justified, but that outrage needs to translate into support for the necessary infrastructure for a city to be a healthy and beautiful place.  Fortunately, we have an available wealth of knowledge.  The reading won't be easy.  The history of de-instituionalizing the mentally ill in the 1970s.  The criminalization/stigmatization of mental illness that has long been a hallmark of so many societies, including this one.   The number of U.S. Veterans that are currently homeless.

If you could pick two readings or narratives that everyone in your city could read or see that would provide historical context about homelessness and solutions, what would those titles be?  It can be a novel or non-fiction or a film or documentary. Perhaps you'd even like to make sure Jimmy Santiago Baca's story of survival in our cruel country is produced by contributing to the Kickstarter.   Give me your ideas in the comments.

Can reading and viewing be the shared cultural/regional memory that can, please, stop us from being careless and stupid?  If relentless advertising and cruelly shrewd marketing lure us into buying objects of status and convenience, can film and literature roar back in a whiplash of knowledge?

Meanwhile, I'm pleased to introduce you to Mrs. Modjeska Monteith Simkins

Oral History with Modjeska Simpkins:  http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/A-0356/menu.html

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Dear Reader,

In 2002, I heard Jimmy Santiago Baca speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  If you ever have a chance to hear this poet in person, you must go.  His voice is being amplified by a documentary about his life, which I'm going to ask you to support at the end of this post.  For now, I want to talk a little about poetry, literacy, and glitter.

Yes, we are in a glittering world, a glittering season right now, so much sparkling at us that any hard truths are trampled like flyers on a sidewalk, dropped from uncaring hands.  OED says the first definition of the verb glitter is "To shine with a brilliant but broken and tremulous light"; Milton's use of glitter as a noun in 1667 reads "With what permissive glory since his fall Was left him, or false glitter."

The poetry I love the most is the poetry of honesty and appreciation.  Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things.  Marge Piercy's blessing the day, Lucillle Clifton blessing the boats.  Give me an ode to socks, the dictionary, a strong woman's hips.  Tell me a poem that will heat up my core, blow out the cobwebs taking over my soul, and infuse me with joy I am compelled to share.

Jimmhy Santiago Baca is a poet of honesty and appreciation.  His story is a more American story than ever, as the statistics show our alarming propensity for imprisoning our own citizens and our inability to provide effective, generous instruction in the foundation of democracy, literacy.

I have a clear memory of not yet knowing how to read.  My doting and book loving parents had showered my sister and I with books and letters from the beginning of our existence.  One evening, my sister read the Three Billy Goats Gruff aloud to us.  She was highly praised.  I picked up the book to also read it aloud and get my piece of the praise pie.  My mother gently explained I was telling the story, but that wasn't the same as reading it.  Click, click, click went my little mind...I don't remember exactly when I did learn to read, but I clearly remember understanding the difference between telling and reading, and knowing that I very much wanted to be able to read.

My childhood was one of trips to the library, books in the house.  My parents can still recite every word of Green Eggs and Ham, so don't get them started if you can't stay for the whole performance.  I remember my elementary school library with its endless biographies, all bound in the same blue and yellow covers, a life inside each book.  I remember my junior high school library and the wonderful librarian there, Mrs. Linda Walker, who inspired me to be a librarian because in that whole school, she was my favorite person to talk to, and there she was, always, in that room full of books.

Shouldn't every child have a wealth of books in their life?  Our country is so wealthy right now, it thinks it is poor.  The bankers who sent so many spiralling into homelessness since the execrable financial criminality of the mid-2000s are not in prison, yet so many people who the country failed are in prisons.

Don't feel despair, I have something for you to do.  What if you could hear from a poet who not only lived the experience of illiteracy and imprisonment, but survived it?  What if you could share his message through a documentary.  Well, you can.  Here's the project:

A Place To Stand:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aplacetostand/a-place-to-stand-final-cut

Hear from poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and filmmaker Daniel Glick.  Retrieve your bank card and contribute as richly as you can, then share this link with all the other people you know who support literacy and poetry.

Then reward yourself with some poetry, maybe a trip to an independent bookstore, a library, your own bookshelf.

Thank you.

The Bookcharmer.