Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Small acts

Dear Reader,

So after yesterday's wallow, I'm feeling surprisingly better.  The heart to heart with myself I had been holding at arms length for several months was actually productive.

Or maybe it was my neurons reassembling themselves to make way, on the solstice, for my genetically programmed stubborn streak to resurface.  Although as a dear friend remarked, "You aren't actually as stubborn as people might think."

I have heard often, and recently read the phrase, "Both things are true."  I need to spend some time re-reading and practicing the skill of observing shadows more often.  What is a shadow and why does it change?

What picked me up off my moody floor was the realization that the act of buying books, with public money for the public's use, is powerful.  I spent a wonderful week-end at the Book Club of California at the Fellowship of the American Bibliophic Society symposium and met some amazing collectors that rejuvenated my knowledge of the power of books.  Small, portable, paper based items that have traveled across time and space with their message.  Books held and conserved by families and individuals, known through bibliography.

Books in a public access place face various hazards, not just being handled and taken out of the building, but of being marked by stamps, stickers, labels, bar codes, and security devices.  Shelved, or incorrectly shelved, by size or genre.  Yet so many of them survive to be read again.

But that is their power--they are here.  And I am going to quit moping and resume my small acts of providing access to information.  Let's review some of my small successes:

1.  Purchasing a copy of Greg Friedler's Naked New York in 1997 for a large, southern, public university.

2.  Purchasing as many of the books and films by and about African writers and artists as I possibly could, taking every recommendation from a literature scholar from Kenya teaching a world literature class at another smaller but still southern public university.

3.  Fulfilling as many requests from students and faculty at my present job as I possibly can, spending every cent of my collection development money and sniffing around the funds of others not as obsessed with collection development as I am.

4.  My next act:  getting more students into my library to see what we have.  I'm done with fancy tutorials and counting clicks.  I am going to host some open salons and bring out the artists books and build a community of people that want to be inspired by the works they can see right here.

I admit, I'm a tame revolutionary.  Sometimes I'm the spider, sometimes I'm the web.  Sometimes I'm the web spun by the spider that is later grabbed up by a hummingbird to build a nest.  I believe in public service and I believe in hospitable open learning spaces where people are free to choose what they want to read.  I believe in quiet and sustained concentration and taking notes by hand.

But I'm also a facilitator rather than a tear-er-down-er.  I can't handle being in big crowds, and find my mojo in writing letters and attending my local city council meetings instead of hauling myself to a parade or the state house.

I will do what I can.  Because that's better than eating myself up with resentment because I can't do it all or even enough.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gathering

Dear Reader,

Today I am working on gathering my thoughts.  For many of us, 2016 has been a year of loss and challenge, made worse perhaps by the random or unexpected nature of them.  I'm going to layout some baggage I've been carrying around in the hopes that I can at least set it down for awhile.

My reflections this week are literally triggered by the horrible public slaughter in Orlando at a nightclub.  When the news began to unfold of people being shot in a nightclub, I remembered the terrible news of last summer of the people who were assassinated in the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston.

How do we actually create public spaces that are not harmful, or places where harm can happen?  If we can't keep the devil from invading a church, can we keep evil out of any place?

How do we keep the bad from overshadowing the good?

What's that quote about being afraid but doing what you have to do anyway?  Does courage taste like burned toast, dry bread that scratches your throat on the way down to filling your stomach?

I'm entirely weary of arguments about the 2nd amendment and "what did the founding fathers mean."  Can't we just talk about this moment, this time in America, when guns are easier to obtain than health care or education or healthy food?

I whisper to you now my two fears:

What form/when will evil visit my library?  It has started to show its face in recent tragic events in my downtown location.  How do I keep coming in here knowing that one of the principles I held most dear, that the doors are open to everyone, has a very dangerous side to it?  No more so than any other public movie theater, school, or church, but having seen that principle so violently broken in Charleston and Orlando I can't ignore it like I guess I had.

Even if I felt "safe" in a library, should I be a librarian anymore?  Is it important?  Is it worthwhile work? I don't know anymore. Can I be effective as a librarian if I can detach my idea of self worth from my profession?  While I'm engineer of the professional self doubt train, why Higher Education even?  Who else in the "helping" professions feels like you are on a train to nowhere?

Last June, I was in San Francisco for ALA and the flags being flown for Pride Week seemed even more richly colorful for the SCOTUS ruling that  that same-sex couples have the exact same right to marry as their opposite-sex counterparts, throughout the country.

This June, a mass shooting at a gay nightclub.  For every step forward, must we take two bloody footsteps backwards? How do we not keep doing what we have been doing this past year, because to continue in this way is madness.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Silicon Valley Education Funding

Greetings reader!

Some time ago your Bookcharmer wrote about the company Udacity.  It's time to check in on Udacity because this headline caught my eye as I scrolled through the day's social media buffet:

"Sebastian Thrun Steps Down As Udacity's CEO."  This news comes to us courtesy of the news outlet Fortune:   http://fortune.com/2016/04/22/sebastian-thrun-udacity/

Now, if you watch this little clip or read the transcript to the end, you will learn this bit of information:

"Udacity recently became one of technology’s newest unicorns—meaning it recently achieved a valuation of $1 billion. In 2015, Udacity raised $105 million from Bertelsmann, Emerson Collective, Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Drive Capital."

Now, if you've been slogging through budgets for library materials in the past decade, you might have raised your eyebrows to Botox level heights at the mention of Bertelsmann.  Bertelsmann?  The company that owns Penguin Random House???

So let's do a little math here...if libraries buy materials from Penguin Random House, we are supporting Bertelsmann, which is supporting Udacity, which in some ways is a "competitor" in that they are offering "nanodegrees" which might be dangled in front of potential students.

Just for fun, let's see how big an entity we are dealing with.  A quick hop into a business database and we find: "The company recorded revenues of E16,675 million ($22,161.1 million) during the financial yearended December 2014 (FY2014), an increase of 3.1% over FY2013."  This information provided by Marketline, properly cited as 2015. "Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA SWOT Analysis." Bertelsmann SE & Co. Kgaa SWOT Analysis 1-8. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 25, 2016).

So this is not a joke.  For example, are libraries buying titles from Random Penguins, like the winner of the Man Booker Prize, yes, yes we are.  WorldCat sez that 2062 libraries hold this title in 33 editions!  (Well done Mr. Marlon James!)  But what frustrates me here is that it is so easy to follow the money from Penguin to B'mann and now to Udacity.

Clearly, I need a lunch meeting with Bertelsmann.  How is it that a company euphemistically called a "unicorn" which as I understand it translates to "We don't know what you do but it might make a lot of money so here's a lot of money to make more" able to raise this kind of capital?  Bertelsmann, let's do lunch.

Companies of the world interested in funding higher education, I cordially invite you to contact the Development Office of your closest institution of public higher education and inquire about our needs, because we have needs.  Some of us have students on wait lists, impacted programs, and we have grown so used to words like "impacted" and "wait list" that they seem normal.  But we can also show you what we deliver, because we are getting better at documenting the accomplishments of our students and alumni.  We even have formal methods of accreditation that result in voluminous reports that say exactly where we are doing well and in which areas we need to improve.

I wish online courses were the magic solution, I really do.  Wouldn't that be nice?  Just think of how much more time the Bookcharmer would have to charm books!  But I'll save my diatribe on infrastructure for another post.  Just flash back to the last time your battery died on your portable device or you were out of wi-fi range to summon the idea.  Now multiply that by every college campus building and...oh sorry, said I wasn't going to diatribe.

It's a tricky thing to be in public higher education these days.  Are we truly so disconnected from companies like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz that Unicorns are considered a safer bet than public institutions of higher education?  Here in California we've recently seen to undoing of the Corinthian College group, which was dismantled for being a "degree to job" promise of emptyness.  The scoop is here:  https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/consumers_cii_faqs

Education isn't for making money, it's for making people, more specifically, citizens.  So if I can interest a CEO or five in the citizen making business, we have much to discuss.

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Two Hundred Thousand Miles

My personal chariot, my car known as Oscar, and I achieved a new landmark today.  When I got in the car this morning and looked at the display I was astonished to see the number 2 followed by 5 zeros.  Two hundred thousand miles Oscar and I have driven together.

That's amazing, isn't it?  To think that since February 2001 when Oscar and I became a team, this sturdy sedan has been my conveyance for a huge number of miles.

Many of those miles have been alone.  Some of them have been carefree trips, some of them heart heavy journeys.  Of course, the best miles in this car will always be the times that my beloved dog Joe and I would drive to the beach.  I drove, Joe gazed ardently out the window and rested his sweet muzzle at the perfect angle to catch the wind.

Two hundred thousand miles, mostly driven by me, a woman.  Lady, grown up girl, female.  Oscar has occasionally been lent to friends or driven by Mr. Bookcharmer when I'm tired of driving, but most of those miles were rolled onto the odometer with me behind the wheel.

It's funny to think about, isn't it?  Sunday evening when I parked after a short trip to see the sunset in Alviso, Oscar had already quietly rolled that number in to place.  Will Oscar and I make it to 300,000? Will I ever have another car I put so many miles on?

I found this documented number a moment to pause and think about all the emotions, power, money, and politics it represents.  Roads, gasoline, oil, tires, inspections, parts, repairs...highways, freeways, interstates...all the words associated with road travel:  gas station, rest area, traffic.  My commute to work, 48 or 49 weeks a year for the past fifteen years!  One cross country drive, multiple trips up and down California in the last ten years.

It's incredible to think that one person can have been transported that far in her lifetime.  What about all those miles I racked up as a passenger, or on a bus, an airplane, the occasional train?

One of my favorite writings about cars is by Bailey White.  In one of her essay collections she writes about her old car, which she calls her real car, and her new car.  She writes of the sounds and smells of cars, and the sense of recognizing that when we get in them, we are "hurtling along the surface of the earth at an unnatural speed."

She's right, of course.  I go down the road with my AAA card, my drivers' license, my proof of insurance, seat belt clicked, air bags factory installed and away we go, Oscar and I.  But is it natural? Is movement emotionally more manageable at "natural" speeds powered by wind or horse?  If you haven't merged on to 101 during rush hour, don't argue with me about the emotion of every day driving.

Speed and time, the two other commodities here in Silicon Valley. But let's not go into those topics just now.  Please join me in congratulating Oscar on his 200,000 miles of distance.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Price of Style

Dear Reader,

It's time we had a serious talk.  I've put this one off for a long time because the difficulty students have in citing sources is a tired and well trod battlefield, but the topic isn't going to go away and there are in fact some solutions.

Are you ready?

The topic is this:  the cost of style manuals.  I'm looking at you, publishers of MLA, APA, and the Chicago Manual of Style.  The day has passed when the only place to get the details of a bibliographic style was to break down and buy it or figure out which reference desk kept it in a supervised yet accessible "ready reference" area so it was a reliable presence.  And its cost was typically of the amount that only student who had pledged a troth to a major or entered a graduate program would see it as a reasonable and necessary investment.  Sure, many undergraduate first year English courses would choose a text that included examples of the major styles, (e.g. my beloved Heath Handbook I have used since my undergrad days) but to really get on board with why a style works the way it does, frequent exposure with the manual itself is required.

So, why does your Bookcharmer care?  Well, let me tell you that my library brethren have been the lifecoaches, lifeguards, and rescue crew to many a panicked student who not only had never seen a manual before much less navigated its terrifying index, in the desperate hours before a paper was due. Like an emergency delivery of a baby on the side of the road instead of in a home or hospital, we can do it, but its not ideal conditions and were all just happy if the baby (the paper in this case) survives.

Now faculty, let's look at your role.  Before you get your hackles up too far, ask yourself:  what class in your institution is charged with introducing students to style manuals?  If it something students "are supposed to know," then you must explain to me how is it the student will come to know it.  If you are a large university with students coming from a variety of places around the world or even just around your county, how is it they will know what a style manual is and where they can get it?  I have observed that a certain style is taught in Freshman Composition and then students must learn about another style when they take classes in their major.  I don't expect that to change.

The procuring or accessing a style manual--now here's the rub.  While I will agree that there are certain costs of publishing an up to date style manual, which in these days means coming to terms quickly (yes I said quickly) with emerging data platforms, and hosting up to date editions electronically, let's cut to the chase and figure out if you are serving your hostages oh I meant audience by keeping it beyond the paywall.

I'm not going to pick and choose among price tags and point fingers.  You know how much you are charging for print and electronic access, style manual publishers.  What I will ask you to do is to figure out how to put the most crucial parts online for undergraduate students in a open access (that means free) format in places they will find it.  You could even use a Creative Commons license to do so.

If you don't cultivate the undergraduates, your industry of managing scholarly publications will continue to narrow.  There is a generation of people in the United States who have been deprived of quality high school libraries who are tossed into the deep end of library research when they come to college with maybe a tour, an online tutorial, or a one credit class introducing them to the library. We are in a fantastically complex world of online and print sources and accurately citing a source is an added hazard.

Back in the slower days of print sources with an emerging scattering of databases, a student once informed me that "the bibliography is the punishment for finishing the paper."  I was stunned by this revelation as it illuminated the deep separation between seeing sources as the lifeblood of a paper and mere props for fulfilling requirements like "you must have eight to ten sources."

I'm not here to fight about how library research is taught--I'm really not.  Given the size and spread of higher education even just in the state where I reside, I know that agreement on this issue is carved up across upper and lower division, majors and programs, North of the Wall and South of the Wall.  But where I think we could all make major progress is in making style manuals more accessible and affordable to students so that they could actually learn how to use them.

Now, to be sure, the courageous and benevolent creators of the Online Writing Lab at Purdue, the OWL, have generously supported this effort for many years.  This resource is one that librarians all over the place rely on: https://owl.english.purdue.edu and we owe them our thanks.  But it isn't enough.

Some databases kindly offer examples of how an online source could be cited, but patrons are cautioned to "double check against the manual."  The Bookcharmer is a devotee of RefWorks, but I maintain that a bibliographic management tool requires some working knowledge of a how certain style represents sources because that ideally is reflected in the writing and crafting of content.  But I digress.

Here's my proposal:  I call on the Big Three, APA, MLA, and Chicago to enter a race.  Who will be the first to deliver via a Creative Content license the most critical part of your manual?  The part that most undergraduates will need to have in hand to manage the type of writing their major courses will require.  You can keep the super sexy high level publishing stuff behind the paywall if you feel you have to do that to cover costs, I'm ok with that.  Make people pay for topics likes how to handle special mathematical symbols, how to cite a psychological test, or how the review process works for journals in your field.  Trust me, the first year student desperate to figure out where the year of publication in a citation is supposed to go is not looking for that information yet.  But imagine if a large percentage of undergraduates had a positive feeling about accessing and understanding how to use a style manual?

I mentioned Creative Commons earlier--if you haven't got acquainted with their various licenses, you can find that information here:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/  If you are wary of your sustainability as an organization if your content is freely galloping around the world, you could use one of the most restrictive licenses, which is described here:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Keepers of the manuals, if you don't believe that offering the documentation section of your manual would be transformative for students and librarians, come sit with me or one of my brethren at a reference desk for a shift or two. I offer you a seat at the table to collaborate with libraries to assist students in putting manuals to work as they were intended, to assist in the documentation and further distribution of knowledge.

Bookcharmer.  "The Price of Style."  http://bookcharmer.blogspot.com.  February 17, 2016.




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Books and Gifts

Books make the best gifts.  It's true.  Stop fretting about the pile of catalogs from places like Surly Table and Expensive Clothes for Outdoors.  Sure, you can set them aside for making collages later, but if you are feeling holiday stress about what gifts to proffer, the Bookcharmer is here to set your mind a rest.  So fix yourself a nice cup of tea and let's get started.

First of all, is to update the list of books _you_ want and have not yet acquired.  This is important information friends, family, and the occasional passerby will like to have.  And while you can facilitate purchasing of the titles you desire from independent bookstores by creating wishlists at places like powells.com or helpfully including the ISBN along with a link to Indiebound.org, this is perhaps not the best time to launch into your anti-amazon tirade in front of would be gift givers. Save that for the Christmas dinner after presents have been opened and your haul of new books safely stashed.

The blogger of 3 Books a Night has an annual countdown of children's picture books.  Her site is charming and well worth a visit for inspiration of titles you might like to acquire or gift:  http://www.threebooksanight.com/tag/25-days-of-christmas-books-2015/

She blogs about new and vintage titles, so don't forget about out of print dealers like abebooks.com and alibris.com if you are seeking a special title.

If giving a physical object isn't your method of celebrating winter holidays, here are some other bibliocentric ideas for your celebratory purposes:

Make a date to go to the library.

Make a plan to go to a landmark library in another city, such as the Newberry in Chicago or the Huntington in San Marino.

Read aloud to a loved one.

Memorize a poem and recite it for a friend, a pet, to yourself.

Join or start a book club.

Make a generous donation to a literacy organization.

What, you want specific book recommendations?  Really?  Well then:

For all ages:  the loud and quiet books, especially the Christmas Quiet Book by author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska.  You can find information about these wonderful books and even see a delightful "book trailer" at this website:

http://hmhbooks.com/quietloudbooks/

For older readers:  Library of America titles where you can find handsome editions of American authors, perfect for building a library or owning choice copies of select titles:  https://www.loa.org/ You'll find writers from Baldwin to Wharton with all kinds of titles in between.

Finally, if the Book as Art Object is what you desire:  check out the offerings of the Denver Abecedarian Gallery http://abecedariangallery.com/store/

Happy reading!

The Bookcharmer






Thursday, October 22, 2015

Art and Community

Dear Reader,

I'm going to share two recent art experiences with you, and ask you to support a third.  Ready?

First of all, I had the sublime pleasure of seeing the exhibition Someday is Now:  the art of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of California Art earlier this month.  You can see some of the images here:  http://pmcaonline.org/exhibitions/someday-is-now-the-art-of-corita-kent/ and if you are anywhere near Pasadena in the next few weeks, please go.  The show is only up until November 1 and it is so well curated.  Corita strove to answer the questions about peace and violence we continue to struggle with today.  You will find heart and be inspired by her prints.  While I did scoop up many cherishable postcards at the Museum, I did wait to get home and order the big, beautiful, and heavy exhibition catalog since I was in Southern California for a short, carry-on luggage type of trip.  It is so fantastic, I had to also order the 2nd edition of Learning by Heart:  teaching to free the creative spirit.  Please go to your library or independent bookstore, because you are going to want them too.

The exhibition catalog, I ordered mine from my favorite online book provider, Powells, http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9783791352336-0 is a book that I know I will return to again and again.  To be dazzled by Corita's colors, her interpretations of culture, her use of typography, and her messages.

The 2nd book, Learning by Heart, again Powells http://www.powells.com/biblio/71-9781581156478-0 is already opening up my heart and my eyes.  I am so eager to try Corita's assignments on looking, drawing, and experiencing.  And just as Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach has emboldened and supported my development as a practitioner of joyful exploration in education, even the first pages of Corita's text are expanding my capacities as I breathe in her words.

From page 4:  "To create means to relate.  The root meaning of the word art is to fit together and we all do this every day....Each time we fit things together we are creating--whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day."  

From page 90:  "How can we become bright, hardworking, imaginative people?  By learning how to use our connecting ability to make new relationships and by getting used to working very hard in ways that will develop our imagination."

Just reading that, I'm excited again about working hard.  I feel heartened and a little bit comforted that I need to prepare for struggle.  Let me tell you, where in SillyCon Valley, where everything is supposed to "in one tap" or "one swipe" or 140 characters or less and delivered the next day and where young people think it is a good idea to live in a truck next to your employer....reading Corita's words telling me to slow down, to notice, to note my responses, to learn different ways of looking, and the importance of community...I am emboldened.

Once I get some workflow undercontrol here in Bookcharmer land, I am tempted to host an online bookgroup with this book, first because I want more people to know about it, but also because I think it would be fun to share the experiences of the assignments.  And we can use the handy tools of SillyCon Valley to post our results and get some more art into the world.  More to come on that.

For now,  I must ask you to support art in community in a very specific way.  Here in this Valley, this peninsula, this state this nation, the tyranny of the zip code is profound.  Instead of getting on that pedestal, I'm going to direct your attention to this class project:

http://www.donorschoose.org/project/asian-art-watercolor/1730211/

This project that will engage students in learning about art and culture is quite close to funding, maybe even by today it will be completed.  If it is, would you please type in your state in the Donors' Choose search box and see what art supplies are needed at a school near you?

Oh, I got out of order:  I still haven't told you about my 2nd recent artistic experience, which happened just this morning, and gives urgency to my request above.  I've been listening to Sonia Manzano reading her memoir, Becoming Maria, on my commute.  Some of you may know I'm an audiobook junkie.  This is why I'm still profoundly aggravated that Amazon.Greed bought Audible, because Audible is my go to dealer for audio books, and I just deeply resent any more money going to a company with a terrible reputation and if you raise your eyebrows at that please go read this: https://gigaom.com/2015/08/18/dont-be-surprised-at-how-amazon-treats-its-workers/

Ok, back to the memoir.  I admit, I was having a hard time in the early chapters.  Ms. Manzano doesn't pull any punches about her childhood:  family violence, racism in her school, she doesn't sugarcoat her life experiences and just get to the Sesame Street part.  Being part of the original Sesame Street generation, when Cookie Monster could have all the cookies he wanted, I downloaded this title with giddy glee and then had to muster the courage to listen to the painful memories she shares.

I'm glad I did, and glad she has the courage to throw open her life path to listeners and readers, because the chapter when she describes her experience of going to see the movie West Side Story and how she felt herself coming alive to see her community celebrated on film...well, let's just say there was a little bit of ugly crying going on in a certain VW Passat once I found a parking place and could sit and listen to her describing how she felt seeing that movie, carrying home a treasured movie poster, and how the whole experience was a profound awakening.

It was a school teacher that took Sonia to see the movie, along with two other students.  And I have to hear more of the book to know how that awakening lead to Sonia Manzano becoming the beloved Maria, a person I watched as a child, and thought how amazing it would be to get to talk to all those wonderful puppets.  I wondered how Sesame Street choose the letter of the day, you know, at the end, when they say "this episode was brought to you by the letters" and then say the letters.  I'm content to let that mystery be, but I still love the idea of one or two letters picking out the skits, the songs, providing the narrative arc, as letters are completely capable of doing and then some.

But back to Sonia Manzano's story:  without the experience of seeing her reality reflected and celebrated in art, would we have had Maria on Sesame Street?

Let's throw down for the arts.  Here in California, there will have to be a legislative overhaul to get the anchor of Prop 13 off the pipeline to education funding, as well as other measures to break the tyranny of the zip code.  But what if your donation today to a classroom leads to an awakening for one child?

http://www.donorschoose.org/

This blog entry brought to you by the letter C in honor of Corita Kent and M for Sesame Street's Maria.