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, 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:

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)."


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?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28

August 28, 1963.  Today is the 53th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the setting of one of the most important speeches ever given.

I wasn't born yet, I came along in this world in the early winter of 1969.  I think I first heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech from the March on Washington when I was in junior high.  I recall hearing it played over the junior high's public address system, wondering at the resonance of the voice and the scratchy sound of the recording.

I just found a recording of this speech on youtube and I'm listening and typing the words I want to return to, listen along with me:

Over 50 years ago, Dr. King said, "We can never be satisfied as long as Negroes are the victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."

What kind of pathology is it that a football player, Colin Kaepernick in this case, can be castigated for calling attention to the tragedies that have been unfolding in with a sickening regularity?  For using his freedom of speech to call attention to what Dr. King told us was a baseline, a baseline for improving our country?  I'm not a football enthusiast, but I understand and appreciate and applaud the significance of a professional athlete willing to take a moral stand in the over of the future of his career, and I support him.

This is explained here:

Is the pathology denial, the refusal to hear what is wrong in our country in order to keep content in the status quo?

In 2063, I will be a little old lady, if good luck and health are on my side.  I have never said I will move to a different country based on the outcome of an election, because I am here to stay and I have no idea why I would give up on the idea that men and women of all races and religions can live together peacefully.  As musician Eddie Gale says, we can choose to get along.

Will it be music, will it be art, will it be poetry that helps get us there?  I'm going to put my money, literally, on the writers, rappers, lyricists, dancers, the artists embracing the physicality of togetherness and honesty.  In an era where we have women like Beyonce and men like Lin Manuel Miranda sandblasting stereotypes and traditions and reshaping ideas of performance and history, I think the combined grace and passion and energy of artists will outpace idiocy and hate.

Join me in getting to know your neighbors, supporting public radio, buying local, attending concerts, going to city council meetings, writing letters to politicians, and learning how to be the kind of ally that would marched in 1963 because clearly the work is not done. I think one of those ways is to really _know_ history and not let important places slip away.  Author Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective is fundraising to preserve on of the most important homes of the 20th Century, the home of poet Langston Hughes in Harlem.  Learn about and support this beautiful project here:

Thank you Colin Kaepernick, thank you Renee Watson, thank you Langston Hughes, thank you Dr. King.

#freddiegray #sandrabland #philandocastile #altonsterling #blacklivesmatter

Sunday, July 10, 2016


This post is a reflection and appreciation of a person who has had a tremendous influence on my life, someone I now realize helped to shape my personality and ability to express myself.  I write this because every day on the news, another person of color is violently murdered.  Like the tragedy of Philando Castile, each day a community member is ripped away because of racism, hate and violence, fear and guns.

Who are you taking away?  I write this, and I hope you'll share it, because I owe the way I listen and speak to an African-American women, Mrs. Oglesby.  I'll admit, I'm a little vain about my voice.  No, I can't carry a tune, but I can speak loudly and clearly to a class, calmly and patiently to an individual, crazily and happily to plants and pets and objects.  Like most academics, I am guilty of enjoying the sound of my voice when I'm holding forth on topics dear to my heart, but in this case, I will admit to that vanity because my voice is not just an accident or a gift, it was shaped by a skillful teacher.

The figure in my life that literally shaped me was my beautiful speech therapist, Mrs. Oglesby.  When I was missing some crucial front teeth as a first grader, I had the privilege of getting to spend a couple of hours each week with her and some other lucky students.  We had no idea we were getting additional attention because we couldn't pronounce words properly, getting to spend time with this tall lovely woman was like play.  We colored worksheets, we sang songs about Sammy the Snake, we had one on one time with her when we practiced sounds and words, and at the end, she would take our hand and pour m&m candies into it, making us laugh the whole time.  I had no idea she was teaching me to listen, to pay attention to how taking a breath before I spoke would change what I said or how I said it...I just remembered I adored getting to spend time with this kind and elegant person.

I get up and talk in front of City Councils.  I use my voice to welcome new students to a large school. To give directions to a stranger, or to ask questions I need answers.

And this morning, people standing up for their First Amendment right to assemble and protest are in jail.

What can we do help?


Use social media to support Black Lives Matter.  Speak up.

Be in community.  Whether your place of worship is a church, a garden, a choir, get yourself there and raise your voice.

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


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:

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:

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.