Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis

This is a departure from my usual topics, but the news from my home state is too significant to ignore, and I can't stop thinking about it.  Growing up in Columbia MO was a happy bubble for me, a small town with a large state college and a robust public school system.  Even now, there is a public radio station which is still going strong (KOPN!  Check out their history here and a regional public library system that still has a bookmobile.

A trip to St. Louis was always a special event, whether it was to pick up a visiting family member flying into the airport, a trip to the Zoo, or shopping at Famous-Barr.  I have "gone up" in The Arch as a giddy school kid and marveled at the riverboats docked at LaClede's Landing, so I have sentimental thoughts about St. Louis, as it was one of my early and positive "big city" experiences.  I could feel a sense of state pride when I began learning about important figures in literary and music history who were also from St. Louis, like Kate Chopin and Josephine Baker and Maya Angelou.

Learning about Missouri also reveals that it has been rife with contention since joining the Union as a state after the territory was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.  Its role as a battleground state in the Civil  was touched off by the Missouri Compromise, the amendment authored by Representative James Tallmadge of New York and passed by the House,  February 17, 1819, prohibiting further introduction of slaves into Missouri.  Missouri, and St. Louis in particular, is also the site of the infamous Dred Scott trial, which denied citizenship to Dred Scott and his wife Harriet.  Now, you can see all of the court documents about this decision online, hosted by Washington University: .

Perhaps less well known is the East Saint Louis Riot of 1917, which is described clearly here by historian John Buescher, who links to a primary source by African American journalist Ida Wells Barnett, The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century. Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917 which you can also access online:

The 1904 World's Fair was in St.  Louis, the world's attention to the city drawn by art, architecture and events.  One hundred and ten years later, civil rights activists are using every available means to communicate to the larger world the uncivil and dangerous state of St. Louis.

These witnesses and activists need and deserve our national attention.  Their issues are our issues, as we face as a country how to live peacefully together, and what they are saying is crucially important.

I am following events and dialog on twitter, and I hope you will too.  Follow St Louis Alderman @AntonioFrench or just search the hashtags #Ferguson or #MikeBrown.  Follow the Southern Poverty Law Center at @splcenter or the NAACP's magazine The Crisis @thecrisismag.

This post was inspired by poet and popular cultural writer Saeed Jones, on twitter @theferocity,  who asked people to signal boost the situation in Ferguson since it was being ignored by the national media.  In an era of information overload, I do ask that you take some of your divided attention and put it on our heartland, on Saint Louis, and look and listen as openly and as fully as you can.

The heartsick Midwestern raised Bookcharmer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Vitruvius to Palladio an Exhibit of Architectural Treatises

Greetings, reader!  Won't you come with me to the 5th floor?  I am quite eager to show you some of the Library's treasures.

You may remember a blog post or two ago I was rhapsodizing about the realization that the SJSU Library holds in its Special Collections a copy of Andrea Palladio's Rules and Examples of Perspective Proper for Painters and Architects printed in 1707.  This discovery lead to a more serious inquiry about the other types of books on architecture in Special Collections, and I have been richly rewarded in the search.  Featured on the 5th floor in five cases are architectural treatises ranging in date from 1636 to 1769 and in languages from Latin to Italian to French and English, some of them bilingual editions.

As I worked my way through subject headings and applied my mish mash of knowledge of languages to the titles I discovered, an obvious pattern appeared:  Vitruve, Vitruuio, Vitruvio, Vitrvvio.  Vitruvius! Who was Vitruvius?  Scholars have been asking this for centuries, and for centuries, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio has been influencing architecture.  The question of "Who was Vitruvius" is thoroughly discussed in a variety of publications; I will direct you toward the fine article by Barry Baldwin titled "The Date, Identity, and Career of Vitruvius" which appears in Latomus, T. 49, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1990), pp. 425-434.  If you are scholastically privileged, you can get the hook-up from JSTOR at:  To give you the upshot, Baldwin gives you a swift yet precise summary of research into Vitruvian timelines that have worked to establish when Roman architect and writer Marcus Pollio Vitruvius was working, pinning the composition of De Architectural Libri Decem (Ten Books On Architecture) between 30 and 10 BCE.

And who was Vitruvius to the Renaissance? The scope of the Vitruvian De Architectura's impact is thoroughly documented in the very interesting article titled "Vitruvian Paradigms" by Georgia Clarke which appears in Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 70, (2002), pp. 319-346, again JSTOR at The Renaissance appreciation for antiquity and the development of the printing press coincided nicely for printing copies of the previously hand-copied Vitruvian manuscripts. But the stability of images provided by woodcuts and engravings added another dimension to the architectural treatise--illustrating the proportions of columns in a way that has caused concepts like Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian to be known into this century and this side of North America.

I hope as the semester begins, you'll find a bit of time to visit the 5th floor in King Library to see these texts that have traveled many years and miles.  You can have a virtual visit with the exhibit here:

My appreciative thanks to Danelle Moon, Director of Special Collections, for her encouragement and assistance in creating this exhibit. If you can't visit in person, or if you want to preview the exhibit before you visit, please see the guide I have created as a companion:

Title page of Rusconi's Dell Architecttura, Venetia 1660

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:

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.