Thursday, August 18, 2016

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Yearly Biography Reading, or maybe not...

I am not a biography person so I was busy congratulating myself on reading my annual biography, autobiography or memoir.  I had finished Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, before I realized that it is cataloged in 347.7326 (Law, Supreme Court), not BIO GIN.  That is the charm of selecting downloadable books from OverDrive or Hoopla – I look at what is new and available and don’t consider any classification system.  Now, in keeping with my self-inflicted reading requirements, I still owe myself a biography.
Reading Notorious RBG is an adventure.  The authors, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, mix and match narrative, photographs, documents, cartoons and fan art.   The book has something for everyone, including a shout out to opera buffs.  The court decisions and legal briefs are described with enough detail to inform without overwhelming.  One particular decision involving voting rights, Shelby County v. Holder, has been mentioned almost daily on news programs during this election cycle so I was pleased to learn more about the background.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is the love story between RBG and her husband.   His final letter to her is heartbreaking.  Notorious RGB is a wonderful combination, mixing details about her ground-breaking legal career with enough personal information to make the woman in the formidable black robes more human.
Before the end of 2016 I must choose a biography or autobiography to read.  Books about the Kennedy family are still being published at a rapid rate, with the Roosevelts running a close second.  Alexander Hamilton is trendy and interest in Lincoln never fades.  I tend to avoid movie stars and anything too sensational – serial killers are definitely not an option.  Please send any recommendations through comments.

- S. Bakos

Related sources:

New York Times review of Notorious RBG, the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmen and Shana Knizhnik (2015)

Vogue review of Notorious RBG, '15 Things I Learned About Ruth Bader Ginsburg From Notorious RBG'

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent

So Many Books, So Little Time

Working at the library we are obviously surrounded by books. With many returned books come book suggestions. With book suggestions come more book suggestions and sometimes even movie suggestions. Many times patrons tell us,

 “You have to read this book. It’s the best I’ve ever read!”

If I have read the book and enjoyed it, a lively discussion ensues. If I read the book and did not care for it, I invoke my two favorite comments:

1.) It’s well written :) Hopefully his/her next novel’s material will be more to my liking.
2.) I wanted to like the book but…

Just ask my book club friends they will tell you I use the first comment frequently during our monthly discussions.

If I have not read the book and it sounds appealing, I place it on my Goodreads app. Currently I have 172 books on my ToRead list within the app. I just need 172 weeks to read them all! So really I shouldn’t be looking for additional books to read, but I just can’t help myself.
Sometimes a book is quietly returned without any fanfare. I wonder if the book was finished, liked, disliked…

Last Thursday, Dinner with Edward: the Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent (2016) was returned. As I went to reshelve this new nonfiction book, I read the back cover: a memoir of food, NYC, and friendship - what could be better? I had to give it a try. Ignoring my reading lists, I took the book home. During the course of my busy weekend, I read the book with the not-too-long and not-too-short chapters and fell in love with the book and with Edward. Each chapter begins with a menu for their weekly dinner that will be consumed when Isabel visits her friend Edward on Roosevelt Island. Each menu sounds wonderful. My only wish would be that the author had included recipes as so many of my favorite cozy mystery writers do. A cocktail and “catching up” discussion are always part of each chapter as well as some background allowing us to understand Edward and Isabel's current discussion.

Although fiction, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson remind me of this sweet story. When asked for my current favorite, I will suggest Dinner with Edward.

~ Ann-Marie Sieczka
August 10, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Desk Set: News Librarians then and now

In the 1957 movie Desk Set starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, computer engineer Richard Sumner played by Mr. Tracy, plans to automate the TV network library run by Ms. Hepburn's librarian Bunny Watson. The librarian thinks her excellent memory can beat the computer's 'brain' in any fact-finding contest. In the end of course, Tracy and Hepburn fall in love and the computer does not replace the librarians, but only serves to supplement their brainpower.

I always loved Desk Set because in a strange life-imitates-art way, I was a librarian in a newspaper library before automation arrived. In the early 1980's I worked at the National Bureau of the Baltimore Sun. The bureau had offices in the National Press Building in Washington, DC and covered all the Washington news, every Federal agency from the White House to Congress to the Supreme Court. The reporters had incredible memories for their beats, but their filing systems seemed to be somewhat haphazard, consisting of piles of paper scraps and floppy discs surrounding their desks and weighed down by coffee cups. The bureau had a small library consisting of a few thousand books, a dozen or so regional newspapers and a wall of filing cabinets filled with clippings from those newspapers. The librarian maintained the clip files and created an index card file to search it. But mostly the librarian was expected to know every little thing off the top of her head - and quickly - because daily deadlines make reporters very anxious. When a reporter's brain or 'filing system' could not come up with the facts, he or she would run to the library demanding the information as soon as possible, preferably yesterday. Computerized news databases like Lexis Nexis were just coming on the scene at that point and the Sun did not yet have access to it. I had files on Congressional Budgets, Supreme Court cases, defense system tests, the invasion of Granada, the ongoing trial of John Hinckley and so on. Most importantly, I kept byline files for each correspondent. These files answered the frequent question,
An office filled with people fueled by lots of caffeine meant lots of fast talking and occasional  odd behavior, but I'm not telling. Well ok, there was the time a reporter flung all my files and books off my desk in a fit of pique. I stared at him speechless. He apologized and picked everything up like a small child. There was the reporter who would nap on the piled editions of newspapers on the library table display. There were the reporters who looked through my lunch bag to make sure I was not eating too much during my pregnancy. (Research, anyone?) There was the White House correspondent who told me what he thought about President Reagan's hair (Dyed? Probably.) There was the famous TV reporter who stole the library window. (Long story.) There was the copy boy who did not want to work in the library tearing articles for me because he thought he was destined for better things than that. I hope he found his Watergate by now.

But now, I don't know where all those old clipping files have gone or where people's memories have gone either. Newspaper research is so much easier using online research databases. Berkeley Heights Public Library has more newspapers online than I ever dreamed of back at the Sun. My clipping files could never compete with the resources listed on the library's Newspaper and Magazine Databases page. With a Berkeley Heights Library card, any patron can click their way through the entire New York Times back to 1857, The Star Ledger from 1989 to the current edition, the Independent Press back to 2006. Decades of the big regional papers I used to skim every morning, coffee cup in hand, like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post and USA Today can be found in the Proquest National Newspapers Expanded database. Our Ebsco databases indexes and provides full-text of thousands of magazines and research journals. It really is incredible and easier than scrabbling around in the newspaper morgue or calling in favors from other news librarians. Although that was fun too.

New York Times online from BHPL Website

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich

Mrs. Brown is a 66 year old widow who lives quietly in a small Connecticut town.
"Mrs. Brown was genteel. That's not a word used much signifies a graceful way, someone free from vulgarity and rudeness. Aristocratic in a manner having nothing to do with money, fame, and celebrity." (2)
While helping to clean out the mansion of the local grand-dame, Mrs. Brown comes across a dress.
"Lest there be any confusion, this was no "little black dress." ... It was the queen of little black dresses, the jewel in the crown. Mrs. Brown fell under its spell." (46)
Emilia Brown decides she must have her own Oscar de la Renta black dress with matching jacket. She does not have the money and she has never been to New York city, but she is determined to save money and travel to the Oscar de la Renta boutique in New York to buy the dress. This is the story of 'My Mrs. Brown' written by fashion writer William Norwich. My Mrs. Brown is  a charming little novel in the style of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. In the book, Mrs. Brown is given Paul Gallico's book Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris which mirrors her own story. She reads just enough to learn that Mrs. Harris, a cleaning lady, also fell in love with a beautiful dress and was determined to buy one for herself. Mrs. Brown does not read the whole book because she does not want to know how it ends.
Readers of My Mrs. Brown will be drawn into this story of a quiet woman's dream and how it all turns out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Monday at the Reference Desk: a Digression

At the Reference Desk: "But I digress"

A colleague of mine and I have noticed that we often wander from topic to topic, and have taken to saying,
"But I  digress" with a laugh to get ourselves back on topic after wandering around a bit into the weeds of arcana. (Ok, what are the weeds of arcana? But I digress.) Often the original topic or project eludes us after a while. Is this a hazard of being a reference librarian? Here is a typical day on the Reference Desk. The 'research librarians,' as we are sometimes called, specialize in being generalists. (Is that possible, a specialized generalist?)  Anyway, because anyone can ask us anything and often do, our days probably encourage this flexible habit of mind. (Flexible habit of mind, right LOL, some days we are just confused by all these digressions.)

Q: (Patron walks in with a tablet in hand) I heard that I can download books from the library to this. Can you show me? I am going on vacation and want to load my tablet up with books.
A:  Yes, let's have a seat and get you started. What kind of tablet is that? A rare Android. Aha. (I have an iPad so this is slightly foreign territory, but we persevere.) ( I  try not to think of Rara Avis which pops  to mind at the sight of his battered Android tablet.)
Twenty minutes later the patron is up and running with the Overdrive App, able to find books on eLibraryNJ and to download them to his tablet. Go to our 'All Things E' page to find the library's many downloadable resources. Patron is happy the books are free to borrow and are never overdue. I point out Project Gutenberg to him because he likes old, out of copyright, titles. Not a digression, but pertinent, right?

Q: Do you have a certain very popular title available for me to take on vacation tomorrow?
A: That very popular title is out, but it is available on eLibraryNJ one of our online resources for downloading books.
Repeat the lesson above, but without the tablet. Patron goes home with our downloadable tip sheet in hand with our phone number and reference email address in case she has more questions. We answer techie questions on the phone or by email. My hand waving/gesturing communication style does not work at all on those non-synchronous and impersonal mediums, but "needs must.' (Huh? I can't talk with my hands by email, is what I mean.)

Q: Where are the summer reading books for Governor Livingston High School?
A: Over here.... (Librarian resists impulse to say 'walk this way'  like Igor in 'Young Frankenstein...')
Librarian and student walk over to the summer reading area and talk about which books would be most fun/shortest/least awful to read.Let's face it, it is almost August and no one wants to read 'War and Peace' or 'Moby Dick' by Labor Day. No, those tomes are not on the local reading list.

Q: Where are the summer reading books?
A: (see above)
Hmmmm - questions are coming in two by two today. (It's a Noah's Ark day, but I digress.)

Q:  Publicist calls from local free paper and asks if he can take our events off our website and put them in the paper?
A: Yes! And we send you press releases too...

Q: Patron wants to know where local sandwich places are so he can take a break from studying.
A: OK, so I wave my hands a lot when I give directions to the 3 places near the railroad station and the sub shop.
Follow-up Q: Can I leave my stuff here while I run out for coffee and sustenance? (OK, he did not say sustenance.)
A: Well, sort of, but be sure to be back by closing time and we can't keep a close eye on your things, so don't leave your laptop etc.

Q: Do you have a thumb drive I can borrow?

Reference Desk Gargoyle
A: Yes, we keep a spare USB drive at the Reference desk. (We thought about attaching it to a giant thing to remind people to return it, but we ended up just attaching a (now) ratty piece of paper to it, saying it was for patron use. So far, it keeps coming home to us. We also toyed with the idea of using a gargoyle keychain, but I digress.)

Q: Can you find dryer reviews in Consumer Reports?
A: Yes, the back of the latest issue has an index and the yearly buying guide has the information too. (Suiting action to words, librarian produces CR reports on clothes dryers.) Patron and librarian bemoan the problems of mold in front-loading dryers, but I di.....)

Q: Why is your children's program listed as being at 10:30 pm?
Updating the Kids Page View
A: Because I miss-typed on the website. Whoops! (thanks to all you sharp-eyed readers for letting us know about typos and omissions on our website. Call or email the reference desk. Not to be defensive, but I update the website while people ask me about sandwiches and dryer reviews and summer reading... wait, what was the question?)

And finally,
Q: Do you have audiobooks of Oprah's Book Club selections?
A: Follow this link to Best Sellers and Award Winners that lists Oprah books and link directly into our catalog. (Full disclosure, Lisa, remembered this link on our website, so two head are always better than one when answering questions, even though two people can lead to digressions at times.)

More reference questions can be found in these posts:
Typical Questions 
Reference Questions Roundup
One Day at the Reference Desk