Friday, October 28, 2011

Local Librarian Insists Book is Not Dead

While wandering the halls between sessions at a conference of New Jersey reference librarians, who should I bump into but our occasional blog contributor, Marian the Librarian. Just the person to give me the unvarnished truth about the future of books in a digital world. Marian is an avid attendee of continuing education classes as you can read about in her previous posts on this blog and she is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Is there a librarian in the house?
Time Management in Libraries

Me: Marian, did you go to the session about the book being dead? What do you think?
Marian: Anne, don't you think we need to define book and dead before we have that conversation? By book, do we mean the bound book, formerly known as a codex, which replaced the scroll, or do we mean the contents of the book in whatever delivery format it exists? Is a book on CD still a book or has it become something else? A weasel perhaps? No, absolute rubbish! It's still a book. If a book thrums electronically over the wireless cloud of the internet to land on your ereader, is it the same book that sits on the shelf in the library or is it fundamentally different?
Me: Yes, of course, I see where you are going with this...
Marian: (fixing me with a gimlet eye to stop my interruption) And dead? DEAD! How can the book be dead when they are still everywhere? Did I miss something? Have all the book collections on every shelf just vaporized overnight?
Me: No. Erm. That was a rhetorical question, right?
Marian: Let's hear no more about this dead book talk. Excuse me. I want to eat my box lunch and read the book I just downloaded from ListenNJ. It's due in five days.

Libraries: Between a Codex and a Hard Place

Recently I attended a conference for New Jersey reference librarians entitled: "No Turning Back: Moving Forward in the Digital Age." In the face of the increasing digitizing of the information world, with e-books, e-readers, downloadable books, reference book databases online, library catalogs and websites available on smartphones and so on, librarians today are confronted with a rapidly changing world. In the face of this challenge, librarians did what we do second best: we had a meeting. This is the situation as it is now.  Public libraries serve the younger generation, the so-called digital natives who have grown up with cell phones and computers. Libraries also serve a large population of patrons who are not computer literate or who lack access to computers. Libraries should offer access to books and information in two formats: digital and pre-digital. Straddling these two worlds can get costly. For example, the Berkeley Heights Public Library has the revered Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the shelves in the Reference Department and the online version is available from the library website's Databases and Articles page. The same arrangement, having online and on-the-shelf versions of books and reference books, is common but not universal throughout the collection. To take another example: the library owns two hardcover copies of John Grisham's latest bestseller Litigation, one copy in large print, and one audiobook version on CD. Plus five copies of the book are available as a downloadable audiobook from ListenNJ which Berkeley Heights Library patrons can use. Depending on budgets and availability and demand, ListenNJ may also add an ebook version of Litigation. The principle idea of public libraries: to acquire and make available books and other educational and recreational materials to a wide audience for free, is the same as it has always been historically. It's just that the choice of format has changed and grown. And of course the technological and monetary aspects of electronic formats create a challenge for librarians and patrons. More simply put, what should we spend library money on if a book comes in several formats? This is not a new question: trying to achieve a balance in maintaining and building a library collection has always required consideration of the budget, the population served, the content of the work (reviews, how it fits in the collection) and the format (book, music, magazine and now digital versions.)
Back to the conference: librarians, like booksellers and publishers, would like to have a crystal ball to tell us what the future holds not only for books, but also for the future of libraries and related institutions. The conference did not provide answers, probably because there are no answers. When did buggy whip manufacturers realize they were on the way out, the Dodo of 19th century technology? Did the buggy whip makers start to diversify early enough to save their livelihoods? Maybe some started making automobile parts if they were really flexible and prescient in their outlook. That's what anyone in the book business or in a wider sense, the information business, has to do: be flexible, stay informed and stay-tuned.
If having a meeting is what librarians do second best, what is it we do best? For reference librarians, we hope we help our patrons find the information they need when they need it and in the format which they prefer. Just ask, we're here to help and all of us are between a codex and a hard place.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tell Me of Lincoln

In the 1920s, a sculptor planning a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln interviewed over sixty people who had met Lincoln, including some eyewitnesses to his assassination. Although the sculpture was never completed, James Kelly's notes and papers were preserved by the New York Historical Society. In 2003, Civil War expert William Styple encountered the Kelly Papers while doing research for his book Generals in Bronze. Styple was inspired to edit and publish Kelly's interviews in Tell Me of Lincoln: Memories of Abraham Lincoln, The Civil War & Life in Old New York, which was released in 2009.

William Styple will be at the Berkeley Heights library (on the upper level due to the renovations going on downstairs) on Saturday, November 5 at 2 p.m. He will talk about Tell Me of Lincoln and sign copies afterwards. William Styple has written, co-written, and edited over 20 books on the American Civil War. His 1998 book The Little Bugler won the Young Readers’ Award from the Civil War Round Table of New York City. He has appeared on Book TV/C-Span several times over the past ten years, and most recently last April on FOX News commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Firing on Fort Sumter. William Styple also worked on the production of several Civil War films such as Glory and Gettysburg. He is currently active in battlefield preservation and is writing the biography of New Jersey General Philip Kearny.

Friday, October 21, 2011

HeritageQuest is Back

HeritageQuest, the genealogy database that lets you search US Census records, is available to BHPL card holders again. Berkeley Heights residents can access HeritageQuest via the Internet even on their home computers, for free. Just go to and click on Databases/Articles, or go straight to After you click on HeritageQuest, you'll be prompted for your BHPL library barcode number.

In HeritageQuest, you’ll find U.S. federal census records, family histories, published genealogies, historical books, Revolutionary War records, Freedman’s Bank records, and more to help you trace your American ancestors’ paths across history.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4

After the new drywall was installed, the children's room needed to be painted. Painting began late last week.

The stairs between the upper and lower level were repainted. No more beige walls!

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:

Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Noir is not my usual choice of fiction, but I was going to San Francisco and wanted to get a feel for the city. Somehow The Maltese Falcon got read; China Boy by Gus Lee didn't - maybe because of Anne's blog post on hard-boiled detective fiction:
Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe . . . blunder through their books being bopped, “packing heat”, meeting shady dames, drinking too much hootch, with or without a Mickey Finn, and all that hooey.

In The Maltese Falcon, private eye Sam Spade and femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy look for a jeweled statue of a falcon that the Knights Templar of Malta sent to Charles of Spain in the 16th century. Not only is it valuable but it's somehow tied to the death of Spade's business partner. It's a fast-paced read, with lots of twists and wild goose chases, but ultimately it's the dialogue that makes it worth reading.

A few years ago my sister in San Francisco took Don Herron's Dashiell Hammett tour. Apparently Hammett used The Maltese Falcon to rewrite some Continental Op stories that he didn't like. Don Herron has also written a guidebook.

If you've read The Maltese Falcon already, check out Marissabidilla's theory that Rhea (the fat man's daughter) and Wilmer (the gunman) are the same person.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Library Book Group Dukes it Out Over Charming British Novel

Last night, the library's Tuesday night book group discussed Julia Stuart's 2010 novel, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise in a surprisingly spirited exchange of opinions. Ms. Stuart's novel, a charming love story about a Beefeater and his wife who live in the Tower of London, was well-received by the critics when it was published. This blog's favorable review of it can be found here. However there were several readers in the group who did not like this book at all and who did not find its humor humorous and who could not finish the book. Their reaction seemed surprisingly strong considering the fairly innocuous nature of the book. Ms. Stuart's style is low-key, the characters are quirky; the overall tone is one of a gently humorous and sympathetic look at people's lives. Librarians believe "every book its reader." Maybe Dr. Ranganathan's Third Law of Library Science needs a corollary: "every book its non-reader." But that's o.k., book groups are a good way to try books outside your usual reading zone and you will never know which book is yours until you try it. I liked The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise very much, but if you have an aversion to whimsy or quirky, best stay away from it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Where Mark Twain Met Tom Sawyer

San Francisco: A Cultural and Literary History by Mick Sinclair was the only book small enough to fit into my carry-on when I visited my sister there last week. Despite its slimness, it had a million interesting facts (or at least my sister pretended they were):

During the 19th century gold rush, sailors abandoned their ships and passengers as soon as they reached the Bay. The abandoned ships were used as landfill to create what is now the Financial District, or in the case of two of the ships, a prison and a hotel (page 13).

You'll never see the Transamerica Pyramid the same way, knowing that "Mark Twain shared the basement steam baths with one Tom Sawyer" in the Montgomery Block, the first building built on the site. See page 138.

Flying books near City Lights, the bookstore of Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published Allen Ginsberg and other Beat poets

San Francisco had an outbreak of the bubonic plague one year after the 1906 earthquake (page 41).

I didn't make it to the Cow Palace, but when I saw the sign for it on US-101 I thought of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. They went to a Beatles concert at the Cow Palace in 1965 not realizing the crowd would be mostly screaming young girls (page 200).

Mick Sinclair also introduces his readers to the wit of deceased San Francisco journalist Herb Caen, who coined the word "beatnik" and described Haight-Ashbury as "Hashbury" (page 102).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mimes Make Perfect Library Cops

Ain't the internet great? I just saw an article about mimes being used as traffic cops in Caracas, Venezuela which you can read here. The idea is that mimes dressed in bright clown costumes will silently persuade dangerous drivers to slow down by gesturing like, well, like mimes. The Associated Press article tells us:
"About 120 mimes dressed in clown-like outfits and white gloves took to the streets of the Sucre district this past week, wagging their fingers at traffic violators and at pedestrians who streaked across busy avenues rather than waiting at crosswalks."

Now, this strikes me as a truly bizarre approach to law enforcement, but the article goes on to say,

"Mayor Carlos Ocariz of Sucre, in the eastern part of Caracas, turned to the mimes to encourage civility among reckless drivers and careless pedestrians. He is following the example of Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who combined mimes and stricter police enforcement in a program that was widely seen as a success."

AP photo of mimes directing traffic
So, who knows, maybe in other cultures, mimes are held in high regard or even feared? I think in New Jersey drivers would be sorely tempted to run over mimes. But this whole mime-as-enforcer made me realize that mimes and libraries are perfect together. People are constantly noting that libraries are not as quiet as they used to be. Those same people usually go on to note that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and who am I to disagree? Since the lower level of the library, the Children's Room, has been closed for a while due to hurricane damage, the library is filled with middle school students from 3 - 5 pm every day and this is where the mimes come in. We of the librarian persuasion have been unable to persuade the kids that they should be quiet in the library. Do you think a few wandering mimes holding up their hands in the universal gesture for "stop" or covering their ears and cringing as though in pain from the noise, or pretending to climb in an imaginary glass box out of which they cannot get or into which they put a middle schooler, would that work? How about pretending to blow away the kids in a pretend wind storm?
Related books: the library has a couple of books about mimes, but they are packed away until the Children's Room is reopened. If you are desparate to learn how to mime pulling on an imaginary rope or pretending to walk down non-existent stairs, just search YouTube for mime videos and you will be able to amaze and astound your friends and maybe apply for a job in Caracas!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cleaning Up After Irene: Part 3

The Duct Dudes ("Your Air Pollution Solution") are cleaning the air ducts of the library - the next step towards getting the children's department back to normal after tropical storm Irene hit.

You can see the boxes that hold the children's book collection in this photo.

Until the restoration is complete, a small collection of books from the lower level are available on the upper level. Clifford the Red Dog is sitting on top of the children's book shelves (formerly foreign fiction). YA fiction is located on the book case at the top of the stairs where the monthly book display used to be.

Cleaning Up After Irene - Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene - Part 1

Japanese Ceramics Exhibit

Ceramic art by Ritsuko Moore of Rokkaku Ceramic Studio is on exhibit in the lobby of the library through the end of October. Some of Moore's work on display includes examples of raku firing, tableware, tea pots and other pots, serving sets, and vases. Selected works by students of the Rokkaku Ceramic Studio are also on display in the wall cabinet.

The following is from Ritsuko Moore's website:

Ritsuko was born and raised in Japan. She started studying ceramics seriously in 1985 in Tokyo. Since then she has taken ceramic courses and kept learning her skills in London, Chicago, New Jersey, and San Francisco. In 2002, she set up her own studio in San Francisco and started to share her ceramic skills in her community. At the same time, she participated in local pottery sales. In 2006, Ritsuko moved back to NJ and built a new studio. Currently she has been creating pottery for sales and art competitions. Ritsuko also teaches small classes in her studio and in local schools.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Last year, the book group said they wanted to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It was a bestseller at the time, so we waited until it had been out for over a year and a half. What we didn't know was that it was an eternal bestseller. The book group had to share copies and read it in half the usual time. But I think the trouble was worth it.

The author's extensive web site describes the premise of this odd hybrid of biography, investigative journalism, medical ethics and science this way: "Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same."

Dwight Garner of the New York Times describes it: "A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of Erin Brockovich, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Andromeda Strain." You can read the Sunday NY Times book review here.

Check out the author's page for reading groups for the discussion questions and more. Book group member Marilyn recommends Real Simple's online book club blog posts about the book (parts 1: Life, 2: Death, and 3:Immortality).