Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Shopping" at the Library

If I feel like shopping, instead of going to a store sometimes I drift around the nonfiction stacks and check out a pile of books, even though I will probably have time to read only one. This is way better than buying clothes that turn out to look bad on me outside of a dressing room or sports equipment I'll never use.

For browsing purposes I prefer the nonfiction stacks. One, because the books are newer-looking (nonfiction sounds kind of scary, so its books don't get as grubby as, say, any of our books by James Patterson). Two, the books are shelved by subject. Fiction is arranged by author, which means the fiction's section is actually a jumble. Jeffrey Eugenides is next to Janet Evanovich and Sophie Kinsella and Rudyard Kipling are cover to cover, and I have to think in order to choose between them.

But if I go to a certain place in the nonfiction stacks I have all the books written by people who gave up their perfectly good jobs to go live in Europe, or all the books on how to make cute crafty things, or all the CDs that teach Hindi. Then you pick out the ones that catch your eye, hand over your card, and cart them all home. It's exactly like shopping.

A Day in the Life of Libraries: Snapshot Day

Last week the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) coordinated a day where many libraries in the state counted all the books and other materials checked out, programs offered, movies shown, storytimes performed and so on. Berkeley Heights Public Library participated in the survey and sent BHPL's stats into NJSL. The Courier News covered Snapshot Day in an article in today's newspaper. Pat Tumulty, Executive Director of the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) is quoted in the article,
"We're looking at ... in these difficult economic times trying to figure out what would happen if we had no libraries in New Jersey by taking a snapshot of the incredible things that go on every day in New Jersey libraries."
All the library statistics are due today and will then be tabulated. For the results, go to the NJLA website and click on Snapshot Day (not yet posted.)
Here's what happened at BHPL on February 19, 2009:
300 library users came through our doors.
125 books classified as adult-level reading were checked out.
109 childrens books were checked out.
89 audiovisual items were checked out (DVD's, CD's etc.)
10 new library cards were registered.
29 newspapers and magazines were read in the library.
55 reference and research questions were answered.
55 people used the public computers for internet access.
1 volunteer
24 people watched a film at movie night
The meeting room was used by 5 different groups
The Technical Services Department cataloged 26 children's books, 28 adult books and 31 DVD's.
On this blog, we often write about reference questions. On Snapshot Day, the Reference Desk helped a mother find a poem for her 7th grader, found the date and time of the Columbia University Commencement, found and photocopied home remedies for age spots, and figured out who the detective in the wheel chair is for a fan of the Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffrey Deaver.

If you were to add up the dollar amount that represented in savings for BHPL patrons, it would be ... a lot. I figured I saved at least $1,200. last year by borrowing books from the library instead of buying them and that's only the books I finished.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Best Health Books for Laymen

Library Journal's article Consumer Health, 24 titles ranging from autism to spinal cord injury by Barbara Bibel. (LJ February 1, 2009) reviews 2008's best books in the field.
BHPL owns many, but not all, of the titles. A sample of what is available from our consumer health collection:
Spinal Cord Injury and the Family: a new guide by Alpert and Wisnia
The Myth of Alzheimer's by Peter J. Whitehouse
Techniques of Healthy Cooking from the Culinary Institute of America
Anatomy of Exercise: a trainer's guide to your workout by Kacy Duke
Head Cases: stories of brain injury and its aftermath by Michael Paul Mason
Medical Myths that Can Kill You by NBC medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman.

Hamish MacBeth's Latest Case

M.C. Beaton's 24th Hamish MacBeth mystery, Death of a Witch, was just released. Fans of the Highland constable will find that the author of this cozy mystery series delivers an engrossing page-turner featuring all the local color fans love to read. MacBeth returns from a disappointing vacation in sunny Spain to find that his beloved Scottish village, the fictional Lochdubh, has its own resident witch who is brewing up trouble. The fiery-haired bachelor has two old girlfriends and one new one all vying for his attention in this outing. The path of true love is not smooth for Hamish as usual, partly because of his jealous pets, mongrel Lugs and scary wildcat, Sonsie, who do not easily welcome newcomers to the small police station.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries, this discussion on an Amazon group will be of interest. In the Cozy Mystery Forum, Amazon customers recommend mystery authors to each other. You can join the discussion to recommend your favorites. Or try the Fantastic Fiction website to find author read-a-likes. Search for any author you like and it will show which others might interest you. Fantastic Fiction is also useful for listing series in the order in which they were written.

I just finished two very light cozies: Laura Childs' Chamomile Mourning, a tea shop mystery set in Charleston, SC and Cleo Coyle's Through the Grinder, a coffeehouse mystery.
A "cozy" mystery features a detective who is often an amateur, usually female, and the setting is often in a village or small community within a city. In the U.S., cozies exist for many interests and geographical regions. For example, Childs' amateur detective owns a charming restaurant that serves tea and light meals. The books include tea lore and recipes with the backdrop of historic Charleston adding charm and interest to the series. Coyle's coffeehouse mysteries give lots of information about coffee beans and brewing and some background on the history and architecture of Greenwich Village and SoHo in New York City.

Cozies are the descendants of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, but generally any mystery which features brains over brawn, the cerebral solving of the murder rather than shoot 'em up as the method, can be called a cozy. A cozy can also be defined by what it is not: it is not a police procedural like Michael Connelly's books; it does not feature the smart-alec tough guy like Robert B. Parker's Spenser; it does not have the depressing pall like Raymond Chandler's classic noir mysteries and so on.

Related websites: Cozy Mystery

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reference Review

A patron just asked for a list of classic books to jump-start her wish to start reading again. She was carrying a beautiful and very well-behaved small baby in one of those rocking carriers. We printed out the Time magazine list of 100 All-Time Novels for her. Kudos to her ambition. But...

...Maybe mothers with babies who are, how to put this tactfully? - little terrors - might want to try this Amazon list of best Chic Lit titles for some light reading. There were times when my kids were little that my main reading material seemed to be the old magazines in the pediatrician's office and trying to catch up with yesterday's newspaper at home while trying to keep it out of striking range of chubby little hands. That situation produces new mother guilt, see yesterday's post about reading guilt.

Related reading: I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. Young mother tries to balance work and baby and "have it all."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guilty Reading

Today two people confessed to me that they read light, entertaining books instead of the serious literature they felt they should be reading and were sure I was reading. This happens a lot. I suppose people admit to their dentist that they eat candy or tell their doctor they really don't exercise much and heaven knows what they tell their priest or spiritual advisor. It isn't just therapists, bartenders and police that get confessions of guilt. And there are all kinds of guilt, something for everyone. Food guilt, exercise guilt, shopping guilt and reading-dreck-guilt. Oh, and reality tv show guilt. But there seems to be something about being a librarian that makes people sheepishly confess that they really just want to read something light if that's ok. They approach the Reference Desk and it all comes out. "I like Danielle Steel." "I like Janet Evanovich." "I just want to read something to let me escape." "Something light, fast, not serious..."
OK, we get it. And guess what? Librarians read dreck too. Who do you think orders this stuff? The second person who confessed recommended a couple of light mysteries to me as we wandered around looking for something for her to read. So she went off with my recommendations for light reading and my bookbag sits by the Reference Desk, waiting to go - filled with guilty pleasures. I'll let you know if they're good.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Library by Any Other Name: taking the L out of Library Schools

Library Journal reports that Rutgers University's School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) has decided to remove the word library from its title. The article quotes the Dean,
"Dean Jorge Reina Schement offered extensive arguments for the name change, including an increase in the school’s competitiveness..."

Aside from being a slap in the face to librarians, library studies and the English language, it really is difficult to understand how removing the word library from the school's name will increase competitiveness. Looking at the google map of accredited library schools in North America, I noticed that a few of them have already rid themselves of the dreaded L word. Most institutions that offer a Masters degree in librarianship (library studies) have the word library in the school or department name however.

One waggish librarian and Rutgers alum of my acquaintance emailed Dean Schement asking for her tuition back. Generally, New Jersey is SCILS land as far as librarians' credentials go. I'm relieved to say that I went to a library school in a District far far away which has not succombed to the idea that library is a dirty word and I hope it never does.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Library as Second Home

Power is out in parts of Berkeley Heights today due to the high winds, and everyone seems to be converging on the library. We've got Internet, Wifi, and electrical outlets for your laptop. A teen without TV explained to us that you can watch DVDs on a laptop (as long as its battery is charged, of course). And if you prefer a book, we've got comfortable chairs to read them in.

JCP&L has a nifty web site with maps of current power outages (the catch-22 being that you have to have power to look at them).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Today is...

Author Charles Lamb's birthday, 1775
(Read the full text of his works on Bartleby.)

Nobel Literature prize winner and author of Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak's birthday, 1890

Playwright Bertholt Brecht's birthday, 1898
Watch and listen to Nanna's song on Youtube.

And the anniversary of the first time the New York Times put the slogan,
All the News That's Fit to Print (1897) on its front page.

Thanks to Chase's Calendar of Events 2009 (Ref 394 CHA)

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

On February 10 at 7:30 p.m., the evening book group will discuss Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which traces the family history (and curse) of the de Leons, a Dominican family which moves to New Jersey. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is filled with references to the comic books, films, and fantasy novels that Oscar loves; footnotes on the history of the Dominican Republic; and (untranslated) Spanish phrases, which make it unlike anything I've ever read before, including Drown, Diaz's previous book.

You can get discussion questions here and here. Wikipedia has an entry on the history of the Dominican Republic here.

Wondering what a mongoose looks like? I found an interesting interview with Junot Diaz in which he explains why he used a mongoose.

Footnote readers will find a reference to "Macondo vs. McOndo". According to Wikipedia, Macondo refers to the town in which many of the magic realist Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works take place. McOndo is a grittier, more realistic Latin American literature. In one interview Junot Diaz says "I'm thinking, like a Caribbean, why can't we have 'em both simultaneously?".

Diaz uses a lot of fantasy references as metaphors in his book. Yunior the narrator refers to himself as a Watcher, which you can read about in Wikipedia if you're not familiar with Fantastic Four comic books. There are also comparisons between the Dominican Republic under Trujillo and Mordor, the land where the evil Sauron had his headquarters in Lord of the Rings.

Questions for the Reference Desk

Monday: we've started off the week with the following questions:

In person, "Can I bring my Seeing Eye puppy into the library as part of his socialization training?" Yes, I almost jumped up and down with glee at the thought of a puppy at the library, but ran it by my Director before replying in the affirmative.

In person, "What' s the book that I was told every library would have and it's used at the Naval Academy and it's about California and all about ships in the 19th century?"
You don't mean Two Years Before the Mast, do you? Yes, that's it!
That's the rabbit out of the hat effect in reference. Sometimes, the right answer bubbles up from the subconscious. In this case, I remember my brothers reading the book, although I never did.

By email, the patron wanted the library to send for an obscure Revolutionary War document by interlibrary loan, but Googling the title turned up the entire text online for free. Amazing!

A patron wanted us to find a physician in Berkeley Heights. Ellen used the AMA Doctor Finder. People ask us to recommend physicians, but we can't (ethically speaking) do that.

Question by phone: find patents of lithium ion batteries using the U.S. Patent Office website.

Question by email: find how to get grants for a community organization. Ellen found several websites and reference books including

In person, find the book that the television movie, the Ben Carson Story was based on. Gifted Hands, the Ben Carson Story, autobiography of the Johns Hopkins brain surgeon.

Another ILL request by email from one of our regular ILL/emailers.
Moderate a blog comment which comes through email to be approved.
Questions about using the online catalog x 3 or 4 or more by days end.

By phone, question about finding census information for genealogical research. We walked the patron through using HeritageQuest online through JerseyClicks and signed her up for Ellen's genealogy computer class.

How to use the public internet computers x 3 so far
How to use the photocopier x 2 so far
Did I sign up for the financial class on Sunday the 15? Yes, we checked the list.
Where is Blink? It's not on the shelf. One out, one missing, we'll put it on hold for you.
Do you have New York State tax forms? No, but they are online and most locals need the Non-resident New York State form.
Patron brings up laptop which has threatened to go into the dreaded "safe mode." We avert that and the laptop starts up normally.
Where is the bathroom x 2 or 3 or...?
Ten minutes until school's out when middle schoolers run into the library by the dozens flinging their backpacks on the floor in the ideally litigious hot-spots near the bathroom doors and log into the internet to play, er "do homework, Mom, really."
And finally, as we await the thundering herd, a patron who says she has a "bizarre request." She is an artist searching for a particular type of image. We give her some hints including how to do a Google image search.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Saffron Kitchen

The library's Friday Bookgroup will discuss the Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther tomorrow at 10:30 AM. Penguin publishers offers a Reading Guide on their website. Listen to the author discuss the book on a BBC radio interview.

Hudson Hero's Library Book Overdue

NBC News reported last night that Captain Chesley Sullenberger called his hometown library to report that he had an overdue book and could he have an extension on the due date. The book is in the plane that the hero pilot landed on the Hudson River in an aviation emergency last month. The library has waived all fees and will put a book plate in his honor in the replacement book. The book was about professional ethics according to the NBC report.
Pulling off a one-in-a-million ditch into water with a 747 is heroic, but fessing up to having an overdue book under those circumstances puts Captain "Sullly" in the hero column for the nation's librarians.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Jersey Hall of Fame Adds Thirteen

The New Jersey Hall of Fame announced its sophomore class list, adding thirteen to the roster of famous Jerseyans (Jerseyites?) Inductees include Carl Sagan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Althea Gibson, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Robeson and Shaquille O'Neal.

Speaking of famous people, Columbia Middle School students have been asking for biographies of famous scientists or women or both lately for the annual, dreaded, read a biography-which-is-longer-than-200-pages assignment. Dreaded because biographies tend to come in two distinct formats: those shelved in the Children's Department tend to have fewer than 100 pages. Those residing upstairs in the library could double as doorstops and no kid wants to read them. Parents soon realize that there is a third and most desirable kind of biography, those which

1. interest your child

2. have just about 200 pages and no more

3. are approved by the teacher

4. are owned by the library

5. and finally, are checked out - because those are the books all 200 kids want to read and the early birds, or rather, early middle schoolers, have already checked them out while your child's assignment was still crumpled up in the linty recesses of his backpack.

All is not lost though, ask your friendly librarian and we'll see if we can dig up something your middle schooler will like and will actually be able to read before the next assignment comes along. Meanwhile, librarians will be combing the reviews for 200 page biographies of people who would really interest a middle schooler and when we find it, we'll order a few dozen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Use Your Library, it's good for you!

Not a day goes by, it seems, without an article in the newspaper about library usage being up during these bad economic times. Usually accompanied by a picture of library patrons surrounded by books or sitting at a computer terminal - looking for jobs on the internet (as per caption.) For any reporters looking for a scoop, there it is: Americans use libraries. A lot. Especially these days. Interview any librarian and they will tell you, business is booming.
Librarians like to be recognized as much as the next professional, maybe more, being the self-effacing introverts that we are. And anyone with a sense of the ironic will appreciate that while library usage goes up in bad times, library funding goes down resulting in closed branches, fewer hours open, smaller budgets for materials and so on. We are also noticing that using your local library is now included in those endless articles about how to live a more frugal life. Libraries have become a kind of Heloise Hint or bullet point in budgeting articles. Skip the video store, use the library! that sort of thing.
Regular library users have always known about the benefits of using the library and for those of you who, because of reduced circumstances, have been frogmarched to the library doors, Welcome! We wish we had met under better circumstances, but welcome.We hope you don't leave when boom times return. More than that, we hope that boom times return soon for everyone, not just for libraries.
Here are links to the latest news articles about libraries:
USA Today
Buffalo News
New York Times
Courier News
Wall Street Journal
Associated Press