weeding: how i did it

Weeding has been getting a lot of attention in library circles of late (or, er, in the library circles I hang out in, which is pretty much the LSW room on FriendFeed). The discussion comes from a story that revealed a major weeding project was underway at the Urbana Free Library and that it was being done hastily and without much librarian supervision.

Read the original story, a followup, and some statements from librarians for more information, but the gist of it is that the director wanted to get a major weeding project done quickly before a new RFID system was put in, and so she decided all the nonfiction older than ten years should be targeted, and librarians were to look only at lists when deciding what to keep, not take time to peruse the shelves. Oh, and much of this was done with temporary employees while the person in charge of the collection was on vacation. The result was that huge swaths of the nonfiction collection were reduced by 50-75%.

At best, this is what we call a major snafu; at worst, it’s a travesty of management, planning, and community relations. I lean toward the latter view, but I respect that, as they say in The Big Lebowski, new shit may come to light.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to talk a little about how to do major weeding in a more thoughtful way and about. As it happens, in my eight years in the library profession, I’ve been involved in three major weeding projects. They’ve varied in size and scope, but in every case, they represented a collection that had barely been touched in a decade or more. In my current job, I’m in the final stages of weeding the mystery and fiction collections. Here, then, is a bit about how I did it and what I’ve learned along the way.

The First Pass
I started by targeting things had not moved at all in the past decade. I ran a report of everything that hadn’t circulated in ten years and had a volunteer pull the volumes and bring them to me for deletion. I looked at these books only briefly in passing; a handful I retained either because they were the sort of classics I could imagine someone walking in the next day and wanting or because I had an immediate idea for a display that I thought would bring the books new life. Out of 500+ books on the list, I saved perhaps half a dozen.

The Second Pass
The second thing I wanted to do was eliminate old books with low circulation. I ran report for books more than twenty years old with five or fewer circulations. I saved more out of that group — sometimes for the reasons mentioned above; sometimes because they belonged to a series that we had all the other volumes of. In one case, eight out of the ten volumes of a series showed up on the list. The remaining two volumes had circulated only six times, just missing the cutoff, so I weeded them, too. There’s nothing more frustrating than a series that’s missing most of its volumes.

The Third Pass
We have enough money at my current library that when a book is very popular, we buy a LOT of copies of it. That’s great, as it means people who want to read the latest book by Janet Evanovich or David Baldacci don’t have to wait months to get it, but several years later, it means we have five or ten or fifteen copies of those books sitting on the shelves not getting checked out and taking up space. I had my volunteer pull so that there were only two copies left of everything. In some cases, I added a few copies back in, but for the most part, reducing duplicates has freed up a lot of space and made for a much nicer browsing experience. It is possible that in a few cases I was a bit overzealous. I was walking through the Bs today and noticed a gaping hole. “What the hell happened here?” I thought — and then, “Oh, Dan Brown.” We had two copies of The Da Vinci Code left, and both are currently checked out. Ooops.

The Final Pass
This is what I’m doing right now, and it’s the only truly time consuming part, since most of pulling was done by volunteers. At this point, I’m going out myself with a cart and walking through the shelves and looking for books that look old and tired. When I have a few dozen, I head back to my office to evaluate them. Now I am handling each book individually, looking it up to see how it’s circulated over the years, who its author is and what else they’ve written, what reader it might appeal to. The books with circs that were low but not quite low enough to have been caught on the second pass often get weeded. They are old and often musty. These are the popular fiction of twenty or thirty or forty years ago. From a cultural history standpoint, they’re fascinating — Fear of Flying was far from the only novel that examined women’s lives in the context of women’s liberation — but most of these didn’t get famous. Some of them may be good books, but in my library, their appeal factor will be limited. Twenty or thirty years from now my successor will be weeding all the issue fiction I’m buying now, as well she should.

The books with excellent circulation numbers I look to replace, if I can. Again, my library has enough money that I can buy new editions of Agatha Christie’s mysteries and Watership Down and the work of Isaac Asimov. We have excellent book menders, but sometimes a book is so old even they cannot save it. If I can’t find a replacement edition, I try to see if there’s something else we can do to clean it up. Sometimes just a new Mylar cover works wonders.

And sometimes I discovered things I had no idea existed, like a series of books about Swedish-Americans that will be perfect for a patron I know — a patron who will likely tell other patrons with similar tastes, and who will thus get these books out and about again.

This project started this past spring, and I expect to be done with it by the end of the summer. It should make our shelves look much nicer and it will, I hope, help get more books into the hands of patrons, which is where they belong.

night sweats: my book

Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, cover featuring an old sofaAs mentioned here previously, about a year and a half ago I had a baby (and, as often happens, nine months before that I got pregnant). Now, many months and many lunch breaks and late nights and thank God for babysitters later, I also have a book. It’s called Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, and you can buy it as a paperback or an EPUB ebook directly from Lulu.com or as a Kindle book from the Kindle store. It will eventuall be available through Amazon as a paperback, too, but apparently that takes six to eight weeks, so don’t hold your breath. I am also offering a free stapler to the first library to catalog it.

Half the proceeds for Night Sweats go to Our Bodies, Ourselves.

This book wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from a lot of people, but I’d like to give a particular shout out to a few people in libraryland:

Walt Crawford‘s book The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing led me through the process of taking my words and making them look like an actual book.

Amy Buckland led me to PressBooks, which made that actual book into a thing people can read as an ebook.

Steve Lawson took my photos and a half-baked idea and made a beautiful cover.

Jenna Freedman copyedited the book and reviewed it while it was in manuscript.

And David Fiander found a couple of glaring omissions in the EPUB version. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, entirely my fault.

And many of you — too many to name here — have read sections, offered commentary, chatted with me at various points while I was freaking out about either the book or the baby, and generally helped make this the best profession ever. My thanks.

an open letter to the Edwin Mellen Press

I should have written this a long time ago. My delay comes not from hesitation or indecision but from illness, and for that, I apologize. My thoughts may be late in coming, but they are no less sincere.

I am a librarian. My father, John M. Crossett, was a Classics professor. He was also, albeit not until after he died, an Edwin Mellen Press author. The Press published the Festschrift his former students and colleagues compiled in his honor and later the translation and commentary of Longinus’s On the Sublime that he did with James A. Arieti. Although I have been in touch with many of the people involved in both publications, the words and opinions here are my own.

Dale Askey is also a librarian. Several years ago, he published a blog post critical of the quality of the scholarship and books put out by Edwin Mellen Press. The blog post has since been removed, but Edwin Mellen Press sued both Askey and his current employer. Mellen has now dropped at least one of those lawsuits, citing, among other things, “social media pressure,” and, among others, that it is “a small company” and “must choose its resources on its business and its authors.”

I signed a petition asking Mellen to drop the lawsuit.

I know, at least by name and reputation, many of the people involved in the social media pressure, although I also know there are many more.

Librarians, like many professionals, are often quick to spring to the defense of one of their own, and we have done so in this case — the case of a man in trouble for having an opinion.

My father was a man of many opinions. Many of those opinions made him unpopular in the times and places that he taught. But his ideas — in the form of those who did admire him — found a home at Edwin Mellen, and I am grateful to the Press for that. My copy of Hamartia, inscribed by its editors to me, is one of my most cherished possessions.

There are few things my father and I would have agreed on (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gay marriage, abortion, and the Western canon spring immediately to mind as points of divergence). But I believe that he would agree with me on this one thing: a lawsuit is no way to respond to criticism. The proper response in a scholarly community to a disagreement is not to sue to but to argue. Make your case. Support your argument with examples from the text, from critics, from experts, from data.

John Milton, one of my father’s favorites, one of mine, and, I daresay, one of yours wrote

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.

Mellen has made a promise to keep all its books in print, and it has done so, thus preserving some life-blood that is quite precious to me, but I am just me. The quality of Mellen’s books as a whole, their place in libraries, and their contributions to scholarly discourse I leave for others to judge — I am a public librarian, not an academic. But as I judge books by their contents, I judge men and women by their characters. Dale Askey had the courage to voice an opinion. Edwin Mellen Press, on the other hand — you had the cowardice to try to shut that down. You believe Dale Askey tried to kill a good book, but he did not. He burned nothing; he destroyed nothing. You, on the other hand, are attempting to kill off the voice of a man. No one who claims to work in the tradition Milton defended, no one who “remains resolute that all have the right to free speech,” has any right to shut down a disagreement with a lawsuit — not, at least, if they wish to be found to be of good character.

Publishers Still Hate You, But They Want to Look Nice

I’m really glad that Simon & Schuster has agreed to make “an exception to their current national eBook sales policy for libraries” for my humble little state so we can have ebooks of the selection for this coming year’s statewide reading program.

I’m a lot less glad that there’s a policy Simon & Schuster needs to make an exception to at all. As American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan put it, “It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is ‘no good here.'”

The Iowa librarians who persuaded Simon & Schuster to make this exception had, apparently, quite a bit of persuading to do:

Simpson and Martin provided answers to a series of questions asked by S&S such as the history of the AIR [All Iowa Reads] program (now in its 11th year), how many Iowans read the AIR selection, how many copies are sold, names of past AIR titles, circulation numbers. “We gave the data we have,” said Martin. “While we don’t know the exact number of circulations of our selections, we do know that Iowa libraries own a total of 300 to 400 copies of each of the previous AIR titles.

The rest of the press release from the Iowa Center for the Book has a similarly librarianly, conciliatory tone. I don’t feel conciliatory. My gratitude toward Simon & Schuster is real, but it is neither wide nor deep. It shouldn’t be necessary to supply data to a publishing company to demonstrate that libraries buy books and patrons read them. We’ve been buying books from publishers for centuries now. It shouldn’t be necessary to beg, as a publicly-funded institution, to buy something that is freely available on the open market. Publishers ought to care about readers all the time, not just when someone begs them to make an exception.

I’m a librarian, and, as one of my library school professors said, librarianship is not a refuge. I’m a fighter, not a begger. Who’s with me?

patron schools reference librarian

Today a patron asked for “the phone numbers for some periodicals.”

I Googled (because hey, that’s how I find phone numbers) and discovered that both the titles I’d been given were for catalogs. I wanted to make sure that’s what she wanted so I asked a few questions. “Is this a magazine or a newspaper? It looks as though Newport News is actually a catalog.”

“Is that what you call it?” the patron said. “Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. Essence is like a catalog anyway.”

Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. This is the point where I think of my academic librarian friends beating their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to explain the difference between a magazine and an academic journal (not to mention the difference between a journal and a peer-reviewed journal), and also the point where I start to despair for the American public. Really? Catalogs and magazines are just the same thing? Gah!

Then I started to think about it. Lucky, after all, is from what I understand basically a magazine about shopping for stuff. Many magazines have more advertisements than they do articles. Then I was reading this little bit of the preview of The Science of Yoga on Amazon:

The colorful pages of the magazine offer a vivid example of how companies target the demographic. Hundreds of ads promote skin-care products, sandals, jewelry, natural soaps, special vitamins and enzymes, alternative cures and therapies, smiling gurus, and ecofriendly cars. Each issue features an index to advertisers.

Sometimes the patron actually may know more than we do.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t still try to differentiate between different kinds of information. But we live in a world where those lines are very blurry, a world where almost everything is for sale, a world where we are all a target market.

 

how do we explain patron privacy in a world of target markets?

Seven weeks ago, I gave birth to a baby boy. A number of things happen when you have a kid, but for the purposes of this post, I’m interested in the kinds of things you start getting in the mail.

As we learned from the New York Times a few weeks ago, Target has decided to figure out which of its customers are pregnant, the better to lure them in as new customers. (I now routinely get those checkout coupons to print out for baby stuff at the grocery store and the drug store even when I’m not buying anything that seems to me to be baby-related — it’s eerie.) Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, I got a letter from my insurance company congratulating me and letting me know about all the wonderful services they offer. And just now I got a letter from the hospital where I gave birth letting me know they’d be contacting me soon about participating in a research study.

I know that there is a difference between retailers doing complex data mining to figure out that I’m pregnant and insurance companies and hospitals who have access to medical records knowing I’m pregnant. Intellectually, I know that the retailers would kill for the information the hospital has. I know that my information at the hospital is safe, because it is guarded by privacy laws, medical ethics, and institutional review boards. But I only know that on a fairly abstract level. In practice, it doesn’t seem very different from the offers I get at the grocery store or the mailers of coupons that are delivered to my door. All of them come from people who know or suspect that I was pregnant or that I had a baby, and most of them come from people somewhat removed from my actual life, people I don’t know and to whom I have never spoken.

All this (of course) got me thinking about libraries, because, well, what doesn’t get me thinking about libraries? I spend a lot of time doing what I think of as library evangelism when I’m out and about in the world, and I’m always looking for the hook that I think will grab people. Whenever I talk to medical people, when they ask what I do for a living or explain HIPPA paperwork to me for the 900th time, I tell them that the library has as much concern for our patrons’ privacy as the hospital does for that of its patients. I tell them that, for instance, I cannot even tell you what your spouse has checked out of the library. I tell them that we will not turn over library records to law enforcement without a court order, and that even then, we will have precious little to give them, since we don’t keep records of what people check out. I tell them that this is a major component of my ethics as a librarian, that next to opposing censorship, it is the thing I hold most sacred.

They are always, always shocked.

If you work in a library, that comes as no surprise to you. You probably deal every day, especially at a public library, with people who want to pick up holds for their wives or husbands, people who want a list of every book their teenager has checked out, people who wonder why you can’t just give them a list of all the mysteries in a particular series that they’ve already read. At the same time, of course, you also probably deal with people applying for library cards who don’t want to part with their basic demographic information or their email address, because they don’t want you emailing them stuff all the time.

Let me tell you: there is no organization in the world LESS likely to use your email address for anything other than automated overdue notices. We won’t even email you when it might be helpful — we won’t email you about library closings. We won’t look at your card record to see if you have kids and start emailing you about story times and summer reading. We will not ever sell your email information to anyone, and, at least in theory, our databases are much more secure than, say, those of some newsletter you sign up for online (I’m not actually sure about that last point, but it should be the case).

But I get why people don’t get that. We are so used to being targeted by retailers and political campaigns and magazines that we see hospitals and libraries as just more people looking to sell stuff to us, or at least to fill our mailboxes with requests. The letter sitting on my table telling me someone will call me about participating in a study does not seem all that different, really, from the Amazon Mom emails I get — it’s just less colorful and has a lot more print. How we explain the difference to people — how we let them know it is important — is something I haven’t yet figured out.

january 2012 reading

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett — Unlike my beloved Citizen Reader, I loved Patchett’s latest novel. I didn’t feel the plot was lacking in action (although since my mother claims I only like books with no plots, you may want to take that with a grain of salt or three), and I loved the main character’s bafflement at being confronted with a series of alien cultures — first the city where she stays for the first part of her trip to Brazil and the expats who live there, then the village up the river in the jungle, then the secret world of the scientists who work there. The premise of the novel is that a drug company has scientists working in the field in Brazil to discover why the women in a particular tribe there are able to have babies into their 70s and to try to make a fertility drug using their secret. Having now experienced 39 weeks of pregnancy, I’m not sure why anyone would want to go through it at age 70, but I was captivated by the book nonetheless.

The Submission by Amy Waldman — Waldman imagines what would happen if there were a contest to design the 9/11 memorial and the person who won it turned out to be a Muslim American. I feel there must be a term for this sort of literature — books that introduce a societal shakeup and then show you how a variety of representative characters react to it (in this case, a wealthy liberal victim’s wife, a working class victim’s brother, an illegal Muslim immigrant, an activist lawyer, a banker, the governor, etc.) — but I don’t know what it would be. But in any case, I enjoyed following Waldman’s speculations.

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens — The January pick for the library’s mystery group. I believe Stevens’s claim that she did not base her character on Lisbeth Salander, but then I wasn’t much more impressed with this book than I was with Stieg Larsson’s. It seems like a fairly standard thriller to me — engrossing if you can suspend a certain amount of disbelief — but the only part I really liked was the setting. Most of the book takes place in Equatorial Guineau in western Africa. Stevens lived there for a couple of years, and you can tell.

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell — I’ve only read four books in 2012 so far, but I can tell already that this one is going to be a strong contender for the best book I read all year. Margo, fifteen when the book starts out, lives with her father near her extended but somewhat estranged family on a river in central Michigan circa 1979. The list of bad things that happen to her rivals that of Jude the Obscure (she gets raped by her uncle; her cousin kills her father; she ends up homeless on the river because she wants to avoid the child welfare people), but it’s somehow not a depressing book, or at any rate it’s so compelling, and Margo is such a strong actor in her own story, that you forget about being nothing but depressed.

To Hell With All That by Caitlin Flanaghan — Caitlin Flanaghan is a very stylish writer who makes insane generalizations and has apparently no understanding of what constitutes data or evidence. She is thus exactly the kind of writer whom I love to hate, and in the last week or so of pregnancy I was incredibly grouchy, and the idea of reading a book about which I could grouch at great length was very appealing and was indeed quite satisfying. It was almost as good as the arguments I used to have with Ronald Reagan (in my head) when I was a kid.

Love Works Like This by Lauren Slater — I am very fond of Lauren Slater’s books, but I hadn’t realized until I stumbled across this at the library that she’d written one about pregnancy and motherhood. Like Slater, although to a lesser degree, I have a long history of mental illness and I took a lot of antidepressants during pregnancy. I was less worried about the chemical soup my baby was swimming in than she was (my theory being that while the studies on antidepressants and pregnancy are inconclusive, the studies on maternal depression during pregnancy are very, very solid, and it’s a very bad thing, and so I chose the unknown risk over the certain one), and I had a different set of challenging experiences during the months I was pregnant, and a very different birth experience, but it was good to read a book that so explicitly dealt with pregnancy not as a time of sunshine and roses and high expectation.

november-december 2011 reading

Portobello by Ruth Rendell — The November mystery group selection. My group had a fine time explaining to me that this was Not a Mystery, which it’s not, by classical definitions, but I enjoyed reading it. I was never a mystery reader before, and leading this group hasn’t turned me into one, but it has led me to a lot of books I would never otherwise have read, and I’ve enjoyed more of them than I thought I would.

Learning to Drive by Katha Pollitt — I have loved Katha Pollitt’s writing since I first got a subscription to The Nation when I was sixteen. A couple of these essays first appeared in The New Yorker, and stylistically, they are the best of the bunch, but despite some unevenness, I loved the whole collection. If you’ve lived most of your life on the Left, it’s kind of great to get to read a book where people belong to Marxist study groups and have parents who were Communists and who generally write about the world you live in.

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein — I love fantasy novels that take place in the real world and rely on fairy tales, so I had very high hopes for this novel that takes its inspiration from an unknown Grimm’s fairy tale. It starts out in Berkeley in the 1960s, with two best friends dating two sisters who live with their eccentric — and, as it turns out, haunted — family in a sprawling, multi-style house up in wine country. Sadly, the rest of the book wasn’t quite as good as the first fifty pages or so, but I still enjoyed it.

The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler — December’s mystery selection. Dori Butler is the current president of our Friends of the Library group and the author of a number of children’s books. This one won the Edgar for best children’s mystery last year. It is narrated by a dog, and it’s both funny and sad, as dog stories often are.

Cherry by Mary Karr — I’ve read or listened to all of Karr’s memoirs out of order, but they seem to work that way. Someday perhaps I’ll go back and reread them in order and see if I have a favorite. I do love the opening line here: “No road offers more mystery than the first one you mount from the town you were born to, the first time you mount it of your own volition. . . ”

White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenaway — I actually read this sometime earlier in the year; I’ve forgotten just when, but it was wonderful, so I wanted to be sure to include it in the list. It’s about two girls with a photojournalist father during the Vietnam War. They’re living with their mother in Southeast Asia while he comes and goes, and they’re trying to figure out the war and growing up and their parents and the world.

L Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin — I may be the only person in the world who finds financial journalism both fascinating and soporific. As a result, I have listened to almost every Planet Money podcast several times, and so I was looking for something new and hit upon this one night whilst browsing my library’s eaudiobook collection. It’s sort of an odd book, being one of those nonfiction tomes with unspecified sources that nonetheless pretends to know what is going through Hank Paulson’s head at any given moment. But it served its purpose well enough.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones — If I were into making top ten lists, this book would be on one for sure. A man steps out on his wife and fathers a child with his mistress, whom he secretly marries. Then his wife has a girl just a few months later. The secret wife and child know all about the “real” family, but the real family knows nothing about the secret. The girls grow up in 1980s Atlanta, and of course, eventually, they meet. Searing and impossible to put down.

In addition to regular books, I also spent a good chunk of the second half of this year reading books on pregnancy and childbirth. Most of them are terrible — at least terrible if you are not an upper-middle class heterosexual married white person. Judging by the census data on births, relatively few mothers-to-be fall into that category these days. And yet in pregnancy book land, everyone has a committed husband and is just dying to buy pink or blue items to outfit their nursery. It’s astounding. It’s like some weird form of time travel. The book that contained the sentence, “If you have no knight in shining armor to change your kitty litter. . .” I nearly threw across the room. (It was a library book, so of course I didn’t. I just took it back the next day, as I did with a number of the books I checked out.)

For the record, though, there are a few that I made it through, so I’ll make some notes about them here.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth by the Boston Women’s Health Collective — This is the only book I read that I would actually recommend unreservedly. Given that I grew up with Our Bodies, Ourselves on display in many of my friends’ houses (oddly, I didn’t get my own copy until after college) and given my general proclivities, it is perhaps not surprising that I loved this book so much. But still. It is the only book I read that was consistently inclusive of single women, lesbians, women of color, women in unhealthy relationships, women who’ve suffered abuse, women with mental or physical health problems — in other words, the only book I read that seemed like it was about ordinary women. It also gets big points for being informative but not judgmental and for including a whole chapter (actually, a couple of chapters) on advocating for better care for pregnant women, babies, and new mothers.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin — If you really want the full on whacky hippie homebirth reading experience, you check out Spiritual Midwifery, which is charming in the way of all handlettered books from the 1970s. Gaskin clearly decided, however, that she needed to write something for slightly more mainstream audiences, and I was quite pleased with the result. The first half of the book is childbirth stories, which I actually find get kind of repetitive after awhile. The second half is a nice overview of the actual process of childbirth, which I found informative and reassuring. Of course, I haven’t actually given birth yet, so my mind may yet change.

Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting by Lucy J. Puryear — I had high hopes for this book, as it seemed to promise to focus on mental health issues (of which I have some) and pregnancy. It does, but it also falls very much into the trap of the happily married well to do pregnant woman who is happy to be having a baby. I would think that such a book might also want to address the emotions of single mothers, people who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, people who are disadvantaged. Sigh.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International — Hands down the most judgmental book I picked up in the course of perusing the shelves. A friend of mine saw me reading it and said, “That book was nearly responsible for the death of my first son.” I am not quite sure why I keep reading it, except that it’s full of such astounding hubris, like the quotation from the doctor who says that nobody deserves a full night’s sleep, and that after all, he gets up in the middle of the night to help his patients without, so a mother should get up in the middle of the night to help her own baby with joy. (My mother says, “Yes. Of course he gets PAID to get up in the middle of the night.”) In addition to thinking that (of course) anything other than full-time breastfeeding is bad, the book also thinks daycare is bad, working mothers are bad, and single-parent families are bad. I’ve just been reading it in the past month, which may explain why I find all of this hilarious rather than offensive — earlier on I think I would have found it much more upsetting.

Altogether, that brings me to 56 books for 2011. People keep telling me I will never read again after I have a baby, I will never read again, but I find this hard to believe. Stay tuned this time next year to find out how I fare.

[some of] august-october 2011 reading

I say some of because, truly, I’ve lost track of a lot of books I’ve read in the past few months. I moved on August 9 and have taken three weekend trips in the past three months, and, oh, there’s the whole pregnancy thing, so, you know, who knows? Anyway, here are the ones I can remember.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin — August’s mystery selection. As I’m not a mystery reader by nature, the group is always interested in whether or not I liked a particular book. Almost everyone liked this one, including me, although I liked it because it’s as much a book about boys in the South and race relations as it is a mystery. I’m not generally inclined to compare things to To Kill a Mockingbird, but Franklin’s book does have a bit of that feel.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson — I am hoping that Jenna will read this sometime so she can tell me if she thinks the Lower East Side is portrayed well in it. The novel concerns a group of kids who migrate from being drug users in Vermont to being straight-edge punks who get caught up in the scene in 1980s New York City and are even around for the Tompkins Square Park Riot.

An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country by Susan Rosenberg — I ran across this too late to include it as one of the readings for the Women in Prison section of the library’s new nonfiction book discussion group, but I figured I’d read it anyway just for more background. Rosenberg was one of a number of radicals — the kind who supported armed revolution — who got caught (usually as a result of stockpiling weapons or stealing large sums of money) and imprisoned for incredibly long periods of time. Such prisoners have, according to Rosenberg’s account, not only been imprisoned for longer than their crimes would usually merit but have also been treated radically differently from “ordinary” prisoners. Not that ordinary prisoners are treated well, mind you (as she’d be the first to acknowledge).

Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane — September’s mystery selection. I told the group that halfway through this book I realized what I don’t really like about mysteries and thrillers — I always know how they’re going to end. Oh, I don’t mean I know who done it — I just mean that if, halfway through the book, we’re in the middle of what seems like a climactic scene, I know perfectly well that it’s not going to be the climax, because there are 200 pages left in the novel, and no mystery denouement takes that long.

Flying Close to the Sun by Cathy Wilkerson — Having read Rosenberg’s book, I was on a sixties radicals memoir kick, so I decided to pick up this one from a few years back. I still think Growing Up Underground is the best book I’ve read in this genre, but there were some worthwhile moments in Wilkerson’s book. I was (not surprisingly) most touched by her descriptions of getting pregnant and having her daughter while still living underground.

Witch Way to Murder? by Shirley Damsgaard — October’s mystery selection. About as serious as it sounds. Bleah.

Madness by Marya Hornbacher — I’ve never been able to make it through Hornbacher’s first book, Wasted, because reading about eating disorders always makes me feel ill, but I was interested to run across this memoir and learn that her primary diagnosis turned out to be not anorexia but bipolar illness (and its frequent attendant, alcoholism). Hornbacher’s style can be distracting to read, but it’s a pretty good approximation of what mania sounds like.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan — A novel narrated by three generations of women while visiting their family’s Maine summer home. Sullivan manages a minor miracle in handling shifting perceptions — the character I started out liking the best was the one I was most irked with by the end, and the character I was most annoyed with at the start was the one I most sympathized with by the end.

Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett by Jennifer Gonnerman — Elaine Bartlett was arrested (as part of a sting operation) with just enough cocaine to kick in a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. She received clemency after 17 years, but, not surprisingly, life was not much easier outside of prison than it was inside. Gonnerman, a journalist for the Village Voice, followed Elaine for her first year out and tells her story. We read this for the Women in Prison discussion, but it would also pair well with Random Family (my review).

Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women by Victoria Law — The final book for the Women in Prison discussion. Law documents the largely undocumented work that women in prison have done to organize for their own betterment, whether through forming peer education groups (surprisingly, these are often frowned upon by prison administrators — God forbid prisoners teach each other about HIV!) or going on hunger strikes. Very revealing.

 

librarianship is about showing up

I always love reading philosophies and manifestos and that sort of thing, so I’ve been enjoying the philosophies of librarianship that people have been posting lately.

I’m better at reading these things than I am at writing them myself, but it dawned on me this afternoon that probably what I mostly believe about librarianship is that it is about showing up.

Today I have not worked any desk shifts, nor have I placed any book orders or run any reports or done much else of a concrete and quantifiable nature. What I’ve mostly done is what I think of as staffing the Reference Desk of the Library Staff. That means that I sit in my office, and then sometimes I get up and walk around and do roving reference, and I talk to people on staff who come and have questions, or I go say hi to them and see what conversation ensues.

The first thing I asked for, before I even started work here, was that they rearrange my office furniture so that I didn’t have my back to the door. I like being able to see people coming, and while it’s sometimes useful to have a private office for certain conversations, I like having my door open and my windows into the main work room uncovered. And I like going to talk to people in person instead of just sending them emails.

So yes: I show up. I engage with people. I help people find stuff. That’s half of it, at least.

But the other half of librarianship, to me, involves something else I’ve written about: that the encounter between the librarian and the patron is meeting between two experts. I don’t mean that to deny the expertise of the librarian, which I think is real. But I want whenever possible to remember that along with that expertise comes a power dynamic, and that just because I may have more perceived authority in the library than the patron does not mean I am more important.

People talk a great deal about how libraries are great socialist institutions, and I think that’s true. But I want them to be great anarchist institutions, too: places where we face each other not as supplicant and benefactor but as people with different skills involved in mutual aid, both trying, in our fumbling way, to build a better world.