Friday, April 22, 2011

"I'm so glad we had this time together."

Or as they used to say on the airline skit on SNL, "OK, buh-BYE." If you're actually one of the 3 or 4 people who pay any attention at all to this self-indulgent glimpse into the carefully crafted public image I allow to represent what's going on inside my head, you might be wondering what's been happening here. For a few weeks now my co-workers have been in pursuit of self-improvement (oh, and CE credits) by completing a series of "23 Things" designed to help them develop new skills with technology. I'm a little handicapped in this effort since it takes a bit of effort beyond the assignments to feel like I've actually learned something. So, the preceding series of posts is largely my effort to take seriously the challenge of expanding my skills. At the same time, I wanted to try to offer something that might be useful or enlightening to anyone who might inexplicably find themselves here and decide to hang out for longer than it takes to type in the address bar.

So now, having completed the 22 actual "Things" I'm left with Thing 23, reflection on the experience. I have two conclusions.

1. Technology is constantly evolving. Even a service like Flickr that I've been freeloading off of for years (I refuse to pay for it so I live with the 200 picture limit) is continually developing new features and changing the way the site works. So the work of staying caught up with that sort of technology is never finished. I can see why for some people that's not inspiring. In a place like a library that's built on the philosophical foundation that "knowledge is power" no one can really afford to sit still.

2. There's something significant to be said for the effect that shared experience has on people. I've seen the success of the "23 Things" concept first hand now and can attest that it had a positive impact on workplace morale that exceeded what I would have expected. Listening to people talk about their own experiences, they don't necessarily first mention how useful that database is or how handy that newsletter is. Instead, they talk about the people that helped them complete the exercises, the encouragement they got from others, or the courage they found in knowing that everyone was in it together. I don't think you can separate the value of those two experiences--the learning and the bonding. That combination is what makes it so difficult for online learning to measure up to classroom-based education, and it's why we all tend to end up being true to our school.

Congratulations to everyone who completed 23 Things. Thank you to the committee and sub-committee that made it happen. Now what?


Don't know what to read next? Try Novelist.

Novelist is a subscription service from EbscoHost that many public libraries offer to their registered users. It provides a number of ways to search for titles that you might enjoy, maybe because other people liked them, maybe because they're similar to other books that you liked, or perhaps because you're looking for something totally different from what you've been reading.

My favorite way to use Novelist is to put in a title that I really liked, and then look at the genre, subject, and location descriptors to see which things appealed to me the most. Then I use those for locating a new author or a related book, or maybe to branch out to something that I hadn't paid much attention to before. One author I discovered this way is Mayra Montero. She's a Cuban writer who I found on Novelist by starting my search with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I've read several of her books and found each to be engaging and well written. Set in Caribbean tropical locales they contain intrigue and I feel immersed in a culture totally different from my own. She writes in Spanish and I think the translations were done by Edith Grossman, who has also translated Garcia Marquez. Montero's book In the Palm of Darkness is about a biologist searching for a near-extinct species of tree frog in a rain forest. It's a great introduction to her work for someone who's never given her a try.

If you have Louisville Free Public Library card, you can access Novelist from the Research Tools page.


Bookletters: they're like letters about books.

One under-appreciated service provided by many public libraries, including Louisville Free Public Library, is Bookletters, a collection of email newsletters that you can subscribe to. They vary in subject matter and frequency, but they all contain short descriptions about new or important books and a link back to your local public library catalog so you can check the catalog or place a hold request. I'm personally subscribed to the non-fiction Bookletter. It seems to me that this are really useful for library users who want to find something new to read. It's more informative than a simple list since you get descriptions, book jackets, etc. but briefer than a full review. And if I were still working the reference desk I'd be browsing these to know what people were going to be coming in looking for. Two of the most useful newsletters for that purpose have to be the "Book Sizzle" and "Books on the Air" Bookletters, which highlight the titles that are getting attention in the press or whose Authors have been making the rounds on popular TV talk shows.


"What can a rebuttal do to an incantation?"

Abraham Lincoln was more intellectual than you've ever been told. The Gettysburg Address was more thoughtfully and carefully prepared than you've ever understood. And its impact was at least as enormous as you've always thought it was.

I recently saw Black Swan at the cinema. And as good as that movie is, I wonder if it's hard to make a movie when you have Tchaikovsky's lush Swan Lake score as the musical backdrop for whatever is happening on the screen. Not to take anything away from the actors who did a first rate job in their respective roles, or the director who created some stunning visual images. But wouldn't you really also have enjoyed listening to the soundtrack while watching an unedited live webcam pointed out onto Central Park?

Likewise, I imagine it's hard to write a bad essay if you get to quote Lincoln's Gettysburg Address repeatedly. But Garry Wills has gone beyond that. In Lincoln at Gettysburg he's accomplished a couple of things that as a geeky historian type I find thrilling. First, he's explained exactly what the Gettysburg Address was and what it was not (for instance, it was NOT the keynote address of the day--that was a long-winded and best-left-forgotten speech by Edward Everett). And second, he's explained WHY it has become what it is for Americans--essentially a post-war (post Civil War, in case there's confusion about that) re-commitment to the principles of our nation's founding. But it was also a work of rhetorical genius that resulted from President Lincoln's intellect and learning. Not exactly the story as widely understood in American popular mythology. This is an important book, worthy of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1993. Now time-tested, it's still a great read that will change how you look at Lincoln, how you hear the words and phrases of the Gettysburg Address, and how you view the last 150 years of American history.


In one ear and out the other?

Learn French by Podcast? I don't see how it could possibly work any less well than any of the other ways I've tried to learn a foreign language. And it wasn't wasted time really, since even if I'm still functionally uni-linugal, I can rock some crossword puzzles and occasionally figure out what I'm ordering at a French restaurant without having to say something like, "now what exactly are 'poissons?'"

So, I'm a "fan" of podcasts, but not so much a consumer of podcasts. That is, I've listened to some, and in one case even helped mount and "produce" one. But I've never been motivated enough or organized enough to actually have my itunes and my ipod conspire together to produce an ongoing body of work for me to listen to. So I still do podcasts the old fashioned way, by going to the site and getting the one I want and listening to it. I'll call it an area for future growth and leave it at that for now.

As for that podcast I helped produce? That would be the newly launched series of podcasts from the Louisville Free Public Library. Only one entry now, but more coming soon. Details? You can find those at iTunes, or here:


Interesting? Maybe I hope not.

I had a professor on my thesis committee who used to "encourage" us never to describe anything as "interesting." He called that particular adjective a "non-word" that doesn't really describe whatever you're talking about. So his direction was to actually decide what it was you wanted to say, and say that instead. Over time I came to believe he was completely right about that. With that in mind, here's an interesting book that you can download from and listen to, in only 7 hours and 34 minutes. Well, you can download it and listen to it if you have an LFPL library card and an mp3 player (or, I suppose, a computer would do too.)


Eternal Chalice: the Grail in Literature and Legend
Modern Scholar; Unabridged.
by Potkay, Monica Brzezinski.
Publication: Prince Frederick, MD, [Boulder, Colo Recorded Books, 2007.
Subject: Grail.
Grail in motion pictures.
Downloadable audio books.
Language: English
Duration: 7 Hours 34 Minutes
Product ID: 186125
EISBN: 9781429457613
ISBN: 9781428116764
File Size: 155 MB (CD Quality)


An interesting video? Yeah!

The "100% accurate" Louisville Youth Orchestra opening for My Morning Jacket at the Yum! Center on October 29, 2010. (15)


A Couple of Nice RSS feeds

If you want to keep track of new DVDs that have been added to the Library's collection, there's an RSS feed for that. You can find the RSS feed here. So, I added that to my Google reader feeds. There's a great selection of discs that includes Criterion collection movies, documentaries and PBS-type shows.

I also added a feed to the Library Renewal site. If you haven't gotten to know it, you might want to give it a look. Library Renewal is a group of library supporters, workers, and activists who are fostering dialogue about changes in the publishing industry and the effects of those changes on libraries. Their site is at

(13 & 14)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Round Up

Lucky photo of a ride at the Kentucky State Fair. ISO 100, f3.2, .25sec, 9mm.