Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week 2011
There are plenty of ways to celebrate Banned Books Week. I personally like to sit in very visible public place in my Intellectual Freedom Fighter t-shirt and a copy of "The Anarchist Cookbook," but you may have a more subtle way to show your disdain of censorship.

There is plenty you can do, libraries and bookstores all over the country host Banned Books Week events. You can watch YouTube videos of your favorite authors reading from Banned Books as well as other promotional videos.

If you're more the social networking type, you can follow Banned Books Week news and events on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr

You can check out the ALA's Ideas & Resources page to create your own Banned Books Week event or you can see what other organizations are doing to support Intellectual Freedom. There are plenty of ways to get involved and show your support.

My favorite thing on the BBW website is the map of challenges to book in libraries and schools. The map only shows the reported incidents; the ALA estimates 70-80% of challenges go unreported.

Don't be complacent about censorship. It is never acceptable in a free society for someone else to tell you what you can and cannot read the same as it is unacceptable for someone to tell you what you can and cannot think. 

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." -Heinrich Heine

Top 10 Challenged Books in 2010
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group
Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group
What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint
Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit
Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mad Librarian Skillz

A friend of mine is getting married this weekend and while talking to her at her bridal shower a few weeks ago, she told me about a Thoreau quote they wanted to use at the wedding. They could not, however, figure out where the quote came from.

Being the good librarian/information junkie I am, I offered my services.

She emailed me the quote and I dug in. I figured a Google search was in order first and if I had no luck I would go to the library and use a quote dictionary. Well, the Great Google did not fail me (All hail the Great Google!).

It turned out the quote is not from one source, but three. My friends probably found it on one of those quotation websites, which are none too reliable, and couldn’t find the citation because they’ve been searching the whole quote (which was misquoted at any rate therefore harder to find), not the parts.

Helpful Librarian Hint: When choosing a quote for a special occasion (i.e. wedding, baptism, bar/bat mitzvah, etc.) use a quotation dictionary. This kind of dictionary ensures correct wording and source and you can usually search by who said it, beginning of quote, and/or subject. It’s a very useful tool.

I was able to track down all three parts of the quote with relative ease because I’ve been trained on research techniques and it’s what I do for a living. In fact, I was not only able to verify that all parts were, in fact, originally Thoreau, but I was also able to find what they are cited from (including a direct links to places on the web where the original can be found; thanks Google Books (All hail!)), and the original wording of all three.

Helpful Librarian Hint: If you are having trouble with any search topic, try adjusting or rearranging the wording, shortening the search terms, using synonyms, and don’t be afraid of Booleans! Booleans are your friends!

Now my friends will be able to use a more accurate Thoreau quote, or quote mash-up, to begin their married life which will obviously be better luck than using some dubious thing from a quotation website. I have just saved their marriage from the dark cloud that covers all things tainted by faulty research.

This is why librarians are necessary.

Post Script: I’m aware this entire article is rather self-satisfied and smarmy. Deal with it, I’m awesome.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Save the Librarians

Do other professions spend as much time as mine defending their existence? I tend to think not. I very much doubt other people suffer the indignity of being asked, “You need a degree for that?” whenever you tell a new person what you do for a living.

True statements about librarians:

1) The profession requires at least a Master’s degree
2) School librarians require a Master’s and teaching certification
3) Some library professions require additional certification and/or a second Master’s degree
4) We do not read books all day
5) Dewey Decimal is not the only classification system
6) Books are not the only thing we know about nor the only resource our institutions contain
7) We are not all senior citizens
8) We don’t all even love books (though it is true the majority of us do)

I do not think there is a more misunderstood or underappreciated group of people in the world. My point is proven by what is going on in a Los Angeles school system right now as reported in this LA Times article.

80+ school librarians were given their walking papers in March. The school system, like many others across the country, is making budget cuts and decided the best place to trim the fat was the school libraries. After all, school librarians do not actually teach, at least that is what the LA Unified School District is trying to prove in a “courtroom.”

Their argument is that the school librarians are not eligible to retain their teaching certification, and can therefore be fired, because they have not taught a class in over 5 years, which is a requirement to keep your certification current. There is almost no response to this except jaw-dropping astonishment.

A school librarian, a good one at any rate, is a resource not only to students, but to teachers and faculty as well. They teach valuable research skills encouraging students to get information from a variety of resources so they have a full picture. The obtain materials for teachers to expand and enhance their curriculum. They work one-on-one with more students than most teachers have time to. They tutor in every subject. They know where you can find the best information regarding everything from the Theory of Relativity to Beethoven’s Symphonies, and no, it’s not always in a book.

Librarians provide the resources to create a well-rounded society that asks questions and does not jump on the conveyor belt whenever they’re told. Yes we are the keepers of the books but we are also the keepers of the databases. We know Google search tricks and Boolean operators you’ve never even heard of. Got a new electronic device? One of the librarians can give you the best websites explaining the features and how to use them or they might even be able to tell you themselves.

People seem to be very attached to the forbidding image libraries have been saddled with and I can’t figure out why. Today’s libraries are bright, open places that not only provide access to books but internet access, eBooks, cafes, community space, movies, video games, and more for FREE. Most libraries have plants and skylights and a cat, invariably named Dewey, everyone loves, and most importantly, every library has librarians. The people who tell you how to find all that magical free stuff.

And we’re not all old ladies with bad fashion sense and wire-rimmed glasses at the end of our noses. I have great fashion sense and wear contacts most of the time thank you very much. And I’m nice, I like helping you find what you’re looking for. Chances are I’ll find what you’re looking for plus something better plus ten things you didn’t know you were looking for. It’s what we do. We like information, we like finding it, in any format.

My degree is not in books. My degree is a Master’s of Library and Information Sciences. Stories like the one in the LA Times are too frequent. Funding and support for libraries are too low. Understand what we do and how we do it. Understand how passionate we are about it and how hard we will fight to keep it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Library of Congress: The Happiest Place on Earth (& the Interwebz)

Photo by AbLib

As a librarian, one of the highlights of my life was when I was in graduate school and we took a field trip to DC. The field trip was actually to attend the National Book Festival, held every year on the Mall, but our first stop of the day was at the Library of Congress. We were given a tour and then we had a Q&A session with three librarians from the LoC in the Senate Reading Room (which is, obviously, generally reserved for Senators therefore awesome to hang out in).

I bring this up to illustrate how awesome the LoC is because, they have outdone themselves. They have created the National Jukebox making historic recordings freely available to the public. The digital collection contains recordings from the LoC Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation collection as well as collections from other institutions across the country.

There are (as of this post) over 10,000 recordings from 1901-1925 from the Victor Talking Machine Company (now owned by Sony). The Jukebox will continue to add content from Sony-owned US companies. Right now, Sony is the only label contributing, but I’m sure we will see more joining up in the future.

There is a fantastic slideshow available tracking the progress of the project which began in 2010.

The Jukebox lets you create a playlist or listen to playlists already completed (I’m listening to the LoC-created “Early Tin Pan Alley” playlist right now!). You can browse recordings by performer, genre, date, composer, etc. plus there are general and advanced search options.

It is beautifully designed and completely fascinating. Set aside some time to browse these nearly forgotten treasures.

Friday, January 28, 2011



Etymology: repr. Greek κοιν ασθησις, Latin sensus commūnis, French sens commun.

a. The endowment of natural intelligence possessed by rational beings; ordinary, normal or average understanding; the plain wisdom which is everyone's inheritance.

b. More emphatically: Good sound practical sense; combined tact and readiness in dealing with the every-day affairs of life; general sagacity.

I feel like there are a lot of people out there who would benefit from knowing this definition. Or really, even being aware of the concept.

People who could benefit:
Sales people

This is not a full list obviously, but serious repeat offenders most in need of rehabilitation.

We all have off days sure, but generally when those of us who have mastered this skill have done something stupid, we recognize it quickly and apologize if it is in front of others or hide it and bury it in our memory if we are alone. This is the way it should be.

Do not revel in your stupidity. Do not flaunt it. DO NOT inflict it on those of us smarter than you, we become annoyed and often effectively passive aggressive. We will cause you to suffer in any way we know how; Social Darwinism at its best.

I do not suffer fools gladly and neither should you. Speak up for common sense! Explain it to those less fortunate to whom it is not a natural state of being.

And if nicely explaining and/or flash cards does not work: do your passive aggressive best.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

WARNING: Lotion May Contain C4

I’ve flown many times in my life, but since I moved to Mass, I’m flying more often to go home to see my family. Because of this, you’d think I have many horror stories about TSA and all that, I really don’t. I’m an experienced traveler so I usually don’t have any trouble. I know to have all my liquids in 3 oz. bottles in a quart size Ziploc bag. I know to take off my shoes and coat before going through security. I know not to wear bulky clothing, etc. etc.

I was not aware, however, that some lotions contain C4 or other kinds of explosives. That I learned on my way back to Boston after Christmas.

I had an unlucky morning on the 2nd, first of all, my flight was at 6am so I had to be up at 4am so I could get to the airport, then once I got there, I got pulled for the x-ray machine. All before I got some coffee. I usually don’t get pulled for extra security; I can think of one other time and I was 16 and they didn’t like my backpack at LaGuardia.

I’m not sure what they were looking for considering I was wearing skinny jeans and a form-fitting sweater, but through the x-ray machine I went like a good little drone…I mean citizen. After you finish looking ridiculous with your feet spread and your hands over your head, you step out and they swab your hands with a cotton-like disk and put it in a machine. When they did this to me, the machine turned red and started beeping and flashing: EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.

I’m not really the kind of girl who plays with explosives at 4 o’clock in the morning, so I was a little confused. My confusion was augmented when the TSA agent asked me if I had put lotion on my hands that morning. It is January, it is cold and dry, yeah I put lotion on so my hands don’t bleed. Well, she says, lotion returns a positive for explosives on the machine, we’ve been getting this a lot since it’s winter.

Really? A machine, that I assume is exceptionally expensive, meant to detect explosives, can’t differentiate between dynamite and moisturizer?

I feel so safe.