Sunday, January 31, 2010

Library Day in the Life: Weekend Edition

One of the things I didn't necessarily realize when I made the decision to go to library school was that my concept of "weekend" was about to suffer a radical change. I know there are special libraries that are only open Monday-Friday, and that there are academic and small public librarians who may not work weekends. Heck, if I was a school librarian, I'd (presumably) not have to show up to school on a Saturday or Sunday (at least not that often). However, as a reference librarian at a large public library, I work Saturdays. Every other Saturday, to be precise. Sometimes I even work on Sunday after working a Saturday, which makes for a very long week when I have to show up Monday-Friday, let me tell you. So, with this in mind, I chose a Saturday to record my activities (in excruciating detail!) for Library Day in the Life.

It is really hard for me to get up and leave the house on a Saturday morning at 8:00, especially when the weather outside is disgusting. Thank goodness I had Wham! to listen to on the radio. At 8:30 I arrive at work and clock in, discovering that I have to complete a two-hour, mandatory ethics training sometime in the next month. Awesome. Saturdays here can either be a little quieter than a weekday, or completely hectic, depending on the mood of the public. I'm not on desk until 10:00, which gives me a little time to figure out what I'm going to try to accomplish today. I catch up on my Google Reader and, of course, Twitter, and realize that my nonfiction book order is due by the end of the month. Since it is January 30th, that gives me a definite goal for the day. I know that I should also spend some time preparing for the Excel class I have to teach next week, but it's still not quite late enough in the game for me to be really worried.

My library has three different reference desks, which are staffed in rotation by my department in one-, two-, or three-hour shifts whenever we are open to the public. I really enjoy this arrangement, because it offers variety and allows for scheduled off-desk time, something that wasn't really a priority at my last library (which was also much smaller). This day I am actually scheduled to work all three desks before I leave, which makes it even more imperative that I have my flash drive so I can take my work with me wherever I am assigned. Luckily, it's currently hooked to my name tag, where it belongs.

At 10:00 I face the public at the desk in the nonfiction/young adult area, answering a few questions while reading my pile of Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly magazines. Usually I read these in a big chunk and make my collection development decisions based on reviews as well as what I am hearing about through the various blogs and newspapers I follow. I keep track of all this in a handy Excel spreadsheet. Some of the collection areas I am responsible for, such as the 400s or the 840s, aren't often reviewed, so I order based on usage, patron requests, or to fill holes in the collection. All of this "deep librarian thinking" is going on while I'm helping patrons find books on the history of Antwerp, telling them what time it is and where the bathroom is, hoping the twelve-year old girl rooted to the spot in front of the tax forms isn't really going to need them, and so on. Reading Publisher's Weekly often ends up with me putting things on hold for myself, and today was no exception. On this desk, I am wearing a scarf because the room is frigid, and I also make a circuit of the room and pick up stacks of books for internal statistics, because it helps keep me warm.

At 11:00, I switch desks and head to our main reference area, where the 32 public computers, reference material, and microfilm are located. At times I have counted over 70 people packed in here, but today the weather is so crappy that only half of the computers are occupied, which is almost unheard of. I check the Reference Department's email and send off a message letting a patron in California know that our volunteer was unable to find the obituary that she had asked us to look for in the Springfield newspapers. This process involves tedious and sometimes dizzying microfilm searches, and it's always disappointing when I have to report "no luck." Since it is so quiet, I continue catching up on Google Reader and working with Baker & Taylor and Ingram. Baker & Taylor for the nonfiction order, and Ingram for the paperbacks I come across in my review sources, and sometimes both at the same time. Patrons are always asking for paper, and pencils, and staplers, and kleenex, but in this case the young man who asked for paper returned to the desk to show me the cool paper sword he had constructed.

I spend my lunch eating and writing up my review of Feed, which I had finished a few days previously. After lunch, I spend two productive (but very quiet, in terms of patrons) hours on the Fiction & Media desk. The only noteworthy occurrence was that two people came in looking for Robert Jordan's The Great Hunt within about one minute of each other. They were both disappointed, as the book said "Check Shelves" but was not in evidence. This usually happens more often at my library with CDs and DVDs, which tend to "walk out" under their own power, but #shelfcheckfail with paperbacks is, sadly, not uncommon. It is up in the air as to whether the computer at this desk is slower than the one in the YA area, but they are both running Windows 2000 . . . While on this desk I also have one frequent flier, a woman who without fail will ask you to print something for her (in this case listings from craigslist, even though she doesn't really have a concept of what craigslist is). I hold her to a strict three-page minimum.

After an hour off desk in my cozy cubicle, I return for my final hour of work with the public, back in the YA area. I wrap up my nonfiction order, knowing that I probably have a little wiggle room if I see something next week that I simply must have. I check Google Reader, enjoy my next encounter with Always Wants Something Printed Lady (she knows I am not going to budge, so quickly moves on to her next victim), and pick up my audio book (An Abundance of Katherines) for the ride home. I stuff my Excel class handouts in my bag, in case I want to think about preparing for my class over the one day of my weekend that remains. Or not.

See my previous Day in the Life post here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: Feed [2002]

The best science fiction, in my opinion, is the kind that takes familiar material and extrapolates it in intriguing and even disturbing ways. You get to the end and have the uncomfortable realization that what you just read could actually happen. Feed was written before the advent of Web 2.0, before Twitter and Facebook, and just as MySpace, Friendster, and LinkedIn were getting off the ground. Despite this, it manages to remain amazingly current. The book, a young adult novel, is author M.T. Anderson's vision of Web 12.0, in which about 73% of Americans have "feeds" implanted in their brains that keep them virtually connected to the internet all the time and, coincidentally, also control the way the body functions, the emotions, and memory. Previously barely-sentient Titus finds this out the hard way when his girlfriend, Violet [SPOILER ALERT!] is diagnosed with a malfunctioning feed that leads her to question everything. Of course, Violet is already predisposed to question as the home-schooled daughter of a professor of dead languages (FORTRAN, BASIC, etc.), whereas Titus has trouble even getting through School(tm), in which he is taught how to be a better shopper, and other useful skills.
But the braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big, is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are.
Titus and his group of friends are more concerned with following the latest trends and trying to find an activity that doesn't "suck" than with the increasingly hostile world political climate, the fact that trees are being cut down to build air factories, and the mysterious lesions that everyone seems to be getting. Feed is many things: a love story, a coming of age story, a biting satire of America's consumerist culture, and an intriguing "what-if" that takes today's hyperconnectivity to its logical conclusion. At times, Anderson's soapboxing comes on a little too strong, and sometimes one wishes it were possible (technologically speaking) to smack Titus, but in general Feed is well worth a read.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: What's most disturbing is that the future Anderson has created is not that far-fetched. When I was watching the Daily Show the other night, two things struck me as frighteningly relevant: the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporate spending on political campaign advertisements, and Bill Gates, who was discussing his foundation's support of educational initiatives. Anderson's world, or at least his America, is controlled primarily by corporations, who have at some point on the past (thoughtfully) stepped in to fund the failing school system.
. . . it's good because that way we know that the big corps are made up of real human beings, and not just jerks out for money, because taking care of children, they care about America's future. It's an investment in tomorrow.
This is the subject of another post entirely, but I am an advocate of the public school system, and believe that the road to corporate sponsorship--even as well-intentioned as the Gates Foundation appears to be--is paved with pitfalls.

I listened to Feed on audiobook rather than reading it in a conventional manner, which I have to say (having reviewed the text for quotations used above) was probably the best way to go for this book. The first-person narrative of Feed is filled with interruptions from the actual feed in Titus's head (sales from Weatherbee & Crotch, "banners" from nearby businesses, etc.), and the cast of announcers was pitch-perfect for the flood of smarmy advertisement, complete with requisite techno beats and saccharine children's-show theme music. These interruptions are represented by italics in the written version, and don't have quite the same satiric zing.

Dead Mother: N

Monday, January 18, 2010

Meditation on My Other Job

Some of you (by which I mean the 1.2 people that actually follow this blog--and my ego thanks you for that) may or may not have noticed that I haven't updated much recently. This is not because I haven't been doing things worth noting (of course I have, everything I do is noteworthy--but I digress) but because my time has been taken up by my Other Job. By which I don't mean "mother," because that seems to be more of a state of mind rather than an occupation. I mean, there are any number of mothers and fathers out there who (unfortunately) aren't fulfilling their theoretical duties as parents. I see them in the library all the time. However, I digress!

Those of you who read all about how I became a Librarian-with-a-capital-L might recall that I spent some time as an editor and technical writer. I am here to tell you that that phase of my life is actually ongoing, and I adore it! Every year for the past many years, I have had the opportunity to edit the conference proceedings for a non-profit organization (and old employer of mine) with an entrepreneurial focus. Hundreds of pages of papers, written by engineering professors (this can be scary, if you haven't had the joy of reading works by scientists) and entrepreneurs, which must--after my careful ministrations--be presented as one unified, carefully formatted whole. Heaven! As you can see from my recent Twitter updates on the subject, addressed to fictional Engineering professors who are making my life difficult, I do have a very enjoyable time:
Engineering professors: It is OK to use commas. And periods, esp. to break up 7-line sentences. Also, I *hate* the expression "follow-on."

Engineering professors: It is really OK to pick a tense. Ideally past or present. It would also be fine to write headings that make sense.

Engineering professors: Not everything has to be written in passive voice.

Engineering professors: It is only polite to standardize HOW YOU SPELL THE LAST NAMES OF AUTHORS YOU CITE so I don't have to waste my time.

Engineering professors: Please don't use words like "inhibitory," they make my brain hurt.

Engineering professors: I will let you keep your ridiculous acronyms, since you seem so attached, but you are going to have to CITE properly.

You just had to go and cite an international dissertation, didn't you?

Engineering professors: *sigh* feel free to use an "s" to make things plural when you are talking about more than one of that thing.
And so on, for thirty papers or so. I don't know when I started to love editing things. Maybe it was inherited from my mother, herself a consummate editor? The first time I did it professionally was when I spent a brief time in college working for the Writing Center, helping my classmates figure out how to put sentences together. I've edited legal papers, curricular materials for grade schools, computer software manuals, brochures, any number of my spouse's undergraduate and law school papers, and of course every misspelled and extra-apostrophe-laden sign that I have ever come across. I much prefer editing to writing things from scratch, and most things that I do write never see the light of day because I am continually tinkering with them. This is not to say that everything I turn out is perfect and polished; I am as susceptible to typos and (particularly) rambling as any writer, especially here when I am pretty much writing to myself. But I confess that I do re-read my blog posts an undisclosed number of times before hitting "publish," just to make sure that I am presenting something that I feel comfortable with. So, if anyone needs another pair of eyes to review something, feel free to send me a message, and I will get out my colorful (not always red!) pen.

Now I suppose I'd better quit thinking and get back to work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book Review: The Price of the Stars [1992]

I decided to put a hold on The Price of the Stars, written by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald, after reading this article on swashbuckling science fiction heroes from the past 100 years. I mean, just look at that cover! She is wearing a red eye-patch! Anyway, reading this book was definitely one of the better decisions (reading-related or otherwise) I've made recently; it was the perfect combination of action, adventure, romance, humor, magic, and techno-geekery to help me celebrate the turning of the year.

Beka Rosselin-Metadi is the youngest child of a powerful politician and the head of the galaxy's military forces, both of whom were responsible for essentially saving the universe at some point predating The Price of the Stars. Given the weight of all that prestige, and the fact that she is slated to inherit her mother's title as ruler of a now-dead planet, it's little surprise that Beka left town as soon as possible to become a freewheeling starship pilot. However, after her mother is assassinated on the Senate floor, her father tracks her down and offers her a bargain: his prized ship Warhammer for the names of those responsible. With the assistance of a mysterious stranger, she assumes the alternate personality of a ruthless (male) gunslinger with a reputation for violence and begins her hunt, uncovering in the process the shape of a much larger conspiracy that may stretch into the sinister Mageworlds themselves.

Doyle and MacDonald present the story from five primary points of view: Beka, her equally talented brother Ari, the urbane medic Jessan (himself secret royalty), the Adept Llannat, and the much put-upon Commander Gil, aide to General Metadi himself. The characters are engaging, and the plot--well, here is the best recommendation I can give it (and I am aware that this will immediately date me): The Price of the Stars reminded me of the original Star Wars, except the female characters were infinitely more kick-ass, the dialogue was better, and the worldbuilding felt like it had the weight of serious thought behind it. And I am a big Star Wars fan. Also, the fight scenes were awesome.

A delicious romp through space! Bring on the next book in the series.

Grade: A

ETA: I'm sure this book has its share of flaws, but I was too busy being entertained to notice them.

Dead Mother: Y

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Review: Official Book Club Selection [2009]

I freely confess that am an unabashed fan of the stand-up comic Kathy Griffin. I watch My Life on the D-List whenever I get the opportunity (damn you, Charter Communications! Bravo should be a core channel!) and I have seen her perform live at Foxwoods and Boston's Symphony Hall. I enjoy her profanity-laden style of storytelling, even though sometimes I am not so familiar with the pop culture events that she references. Written in a conversational style, Griffin's memoir traces her life from her early days as a binge-eating kid with dreams of showbiz stardom through her many "dues-paying" years in LA to her eventual (semi-) stardom, with pit stops to discuss her abusive brother, unfortunate taste in men, and plastic surgery. Peppered with humorous anecdotes about stars and life in Hollywood, and marked by some curious omissions (Celebrity Mole, anyone?--never mentioned), Griffin's memoir nevertheless portrays a surprisingly human woman who is realistic about the casualties of her career-driven life and who genuinely, touchingly, loves her parents.

Grade: B (B+ for the audio version)

Random Thoughts:

I started by reading a paper copy of Official Book Club Selection, but ultimately switched to the audio version (read by Griffin herself), which was much more satisfying than trying to imagine her distinctive voice. However, I've just learned that the audio copy is abridged(???), which seems very un-Kathy-like. It certainly wasn't edited for language, I can tell you that much.

One of the best parts of the book--off the cuff celebrity skewerings--will also be its ultimate downfall as the references quickly become dated. However, this is all the more reason for Griffin to write a subsequent memoir, this time including even more delicious gossip and entertaining stories about her rise to (semi-) fame.

Dead Mother: N

Friday, January 1, 2010

Meditation on My 2009 Year in Reading

Last year's New Year's resolution was to read books that were new to me, and resist (for the time being, at least) re-reading old favorites. I think that I did an admirable job, having read many new books, especially over the summer months, most of which were not only new to me but newly published as well. I read a lot more nonfiction than I ever had before (mostly humorous memoirs, but still), and delved into the elusive genre of Literary Fiction. The jury's still out on the success of that experiment. Here are the stats for 2009, as accurately as I can determine:
Books Read: 87 [6 of those via audiobook]
Young Adult: 25
Manga/Graphic Novels: 21
Nonfiction: 7
Fantasy: 6
Romance: 6
Literary Fiction: 6
Mystery/Suspense: 4
Science Fiction: 3
Children's (not including picture books read to Baby G): 3
Historical Fiction: 2
Urban Fiction: 1
Books Resisting Categorization: 3
Favorites: Rampant, Scott Pilgrim, A Certain Slant of Light, Warbreaker, Soulless, Lord of Scoundrels
I had a couple other New Year's Resolutions in mind for the coming year, but since last year's resolution was the only one I've ever managed to keep in my entire life, I think I will go ahead and renew it for 2010. That is not to say that I won't re-read a few books for comfort, especially as I have a new audience with whom to share my favorites. However, I think that working on broadening my reading horizons in this way has also had a positive effect at my job! Reader's Advisory isn't just a catchphrase, you know . . . it actually happens. At the moment I feel more prepared than ever to recommend something to someone when they are looking for something new to read. I realize that my reading time in 2010 will undoubtedly be more curtailed, given the circumstances, but I still hope to enjoy many new books in the coming year! Happy New Year to everyone!