Monday, December 31, 2007

License to Blog

Blogging: what is there about it that provides such an impetus? Who knew there were so many writers in the world? Do my words matter? A large majority of blogs are barely read. Is what I am doing here relevant to anyone?

Just today I was talking with a friend who is a printmaker and graphic artist about how good creative challenges can be. Contests for playwrights, photography competitions, haiku contests, etc. No matter how creative you are, a little jump start from an exterior direction can light a new fire. For me, blogging has been like that. I LOVE using mostly original artwork herein, and making the connection between whatever it is I want to say and whatever graphic I can provide. Often, I begin writing without really knowing where it will take me. I like jumping in. I like deciding whether a book I'm reading is one I want to write about. I enjoy revision. Joking around, I like to say I was born to blog! Maybe everyone feels that way?

I've been reading Emma by Jane Austen for book group and have decided she's not my favorite author. I can't seem to get into Emma's mannerly drawing room doings. Oddly, I fathomed some resemblance to the Seinfield tv show: not much happens in either world. Well, there is a lot of fuss over who's dating who. Both are microcosmic social comedies. They matter to somebody. They matter to readers or viewers who can relate to that milieu. But I like Seinfield better, perhaps only because I have connections to Manhattan and it is set in my century, or at least the one I was born into. Yet I am fascinated by the facts of Jane Austen's (short) life. She had no relationships with other writers, lived fairly simply, and remained a spinster. Many of her novels were published without her name on their covers. Clearly she had the major drive and passion required for serious art. Jane Austen was a woman ahead of her time.

I plan to continue with this blog, and keep it loosely related to my work as a public librarian and reader's advisor. I have only two or three years left till retirement. What else can I learn about web skills, libraries, books, authors, writing, art, etc. that might make for good content? How grateful I am to have this opportunity, this license to blog. Onward through the blogosphere!

Quotation: People need a false world because the real one is intolerable. It's the lesson of all literature since the Greeks. As T S Eliot put it, humankind can not stand very much reality. Hence we have religion, art, higher education. - Paul Fussell, Psychology Today, August 1998.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Homespun Appeal

One book I feel confident recommending for Christmas reading is A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. It's not too Christmasty, and has a certain homespun quality I seem to crave.

At the book's beginning, we meet Oswald Campbell who is a down and out character living in a shabby Chicago hotel. His doctor has diagnosed emphysema and tells him he has few months left to live. Pulling up stakes on a whim, Oswald moves to Lost River, Alabama to die in peace. A recovering alcoholic, Oswald surprises himself and becomes a bird watcher and artist, reaching for pencils and paint brushes instead of booze. Formerly a curmudgeon who hates children (not that he's known any), he befriends a young girl named Patsy, who like Oswald, is an orphan. One more orphan stirred into this colorful mix is a wounded redbird named Jack who Patsy adores. Fannie Flagg's book Standing in the Rainbow is also a favorite of mine.

I recently learned that Flagg's real name is Patricia Neal. Because she was aiming for a career in show business where there was already an actress with that name, she felt she had to change it. During the 1960s, Flagg wrote and co-hosted Candid Camera, and during the 1970s she appeared on many game show panels. Because she was dyslexic, and even though she loved making up stories, she never thought she could become an author. Her first novel, published in 1981, was Coming Attractions: A Wonderful Novel, followed in 1987 by the unforgettable Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. She seems to me to be a born Southern storyteller.

Here are some more novels with homespun appeal:

End of the Road by Tom Bodett
Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
Spencer's Mountain by Earl Hamner (basis for The Waltons tv show)
Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor
The Home Place by Wright Morris
Clover by Dori Sanders
Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White
The Train to Estelline by Jane Roberts Wood

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fiction Featuring Wills

Reading To My Dearest Friends by Patricia Volk, which revolves around the idea of two Manhattan women who meet because their names are listed in the will of a mutual friend, I began to think of other books related to wills.
There is a novella by J.P. Donleavy called The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms. It features a formerly wealthy Manhattanite whose husband left her for a younger woman. Reduced to near homelessness, she develops a true appreciation for that rare thing -- free, clean restrooms. How her penchant for cleanliness leads to an inheritance is the reward for our attention.

The Thin Woman: an Epicurean Mystery by Dorothy Cannell is a classic jolly good read. Featuring an overweight protagonist who stands to inherit money from her rich uncle IF she can lose the extra poundage, this title is one of "The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century" list created by Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

John Grisham's The Testament presents a bunch of greedy would-be inheritors who are thrown into shock when their sure bet multibillionaire relative leaves his riches to a female missionary in Brazil. Nate O'Reilly, an alcoholic lawyer fresh from rehab, is sent to find the missionary. Lots of action and great characterization.

In The Codicil by Tom Topor, a millionaire leaves half his wealth to the secret daughter he fathered during the Vietnam War; much action and suspense follow.

The Widow's War by Sally Gunning is set in colonial Cape Cod. Whaling widow Lyddie Berry loses control of her life and home when a bully son-in-law violates her husband's will. This novel portrays the sexism of its era, and gives us a defiant heroine to root for.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Best Books Read During 2007

I enjoy looking back and figuring out which books I most enjoyed every year. The lightest one was Keeping the House; just the thought of that book makes me smile. Darkest: Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison who I always think of as a real "man's man", but I've always enjoyed his writing none the less. Most commercial: the Laura Lippman thriller. Most well-written: The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Best first novel: Free Food for Millionaires. Most unusual: The Inhabited World. Here they are:

* Keeping the House by Ellen Baker. 1950: Pine Rapids, Wisconsin. Newlywed Dolly Magnuson compulsively breaks into a deserted house that once housed the prominent Mikelson family; she starts cleaning and taking care of it. And then what happens when a Mikelson turns up?

* Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison. A Chippewa-Finnish man prepares for his death from ALS; how his friends and family prepare for his departure; their grief and healing.

* The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. While her mother disappears into a deep depression and her father tries to make a go of their dusty Colorado ranch by teaching rich girls how to ride horses, young Alice Winters copes by developing some new obsessions.

* Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee. The life and times of a Korean American girl from Queens who goes to Princeton, but cannot continue to climb ever higher towards the American dream without selling her soul. An epic novel of class, society and identity

* What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. Two sisters disappeared from a Baltimore area shopping mall 30 years ago. A woman who was recently in a car accident claims to be one of the sisters – is she or isn’t she?

* The Inhabited World by David Long. A man who committed suicide haunts the house where it happened, trying to recall his own story. He also studies the life of his house’s present tenant. Not as depressing as it sounds!

* Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson. The healing friendship of two women in Sweden, one 20-something, one elderly.

* Truck: a Love Story by Michael Perry. A part-time EMT in small town Wisconsin, Perry remodels and rejuvenates his beloved truck, grows a backyard garden beleaguered by squirrels, attempts a love life and philosophizes from his "Scandanavian stoic" point of view. It's not (all) about the truck!

* The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. Repercussions of childhood: what happens to two who stay in a small upstate NY town, and to one who leaves and finds fame in the international world of art. A caring tone, believably flawed characters, and many rich themes make this a deeply rewarding read.

* An Alphabetical Life by Wendy Werris. The memoir of a lifelong bookseller who got started in the trade quite accidentally.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reading Alexander McCall Smith

I just finished Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. It had been a while since I visited 44 Scotland Street, but I slipped right back into the lives of these quirky characters. I love the way McCall Smith manages to interweave their stories and make their cozy Georgian style Edinburgh neighborhood come alive.

My favorite character is Bertie, who at age 6 plays the saxophone, speaks Italian and delightfully -- in this third novel in the series -- gets away from his controlling, seriously deluded mother and spends a few days in Paris. Second favorite character: the dog Cyril, who is stolen from his painter/poet owner Angus Lordie. Everytime we slip into the dog's point of view, we are introduced to a new world of interesting ankles, a multitude of aromas, and more abstract things that Cyrus can perceive, such as his master's state of mind.

Having hardly ever been to Scotland via fiction, and wanting to stay there, my attention wandered when McCall Smith sent Domenica MacDonald to the Malacca Straits to conduct an anthropological study of pirates. So I just sort of skimmed over those chapters to get back to the lives of the other Scotland Street characters. His chapters, of which there are 113 in this book, are short and easily gulped down (or not), designed as they are to first appear in the daily pages of the The Scotsman newspaper.

Funny, when I started the book and was renewing my acquaintance with Angus, Bertie, Pat and Matthew (romance warning!), I realized that in the back of my brain I was having a niggling thought: now who does this writing remind me of? The tone was similar to that in the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, which is, of course -- also written by Alexander McCall Smith. How one author can do so well in two such different settings as Botswana and Scotland, is explained by the author's geographical biography as well as his creative talents. He was born in Zimbabwe, and has been a law professor in both Botswana and Edinburgh. Learn more about him on his webpage. In addition to law and fiction, he is involved with a musical group he and his wife founded called The Really Terrible Orchestra.

For some reason, I don't warm up to McCall Smith's other two series: Isabel Dalhousie or The Portuguese Irregular Verb books. They are a wee bit dry for my taste

Breaking news: The Number One Detective Agency film will air on BBC during Easter of 2008.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Growth - Exercise 23

I feel like I'm taking a final exam. The 23 Things will be complete with this exercise. We've been asked to answer 5 questions under the heading of: Is this really the end....or just the beginning?

Question 1: What were your favorite discoveries or exercises on this learning journey? They were all illuminative. The most powerful thing was simply being given the opportunity to author a blog. I know I could have done it myself outside of work, but blogging as a librarian helped me to focus.

Question 2: How has this program assisted or affected your lifelong learning goals? The 23 Things are a springboard towards future endeavors online. I can only imagine more growth, creativity and interaction.

Question 3: Were there any take-aways or unexpected outcomes from this program that surprised you? Staff members all became more "techie"! We are now better able to help customers using the public computers. Some of the stuff we learned was pure fun -- avatars, image generators, etc. We grew in new directions, applied writing, thinking and design skills, and best of all, when one of us was stuck, someone else on staff was able to help. iHCPL was a good team-building experience.

Question 4: What ideas do you have for using these technologies at Harris County Public Library?
- Continue to offer iHCPL to the public, including labs and classes.
- Offer Staff blogs from the HCPL website.
- Promote Library Elf to our customers.
- Use wikis to promote customer suggestions. Find out what their library of the future might be!
- Have HCPL (staff and customer) poster and photo competitions. Winning projects would be used by our Marketing Department.
- Use our new photo editing skills to improve quality of photos on branch and departmental web pages.
- Use social networking to connect and collaborate with community groups.
- Generate podcasts and short films promoting library materials and services.
- Look beyond the library world for creative ideas. Use RSS feeds to efficiently troll through the latest in future studies, marketing, social psychology, education, etc.
- Web 2.0 and technology are great, but they need to be complemented by real world interaction as well. Use Web 2.o as a springboard to involvement with other forward-looking groups in our community.

Question 5: What else do you want to learn about? What other web 2.0 applications are you interested in?
- Internet radio sites such as
- File conversion sites such as
- Productivity applications such as
- Social networking sites such as and many, many more.
- Try some of the MIY (make it yourself) sites such as Cafe Press or Ponoko
- Learn about more free photo applications such as Dumpr
- Learn more about computer security, virus protection, etc., in order to better help customers, who come to us for advice about all sorts of technological decisions.
- Identify computer games of worth for all ages. Create a game parlor accessible from our website. Games have been shown to help counter memory loss and sharpen intelligence.
- Offer library staff continued training in creativity.
photo by KAO: Stripes of California Green

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Digital Media - Exercise 22

I found Cupboard Love: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities on the Wowio ebooks site. Their slogan is "Free Books, Free Minds". Maybe because it is near Thanksgiving and my mind is dancing with recipes, I gravitated towards this foodie form of reading. Some day I may download it for air travel perusal. The site seemed to have a lot of golden oldies by Chaucer, Wollstonecraft and Thomas More. Newer fiction included several Vonnegut titles.

I also investigated LibriVox. Their slogan is "Acoustical Liberation of Books in the Public Domain". I noticed Little Men but not Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (I grew up reading Alcott's books over and over). They had Emma by Jane Austen, which the library's book group will reading soon. Still, I'd rather read Emma than listen to it. When I walk for exercise, I listen to NPR. On long car trips, I do take along audiobooks. One thing I appreciate about LibriVox is their pathfinder approach to presenting the titles. On the page where I might have downloaded Emma, there were also helpful links to Wikipedia and the Gutenberg text, etc.

HCPL has a very nice Digital Media Catalog. I discovered that the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Night Mother by Marsha Norman is available to burn to CD. If only I could find some spare time to get into downloading.....maybe in 3 years when I retire! Sorting by popularity, I learned that Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson and Janet Evanovich are among the most popular authors in digital format @ HCPL. People are surprised when you tell them that digital books have waiting lists. Libraries usually do not own unlimited rights. We purchase or acquire most digital titles copy by copy, just as we do "real" books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Podcasts - Exercise 21

There's plenty I don't know about podcasts. So I enjoyed this exercise, which asked us to sample various podcast directories. I liked the best. Of the podcasts I sampled, the ones from the Texana Review were the most interesting: short, snappy tales of Texas history, writing and culture. I added Texana Review to my Bloglines account.

There were not as many library or book review podcasts out there as I thought I might find. That means there is plenty of potential for librarians to fill the void. I did enjoy listening to a librarian in Western Springs, Illinois read a children's story, "How Indian Corn Came to the World", as part of her library's "Click-A-Story" service. Her voice was warm, clear, and even-toned. She sounded so good, I found myself wondering if she had been professionally trained. It would be fun to read children's stories for podcasts. Count me in.

One more podcast recommendation: Poetry off the Shelf from NPR.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

YouTube: Women in Art - Exercise 20

I was delighted to find a short film about 500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art on YouTube today. (For this exercise, we were asked to embed a movie inside a blog post. Well, that did not work even with help from Network Services, so the alternative was using the link above.)

I clicked on About this Video to see the list of artists the film is based on (which is where I got the 1920 Alphonse Mucha painting, "The Artist" above). Included are works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Rubens and Picasso, but also there are many artists I never heard of before: Pierre Gobert, Elizabeth Louise Vigee-Le Brun (one of the few women painters included), and Eugene de Biaas. When I took art history in college, we spent a lot of time studying "art in the dark" slide shows in order to memorize who did what and when. It almost killed my love of fine art.

What I'd like to know but see no information on, is this filmmaker's process of making the portrait paintings come alive (also known as "morphing"). Is it cool or creepy? I think what I live most about the film is the way it links generations of women together. I also appreciate the soundtrack: Bach's Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 performed by Yo-Yo Ma. Other films by eggman913 from St. Louis create similar effects for Van Gogh, Picasso and Women in Film. He has more than 12,000 comments on this film, and 139,657 channel views. Such is the power of social networking a la YouTube, the ultimate amateur film palace.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Featuring Original Art

I made this mockup magazine cover today using a bighugelabs application. I'm not sure I like it since the topmost gingerbread trim on the gate got chopped off. The original photo of the gate was taken in Gettysburg, PA many years ago. For me, one of the benefits of blogging is that it gives my artwork a new purpose. In fact, I am hoping to put more art into digital form this weekend. Fall is a great time for creativity. Here in Houston it arrives late, but always makes me want to throw open windows. Windows that let in both fresh air and fresh thoughts!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Native American Indian Heritage Month

We discussed 10 Little Indians by Sherman Alexie at the the library's book discussion group today. Only a few of us have ever even met a Native American, except between the covers of a book or via Hollywood. In his many interviews online, Alexie talks about the stereotypes most of us have have of his people, who he refers to as Indians. The stereotypes run to warriors, shamans, and nature lovers. Alexie clearly delights in colorfully widening our mental/emotional/cerebral images of Indians and who they are.

One of the book group members told us that in Canada, Indians are referred to as people of the "First Nation". I don't know which term is best, but I have had a fascination with Indians since I first read Black Elk Speaks decades ago (referred to in product descriptions as "the most famous Native American book ever written").

During some November in years past, I created a short reading list of Native American Fiction for the HCPL eBranch. My favorite writers from this list are Louise Erdrich, Susan Power, Michael Dorris and of course, Sherman Alexie.

The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Reading Sherman Alexie

HCPL has taken a short hiatus from the 23 Things training in order to catch up from a server outage. Staff will not start on the 20th Thing until November 12, 2007.

Customers are invited to learn the 23 Things. Go to the HCPL website to get started. You can go at your own pace. The customer rollout for iHCPL has been going on for 4 or 5 weeks already, but in the heady excitement of creating this blog, I forgot to mention this. No matter, you can start anytime! Also, I am offering a blog class at the library on Tuesday, November 6 @ 2PM.

What I'm reading: Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie. I have read these short stories before, but since we will be discussing them at the library's book discussion group on November 7, I am rereading them. One of the best things about being a book discussion facilitator is having an excuse to do research. I have been reading interviews with Alexie, articles he wrote, criticism, etc. He is the most outspoken, irreverent, humorous, thought provoking Native American writer I know of, with a very impressive list of creations in just about any media you can name. His first movie Smoke Signals won awards at Sundance Film Festival in 1998.

I'm a binge writer. I used to be a binge alcoholic. I've substituted writing for alcohol. Writing is everything. It takes stuff away. It's like being married. It's a high-maintenance relationship. You can't get lazy. I'm doing something around it every day--reading, writing, editing, thinking. I can be staring out the window, and I'm working real hard. - Sherman Alexie, Ploughshares, Winter 2000/2001, Volume 26, Issue 4.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zoho Writer - Exercise 19

When you don't have access to word processing software, try Zoho Writer. I fooled around with it today to write this entry. I froze up facing their screen for composing. Maybe it was the unfamiliar interface, which I found sort of distracting. It is good to know Zoho exists, should I ever need it. It was fairly straightforward to use. There is even a table of emoticons, which I usually don't use, but there are times they might be fun.

I also took a look at the templates, which were generic documents you could piggyback onto: resumes, schedules, etc. I was hoping for some fancier looks we could use for flyers or posters, but no luck there.

I tried uploading directly to the blog, so I could show off the emoticons. But once it got here, I could not edit any of the text, and since my writing process involves a lot of revising, I had to redo this entry directly onto (lesson learned; I won't try that again).

Quotation (heard on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac today):
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. - Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading

Monday, October 29, 2007

Social Networking for Cats and Other Critters - Exercise 18

In this exercise, I took a stroll through some of the most well-known social networking sites: My Space, Face Book, Yahoo!360, Xanga, etc. I kept my pen and scratch paper handy, ready to take notes. I kept writing "junk", "junk". Most of the content seemed superficial; normally I wouldn't air such a judgement, but this exercise asks for our thoughts. I sure wasn't making any soul connections!

Then I got to catster. Awwww -- so many adorable photos. I found a black cat named Minx in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia that reminds me of my cat, Bowie (pictured above). If Bowie and I joined catster, Minx and Bowie could be "friends". Minx already has 16 friends! I think sites like catster and dogster has therapeutic potential for seniors who can no longer own pets. Another interesting cat, or at least the name, which I think is droll: "Mr Furrious".

What I'm reading: The Used World by Haven Kimmel. I've just started it and I'm smitten. The main characters all work at Hazel Hunnicut's Used World Emporium, an antiques and junk store in fictional Jonah, Indiana, and that's enough to hook me. Kimmel is so good at portraying the inner complexities of the female soul.

And here's one I read this weekend that was enchanting: Garden Spells by Sarah Allen Addison. If you are born into the Waverly family of Bascom, North Carolina, chances are you have a gift related to intuition, foresightedness or an uncanny, somewhat witchy knowledge of all things green and growing. When two Waverly sisters reunite, their talents as well as their love lives come into sync. First novelist Sarah Allen Addison writes with what I think is just the right amount of magical realism, much like Alice Hoffman.

Both Kimmel and Addison have North Carolina connections, the state my fraternal ancestors came from. I've kept my father's faded, falling apart copies of novels by Asheville, North Carolina author Thomas Wolfe. I used to sit in front of Dad's book shelves when I was a little girl, puzzling out the meanings of the curious titles he owned. You Can't Go Home Again sticks in my memory. When you're in second or third grade, you can sound out those simple words, but not their meaning. Such was the mystique of adults and their curiously named books.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Reviewing

When you work as a librarian, there are plenty of opportunities to learn the art of book reviewing. After all, we spend a fair amount of time reading reviews if we do any book selection work. Library Journal (LJ) often needs reviewers for specialized genres or subject areas.

In 1988, I was invited to join a group of librarians who wrote reviews for a School Library Journal column known as "Adults Books for Young Adults". Publishers sent vast amounts of books to one of the local private schools; we pored over them and chose titles to read and review those we thought had teen appeal. I believe the first book I reviewed was Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys (review accessible on Wilson Library Bulletin was also one of the magazines I was privileged to write for. Now I write reviews for Library Journal, usually in the area of women's fiction. My most recent LJ review was for The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. Having to synthesize plot and appeal factors into a short review of 150 - 175 words is a good exercise and helps build discipline. Writing short reviews is a voluntary (unpaid) activity. You write the review from a galley, and later on may receive a copy of the title once it is published.

I've never been to the Library Journal offices in New York, but like to imagine my editor, Wilda Williams, sitting before a desk piled high with galleys, dashing off books to reviewers all over the country, and picking the goodies she wants to write about herself. I recently learned about a delightful LJ blog called In the Bookroom. It is an insider's look at what's new in books and publishing.


The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination. - Elizabeth Hardwick

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pondering Technology - Exercise 17

We've been asked to explore the subject of technology. I searched high and low all over the internet looking at definitions of technology. I learned it can be any set of tools, including of course - software. The broadest definitions include simple spear heads, the wheel and fire. In other words, technology is as old as men and women. Technology can be thought of as the application of scientific advances to benefit humankind. Animals create tools, too; chimps and other primates use improvisational implements to forage for food.

Technology attempts to control many things; perhaps too many? Dystopian novels such as Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 paint critical pictures of an inhumane, technologically advanced modern world. Might nature be the antithesis of technology? Often nature proves uncontrollable. Farmers do exercise some control over the land they till, the products they grow. But they are always challenged by the forces of nature. Farmers deserve more respect than our society grants them.

My life is better for technology. Being able to learn these "23 Things" is giving me more tools for communication than I ever dreamed possible. The internet is downright magical to me.

We were also asked to visit our colleagues' blogs and leave comments. I looked at several and left comments on the blogs I most enjoyed. Two of them are BF77008 and Dinosaur Tracks, written by my fellow HCPL librarians.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wiki Wiki World - Exercise 16

We immersed ourselves in Wikis for Exercise 16. I never really thought about it before, but whenever people get on and post a customer review, they are using wiki functionality. I don't know how long ago Amazon started welcoming customer reviews, but they are now one of its (and other websites') greatest features. Members of the library book group often troll the Amazon reviews to get a consensus on how well received a book is. We've learned that often it is better to read the reviews after you've read the book, since other readers may unwittingly reveal key plot points.

I liked learning that "wiki" means fast in Hawaiian. Wikis are very collaborative. They have a circular feel to me, expanding as needed. (Thus the photo of the Houston Rodeo ferris wheels above; circles are my favorite symbols...) Back to Wikis: if you've ever worked on a long project involving many emails to and from committee members, wikis are highly recommended as an alternative. Everyone can see what's going on, and work together to construct whatever is on the collective plate. It's a wiki, wiki world!

I enjoyed posting favorite books and restaurants to our "sandbox" HCPL wiki. One of my favorite suspense authors is Laura Lippman. I've only read two of her stand-alone titles: What the Dead Know and Every Secret Thing . She also writes a series featuring detective Tess Monaghan which I've yet to explore. What I like about Lippman's writing besides the strong suspense, is her ability to make me believe in and care about her characters, sometimes even the person who commits the crime. I don't read suspense regularly, but every so often, nothing else will do.

Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle and an end.
- Peter De Vries

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Imagine.... Exercise 15

Readers of my new blog are not usually my fellow librarians, but people from all walks of my life: library customers, especially the ones who have known me forever, or who have similar tastes in books, friends near and far, family, the nice guy who cuts my hair, etc. I let them know I am involved in this "23 Things" exercise, and some of them are curious enough to take a look. Because I envison that varied group as my audience, I find myself translating the library world to them. In this exercise, we examine the term Library 2.0, not a term most people are familiar with.

Well, briefly: Library 2.0 is all about making the library customer-centric, nurturing the library as a destination/a front porch/a "third place", growing the library in all sorts of directions to meet customer needs. Also involved is the concept that we provide services beyond our walls (electronically and otherwise). To quote futurist Dr. Wendy Schultz, "Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are convocations of people, ideas and artifacts in dynamic exchange."

What strikes me most about this heady concept is the challenge facing librarianship. We need to attract deeply creative people who are ready to surf these waves of change. Do library graduate school programs encourage the practice and cultivation of creativity? How can library systems nurture staff towards the "infinite future"?

The brainstorming has begun. For me, the most beguiling concept involves partnership. As someone in midlife who values every spare minute of time, I can imagine a one stop "third place" which would include a library offering books and AV in many formats (books still come first for me), reference materials, free internet, wise librarians who can help steer me in the right direction should I need information or reading advice AND, like spokes in a wheel -- other agencies all on the same piece of real estate. People could flow from the library to a community building, learning center, gym, spa, swimming pool, meditation garden, museum, coffee bar or picnic place. Somehow (??!!!) this centric place wouldn't be too overcrowded, or taxing on users finding their way from place to place. Yes, there would be daycare for toddlers and afterschool crowds. Yes, there would be quiet rooms where children and loud noises would not intrude. There would be an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration amongst the agencies. There would be more "wholeness" for all involved. More self fulfillment. More inter-connectedness. Imagine!

Public libraries are the ultimate democratic institution, one I have been proud to work within. I have confidence we will not disappear. We will thrive and flourish. Imagine!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Technorati (whatee?) - Thing 14

I jumped through most of the hoops for the Technorati assignment. See the Technorati logo on the sidebar. Also, I "claimed" my blog and signed up for some watch lists. As assigned, I looked around at Learning 2.0 blogs. Doing so, I began to realize how many professional fields are pursuing 2.0 modalities, not just libraries, but schools, businesses, nonprofit groups, etc. Participants share a tickled tone of enthusiasm for blogging and newly gained technological skills. Like others whose posts I read, I have become addicted to blogging. I think I will always want to produce one blog or another!

What a different way of life we have from a few generations ago. We use computers constantly, I'd like to think for the greater good. I've heard it said that you can measure generations by their largest buildings: pyramids, cathedrals, office towers. Note the beautiful San Francisco architectural detail above, no doubt living on long past the hand of its maker. We may not be creating content in the third dimension, but I do think the web is an amazing tool for communication. And I am honored to have this opportunity to communicate, with help from Technorati, Flickr, Blogger, et al.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tagging, a Tribal Thing - Exercise 13

When first came along, I thought I understood it. If you parked your favorite websites there, you could access them from any computer. But I was a creature of habit and somehow never made the switch. Therefore, I had sets of Favorites at home and work.

After playing around with it today, I took to it in a deeper way. If I tag my links on ( don't you love the way that new hybrid of the word "delicious" is pronounced???), I won't have to hunt for them in an alphabetical list. Now I have to figure out the easiest way to move my links over to and tag them.

I appreciate the concept of a "flat hierarchy", where everyone is free to contribute content. Through social bookmarking, we learn about sites others find valuable. It feels very tribal. What tribe? Perhaps the Tribe of the Infomaniacs.... Isn't it spooky (also appropriate) that ends in "us"?

Fall is here. Sort of. This being Houston, it takes awhile. The photo above was taken a couple of Novembers ago. I like to study nature's spontaneous compositions alongside the curbs as I walk in the morning.

What I'm reading: Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. The characters are complex, the writing is superb, and the setting is one familiar to me, of upstate New York. Have you ever heard of french fries with gravy? They make an appearance in this book, and yes, people in upstate New York really do eat them that way.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Elves in the Library - Exercise 12

In The Innocence of Father Brown, G K Chesterton wrote of childhood as the "elfin and adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods". In the above photo, I am one of the elves onstage for a school play, "The Elves and the Shoemaker", circa 1958. Today we have something known as Library Elf!

Library Elf helps you remember to return books and AV to various libraries (what I call underdue notices). Library Elf also lets you know if items you have reserved are ready for pickup. Since we already have these services built into our Horizon software @ HCPL, I don't really need a Library Elf account. But I signed up for it since it is Thing # 12 of our 23 Things. I'll see what it is like to hear from the Library Elf. Usually I am able to keep up with my account since I have the honor of working in this Candyland for Book Lovers called the Public Library.

Other kinds of library elves: our volunteers! These kindhearted elves join forces with us to keep the books shelved, price donated books, manage the Friends of the Library funds, and man the cigar box at book sales. Good elves are truly a treasure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Personal Virtual Libraries - Exercise 11

Yesterday I had time to revisit Library Thing. Sometime in 2006, I got excited about this site, joined and entered a short list of books I own. (Then I promptly forgot about it.) Library Thing makes it simple for users to catalog their own library collections. Among the books I listed were titles I contributed poems or short stories to, such as At Our Core: Women Writing About Power edited by Sandra Martz, and Texas Short Stories II edited by Billy Bob Hill.

As suggested in Exercise 11, I added a feed to my Library Thing (LT) catalog to the sidebar area of this blog. I am not entirely comfortable linking to my LT account from this blog. I consider the LT list a work in progress, just a smattering from my personal bookshelves. I am not sure why anyone else needs to look at it, but in the interest of completing the "23 Things", here it is.

Library Thing has many purposes. One of the fun things to look at is how many other readers have listed the same titles as you. It's interesting when no one else owns a book you've listed. As of today, two of mine in that category are Afoot in a Field of Men by Pat LittleDog and Music from a Blue Well by Torborg Nedreaas. Then you find other titles such as The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri which are widely owned. Also, once you add your titles to the virtual collective, other users may invite you to join their special interest groups based on the interests portrayed by your collection.

I think Library Thing has a persona function -- it becomes a portrait of who you are, or at least who you 'd like to think you are......

All Consuming is another virtual shelf site for books, movies, music and more.

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. – Henry Ward Beecher

Monday, October 8, 2007

Image Generators - Exercise 10

I made this poster on the FDToys site. In case you can't read the swirly script, here is what it says: "I think I'll go find some good books, movies and MP3 downloads @ the Library!"

There are all sorts of image generators out there! On the Image Generator site, you can find links for apps to make images that look like "Post-It" notes, support ribbons, banners, virtual flowers and all kinds of cool text effects. All of the sites I looked at were free, but there were also upgrades available if you were just dying to give the site some money. I really never knew there was so much out there. The number of text effects was mind-boggling. We can make all sorts of signs and things for the library!

Also, I tried the Meez avatar generator. I created a librarian, but getting her tastefully dressed would have cost $$$. It was fun playing with all the animation effects -- she sat at a big desk tapping her fingers, she read on a couch, she danced. She made us laugh! And I thought I was past the age for cartoons. I did not not upload the librarian avatar image to the blog. I will enjoy playing with avatars again, especially at home with friends and family.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Book Blogs

A few general book blogs to recommend:

Paper Cuts - Dwight Garner, senior editor of the NY Times Book Review, on books and publishing.

Book Maven - One critic's "adventures in reading"; sponsored by Publisher's Weekly.

Guardian Unlimited: Arts Blog - Books - what's new in the world of British books.

I also want to recommend a new blog site for Catholic fiction hosted by Mary Kelleher at the University of St. Thomas here in Houston:

Catholic Fiction - thoughtful commentary on novels broadly defined as Catholic, by nature of the author's religion (present or previous), choice of subject, characters, setting, etc.

We bring to a book all that we are. And because we are so different, one from another, we each find different ideas, different treasures. – Jane Roberts Wood

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Grazing Through the Feedlots - Exercise 9

Century plant, Houston

I did a quick comparison of websites for finding feeds about Reader's Advisory (librarian lingo for helping customers find books they will enjoy). Bloglines had the most matches (1,280). Technorati had 336 (including my own blog post from yesterday). Feedster had 156. Topix had 51, (and as an aside -- I liked their directory). Syndic8 had none. Then I compared these results to Google. Google found 281,000 sites which used that term.
Doing this RSS exercise semed akin to wandering through a bunch of "big box" stores -- alienating and overwhelming, and at the end of it, I had hardly anything to show for it. I did not find many blogs that I wanted to hold onto.

As for the feeds I subscribe to, I most enjoyed enjoyed reading the feeds from written by Jessamyn West, one of libaryland's MetaLibrarians. She has been trying out small town librarianship, something I can relate to since I work in a small library in a small city surrounded by the very large city of Houston.

One other fragment that seemed relevant to me as a new navigator in the blogosphere was a post I came across on Library Garden, about not posting because there are times when Life trumps blogging. Yes, I should hope so.And the century plant? I've learned that it really blooms about every 25 years, not every hundred as is the legend. Where will the internet and blogosphere be in 25 or 100 years?

Monday, October 1, 2007

RSS Feeds - Exercise 8

Seattle Neon

I've had a Bloglines newsreader account for some time now, but whenever I check on it, the backlog gives me information overload. So many great sites, so many great blogs. Who has time? And here I am, adding to the blogosphere.... The trick is winnowing down to what's essential, both at home and at work.

One disadvantage to being online so much at work is that I don't feel like getting on the computer when I get home. From time to time, I observe variations on what I call "Thoreau days". In the purest version, I stay home, don't shop and don't drive, although I might ride my bike. In lesser versions, I stay off the computer and do simple chores at home. It's a form of detoxing from an overstimulating world. I love using the internet for all kinds of reasons, but my brain and body complain if I spend too much time in front of a computer screen.

For completion of Exercise 8, I've added RSS feeds for Word of the Day and the HCPL Our Space: Books and People @ HCPL newsletter.

What works for me is as far as becoming a better Reader's Advisory librarian is being on listservs such as Fiction_L .

I also enjoy getting daily emails from The Writer's Almanac . Garrison Keillor keeps me up to date on all sorts of writerly factoids.

My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library. -Peter Golkin

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tonic Effects of Shelving Books

Maine rose hips

Vitamin C in its natural form on a wild rose bush near Casco Bay, Portland Maine.... bit of a stretch, but as good as vitamins are (at least the right vitamins at the right time), that is how good shelving is for my librarian soul.

I began shelving library books as a volunteer in grade school, and was happy to get a job as a library "page" at my hometown public library as soon as I turned 16. I am three decades into my librarian career, and still relish shelving books. Perhaps it is the physicality of the act -- the bending and stretching, the act of making order out of disorder, the rich sight of the multicolored book spines -- which does me such good. Shelving acts as a balance against time spent pounding a computer keyboard.

Also, in a small library, when we are short of staff or volunteers, I have no choice but to shelve. I enjoy visiting old friends on the fiction shelves: Hello Larry (McMurtry), greetings to front porch Baltimore (Anne Tyler), cynical regards to small town upstate NY (Richard Russo). Nonfiction is a little different.... but the Dewey Decimal logicality of the subjects is reassuring as well as serendipitous. Sometimes I come across just the right book I need for a project, or get tempted by cookbooks, etc.

The good thing about shelving is that you are out in the collection, accessible to customers should they need assistance. You get to hear conversations among readers. Some of our more gregarious customers like to give book recommendations on the spot to other customers. I enjoy listening to such naturally occuring Readers' Advisory moments.

The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night. – Isabel Allende

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Staff @ West U

In the photo above, we took part in "Aloha Summer" week. It is always good to celebrate winding down from a successful summer Reading Program.

Here are links to various West U. Library staff members' blogs:
Libby, Franc, Megan, Linda
We are all having loads of fun and some frustration working on the "23 Things". Blogging can be obsessive! We find ourselves working on the blogs during breaks, lunch and at home. The learning curve is heading uphill at a steep angle.

I also posted a recommended reading sidebar today.

Quotation: Just the knowledge that a good book is waiting at the end of a long day makes that day happier. – Kathleen Norris

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lemonade for Libraries - Exercise 7

Lemonaders, 2007

For two summers in a row, the community has rallied support for the library by sponsoring lemonade stand contests. Prizes are given for the most successful stand and the most creative stand. Children sell the lemonade and other goodies, and are proud to turn in their horde of change and dollars to Friends of the Library. Last summer we used Lemonade funds to buy fun furnishings for the children's room. Very all-American. We are proud of our Lemonaders!

For Exercise 7, I edited this photo on the Snipshot website. Truth be told, it didn't need a whole lot of fixing up. But I did fool around with all the "Specialfx" on a few other photos. Tried the Clouds effect, Labyrinth effect and some others -- they did not enhance these particular photos, but I am glad to know these tools exist should I need them.

Fooling around with Pixer ( was fun, too. Picnik ( required Adobe Flash Player 9, which was not readily available for downloading on my PC today, so I never got to try that one. I have used various photo editing programs enough in the past and can usually figure out the basics. If not, I just ask the young people on staff -- quite often they know how to do the latest things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Here It Is - Exercise 6

Road sign, Arizona, 1987

Here we are in Week 3 of the "23 Things".

Learning new web skills is downright, upright exciting.

I tried loading a lettered collage mashup this morning but apparently it was a big file and took so long, I had to give up and sign off the computer at our Information Station before it could finish. Oh well, although it was fun, it did result in that infamous "ransom note" look.

Later: I tried both the trading card and captioning apps, and became somewhat frustrated. The trading card photo was too distorted to display. The captioned photo would have been cool, but would not accept the resulting webpage address. Also, when I tried to copy the captioned image (made using one of my Flickr photos) onto the desktop, only the original non-captioned photo was saved.

I admit it, I feel newly tech-savvy, using the word "app", even though I couldn't get most of them to work as I expected.

Literature is a luxury, fiction a necessity. - G. K. Chesterton

(This was the quote I tried to use in the mashup and the captioned photo.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Flickr Fun - Exercise 5

I was an art major in college and still enjoy messing around with all things artistic.
I enjoy putting photos onto Flickr.
Most of all I enjoy taking photos in natural settings or places where nature and civilization intersect. I like to look for abstractions. Or on rainy days, I like setting up still life compositions.

And here are the photos from our branch library, taken by various staff members:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Grateful - Exercises 2, 3 and 4

What has being a public librarian taught me?

I have learned to listen.
I have learned to put others first.
I have improved my manners!
I have greatly increased my memory skills.
I feel in touch with my "village" in that I get to see trends unfold as my customers present their needs to me.
I am honored by their confidence.
I am happy when I get to pass along needed information, just the right book or movie.

What a privilege it is to work @ HCPL, where we are encouraged to grow to our full potential.

We were asked to share something on this post about internet safety. I am used to some public exposure due to being a book reviewer. I also went through a period of my life where I wrote a lot of poems and stories that were published in various print media, and some of them have made their way online, so I guess I've had to get used to that amount of exposure. I have not gotten into social networking; perhaps because at "midlife", I can barely keep up with friends and fmaily as is, and feel no need for new online friends.

We were also asked to consider our learning styles. Most of all, I am a hands-on learner, and somewhat autodidactic. I have to admit I often jump into things without really studying all the instructions; I just want to get going! But when something doesn't come naturally, oh how I appreciate talented helping hands.

This past summer I began to teach small computer classes here at the library. I tell you, I have got some new friends for life now that I have taught some of the seniors how to cut and paste and/or do email!