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.