Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting through the Dog Days of Summer

I don't have a lot to report this week. I've been busy reading books for a future LJ essay, titles I can't blog about since I am saving my comments for the article.

The collage workshop I was taking has wrapped up now. Some of my new collages are too big to fit on my scanner at home, but eventually I will digitize more of them to use here and elsewhere. And I've joined the Art League Houston so I can take advantage of courses and workshops they offer.

Art Knowledge News has become one of my favorite Bloglines accounts. It gives me a quick visual overview of major art shows around the world.

Our library made the front page of the West University Examiner this week! The article, entitled "From Ferrets to Feathers" tells about a few of the programs we've had lately, and is warmly written by our favorite local reporter, Anne Marie Kilday.

For better or worse, the Dog Days of summer are here. And they last a long time in Houston, so the best thing to do is get used to it. I've grown accustomed to the heat. RX: books, art, watermelon, swimming, and all places air conditioned, especially libraries!

Flipped Mountain collage by KAO

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ten Reasons I Like Being a Librarian

1. Access to books, constantly!

2. Helping people find what they need is rewarding.

3. There has been a lot of bending and stretching and moving around, so being a public librarian helps me keep fit.

4. My colleagues are interesting people.

5. Appreciation from customers is wonderful. I especially like helping senior citizens. Our little library sits right next door to a Senior Center, so I've been privileged to enjoy much contact with this most appreciative age group.

6. I get to go to book group on the job! (Yes, I do need to lead it and do research on each title to be discussed, but that's fun, too.)

7. Working for the library system has been a stable work environment, especially as compared to private industry.

8. Working with titles, authors, subjects sharpens the memory.

9. I have learned a lot about so many things, including technology. I even learned to blog on the job!

10. After thirty years with HCPL, I'll be able to retire. That's in about two years or so, knock on wood. Then I'll have more time for art, writing, gardening, etc. And it will become my turn to become an appreciative library customer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Collage Workshop @ the Glassell School of Art

I spent most of my college years in art classrooms. Deciding to be an art major was risky, but I felt art was the only path I could stay on that would lead me to a degree. The University erected a new art building which opened my sophomore year. The jewelrymaking room had an amazing array of high speed dental tools, oxygen acetylene torches and a centrifugal lost wax casting machine. I made silver rings for friends, and clunky sculpturesque pins dotted with common gemstones. In the ceramics studio, I learned how to fire gas kilns and make clay using a pug mill. Making pots on the potter's wheel was a true revelation -- I loved centering the clay and producing bowls and cups. I also tried photography, drawing, and printmaking. College did not last long enough as far as making art was concerned. I've made art on my own since then, but never took another formal course.

Finally I've returned to the art room setting. I am taking a workshop on collage at the Glassell School of Art. What a deja vu it was to sit down on a stool at a high work table, its surface paint-spattered and scarred by students past. The second time we met, everyone brought in their scraps of paper, cloth, twigs, and other ephemera to start some projects. One person brought mostly things in bright happy colors, another in a mostly natural shades. You could see where they might be headed with their art, yet you'd be hard pressed to see your own modus operandi spelled out in the collection of clippings and flotsam spilled out on the table.

Sasha, the teacher, challenged us to begin 6 collages all at once. It was chaotic but also freeing. If you got stuck on something in one composition, you turned your attention to the next one. We were asked to bring three back for critiquing next week. So I know what I'll be doing every spare moment between now and then.

I remember the first time I ever saw something resembling a collage. In grade school, when we got a new art teacher, one of the first signs of his creativity was a set of signs for the cafeteria. He used different art papers to make a hamburger and fries on a plate, a milk carton, a lunch box, etc. I was intrigued. I also remember a high school art project involving perspective where I pasted up a room with an alcove, furnishings and inhabitants. I was hooked, and I've enjoyed making collages ever since.

Noodling around a little on the web, I've learned there is an International Society of Collage and Assemblage Artists. I am going to subscribe to their blog. See also CollageArt.org. Perhaps my favorite collage/assemblage artist is Joseph Cornell. Among the collage artists Sasha mentioned with reverence were Robert Rauschenberg, Hannah Hoch and Dario Robleto.

Collage by KAO: Women #14

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

As American as Public Libraries

Mom, baseball, apple pie AND public libraries: to me they belong together. Public libraries are a powerful symbol of American democracy. But then, I am biased. I have been librarycentric and bookcentric since I was a young child, and perhaps inevitably grew up to be a librarian.

Now, for some factoids about public libraries... According to the American Library Association, ALA, there are 16,549 public libraries in our country. As of yesterday when I did my research using the U.S Population Clock, there were 304, 488,000 U.S. residents. That means there is approximately one public library per every 18,399 residents. That's more libraries than McDonald's franchises. And there is, of course, a big difference in library "franchises". They are "owned" by their public, not by a corporation or individual. Today's public libraries strive to be responsive to customer input. Some library systems use the word "member" instead of customer. Perhaps that's a better, more inclusive word for the public library relationship. A member of an organization usually has more input than a customer.

Ben Franklin's Library Company opened in Philadelphia in 1731. There were 50 subscribers, later called members, who donated 40 shillings each and pledged 10 shillings yearly to buy more books. Their motto: "To support the common good is divine." If you weren't an official member, you could put down a small deposit to borrow something. The Library Company was open on Saturdays from 4PM to 8PM. There were nine Library Company members among the fifty-six members of the Continental Congress who signed the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

The oldest library in the United States is actually located at Harvard University. Around 1638, a man named John Harvard donated 40 books and some money to an unnamed university. Subsequently, the university was named for him and their library began. Tax-supported U.S. public libraries did not begin until the 1800s; one of the first was established in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833.

Andrew Carnegie is the big name in free public libraries. From 1881 - 1919, he funded as many as 2,500 libraries throughout the English-speaking world. And then we have Meville Dewey, instrumental in the founding of ALA and Library Journal magazine. When he was a student library assistant at Amherst college in 1872, he managed to come up with the Dewey classification system we still use today. He also founded the country's first library school at Columbia University. They say he had a lot to do with welcoming women into the primarily male career field.

So that is my quick overview of where American public libraries came from. I'm glad we're here, and contrary to some dire prophecies, I think we are here to stay. May it be so....

photo by KAO: Graffiti Flag, construction site, Manhattan, May 2008