The Library Oath

With all respect and modesty to George R.R. “Just get Off Yer Arse and Finish the Damn Book Already” Martin . . . this is what happens when Emma and I start trading GOT signals at work and begin discussing the Circ desk as if it’s a wall 700 feet high, made of ice:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall educate people, answer any question, and read to children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my reference desk. I am the candle in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the knowledge of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Library, for this night and all the nights to come.

—The Library Oath

The spooky thing is that it only took a few minutes to adapt the original. Now I just need to get a bunch of t-shirts printed with this and show up at ALA Mid-Winter.

A Shameless Plug

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m trying to get back into the game of fiction writing. Along the way, I’ve met plenty of awesome people who got involved in the game after I left, or never left and went on to do amazing things. Charles Barouch is one of the latter. We worked together years ago when we both wrote game review columns for Gateways magazine, which has long since disappeared into the mists of time.

Charles now had his own small press, HDWP Books, and is currently producing an intriguing short fiction series called “Theme-Thologies.” The idea is simple: create a theme for a book then find the best stories possible to fill the space.

I’m not in any of the books currently on the shelf but I am working to get a piece into one of the future anthologies. I do believe in the project and the staff and writers involved, however, so I’ll be putting some cash down for these titles. You may consider doing the same. If nothing else, let’s share this far and wide and get some exposure for these guys.

 Charles’s post as it appeared on his G+ account earlier today reads as follows:
I need $6
You are all nice people. I’m sure if I asked you for $6, just because I needed it — or even wanted it — a lot of you would reach into your pocket. I’m not asking for me. Well, not exactly for me…
Here’s my problem: I need to jumpstart the sales on Theme-Thology. These are really good books but we aren’t visible enough. Can you spare $6 to help 18 authors and artists?A Promise: From now until April 21st, if you buy the first two Theme-Thologies (total: $5.98) and post a review of either of them (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads), I will send you the first eBook from our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou and the book is yours.A Prize: Additionally, from now until April 21st, if you buy any of the first three Theme-Thologies ($2.99 each), I will enter you into a drawing to win one of the following eBooks: one of five different Mike Reeves-McMillan books (City of Masks, Hope and the Patient Man, Hope and the Clever Man, Realmgolds, Gu), A Noble’s Quest by Ryan Toxopeus, Adjacent Fields by Charles Barouch, or The Tower’s Alchemist by Alesha Escobar.
Just buy the Theme-Thology of your choice and post at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.● Already bought them? Post a review (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads) and I will send you the first eBook of our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless and put you in the drawing. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.

● Received the Adjacent Fields signed, limited edition print book at Spectrum 2013? Post a review (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads) and I will send you the first eBook of our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless and put you in the drawing. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.

Full Details Here: http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou

Buy if you can, click on one of the share buttons below if you can’t.

7 Uses I Can Think of for Google Glass

Google Glass just got some cool new glasses frames. This is a nice development, especially for those of us who are visually challenged enough to need prescription lenses.

Beyond the fashion sense (or lack thereof) involved in this, I decided that while the gizmo itself is still a bit on the goofy side, it became something to lust after when combined with a real-world application (read, “sight”). That led me to wonder whether it was being used in libraries. And that led me to to do a bit of searching to find that yes, indeed, libraries are putting the tools to the test:

Library Journal has this report concerning the uses that Colorado’s Arapahoe Library District has put their new equipment to, while OEDb managed to think of 6 things libraries can do with Google Glass. Meanwhile the folks at Claremont Colleges Library haven’t actually begun to use their new equipment but they are gearing up for an exploration of its uses a bit later this spring.

While I’m not a GG developer and the technical facets of developing for this type of tech are beyond me (for now), I do have a list of tings I’d ultimately like to see Google Glass do:

1. Call Number Linking: At the moment we have StackMap installed on our online catalog. It’s helpful, but it’s tough to carry a monitor off to the stacks with you. . Why can’t location maps be projected on a Glass screen that leads you to the correct shelf?

2. RFID Linking: Scan a bar code with your eyes and watch the ILS register a checkout or a discharge.

3. Combine BookMyne with Google Glass: Since BookMyne is a SirsiDynix product (which allows you to search the online catalog from a iOS or Android powered device) you’d have to substitute your own vendor’s equivalent, but I think the application is there. The utility of building a similar type of functionality into Google Glass should be obvious.

4. Metadata Scanning: point Google Glass at a shelf of books that have been tagged with RFID sensors (or, since we’re talking about optical recognition technology, possibly just a call number tag) and watch the title, author, and borrowing history flow past your eyes. There’s no reason to stop there, either. If a book isn’t available you should be able to shoot an e-mail request for it or place it on hold with a spoken command.

5. Inventory Control: Metadata scanning taken to the umpteenth degree. The only difference would be the scale of the project. Except in this case, you’d scan a shelf of books visually and log them as ON SHELF. 30,000 print items in an hour? With a few people and the right tools, why not?

6. HelpDesk: Google Glass can already send e-mail; having the institution help desk on speed dial and a built in metadata cache fill in appropriate data about the nature of the request should be elementary.

7. Self-help instructional videos from the user’s POV: This should be a no-brainer, and it’s one of the uses that OEDb has already described in their blog post.

I’m sure there are other uses, but these are what come to mind as I go over my daily grind in tech services. I comprehend that this is a bucket list; I have no clue what level of attention SirsiDynix or other ILS vendors are planning to unleash on Google Glass, if any. But  I think that these are natural things to wish and work for as we progress from handheld devices into handless ones. The vendor that provides these new tools will clean up. It’s that simple.

Something to think about.

Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Intelligence-Priming Reading List

Neil de Grasse Tyson answered a recent post on Reddit that asked which books the whole world should read. Openculture.com printed his list here.

Tyson’s reading list is as follows:

1.) The Bible (eBook) - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

I like the list a lot, but I think the commentary could use some tweaking. The Bible, for example, is far too complicated a work of literature to be summarily dismissed as a mind control tool, even though he’s right in observing that’s how it gets used more often than not.

The Wealth of Nations, for another instance, is a more fully  developed continuation of Smith’s earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which deals much more fundamentally with the ethical and moral construction of modern industrial commerce than the later book does, which is one reason it’s less widely studied in business schools.

Similarly, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War as a primer in how to defeat an opponent in any contest of power. Its principles apply to the political and commercial realms as well as to the battlefield.

Lastly, The Prince is widely thought of as an instruction manual for achieving and maintaining power, but there’s a school of thought that says Niccolo Machiavelli intended it to be a sarcastic screed against the machinations of the great houses of Europe.

Anyway, Paine, Darwin, and Newton are the three on this list I still need to actually read over a weekend. How about you?

The Government is Toast, but MCNY is Still Here

Or, as CNN  put it in today’s news:

Washington (CNN) — The game of chicken failed. Neither side blinked. Now millions will pay the price.

Americans watched a colossal failure by Congress overnight and the shutdown of their government.

For weeks, the House and the Senate blamed and bickered, each claiming they’re standing up for what the public wants.

In the end, it led to the one outcome nobody wanted — one that will stop 800,000 Americans from getting paid and could cost the economy about $1 billion a week.

“Agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a note it sent to federal employees.

This is the first time the government has shut down in nearly 18 years. The last time it did, the stalemate lasted 21 days during the Clinton administration.

Which, we all remember, was initiated by a southern fried lunatic named Newt Gingritch (GA-R). History repeating itself? Well, yes, as far as I can tell, it is. But city and state governments are still running, and while that is eminently useful, the two entities are not really interchangeable.

This situation is a bit nerve wracking as MCNY gets a fair amount of support from student loans which are run through the federal government, but today and for the forseeable future, we are here.

And because we are here, we have a new display going up shortly. Here’s a look at the stack of books we pulled from the shelves:

photo

 

As you can tell, the theme is “Monsters: Real & Imagined.” I’ll post another pic when it’s properly arranged.

 

Now Cataloging: Kate Ascher

I’ve been looking at Kate Ascher’s work for the past few hours. Two of her textbooks, The Works: Anatomy of a City and The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper are in front of me. I’ve decided that The Works is the more interesting of the two, but both are very much worth reading.

The Works takes a horribly opaque and fiendishly abstract topic, i.e., the infrastructure of a big city (NYC in this case) and turns it into a story of how a few million people survive crammed into a densely confined geographic space. How strange is it (for example) that for ten million people living in the five boroughs, “normal” consists of flipping a switch to get light, or that milk comes put of a carton that magically appears at a particular kind of store? Water gushes from pipes on command, and you push a lever on a tank to flush away the remains of last night’s burrito supreme. Our primary form of personal transport isn’t our feet, but a box with wheels on the bottom. And without enough gas to put in that box, it’s about as useless as a bow tie on a fish. Forget crazy fads like television, radio, or the Intarwebs; how insane was indoor plumbing thought to be when introduced at the turn of the twentieth century? (“You’re gonna put what? Inside yer house? Are you crazy?”)

The point is that the 20,000 or so miles of streets, highways, boulevards, and roadway that I and million of others call home all came from somewhere, whether consortia of the business class desiring private access roads, a need to get lots of working class folks to and from jobs that were being brought into the city by new factories, or a need to get product from factories to markets. It’s easy to forget all that in the tedium of daily life here. For a simple experiment in contrast, try walking home from Manhattan to one of the outer boroughs one afternoon. That’ll make you appreciate the subway right quick.

To make her work a bit more accessible, Ascher organized the narrative into discrete sections:

Moving People: where we get a comprehensive view of the facts of the streets, subways, bridges and tunnels;

Moving Freight: all about mail freight, water freight, air cargo, and the evolution of markets and the space they inhabit;

Power: deals with the creation and delivery of electricity, natural gas and steam;

Communications: the history of NYC’s telephone and mail service, and the airwaves which carry everything from e-mail to porn at the speed of light;

Keeping it Clean: water, sewage, and garbage (gross–but necessary).

The Future is the final section, and it’s necessarily more speculative than the previous chapters. That said, Ascher makes the point that in the past, NYC had a less than unified structure. The roads, electric lines, gas lines and everything else all grew up independently of each other. Municipal planning as we understand it didn’t even exist until well after the Revolutionary War (Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, anyone?) and central planning of city services didn’t really get rolling until after the First World War. Ascher’s vision of the trend behind concurrent deployment of a city’s infrastructural needs–where telephone lines run along water mains, for example–is a fascinating one.

I won’t go too deeply into The Heights here except to say that this book deals with skyscrapers much the same way that The Works deals with the guts of NYC. The primary difference is that Ascher extends her scope to tall buildings located all over the world. Very specific business models, labor practices, and technology were developed in order to make such structures possible, never mind how we currently inhabit them. Additionally, it was only after certain city services became available on a truly citywide basis (plumbing, electricity) that even thinking about such things as the 102-story  Empire State Building became possible.

These are awesome textbooks, which read like mystery novels, and are worth a purchase for any library.

 

Top Genre Fiction Titles

Our reference librarian asked me to think about what we might want on the shelves to represent genre fiction titles.

My writing for genre fiction has been limited to a couple of RPG adventure books a long time ago and an epic SF series (The Blockade) that I hope will be published sooner rather than later. I have shared opinions on Andrew Burt’s Critters workshop. I’ve taken writing workshops in college, which, to my mind, is the only time anyone needs to take such classes, because, hey, 3 credits!  I know my own writing here can be kind of rushed sometimes (like, when I’m in a rush) and I try to avoid that.

On the other hand, I know what I like to read. I can tell a good story from a bad one. I know what good writing looks like, or I think I do. And God help me, I know what bad writing looks like. That said, I do enjoy thinking about what titles I’ve read recently (or not) that remain with me.

Granted, the genre stuff I read these days  is limited to sci-fi. I have read and enjoyed fantasy books in the past but it’s been years since I found anything in that space that I like enough to suggest.

At the same time, I’m slogging through titles which I think are amazing (The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, for one) which I don’t think our students are likely to enjoy. My favorite horror write of all time is Joe R. Landsdale, but unless you really enjoy reading about the freakish things that happen in East Texas, you’re unlikely to share that opinion. We got requests for Urban fantasy, too, but in that realm, your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, because your guess is as good as mine I’m looking for feedback on this one. I’d appreciate hearing from readers (all three of you) what you’d suggest for the genre fiction shelf.

My nowhere nearly exhaustive sci-fi list is as follows:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Redshirts by John Scalzi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Steven Baxter

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Expiration Date by Tim Powers

Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman

Moonfall by Jack McDevitt

 

And on the fantasy side:

The first two Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson

The River of Dancing Gods series by Jack L. Chalker

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein (obviously)

 

What do you think? What did I miss?

An iPhone Experiment

Today, I am trying an experiment: writing a blog post from my iPhone. Chances are you are wondering just how far behind the curve I am, but not in this case. It’s true that the WordPress app for the iPhone is infinitely more comprehensive than it was a year ago when I first acquired it. But I was more interested in discovering what it feels like to take something I can do in my sleep with a laptop and deal with it in a different environment.

The truth is I’m trying to get into the heads of my students better.

Here’s the thing. Our students are not dumb. But many if them are what I call functionally computer illiterate. You know what functional illiteracy is. It’s the guy who can read traffic signs, and license plates, and street signs, and can read the title of a book and the stuff on his driver’s license. But when it comes to cracking a book, or a newspaper, or a magazine, the words on the page congeal into a hardened mass that he can’t understand without tremendous effort. And, since people tend to follow the path of least resistance, he just walks away. The experience of reading eludes him. After a while he stops caring.

Our students are not that different in this one respect. Many of them own PCs and use them proficiently but many don’t. But the ones that aren’t fully computer literate are smart phone savvy. They can make their phone of choice flip over, beg, and ask for a tummy rub. Unfortunately they don’t have the ability to write term papers on their phones.

At least, not yet. And at least a few would if they could.

I’m not suggesting that such a thing would be wise even if it were possible but consider this: SirsiDynix already offers the ability for an iPhone or Android phone to search online catalogs by way of the BookMyne app. Considering that smart phones and PCs really aren’t that different under the hood, what further levels of integration are possible?

Anyway, I’ve learned a few things from doing this. One, blogging from my phone, while sort if neat, is annoying. The distractions are endemic. In the twenty or so minutes I’ve worked on this I’ve received a dozen texts from three different people and one phone call. All force me to either deal with the distraction and kill my train of thought, or shove the problem to the side for later. Second, There is a certain uneasiness to this activity and I’m not sure that its’ something that can be ignored. That makes me wonder whether my students have the same discomfort when they sit down in front of an unfamiliar (or barely familiar) PC and open a new document in Word.

Something to think about.

Medeival Help Desk

Because it’s Thursday, because I have a cart of books to catalog and no time to write, and because this is something that will never get old:

English Major Geekery

A bit of disclosure, since a couple of people have asked: I came up with the title to the previous post in a pretentious fit of Shakespearean geekery. It’s a hazard of English majors everywhere. The wording is a play on a line from Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4, where Falstaff tell the young Prince Harry “banish plump Jack, banish all the world.”

There’s more to the quote than that. I have always thought that these lines are the finest description of what the bard’s Fat Man stands for as he defends his behavior to those around him. It’s a strangely honest rendition of what goes on inside Falstaff’s head:

But to say I know more harm in him than in myself,
were to say more than I know. That he is old, the
more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but
that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster,
that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault,
God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a
sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if
to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine
are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack
Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff,
valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant,
being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him
thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Translation: You can’t avoid me, kid. I am the most real human being you will ever meet.

The thing is, he’s right. John Falstaff, for all his failings, is the most real person that the future Henry V will ever meet.The boy has been raised his whole life in the presence of the royal court; his father, the current Henry IV, has no time for anything that isn’t state business. His staff teaches the boy royal manners, rules, and behaviors, but not what it is to be a man, or , really, a king. (Harry comes to grips with his kinghood in Henry V, but that’s another play.)

Anyway, normally, Harry would have to figure out the gritty bits on his own so into this breach (as it were) steps Sir John Falstaff who proceeds to show the boy what a larger-than-life, raucous, boastful failure of a man looks like. This is a lesson that Harry learns well as the audience sees when he tells Sir John to pop off at the end of Henry IV Part 2 (“Old man, I know thee not!”)

Not that I’d compare Alan Moore to John Falstaff: one is a liar, a cheat, a buffoon, a lout; a fat, slovenly, cowardly sot. The other writes comic books. But no matter how crazy, nonsensical, utterly bizarre, or freakish one of Moore’s stories might seem to the new reader, his work is unquestionably real, drawing believable, flawed, heroic, and well-developed characters into terrifying situations, and failing or prevailing as they can. There is much to be learned about story and storytelling within the pages of any of Moore’s writings. Arguably as much as in a Shakespearean play, although probably in a more accessible form.

Thus: banish Alan Moore, banish the world.

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