Friday, February 29, 2008

"Cursing, threatening, perhaps violent librarians."

"It was a concept that they could not get their minds around. Their whole world fell to pieces and not one of the subjects they took at school gave them a clue about putting it back together. Had they Googled it, it still wouldn't have helped them"

sounds somewhat more interesting than it actually is…

(i, at least, have managed to bite my tongue before the curse words actually emerge, or at least muttered them under my breath)

Free for All: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library is a book that i saw somewhere and thought would be somewhat entertaining (i, like many others like me, snap up those tales of libraries and bookstores for the camaraderie, relatability, or something like that.) Dan Borchert

“was a short-order cook, door-to-door salesman, telemarketer (did a bit of that myself back in the day...), and Christmas-tree-chopper before landing work in a California library. He never could have predicted his encounters with the colorful kooks, bullies, and tricksters who fill the pages of this hilarious memoir.”

(Some note should be made here that Borchert isn’t a MLS degreed librarian~nor did he ever call himself one in the book~apparently there has been some not-mild controversy surrounding this because in his marketing or publicity interviews or some such, he has been called a librarian; and of course many librarians, having worked hard and paid much for that grad school degree, resent people taking the title librarian unjustly~let me just say here, that, tho i am among those~to a certain extent~who cling to that title so proudly and possessively, i’m not sure if this is his mistake or those marketing him and i’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and much of the public is unawares so that can’t really be blamed [to a certain extent~i believe it is at least partly our job to educate the public…] {and we have a librarian assistant at my library without whom i would be lost~but she's still not a librarian~perhaps Borchert's system should make a clearer delineation between tasks that various job functions perform than they currently seem to~because his book makes it appear a little haphazard...and maybe it is...})

Having got that out of the way, Free for All was quite a bit less than i wanted it to be. As many other librarians have said i have much more humorous (and more frightening) tales to tell (though a few of his were unique in some respects~i'm sure every librarian has at least a few of those...) And is this really an urban Los Angeles library~it sounds a bit more like a smaller town~or is that just my cynical jaded self? I must say i was not overly impressed with Borchert’s writing ability either (nor his seeming equation with the way things are done at his library, in his system with the way things are done in all systems~such as who does what and way as well as the way his bureaucracy function.) I’m not a big fan of the book's organizational scheme either. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, though, and there were some amusing moments. Perhaps this would actually be of more interest to those who do not work in libraries to discover that all is not quiet in the library or that we do not "just sit around and read all day, perhaps for me it is more like a “busman’s holiday”.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

what do we need librarians for anyway?

not that i’m asking, of course, (that would be a little self destructive, don’t you think?) but a number of people do some to wonder such a thing, especially as budgets are crunched and administrators begin to investigate where they can cut costs…

The latest kafuffle concerns the elimination of the "librarian 1" positions in the Marathon County Public Library. One of the four positions is currently vacant and the others will be collapsed into three customer service/librarian positions which the current librarians will be offered (at $10,000 less per year) or they can apply for a lead customer service/librarian position (along with everyone else) that job pays what they currently make. I suppose this is a much better deal than many people are getting in this time of recession and unemployment, but i find the reasoning for the cuts a bit off: that libraries are becoming more like community centers (not necessarily a bad thing, but they are still libraries) and that their demands are for less complex, detailed work; mainly simple customer service and computer assistance. I have said before and shall repeat myself here that the public has a hard time differentiating between those who simply work in a library and librarians. They don’t really understand what librarians do or that they really need them (coincidentally enough, i just had two gentlemen ask me questions {one for a book one for computer searching [paid database~not internet} which required research only a librarian could perform...). Just because times are changing (and we must change with them, there are new expertise's to be learned but at the same time we must exercise the old~and remind people why they need us). As librarians we do a poor job of self-promotion and if we are to retain our jobs we need to do better…

Here’s John Berry’s opinion from March’s Library Journal:

Blatant Berry: The Vanishing Librarians

It looks like the “transformation” we seek for libraries and librarianship may turn out to be more of a “deskilling” of library jobs than an enhancement of the profession. More and more working librarians are “managed” by a new breed of library leader. Their model for the new public library is that dehumanized supermarket or the chaotic disorganization of the largest Barnes & Noble.

As this process unfolds, the once professional responsibilities of librarians are being dumbed down into the duties of retail clerks or the robotic responses of machines. Our circulation desks are disappearing. The humans who once greeted and discussed with patrons our wares and services as they dispensed them are being replaced by self-service. Those circulation clerks are either being terminated or sent to work elsewhere in the library.

Our reference services and the desk from which they were delivered are gone, too, replaced by wandering “librarians,” with or without an MLS. They are supposed to be proactive in searching out patrons in need but are too often summoned on walkie-talkies or terminals to come to the aid of only those who ask or to respond to the few inquiries that arrive online. Of course, we need fewer and fewer of these librarians, because patrons are urged to do it all for themselves, via Google, PACs, or whatever they discover through our terminals or their own laptops and PCs.

Our catalogers began to disappear with the takeover of that function by OCLC, the nonprofit that aspires to be a corporation in this brave new retail library world. The standardized result of the effort is bypassed by patron and librarian alike, as they turn to the more friendly Amazons, Googles, et al., for the less precise, more watered-down “metadata” that has replaced what used to be cataloging. Apparently, users don’t miss the old catalog, except as a familiar artifact, which is testimony to how low this dumbing down has taken us.

In the new model, that most sacred of our professional duties, the selection of materials to build services and collections, is turned over to either small centralized teams of two or three librarians and clerks, or in extreme cases to an external vendor, usually a library book distributor.

The resulting “destination” libraries resemble the cookie-cutter design of the grocery store, aimed at making sure everyone who comes in goes out with “product” (books, CDs, DVDs, or downloads). What the patron takes is of as little concern to the storekeeper librarian as it is to the supermarket manager. The success of the enterprise is measured in the number of products collected by patrons, now called “customers.” It is no longer measured in the usefulness or impact of the service on the quality of life in the community served.

Many of the American Library Association-accredited LIS programs that once claimed to “educate” the professional librarians who run these libraries have been invaded by faculty from other disciplines, a great many of whom are far more adept at the politics and pedagogy of academic survival than they are at the principled professional practice of librarianship.

Now the progress of this deskilling has come full circle. Having discovered that the manager librarians of these supermarket libraries need fewer and fewer professional librarians to staff their simplified operations, the governing authorities are beginning to decide they don’t need a professional librarian to manage them. Some have been turned over to successful business types from industry, some to lawyers, some to academic administrators or fundraisers, and some to professional financial managers.

The most surprising part is that so few library leaders have raised their voices in alarm or outrage at this erosion of the standards to which libraries once aspired. It is frightening to think that we will stand quietly by and watch as professional librarians disappear from libraries and with them the quality of the services and collections in which we once took such professional pride.

And here’s the ever-entertaining(don't always agree with her, but still love to read her) Annoyed Librarian

Library Jobs that Suck #4

There's an exciting opportunity in Wisconsin for anyone who wants to work in a library with a demoralized staff and a director who likes to demote or drive off librarians.

Wouldn't you just love to apply to be the new Customer Services Lead Librarian at the Marathon County Public Library in lovely Wausau, Wisconsin? I knew you would. Doesn't this sound
like a fantastic job:

"The Marathon County Public Library is seeking a highly qualified individual for the position of Customer Services Lead Librarian. This is a leadership position focusing on constantly improving the customer-library experience throughout the Library system. The ideal candidate advocates for [sic], researches, creates, develops, and executes innovative approaches, services, and products to meet diverse community and diverse customer needs using creativity and entrepreneurial leadership for the
Library’s system. This position works directly with library staff to improve their customer service and responsiveness skills.

"I only had to read through that advertisement once to say, "Wow! This job is HOT!" They're looking for highly qualified people. I'm highly qualified. They want people to service some customers. I'm great at servicing customers. That's how I paid my way through library school! And they have that great long sentence explaining everything the lucky candidate would get to do. The lucky candidate could advocate innovative approaches or execute innovative products, really just anything, as long as its "innovative." And all of us would probably like to work with that persnickety staff to improve their responsiveness skills. That staff must really suck if the library is advertising how unresponsive they are. Someone needs to go in and light a fire under their bottoms! Also, who wouldn't want to work for a library with a mission "to attract customers to discovery and fun through exploration and entertainment." Ooohh, ahhh, discovery and fun through exploration and entertainment! That sure beats this mission: "The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." Because it's fun! And entertaining! And about servicing customers! Yay!!!

And it would also be fun to work in such a well known library. Oh sure, I know plenty of you work in well known libraries such as the New York Public or Widener or something. But how often do you get to opportunity to work in an increasingly nationally recognized public library in a small place in Wisconsin? Not often. But this library is famous, or at least it should be among librarians. See the news stories here, here, and of course here. Perhaps not everyone reads the Wausau Daily Herald (and why would you?), but everyone reads the AL, at least everyone who's reading this right now.

So if you want to work in a "customer service"-oriented job (and from what I hear every librarian should want to do that because that's what we're all about!), then go ahead and apply to the

Marathon County Public Library. There you can work in an "innovative" environment where the director demotes librarians and cuts their pay and where whatever formerly professional staff are left will resent you until they can find other jobs. And when the last of them go, you can hire some even lower-paid and less competent people to take their place. Yay! And you can improve their "responsiveness skills." Yay!

This is like a dream job, isn't it? The deadline is March 24, so hurry up with that application! Tell 'em the AL sent you and your application goes to the top of the pile.

So I suppose that’s my PSA, blah, blah, blah rant for the day… perhaps i’m just feeling a little self-important and want to hang on to my job as well as my salary (tho i still believe in that M.I.L.S.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"I wished that I were anyone but Ophelia, victim of mischance and evil"

I won't rehash my love of all things Shakespeare and the particular love i have for his play Hamlet here (although my reading of the particular young adult novel Ophelia by Lisa Klein did prompt a viewing of all six of my various Hamlet dvds for their sundry interpretations~it is always better to view performances than just to read over the text and i felt it all needed slight refreshing so i pulled i started by rereading the text itself then decided to pull out all five of my Hamlet dvds and watch those instead.

I started with the Kenneth Branagh version because that is the first version to actually use the full text of the play. It is set in Denmark, though in the nineteenth century (somehow i feel a bit iffy with the whole messing around with the bard thing~but then i think~how anachronistic was old Will to begin with? and i rethink my whole thinking...) Overall i liked the Branagh version (though, of course, i did have a few quarrels with it~can anyone ever do a film of something you love ever fully to your liking?~i found Ophelia a tad too "knowing", if that is in fact the word...).

I've always been fond of Franco Zeffirelli's Shakespeare and his Hamlet is no exception (tho i've somewhat soured on Mel Gibson now~i do love Helena Bonham-Carter as Ophelia and the locations here are wonderful). Olivier is brilliant as always~i can see why he is who he is (was?), but of course (tho how you can leave out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is beyond me...) and i also really like Richard Burton's dress rehearsal version. I must say i'm not a huge Ethan Hawke fan but i did like his Hamlet (even if it was set in "modern"~well year 2000, god how time does fly~New York). And then there is the Russian Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet, beautifully sparse and spare (just as imagine ninth century Denmark), it is also beautifully Russian… (i would also love to get my hands on a Ralph Fiennes Broadway production~so i'm just a little obsessesed~but this was probably enough for a single film festival...)

I think that Lisa Klein might be a slightly better author than Lisa Fiedler (what is it about the name Lisa and making feminists out of Shakespearean heroines~even when there already are a few feminist Shakespearean heroines already?). I’m actually quite struck by many of the similarities of the backstory in these novels. Klein doesn't seem to be stretching quite so much for her language anyway, and the book just seemed to flow much more naturally. Her Ophelia also seemed to be much more of a real feminist than did Fiedler’s (who’s felt more like what every young girl dreamed of being in a strong female~but maybe that is appropriate to a young adult novel.) And is there really a textual basis for Ophelia being an expert herbalist (other than her “there’s rue for you..” speech?~much of which content was more common knowledge than it is today) Not that i didn’t love the detail but it was common to both novels. I did have some problems with the setting tho~seemed to be more Elizabethan than the ninth century Danish i wanted it to be (there i go again...)

I really liked the relationship developed between Ophelia and Gertrude, as well as between Hamlet and Ophelia. Familial relationships seem to be more realistic than in Fiedler’s book (and no obnoxious father reworking...) The end is somewhat predictable (although about half of the novel takes place after the end of the play) from too many clues laid out along the way (and doesn’t seem entirely in keeping with the point of the novel~tho i suppose some concessions must be made.) ‘nough said? Too much?

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Why on earth would anyone refuse to be the queen of England?"

It's a concept that eight-year old Anne Boleyn can’t quite wrap her mind around when Charles, the grandson of Maximilian, patriarch of the Hapsburg family and Holy Roman Emperor, tells her that his aunt Margaret had refused to marry Henry VII. Charles plans to be the Holy Roman Emperor one day (not an unreasonable expectation, given hereditary lines and all~also given the fact that it is fulfilled). Anne plans to be the queen of England one day (this seems like a much more unreasonable expectation…but isn't it funny, isn't it strange how sometimes those, ever so unreasonable expectations come to pass? . . . )

Robin Maxwell considers her Mademoiselle Boleyn to be a prequel to her previous (rather excellent) works as it tells of Anne’s youth (before she rather fatally catches the eye of the lecherous King Henry IVIII, much of it spent in the French court of King Francois and Queen Claude (daughter of King Louis XII). She befriends Leonardo da Vinci (not mentioned in the history books but imagined, i suppose reasonably, by Maxwell).

It's been quite some time since i read her earlier works and, memory being what it is, though i remember liking them, i don't remember many of the details (though i did recommend The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn to a costumer just the other day because of course i had Mademoiselle Boleyn checked out at home~i just hate having to recommend books to customers~even though it is a big part of my job when they are completely uncooperative in telling me about their personal likes and dislikes, "Well, what do you like?" they so unhelpfully ask, as if we would have the exact same tastes, anyway...)

I've been watching The Tudors lately on Showtime and Maxwell seems to have her historical accuracy down much better than the creators of that show (although i'm not quite so much up on Anne's upbringing or the peripheral figures of the Tudor court as i could be~history never was my strong point, much as i loathe to admit it). But the Showtime people seem to have confused Henry's sisters as well as a few other characters which bothers me just a tad and i wonder what else they got wrong~still and all it is a very interesting series and i would recommend for its entertainment value and for some of its historical value.

From what i know Maxwell got right i tend to trust her other details and she does have some interesting after notes. Overall, i can highly recommend this book and it gives a much better (and much more sympathetic~and i do see many of Henry's wives as quite sympathetic characters~they really were victims of there age~and the only one i would wish to be is Anne of Cleves~she had it the best of anyone of her time and all because she was judged to be ugly~go figure...) portrait (in my ever so humble opinion) than that, ahem, other, Boleyn, historical receiving so much attention of late...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"bleedin' poetry"

If a novel were trying to talk big in an attempt to make itself look tough i think it just might be Channeling Mark Twain by Carol Muske-Dukes. This seems to be the first book in a while that didn't touch me personally, (other than reminding me of Vida~probably my least favorite Marge Piercy novel, or parts of The Handmaid's Tale, or my one ex-roommate). Before i figured out that it was actually set in the seventies i thought it was a little too hippy-heavy-handed~actually not a mixed metaphor however much it may sound like one.
I didn't find the narrating character all that likable~nor her motivations so easy to grasp~but with those caveats it wasn't the worst book i've ever read (hmmm...damning with faint praise anyone?) Holly Mattox is a Midwesterner (Minnesota to be exact in New York. She has just finished grad school, teaches at the New School and has some big ideas on social justice, feminism, radicalism, and all those other isms.
She has been part of an after-care program Women's House of Detention on Rikers Island and has just been granted permission to teach a poetry class there. One of the woman in her class, a Polly Lyle Clement, an epileptic inmate who was found floating in the East River and is currently awaiting transfer to a psychiatric facility (as about half the women in the detention center are), claims to be a direct descendent of Mark Twain and also claims to be gifted with "second sight", to be able to see into the future and the past and to be able to channel communication from her famous ancestor.
This was not an emotionally difficult book to read (nor was it painful to slog through). It was interesting despite my mis-connection and i'm not sorry i read it~though it did take me a while because i put it down several times (just not my highest recommendation here...)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

for all you non-lovers out there...

Sandwiched six weeks after Yule and and six weeks before the spring equinox (and a few weeks before that greeting-card created holiday "Valentines Day") comes Candlemas:

This “high holiday” or “greater sabbat” marks the time when the first signs of life return to the land and the Goddess changes her robes for those of Maiden. Other names for this sabbat are Imbolc (which means “in the belly”) and Oimelc (”milk of ewes”), which refer to the imminent growing and lambing season. This date stays the same each year.

Note: Some pagans celebrate Candlemas “Old Style” when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Aquarius (4 February 2008; this date varies each year).

so if you need/want another cause for celebration (or shun that other~as i so often do...)