Reader's Exchange

April 2010 - Posts

Who's in your Rolodex?

My listening-while-driving highlight this morning was an NPR story about EMILY’s list.  Now a mighty political action committee celebrating 25 years of success, it arose from commonplace record-keeping.  It seems that a group of women assembled to share the contents of their Rolodexes. 

Spying eyeThat little rally called to mind another effective networker.  I don’t know whether Frank Campbell, public relations manager for Barnes & Noble Round Rock, stuck with Rolodex or has gone digital, but his list of contacts is enviable.  Host of the Round Rock New Neighbors monthly book discussion, he regularly produces noted authors as guest speakers-- Amanda Eyre Ward (Sleep Toward Heaven, Love Stories in This Town) and Mike Cox (Texas Disasters), for example.   

For the May 17 meeting (a Monday, 1:00 P.M. at the La Frontera  B&N), Frank arranged an appearance by author and counterterrororism expert Fred Burton.  Round Rock Public Library is co-sponsoring the event; the public is invited.  Oh, and prior attendance at RRNN is optional.

Discussion will focus on Burton’s memoir:   Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent.  I’ll be out of town that day, and, if Frank’s notes are any indication, will consequently miss some eye-opening comments and Q&A’s of this nature: 

·         Exactly what a counterterrorism expert is and what he has accomplished

·         How specific master terrorists have been tracked and captured

·          Burton’s experiences at Stratfor, which Barron’s dubbed “the shadow CIA”

·         Unseen threats in the post 9/11 world

Sadly, I’ll have to get my insider spycraft revelations second-hand, but the good news for someone else is an available chair.  Whoever claims it (regardless of whether he/she has already read the book) won’t be sorry and is welcome to bring a friend.  

What would Ranganathan do?

This week, two activities necessitated caution on my part.  The first, easier one, stems from the fact that we're still applying RFID tags to nonfiction books.  Some are weighty reference volumes; my goal is to avoid slinging them on and off the high shelves too quickly so they don't clonk one of our gracious volunteers on the noggin.

The second issue is more intricate and involves Ben Bova's new book, The Hittite.  Do we shelve it in the fiction section or the science fiction area?

Bova cover artSounds like an easy question, right?  Bova, a prolific author of science fiction, has attracted many fans who will probably expect to find the newest Bova (once it's off the "New Fiction" display) with his other titles in Science Fiction/Fantasy.

However, The Hittite exhibits more characteristics of fiction.  A retelling of the legend of Troy, it comes across as historical fiction, not science fiction.  A cataloger and I aired the pros and cons of assigning it to SF or Fiction (where it's a better fit, content-wise).  Fiction readers who appreciate Bova's prose might then venture into his SF writing; meanwhile, the library catalog will still direct Bova aficionados to Fiction for this book.  We concurred that Fiction was the way to go.

S. R. Ranganathan's famous Five Laws of Library Science ran, like computer software, in the background of my mental processing throughout this discussion.  Say it with me, librarians!

  • 1. Books are for use.
  • 2. Every reader his (or her) book.
  • 3. Every book its reader.
  • 4. Save the time of the reader.
  • 5. The library is a growing organism.

That is, we try to provide resources (and not just books) in a manner enabling the greatest possible number of users to find and enjoy them. 

Dr. Ranganathan died in 1972.  I bet he would have liked RFID .

No trivial pursuits

Reference librarianship is a green occupation.  Work at the reference desk long enough, and you'll find a use for any scrap of trivia you have ever picked up.  You even have opportunities to recycle; some questions present themselves repeatedly.

Librarians note, too, that special nuggets of data that we seek in pursuit of purely individual (we thought) interests not only address someone's question but even lead to unexpected avenues of inquiry and discovery.  Ah, the circle of life.

ikebana arrangementThis observation was prompted by a visit from two former colleagues.  They journeyed down from the Midwest for the weekend, and I'm proud to report that we did not devote our time to libraries and bookstores (well, just one library).  We opted instead to rummage through antique stores and boutiques, sample restaurant fare, check out the Williamson Museum, and gape longingly at wildflowers and the multitude of Volkswagens traversing roads around Fredericksburg.

Such ventures, along with chats about hobbies and experiences, add as much to our informational repertoire as does sharing reference Q&A's.  Perhaps that explains why I didn't disappoint (for example) the patron who asked for books about ikebana.  As I walked her to the flower arranging section, she confided that more than once that term was assumed to denote another form of martial arts.

We may have succeeded too well in our quest for unlibrarian-like well-roundedness.  On the drive back to Round Rock, one of our group wondered about the style and construction date of a building we'd seen.   We all nodded blankly that, yes, this would be interesting to know.

My daughter's "Gosh, if only there were a reference librarian in this car!" sent me scrounging for my iPhone to salvage our collective reputation.  The answer:  Moderne, 1939.

Still crazy after all those tags

You probably heard that the library was closed last week to prepare for our new RFID checkout system.  Tasked with installing little white transmitter tags in approximately 180,000 items, we library employees quickly mastered the "insert tag, scan barcode" process.  Then, repetition fatigue set in (about 30 minutes into the week-long project), and we all thanked our lucky stars for the company of like-minded individuals.

Not only are library folk blessed to share a creative and slightly loopy sense of humor, we seem to attract volunteers who can make mind-numbing chores bearable and even fun.  All sorts of music, quirky conversations, and humor (not to mention tips on how to scan just a fraction faster) kept us focused and efficient.

Magic wandThe library is open again, and you'll find us not one bit crazier than before--or one bit less.  The major difference is the amazed smiles inspired by new checkout stations that can scan an entire stack of books at once without your opening any covers.  More than one patron has deemed the process "magic".

Because A/V materials were so time-consuming, we're still tagging some of the books.  Some second-floor volumes are not yet endowed with that special power to instantly scan--yet.  But we're working on it.  And now I have an answer to the awful (for me) question "what are your favorite books?"  I hate to admit how frequently my favorite is the one I just finished.

At this juncture, my response is immediate and fervent:  I like the magic books.