Reader's Exchange

October 2011 - Posts

You can never have too much candy--or knowledge

I awoke today in a state of terror, which, given that it's October 31, sounds appropriate.

Potential visitation by hordes of zombies, ghouls, and sparkly princesses doesn't frighten me.  (Running of out treats would be ghastly, but I always overstock.)  No, it's National Novel Writing Month--starting tomorrow--that gives me the fantods.

I said I'd participate and I will; I even have a plot, more or less.   My hope is that, after ingesting vats of caffeine, I'll be miraculously swept along on a surge of inspiration and somehow crank out the required 50,000 words by the end of the month.   However, as any writer knows, nothing generates panic like an empty to-be-completed screen or pristine sheet of paper, especially when it's accessorized with a deadline.   Worried jack o'lantern

Today, the last day before NaNoWriMo,  I'm preoccupied with not tripping up the library stairs or snagging the trailing hem of my Halloween costume on the wheels of office chairs.  Re-using the elaborate gown that I made for my daughter's Renaissance festival visit seemed like such a practical idea, too.  Imagine wearing this sort of thing back in the day, ascending slippery castle steps or navigating around open fires.  Truly horrifying.   

But modern navigation offers spine-tingling moments, too.

One morning last week, I was heading east into downtown on 620 when I detected a siren approaching from behind.   Several of us immediately pulled over as far right as we could and stopped.  A number of others did not; in fact, a few drivers accelerated directly in front of the ambulance, presumably to gain position in the traffic queue.  Those who simply proceeded as usual may not have heard due to radio volume, phones, etc.

We were lucky: no collision transpired, and the ambulance wove past without incident.  But afterward, I panicked a bit, wondering whether I had in fact made the wrong move.  Given the number of drivers not moving right and stopping, I began to question whether this was actually the correct practice.   

A couple of internet searches led me to the Texas Transportation Code online, specifically Sec. 545.156: Vehicle Approached by Authorized Emergency Vehicle.  Resources like Findlaw, the Texas Department of Public Safety (did you know that the driver's handbooks are online?),, and the Round Rock Public Library's Government and Legal databases can be quickly accessed.  They furnish a reliable knowledge base for everyday questions like this one.

And, if your legal concerns are city-oriented, it's nice to know that Round Rock's Code of Ordinances is handily online and updated on a monthly basis.  That's one more issue not to worry about.   Now, if the City could only do something about those 175 blank pages...

What's highly visible but transparent?

Browning lawns, fuel price locators, and political debates are signs of the times.  I encountered another one last Friday.   

Registering for the district Texas Library Association meeting in Georgetown, I was startled to spy many, many empty chairs--and I'd arrived just in the nick of time.  Skimpy attendance, as it happens, didn't denote lack of interest in the organization or new advances in librarianship.  Practical considerations had intervened:  tight staffing due to increased customer traffic and budget cuts, reduced travel funds, and competing responsibilities.  Last-minute issues also factored in.  One librarian slated to present a report had to cancel; even the minimal staffing level for her library couldn't be met with two employees out ill.  Glass piggy bank

Fortunately, my drive cost very little.  I could even make it back to the reference desk for afternoon duty so could attend the morning half of the meeting. 

And a worthwhile gathering it was, too.  TLA is already envisioning resourceful strategies (including "virtual library districts") so that librarians aren't obliged to choose between serving the immediate customer and enhancing their skills to assist all our customers more knowledgably. 

I would have hated to miss the morning's first presentation.  This eye-opener came from none other than the State Comptroller's Office.   If you think that "comptroller" sounds either quaint or vague (or possibly both), don't let the moniker fool you.   This agency offers informational resources you don't want to be without.   Did you know:

Oh, and you can view every check written by every state agency to every vendor paid by the state (Where the Money Goes) or sign up to receive email alerts when new data in your category of choice becomes available. 

We often bemoan the dearth of reliable, practical offerings on the internet--at least, that is our impression when we're inundated by ads, personal opinions, and trivia.  Window on Texas Government is a textbook example of modern information provision that librarians love:  it's guaranteed to relate something of interest to you, it's updated frequently, and, like TLA, it's engineered to adapt to less favorable times while increasing the likelihood of better ones.

A note for you local folks:  if you find your name on the Unclaimed Property list, remember: please Shop the Rock!

Words of a feather

If you're lucky enough to enjoy windows and natural light at work, you appreciate any vista from the world beyond fluorescent ceilings.   A couple of days ago, a colleague pointed out an especially wonderful sight.

Parked across the street sat a spacious Cadillac, custom-painted a deep pink with coordinating rose leatherette top.  Completing the look, a pair of impressively long horns curved atop the hood.   To me, this unsubtle automotive d├ęcor advised, "I enjoy this car--and life."Peacock stained glass window

Then, when the book I'd been waiting for arrived later that day, I had to smile at its similarly over-the-top book jacket.   A defiant peacock, feet firmly planted along the edge of volume, stands unfurling tail feathers that cover the entire surface.   Ann Napolitano's book designer made the perfect choice for A Good Hard Look.

Fans of Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) already know about her association with peacocks.  Forced by lupus to leave New York City and return to her childhood home in rural Georgia, O'Connor continued writing.  Having evidenced interest in birds since early childhood, she followed up on that, too, collecting and nurturing a variety of exotic species including dozens of peafowl.

Like their owner's writing, these birds command attention by combining harshness and finesse.   An admirer of O'Connor (especially her short stories), I nonetheless find it very easy to imagine that many of her neighbors were horrified when they first sampled her critically acclaimed prose. 

That's where A Good Hard Look comes in.   Napolitano (who has clearly done her homework with regard to O'Connor's life and experience) imagines this scenario:  Flannery, limited by chronic illness to a narrow existence in rural Milledgeville, witnesses the triumphant return of the much-admired former homecoming queen who chose to leave New York City and transplant her wealthy new husband. 

Do privileged beauty queens read fine literature?  Do they see themselves reflected in the pages?  What other goings-on in this small town involve Flannery, her mother, and her peafowl?   Does the author manage to incorporate fact and fiction into a page-turning, deeply involving read?

At this point, I should only answer the last question:  Yes.

I'm with the banned

Banned booksEven serious topics like Banned Books Week (9/24-10/1 this year) lend their share of humor.  A fellow librarian at Saturday's book group reported that some customers responded to her Banned Books display with a horrified, "I didn't know these were outlawed at our library!"

They hadn't been.  None of the area libraries of my acquaintance forbid access to a targeted list of publications.  School libraries may assign titles to an age-appropriate setting (e.g., high school instead of middle school), but the items are definitely accessible.  Nowadays Banned Books Week is devoted to the notion that past censorship is a model to be purposefully avoided now and in the future.

We chuckled at the thought that any modern librarian would come between patrons and their reading or would censor their selections.  Right about then, the nagging realization dawned that technically I do that--sort of.  At least it's, as Douglas Adams would say, Mostly Harmless.

Take Rebecca Coleman's highly regarded (and new) The Kingdom of ChildhoodEditors and publishers have been talking this up for months:  high-quality prose that integrates actions and motivation beautifully, intriguing narrator with compelling psychological issues, unusual insights about education.    Kingdom also features inappropriate relations between teacher and a teenaged student.  Coleman's themes are timely and thoughtfully examined; her novel would be an ideal book discussion selection for most groups.  I even promoted it on our What I'm Reading Now display.

And yet, on a few occasions when a patron has requested a quick recommendation ("something well-written and new"), that title hasn't been first on my list.  I figure that the customer who's wearily draped on the Reference counter, having summoned just enough energy to drop by between work and weekend for some reading diversion, may have experienced her quota of edginess and Real Life for the time being.  I lead off with two or three other titles, and if she's up for a few more, Kingdom of Childhood could follow. 

More often than not, the initial suggestions are gratefully received, and the reader is out the door.  Thus, I could have failed to match a fiction fan with a book that she would love because I misjudged her mood.   Other books that I admire, like Nobel winner J.M. Coetzee's memorable Disgrace (also not a light read) or Lauren Willig's clever series beginning with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (maybe too little historical detail for historical fiction fans or too much or too little sex for romance readers) could suffer a similar lack of publicity at times.

Librarians are not infallible.  Knowing this, we've devised creative ways to compensate.  If you'd like more Christian Fiction authors than the librarian can reel off spontaneously, never fear.   We'll hand you a nifty list we put together:  Looking for Christian Fiction Authors?  We have others, like Great Fiction by African-American Authors, Epic Fantasy: 20 Core Titles, and  If You Liked the Da Vinci Code...(even a nonfiction list of personal investing resources).  

We'll demonstrate digital sources like our Fiction Connection and Novelist databases and ask whether you know about GoodReads.  Electronic sources are marvelous, even if they can produce an overwhelming number of results.  That's OK; there's still a place where you can interact with humans and get a near-perfect tip from an imperfect source.