Reader's Exchange

April 2013 - Posts

Think you've heard it all?

Quick: name the greatest country song of all time.

According to a Country Music Magazine poll, honors go to "He Stopped Loving Her Today" written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam and memorably performed by George JonesListen, and you'll understand its enduring popularity.

Country Music Hall of Famer and Kennedy Center honoree George Jones died earlier today at 81.George Jones record

Numerous sources cite how "changing tastes" diminished Jones' standing later in his career, but current performers frequently name him as a key influence.  And many of us still prefer our country music at the old-school end of the spectrum.   I'm personally unwilling to contradict CMT columnist Hazel Smith's contention that "country music is the one thing on this planet that is true". 

Though we all hear truth differently, we could probably agree that music's goal is to connect us to the experiences of others.

Some outstanding historical sheet music resources provide evidence that country music isn't alone in doing that--now or ever.  You can mine these virtual collections featuring digitally scanned documents (they even include cover artwork) for a sense of events, emotions, and trends in past eras.

Library of Congress' Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 exhibits over 47,000 pieces of sheet music, including popular songs, choral music, band and orchestra selections.  Teachers and history buffs will enjoy the subject search--Andrew Jackson, steamboats, and the California Gold Rush, for example.

Sheet Music Consortium's aggregation of 22 respected sheet music collections includes 226,904 items and an impressive date range: 1830-1969.  Select "Browse" for searching options.  Also, since not all entries offer full content, it's a good idea to check the "View digitized content only" box.  "Across the Alley from the Alamo" (1947) and "Please Buy My Last Paper, I Want to Go Home" (1869) signal the range of treasures found here.

Our library's CD music collection of over 4,000 items includes some of the best of both worlds: significant core recordings--some historic--but also  and new and popular releases in response to customer tastes.  It's not unusual to hear patrons exclaim, "You have it!" when they've spotted a CD they wished for but didn't actually expect to find here.

We even have some books with sheet music.  Your best bet to locate them in the catalog, according to music collection developer Chris, is a title search for "songbook".

Added benefit of a library visit: live music.  Of course, you need to show up at the right time-during Monday Music on Main Street performances.  You'll hear the tunes as you walk toward the exits. 

You'll also see how much fun everyone else is having over there.  Why not stash a folding chair or two in your car on those evenings?   You'll be set to join the other folks converging on the Plaza with portable seating, beverages, and their own votes for greatest song of all time.

Pearls before Spam

"You know who June Cleaver is, right?" the library customer inquired, "You remind me of her, sort of put-together and calm."

So, June--AKA Barbara Billingsley in vintage TV's Leave it to Beaver--and I can both act.  At the reference desk, anyone may inquire about potentially any topic, while printers, computers, and other technologies develop glitches and tics.  Calmness would be the ideal mode, so if a low-simmering state of vigilance reads as such, all the better.

But who would aspire to June's crisp pearl-adorned, high-heeled perfection, anyway?  She dressed more elegantly to vacuum the carpet than most people currently do to attend weddings. 

Pearls, spike heels, and shirtdresses are trendy now, and so is June (still).   As shorthand for "unrealistic wifely/maternal role model in postwar America" Mrs. Cleaver has long served (as she did fresh-baked cookies for the boys and coffee for Ward) to instigate discussions of gender roles, consumer trends, historical accuracy.  Searching Academic Search Complete or Masterfile with "June Cleaver" as keyword, you'll find such articles as "And June Cleaver Seemed So Cheery" and "Shadows of Suburbia".

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, the end of Hilary Clinton's term as Secretary of State, and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, it's useful to know that Ms. Billingsley (94 when she died in 2010) was in fact a divorced working mother at the time she portrayed June.

According to American Decades online, in 1959, "two out of five women with husbands and school-age children worked outside the home."  Audiences knew even then that those 50s and 60s serenely stereotypical TV families didn't mirror reality.  Still, wasn't it agreeable to imagine, as parents increasingly juggled workplace and household, how it would be to live in houses that nice and have time to leisurely discuss a playground spat in the middle of the afternoon? 

Fabulous vintage Jell-OLaura Shapiro's Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America entertainingly considers how the food industry, gender expectations, and emerging food celebrities both reflected and changed America.  While one can't picture June purchasing a cake mix or serving Spam, Shapiro reveals how iconic products like those (and Jell-O!) signified cultural evolution.  You, too, may be prompted to get your hands on a copy of Peg Bracken's groundbreaking I Hate to Cook Book  (which the library has--50th  anniversary edition.)

All this household-level ferment occurred in tumultuous times chronicled by library resources, including The Fifties in America, The Sixties in America, Neil Sheehan's Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, and Marabel Manning's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Getting back to June: what would she have read when she wasn't dusting the living room suite?  We guess that she'd choose some of the titles from the 1950s Fiction handout available at the Reference Desk.   Dare we speculate whether she'd have borrowed one of those trendy steamy romance trilogies if they'd been around in 1959?  Some shirtdresses featured nice paperback-sized pockets...

Very very very fine houses

This week, I found myself tracking former residences the way some people Google their old flames.

Leave 'em and love 'em: that's my motto.  Of a dozen former homes, we've owned two.  We were fond of them then, but they've acquired nostalgia value over time.  The soft focus of receding memory masks recollections of the porch roof diabolically engineered to layer six inches of ice on the steps below, not to mention the second-floor A/C unit that expired, soaking the ceiling, the day after we took possession. 

Memory isn't the only agent of flattery or enhancement.  Thanks to Google Earth, I just viewed the charming effects of a subsequent homeowner's generous budget and vision.  Reveling in its clever half-story to full-story metamorphosis and the perfect front door replacement, that property has manifestly not been mourning our departure. 

I'm pleased for the home and its inhabitants, for myself, too: Google Earth's street view revealed that a tree cutting with sentimental value I planted there in the late 1990s survived and is flourishing.

Property ownership and romantic partnerships can similarly delight or break your heart, broaden your horizons, and furnish evidence that the other party has prospered in terms of success and attractiveness after you've parted ways.

Cute bungalowDream bungalowAll houses are potentially historic--at least to you.  While the library isn't generally equipped with files of through-the-decades interior photos of local properties that we are sometimes asked for, we can share some engaging options for exploring property-related interests.

If the building in question existed a few decades ago in an area covered by Texas Digital Sanborn (Fire Insurance) Maps online, you can view its shape, proportion, and context (Was it next door to a livery stable, church, etc.?).

Our Historic Map Works resource offers graphical insights into both edifices and communities.  I love its slogan--"Residential Genealogy".  It's not just apt in perceiving what interests us amid bricks and shingles; it also suggests that, as in other aspects of family research, the odds of discovering what you hoped for are sufficiently uncertain as to guarantee jubilation when you succeed!

We continually discover informational gems regarding Round Rock's historic buildings in the Planning Department's Historic Preservation pages.  If your home is not officially historic (yet), you might be more interested in Planning's other offerings: Building Inspection and so forth.

If you love before-and-after scenarios, don't miss WhatWasThereFor numerous Round Rock locations (and some other cities and towns), you can adjust the Google Street View slider to fade back and forth from past and present.

And of course our book collection, with selections ranging from Green By Design, Bungalow Nation, Creating the Not So Big House to House to Ourselves: Reinventing Home Once the Kids are Grown, can inform and abet any questions, plans, or fantasies you may entertain about your abode.

My fantasy: to own a Craftsman Bungalow someday.  Not that I don't appreciate my 1980s two-story; we enjoy a wonderful neighborhood--and dry ceilings.

Note from IRS: Please direct creativity elsewhere

Though not yet filed, my tax documents are on track to easily fulfill the deadline.   Otherwise, there'd be reason for soul-clouding dread each time I visit irs.gov to help customers track down forms or tax tables.

No, happiness is the order of the day.  The four colorfully-clad individuals headlining Internal Revenue's homepage all bear smiling countenances ranging from pleased to downright giddy.  Taxes--nothing we'd rather chat about!

Contrast their pleasure with the black-and-white, sedate visages regarding you at the Academy of American Poets site.  And yet Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot would be delighted to learn of your interest in National Poetry Month: nothing I'd rather talk about today.

Among 30 Ways to Celebrate, the Academy recommends "attend a poetry reading".  The Baca Center's Great Books discussion group and Round Rock Public Library are co-sponsoring just such an opportunity, on April 16 at 1:00 in the library's meeting room B.  Imagine: you can celebrate compliance with the data-driven mandatory reporting of your tax share by nourishing your creative spirit.  You're invited to read a favorite poem (original or otherwise) or simply enjoy selections brought by others.Rain falling

If I can get away from the reference desk to attend, I'll bring a favorite from a former U.S. Poet Laureate.  However, this week's glorious rains did prompt me to scribble some haiku-like reflections.  These seasonal musings were expressed around my household--different voices, but all with attitude:

Admonition from the new rain barrel  sitting in our garage, as yet uninstalled

Lovely rain this week:
But not here, ‘midst cars and tools.
I missed my calling.


What will the neighbors think?

Audacious, mid-yard
A lone but soaring weed spear
stains our good repute.


My rain-hating dogs, when I directed them outdoors for a very good reason

In what universe
do you dream that we'd abet
your torrent-fraught scheme?


Leafing Crape myrtles, aspiring to a very good season       Budding crape myrtle

So disappointing:
Bluebonnets, this droughty year.
Well, just watch this space!


Pair of doves, minimally concerned with nest-building technique

Are you kidding us?
No empty hanging baskets?
Look--five nice twigs! Done!