Life here at Alchemy isn’t all vampires and snark.  It is, however, rather bookish.

I’m somewhat startled by how infrequently I talk about books in my professional librarian blog.  Then again, my writing about books would be much like asking fish to philosophize about water (especially since fish can’t talk).  Print books, to me, are not so much objects to be fussed over as they are critical elements of survival that I take for granted.  The sun will rise in the morning, the water that comes out of my tap will be potable, and there will always, always be something for me to read.  You will step between me and my books at your peril, and you will pry their papery goodness from my cold, dead hands.

All that being said, I’ve decided we don’t talk about books nearly enough at Alchemy, and that this must change.  Given that I am still my department’s emerging technologies librarian, we will still grumble talk a lot about technology.  Because I’m now officially in the leadership training cohort, we’ll still be talking about leadership.  And because I remain your cynical romantic, we will definitely still philosophize.  There are, however, one or two little cosmetic tweaks we’ll make going forward.

For starters, at the end of every post, I’ll link to the book I’m reading that day.  Given that I am usually reading 50 library books at any given time, and have 50 more on order, this should not prove difficult.  In all fairness, I am usually reading more than one book per day (one for the bus, one for each room in the house, one for my lunch break, etc.), but to keep the literary insufferability to a minimum, we’ll stick to one per post.

Finishing books tends to be an issue for me.  I take Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule very seriously; it breaks my heart that, at the end of my life, I still won’t have read all the books on earth, so I want to make sure I don’t spend too much time with clunkers.  50 pages is more than enough to be able to file it away in my brain for readers’ advisory.

Still, I’d like to finish more books than I do, which is why I signed up for two reading challenges this year, a 50-book challenge at GoodReads, and a 100 book challenge at Every Girl Blog. That’s technically 150 books to finish this year (doubling up seems like cheating), and I’m going to keep track of them right here at Alchemy, just to save time.  You will find my 2010 reading log thus far in the left-hand sidebar, or you can visit it here.

You’d think we would be all booked up right now, but you’d be so very wrong!  Just to up the ante, starting with the next book I finish, I’m going to review it here at Alchemy.  I love writing book reviews, and would like to get both more exposure and more practice.  The 175-word fiction reviews I produce for Library Journal are definitely fun, and keep me sharp, but I find that, much like the opium addicts of old, it takes more and more of the stuff to satisfy my critical appetite.  Since it would be selfish to sign up to review all the books at LJ, I’ll simply have to branch out.

What else is in it for you, Constant Reader?  Well, those ARCs have to go somewhere when I’m done with them, and I’d prefer it not be the recycling pile.  The sensible, responsible thing to do seems to be passing them on to a fellow information professional.  Ergo, each time I’m done with an LJ ARC, I’ll offer it up for grabs on Alchemy.

As luck would have it, I actually have one for you today – everybody who comments on this entry between now and Wednesday April 28th will have the opportunity to win the somewhat-battered copy of the book I’ve just reviewed.  Today’s mystery ARC is the third novel from a literary mystery author, and if you’re in the mood for a solid whodunit with a number of quirky literary style choices and a meta-fiction vibe, you should put your hat in the ring for it.

In a token nod to technology, I’ve updated my blogroll to indicate which library blogs I’m actually reading right now.  I don’t read many blogs, sad to say; this is not because I don’t love you madly, but because I loathe squinting at a tiny screen.  Because printing out posts is neither time-efficient nor environmentally sound, I limit my blog reading only to those authors who make it consistently worth my while.   Paradoxically, however, I am always on the lookout for blogs I haven’t yet discovered, and it seems sensible that I should start with you.  Ergo, if you are blogging, please include your link so that I can repay your kindness to me by checking out your thoughts as well.

Last, but certainly not least, a feature for the comment-shy:  WordPress has just initiated a delightful new star rating system, allowing you to indicate how much you liked a particular post without having to leave a comment.  I’ve enabled this feature, and you will now see it at the top of every post.  The only way I’m going to get better at this is if you give me feedback, so please, for the sake of quality control, make your (dis)pleasure known ad astra if you’re not feeling chatty.

Poll results indicate the bulk of you are interested in hearing about My Year of No, a project that began on Facebook.  When I come back from my “nobody should work on their birthday” mini-holiday, I’ll tell you all about it…at least, all about the professional aspect.

Happy reading!

Reading Today: This is for the Mara Salvatrucha, Samuel Logan.  A gang member turned informant spills the beans on the MS-13, one of America’s most notorious street gangs (non-fiction, true crime).

Sunday in the Library with Alchemy

Apologies to Stephen Sondheim.

I like to joke with my peers that if I didn’t work at the library, I’d be there all the darned time anyway.  In fact, I’d probably be one of those people sitting on the front steps fifteen minutes prior to opening, valiantly resisting the urge to bellow, “I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!  OPEN UP!”  I have, in fact, storyboarded an entire music video based on this concept, and will hold an open casting call for interested (read “shameless”) library staff as soon as I secure some grant funding for the project.

[Yes, I know I could make it for free.  I'd probably have plenty of volunteers, too.  I strongly believe, however, that all library work deserves a fair living wage.]

All joking aside, however, I usually don’t follow through on that threat promise, mostly because I’m still pretty serious about that whole “having a life” thing.  It is, however, valuable to get that patrons-eye-view of your library and the way it works.  So from time to time I drop by to do things, and make mental notes on my observations.  Here are some random thoughts from my last Sunday jaunt to CLP Main.

  • I’m not sure if there wasn’t any signage for the poetry reading, or if I just didn’t see the signage that was there because I knew where I was going.  There was probably signage–First Floor’s really good about that.  If I’m not looking for/at signage, is the average person looking for/at signage?  Is that a fair comparison?
  • I’m a sucker for a table with little program flyers all over it.  Is that a librarian thing, or an everybody thing?  Could our promotional pieces be any cuter?  Do people notice how cute they are, as compared to, say, the handmade things that can be just as lovely provided somebody other than me makes them (graphic design is not one of my talents)?  Will people keep them, the way I do, or throw them away / recycle them?
  • Could we record the poetry readings and keep a digital archive on our website?  Would the poets agree to that?  Would the patrons be interested in that? 
  • Time for a caffeine fix.  How on earth did we ever get by without coffee in the library?  I was a patron here, and started my career here, in the pre-coffee era – how did we survive?  I wonder how much damage is actually done by food and drink in the library – are we keeping track of that?  How would you keep track of that? 
  • Could there be a few more people here who I know?  Do I know a lot of people, or am I just more likely to be friends with people who enjoy libraries because I’m a librarian?  What about all the people I know who aren’t here – what are they doing today?  What would it take to get them into the library?  What about all the people I don’t know?
  • Do we have The Paris Review?  Is our catalog easy to use, or is it just easy to use because I know my way around it?  Is this one of the display journals?  I guess I’ll have to go up there and find out.  I know where I’m going, but would a patron?  It’s not a display journal.  Darn.  Do I go bother one of my already overburdened peers, or do I slip into the closed stacks myself?
  • Why was it entirely too easy to get into the closed stacks in my civilian garb?  Is it because of my confident demeanor and brisk stride?  Is the “staff only” sign on the stairwell gate not visible enough?  Or do people just know me by sight and figure I know what I’m doing?  Should I have brought my badge from home?

Quite a lot to think about right there.  But the day became more interesting when I was approached by a regular patron while I was curled up in the magazine room with my journal, working on an assignment for my fiction class.

Now, mind you, there were three reference librarians in proper professional garb not ten feet away from where I was sitting.  They had badges, and welcoming demeanors, and–as I know well from working with them on the daily–mad search skills at their disposal.  This brings us to the eternal conundrum:  why do certain patrons become fond of particular librarians?  If all other elements are equal, what it is that makes people fonder of some staff members than others? 

That’s not a complaint, mind you.  I love helping my regulars, and I’ve been passed over myself so the patron I was helping could get assistance from “their” librarian.  I do reserve the right to find it amusing, though, that no matter how professionally we behave, sometimes our patron interactions boil down to irrational, illogical, emotional components.    This is, I think, what some people find offputting about public library service, even as others relish and welcome it:  the emotional factor is the ever-present wildcard.

Incidentally, the poet who prompted this Sunday speculative adventure is one of our own staff members, the luminous, multi-talented Renee Alberts, whose latest collection, No Water, would make a fetching holiday gift for the literary-minded on your shopping list.  You can make the purchase at her blog, where you will also find intriguing photos of other projects in progress; those of you enjoy poetry read aloud might like this podcast of Renee reading from No Water on an episode of Prosody, the weekly poetry show aired on WYEP FM.

Do you visit the library where you work on your days off?  What sorts of things bring you into a library, despite the fact that you spend the bulk of your time there already?

More next week .  Be safe, well, and warm.


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