Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


By now most people have probably seen the "NEW" flag that appeared on Google search bars across the Internet and given into the temptation to check out the oddly named new Google function: "Play." But what is Google Play exactly? I kind of hate to say it, but basically to me it just looks like another way to generate even more dollars for Google. Now there is a Google-specific page to serve as a gateway to your favorite music, movies, books, and apps. Rent movies, buy e-books, store them all in the Google Cloud, and "share" them with your friends--not really, of course, but you can post about them, or email suggestions to your friends about what music and movies they should be buying too.

I have to say I'm a little bit disappointed in Google. They are such an Internet and computing pioneer, I have come to expect bigger and more innovative things from them. I suppose I need to devote some more time to exploring the possibilities of Google Play, but for now I'm filing this post under Google disillusionment.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fantasy Accents

A BBC article asks the question many, including myself, have often wondered: "Why are fantasy world accents always British?" Matt Zoller Seitz has a simple explanation: "A British accent is sufficiently exotic to transport the viewer to a different reality... while still being comprehensible to a global audience."

I'm not complaining, I love British accents. But I've noticed that sometimes it "fits" with a story, set of characters, and general fantasy environment (for example, I think the Medieval tone of Game of Thrones works well with its British vocalists, even though the author, George R.R. Martin, is actually American) but sometimes it just sounds like an extra gimmick, an exotic flair thrown in to distract American audiences from cheap costumes, campy sets, and bad acting.

George R.R. Martin agrees that the British accent lends itself well to many stories set in the Middle Ages as they are "full of castles and lords and swords and knights and all the other trappings that we associate with England in this country. It seems natural. It would be hard to do with a group of actors who had thick Southern accents." Brian Wheeler points out the the British accent's dominance has spread to include other geographic areas too, such as inSpartacus and HBO's Rome series. But in contrast, when popular shows are set in modern times (like House or The Wire), British actors are instructed to speak in American dialects. It's one of those interesting bits of modern culture; more subliminal messaging coming from the television networks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


With the arrival of spring, the notion of walking to and from class is much more appealing that it was a couple months ago. And these walks are a great time to zone out for a while and listen to music or, if I haven't reached that level of exhaustion yet, listen to audio books. As a penniless grad student I unfortunately don't have a lot of extra money to purchase audio books, and though the library has a great collection, it's hard to make use of it when you don't plan ahead and instead decide at 8:30am that you'd like to have something to listen to when you walk to school at 8:45am. Which is how I discovered LibriVox.

LibriVox, a project defined as an "acoustical liberation of books in the public domain," produces and provides free audio books for users to download. Of course, their scope means you won't find the latest Game of Thrones volume or something recent like The Hunger Games, but there are tons of great titles available. Little Women, Pyle's Robin Hood, Pride and Prejudice, and lots of Dickens. Fiction, Non-fiction, poetry, and dramatic works, the collection is quite diverse. Their lofty goal is "to make all public domain books available as free audio books." Now that would be quite an achievement.

Naturally you run into some issues with a project like this: poor audio quality, scratchy recordings, and volunteers who are obviously well-meaning but have no business going into the field of narration work. There also seem to be duplications of some books (maybe waiting for a quality control system to determine which is the better version?) and I question the usefulness of including recordings that are still works in progress. But I do admire the community behind LibriVox and the feat they are attempting. I will definitely be scouring the site for material to make my morning commute (and my next road trip) a little more enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reference Revisited

Delft University of Technology (apparently the largest and oldest public technical university in the Netherlands) found a creative use for its outdated reference books:

I would love to walk into a library and see something like this! And it would have been so much fun to build--like putting together a giant puzzle of pieces that didn't all come in the same box.

 Photos via Recyclart.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Since 2003 March 25th has marked the annual Tolkien Reading Day when fans are encouraged to... what else? read Tolkien and share his amazing stories with your friends! The tradition was begun by the Tolkien Society who are promoting the 2012 75th Anniversary of The Hobbit as part of this year's Tolkien Reading Day events.

So if you're not stuck inside doing homework, get out and do something Hobbity! Or just try to snatch a few moments away from your textbooks and papers to curl up with your favorite Tolkien book.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Medieval Margins

It's always amusing to see how little some things change over time. Even over a lot of time, like hundreds of years. Apparently Medieval monks used to like to complain about their jobs just as much as office workers, state employees, and even students do today. To alleviate boredom and vent their dissatisfaction, monks would doodle and write notes in the margins of the manuscripts they were working on. These comments range from humorous to depressed to surprisingly bawdy.

Lapham's Quarterly cites a list of interjections and sketches that have been found along the margins of ancient manuscripts. For example, in a volume from 1323 you can find "a picture of a scribe harassed by monkeys: while he tries to copy, they mimic him, drink his ink, and distract him." Some of my favorite comments include: "St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing," "Writing is excessive drudgery," "Thank God it will soon be dark," "Oh my hand," and "Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink."

Colin Dickey writes "it is in these marginal comments that we learn as much—if not more—about the medieval world as we do from the texts themselves." Annalee Newitz compares the monks' messages to today's texts or tweets: snarky comments about their daily drudgeries released during a brief escape from work.

Friday, March 23, 2012


As can be seen from the smattering of book reviews I've included on this blog, I will read just about anything--and will usually enjoy it too! So today I would have been remiss to overlook a book as present in the news as The Hunger Games, especially considering the premiere of the movie that promises to be the kickoff of the next big fantasy franchise.
I mentioned reading the novel last month, but didn't really elaborate much on my thoughts. Ironically I didn't really find the book overwhelmingly spectacular, but I'm totally psyched to see the film. And also rather ironically, as I read the three books in the Hunger Games trilogy, I found myself liking them more and more. Undeniably, Suzanne Collins' characters are fascinating, but something about the narrative of the first book just didn't flow well in my opinion. I'm not a big fan of present tense writing, so maybe part of it was just getting used to that particular style.

But one of the things I admire most about Suzanne Collins is her involvement in the film adaptation of her book. I've read lots of authors' thoughts on that topic, some love the films their books inspire and some despise them, but most feel it is best to keep an arms-length distance from the production. Collins' TV screenwriter background put her in the unique position of being familiar with the world of actors and scripts, and so she undertook the impressive task of composing the movie's screenplay herself. I think it would be really hard to see something you had created changed and tweaked for the movies, but I also think it would be incredibly exciting to be part of the process of literally bringing your words to life for millions of movie-goers around the world. So kudos to Suzanne Collins! Hopefully I'll have a chance to see The Hunger Games in theaters soon, and I'm already looking forward to seeing how they adapt Mockingjay!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Time and NPR bloggers have recently been passing around the somewhat startling assertion that the color pink is simply a figment of our imaginations. As the product of two colors found on opposite ends of the visual light spectrum, pink just doesn't fit into the color wheel as we understand it (and is mysteriously absent from the rainbow). So where does pink come from? Even for someone who doesn't know the finer points of light waves and the electromagnetic spectrum, this idea is an interesting puzzle to ponder.

A YouTube video blogger provides some insight while offering his own amusing take on the pink issue.

Let's relabel all the pink crayons in the world (and all the pink sheep) "not green." =)

It's strange to think our brains could--and would--invent a fictional color palette, and it makes me curious about what other sorts of gaps our brains unconsciously jump over. What about when we're searching for information, or reviewing and constructing ideas? It's easily accepted that we make logic leaps and assumptions when we approach new situations or unfamiliar topics, but it's a horse of a different color (or maybe a sheep) to think about our brain inventing something that's not actually there and then convincing us that it is.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Magician King

Lev Grossman's sequel to The Magicians came out last year, but I only recently got around to reading it. The Magician King has the same dark themes of the first book, so it's not a book I'd recommend if you're looking for something light to make you feel good. If you're looking for a thoughtful book that isn't afraid to talk about ugly parts of life, then give Lev Grossman a try.

I think the main character of the books has grown up a little since The Magicians, but his mood swings are definitely still there. Not that he doesn't have any excuses: Quentin's life has been rough. But his high school friend Julia's has been so much worse. The structure of the book unfolds the parallel stories of Quentin's journeys between Earth, Fillory, and what lies beyond, and the tragic path that Julia followed after her rejection from Brakebills as she searched for magic in her own world and in her own ways. It takes Julia a long time to find what she's looking for, and the sacrifices that are collected along the road are truly heartbreaking. I always admire a writer who is able to create a character who carries Julia's level of pain. Writing someone like that, fictitious though she or he may be, is never easy.

In the present, the narration follows Quentin and Julia on their unintentional trip back to Earth (they are utterly dismayed to find themselves once again in New England) and the struggles they encounter as they try to get back to the land where they reign with Brakebills graduates Eliot and Janet as kings and queens. Lev Grossman wouldn't write a story as straightforward as that, of course, so there are many twists and turns, old acquaintances turn up, and unique beasts deliver cryptic messages. There is humor too, and it's not always black. In light of the weeks we have spent on systems modeling in one of my classes, I particularly enjoyed the reference to flowcharts ("there is nothing that cannot be flowcharted," according to Julia, p. 316)

Monday, March 19, 2012


Just beautiful.

distorted gravity by Anka Zhuravleva

The world can be really cruel sometimes, and she can make us do cruel things to ourselves. Thank goodness there will always be books to pull us back onto our feet and then some.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Freeze-dried books

Who knew?

One technique for salvaging water damaged books is to freeze the books solid and then remove the water through a highly controlled vacuum freeze-drying method. During the process, the water in the damaged material sublimates--passes from a frozen solid state to vapor (gaseous state), without reentering the liquid state. This way you avoid issues such as inks running or book boards and pages warping and wrinkling. There is a whole industry of manufacturers (such as Freezedry Specialties, Inc., who also happen to recommend their services to taxidermists) dedicated to providing libraries, museums, and other collectors with this futuristic disaster relief technique. Interesting things can be learned from textbooks sometimes.

Photo Via.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Last semester I wrote about how out of my depth I felt during the beginning weeks of classes when my professors seemed to lapse into foreign languages full of complicated acronyms and unfamiliar terminology. After I eventually found my footing in the world of library lingo, I became more confident about my understanding of the principles and practices of information science. Since then I've been keeping up pretty well, despite the technical nature of two of my courses this semester, and I'm almost surprised how comfortable I feel with work models and the basics of XML schema. Ironically it's when we hit MARC, a 40 year old cataloging format, that I start feeling the water over my head again.

I know librarians love organizing and classifying things, making information neat and tidy, and lending an air of authority to it all, but the librarians who invented MARC must have been the most detail oriented, obsessive compulsive catalogers in the world. The technicalities of MARC data elements are astounding, and while the system has worked more or less since libraries began implementing it decades ago (though most of them, I dare say, don't understand all of its components), it seems like they made the whole thing far more complicated than it needs to be.

So after many years of revisions and changes, you can imagine that the problem has naturally gotten quite a lot worse. Today it is generally agreed that MARC is no longer serving the library as well as it used to. It remains to be seen if the research being done in the realm of Linked Data and the Semantic Web will yield more straightforward results, but the current problem is how to transfer all the MARC encoded data into a new format. It isn't very often that I spend hours reading a short article and realize at the end of it that I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, but that's how I felt today.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Awful Library Books is a popular library blog which displays the results of postponing the dreaded library tasks of weeding and collection management. The site is run by two librarians who turn archaic books discovered on library shelves into humorous blog posts. Weeding may be a difficult process, but it is still an essential one for nearly all libraries. Deselection ensures that library users can find what they are looking for more easily: it improves browsing by eliminating unnecessary or outdated materials and frees up shelf space for new books. But despite this important role in the library circle of life, weeding is generally considered one of the least desirable tasks on a librarian's to-do list. Even the many euphemisms we use for weeding (terms such as thinning, deselection, deaccession, retirement, reverse selection, and book stock control) suggest it is an unpleasant duty (Johnson, p. 139). Some of the biggest conflicts relating to weeding can arise due to the emotional investment users, donors, and librarians themselves may have in materials undergoing reassessment; because of this, Johnson describes collection management as “more politically charged than collection development” (p. 138). This sensitivity makes it even more important for libraries to have a “disposition policy” to stand behind when weeding decisions are questioned or challenged (Johnson, p. 143).

Johnson's text may be a little outdated, but the fact remains that “shelf scanning” is still one of the most common weeding techniques. Quite basic and very time consuming, this title-by-title approach seems tremendously inefficient. It seems like libraries could benefit from a push to utilize more effective and technology driven methods. Though traditionally intuition has played a large role in library collection management, modern library science scholars are increasingly supporting the notion of “data-supported collection decisions” (Connaway et al, p. 372). However, a new system would still need to address the three fundamental weeding criteria (“Has it been used? Is it worn? Is it outdated?” Johnson, p. 141), which is an ambitious goal for an automated process. Circulation statistics are invaluable data, but do not represent items of the collection that have been used inside the library without being checked out. And the third question is tricky for a computer to answer because even a so-called “outdated book” can be useful to some types of research and as an artifact of its time. Despite these challenges I still believe that for efficiency's sake and in light of our ever expanding collections, librarians need to devise new ways to implement computer-assisted weeding. New techniques will also be important to help libraries deal with the increasing number of e-resources libraries maintain: just because an item is digital doesn't mean it isn't possibly taking up unnecessary space or in danger of being outdated.

One of the things that struck me while I was reading Johnson's chapter on collection management is that librarians involved in the weeding process need to be sure that they do not just think about the effects their work will have on current users, but increasingly they need to be mindful of future users too. Different libraries may have different weeding needs (and weeding may be a higher priority in some libraries, such as small, popular fiction-driven public libraries with limited space) but all libraries should take care not to let weeding be neglected, unpleasant though it may be.

Connaway, L. S., O‘Neill, E. T., & Prabha, C. (2006). Last copies: What‘s at risk? College & Research Libraries, 67(4), 370-379.

Johnson, P. (2004). Fundamentals of Collections Development and Management. Chicago: American Library Association.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daylight savings

This year daylight savings was planned (purposefully, I'm sure) to steal away one of my last hours of spring break. So cruel. When this time of year rolls around again, I always find myself wondering if daylight savings is really actually helping us any more. I know originally one of the primary reasons for its implementation was to provide farmers with more daylight, but farming is no longer one of the major industries in the US. Germany was the first country to use the daylight savings model, but is their 1916 attempt to conserve energy still effective today?

Here's a funny and very informative video about the history of daylight savings and what daylight savings looks like today. I think it's really interesting to consider the possibility that if daylight savings gives people more time, but they don't use that time to go outside and take advantage of the extended natural light, we might actually be using more electricity because of daylight savings. And then there are states like Hawaii and Arizona who don't subscribe to daylight savings simply because they don't need any extra sunlight. But for the rest of us, if daylight savings causes the world to use more rather than less energy, plus results in huge costs of lost productivity the week after we "spring forward," time-zone inconsistency headaches, and even higher heart attack and suicide rates, then why do we continue to deprive ourselves of sleep every year?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


No, this photo hasn't caught a wall of bookshelves in mid-collapse, and you don't have to worry about the boat going down either. It's just a fun bit of architecture and a creative (if maybe slightly impractical) way to display your wall-full of books.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Literary Origami

As a kid I was quite the origami enthusiast, and while today I probably don't remember how to make much except the quintessential paper crane, I am still drawn to origami creations. The work of a Chicago artist (named Betsy) recently caught my eye; the artist finds used books and provides them with "a second life as a small work of art."

Through complementary folds, each book is transformed into a unique, sculptural form.

While perhaps not strictly "origami," these folded books capture the same graceful energy that emanates from traditional origami creations.

This piece (one of my favorites) reminds me of rolling ocean waves. I imagine the books are even more fascinating to examine in real life.

You can follow Betsy's work on the exploded library tumblr.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


When the iPad first came out in 2010 my impression was that it was a cool but gimicky toy. It seemed kind of pointless for the average person who already owned a highly portable laptop, didn't use (or have any particular desire to use) an e-reader, and generally felt the same way about the iPhone: trendy, but unnecessary.

Two years later I am not only longing for the day when I leave behind my penniless grad student status and can afford an iPhone, I also find myself almost drooling over yesterday's reveal of the new iPad and its amazing retina display. With a pixel density of 264 pixels-per-inch, the new iPad screen is gorgeous, and while reviewers say it's a bit heavier and thicker than its predecessor, the killer visuals, 4G/LTE capability, and English, French, German and Japanese dictation tools should keep Apple consumers happy.


Letters, words, radicals, characters, alphabets, hieroglyphs... One of the most impressive things human beings have developed is, no doubt, language. And written language is particularly fascinating. I've always thought Linguistics would be a very interesting field of study, but you certainly don't have to be a professional linguist to marvel over words and language. A very cool sculpture by Ron Ulicny made up of scrabble cubes makes me think of the literal building blocks we use to create language and express thoughts. Information boiled down to its fundamental components.

spew, 2011.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Big Brother Google

Last week on March 1st, Google changed their privacy policy, a change that applied to all of their products and services. The technical specifics of the policy revision can be a little dense, unless you're used to reading legal jargon, so over on Pleated-Jeans, Jeff Wysaski made a "short and sweet" version for the rest of us.

According to Jeff, "For the record, only the first two are actually true."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vennesla Library

A stunning and unique library space, the Vennesla Library and Culture House in Vennesla, Norway, has received lots of press about its original and innovative design, its open atmosphere, and its constructional and operational sustainability.

Admittedly, I usually have a more traditional taste in library architecture, but the Vennesla Library looks so bright and inviting--it's simultaneously open, even cavernous, and intimate (see the little reading nooks in the lower right corner?). I always enjoy seeing new library spaces--they are a reminder to the community that libraries are alive and flourishing.

Check out the links for many more photos of the new library.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book jackets

An interesting article I bookmarked some time ago, but never had time to properly read. That's what spring break is for.

Michael Dirda reviews a book entitled Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use, by G. Thomas Tanselle, and discusses some of the history of book jackets. Apparently early "slipcovers" date back to the 1820s, though it wasn't until the 1870s that they were common artifacts. It seems that the graphic possibilities of the dust jacket were exploited beginning in the 1910s. The original "paper wrappers" were for primarily protective purposes, but soon covers were also incorporating descriptions and endorsements.

As Dirda says, "Jackets are vexing. Should you read books with their jackets on or off? Should research libraries stop removing jackets from their open-shelf books? Should I just stop worrying about things like this and buy an e-book reader?" I tend to take the dust jacket off when I read a book, and for some jackets I remove them permanently (like Mary GrandPre's Harry Potter book covers--both for sentimental reasons and because they are such exquisite works of art). But with the aid of mylar protectors, I don't see why libraries shouldn't leave the covers on books. As Dirda mentions, there is something romantic about scholarly shelves of leather and cloth bound volumes, but simply discarding a book's jacket is not a solution. Tanselle suggests cataloging and preservation as an option for libraries who wish to display books without their jackets. Dust jackets can tell a lot about a book, and Tanselle and Dirda both regret the fact that so few early jackets have survived. Many probably don't truly consider book jackets as an important part of the book itself, but for their artistic merit, as well as for the contextual and historical value they can contribute, they certainly deserve the attention Tanselle gives them in his book.

Nature's space

Library, 2007 by Lori Nix
Nix is a "non-traditional" photographer who constructs her subject matter in miniature form instead of taking it from life around us. This image is part of a series called The City, a futuristic imagining of our world without one key component: us. The act of Nature reclaiming the cityscape both hints at past destruction and exudes a sort of present peace.

As I begin a week of no classes, a week of spring break, I find myself longing for the stillness, the silence, and the serenity of this gorgeous photograph.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Belated Happy Leap Day

Missed February 29th completely. After my midterm I promptly sat down in a very Herminone-like behavior to check my test answers, but stopped after the first two I looked up were wrong. Last night I dreamed about facets for the second time this week. I'm approximately three classes behind on half my readings. The section that messed up the grade for a team project we just got back was one that I wrote. I nodded off in my favorite class and I'm 100% sure the professor noticed. The twitch in my eye is back and I'm afraid may be permanent. My job search is floundering. I have a pounding headache.


It's finally spring break! =)