A Blog about Connecticut libraries and librarians

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'm a Book Industry Character!

As you may have noticed (I hope!) I've not been able to post to the blog at all in 2007. I guess I just didn't really know how to blog, meaning, rather than posting, I was actually trying to write very labored-over, and therefore, very labor-intensive essays. Very time-consuming and anxiety producing became my blogging, and I so took the first part of 2007 off. (Not that I've done anything very productive with the non-blogging time gained, but I'm less anxious?) Anyway, I couldn't resist sending along this link where my photo appears in the good company of Valerie Plame, Alan Greenspan, and the late David Halberstam. Not that I've become famous in 2007, but (ham that I am,) I answered Lance Fensterman's call to BookExpo participants to submit a profile for their Book Industry Characters feature. Go quickly, because I'm not the only Book Industry Character, and I'll soon be off the front page and into the archives. BTW, BookExpo at the Javits Center in Manhattan this coming week (May 31-June3) is just the greatest, so, if you have a chance, check it out actually as well as virtually.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Considering Christmas

Whatever your faith or faithlessness, you know you can't just ignore Christmas, not in these United States. You can have a Charlie Brown Christmas, or just the brown Christmas in our forecast. It is unlikely that we will have a white Christmas, no matter who is dreaming of it. You and Johnny may have a merry little Christmas. You may be home for Christmas in Connecticut, with or without Barbara Stanwyck. You can pass on the annual holiday junket to Manhattan, block the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio station, avoid the gigantic plastic creatures which have invaded the suburbs, and you can shrink your Christmas sweater, but we will all have a holiday on December 25, and it's not just another long weekend.

I think the endurance of Christmas as an American obsession, aside from its obvious retail value, can be explained by our national reverence for optimism. Christmas is all about anticipation. "Do not open until Christmas." Those securely wrapped presents might be concealing a Playstation, (or a prepackaged holiday gift item from Marshall's.) Your mailbox may be overflowing with invitations to a gala round of pre-holiday parties, (or with fifteen more LL Bean catalogs.) Santa may bring you the puppy you asked for; (he surely wouldn't just eat the cookies and run?) It is un-American not to anticipate that prosperity and all good things are just around the corner. Our national aversion to humbuggery, however, can make Christmas a sad season for those of us who no longer believe either in Santa or in endless possibilities.

Ignoring Christmas may not an option, but there is a way to compensate when you've not much to anticipate. Consider conjuring up your own ghost of Christmases Past. Unlike Scrooge, most of us have family footage, with soundtracks, that rival any holiday special for unbridled and very patriotic optimism. But consider also what may lie beneath those sunny super-eights. Remember Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree? Most American families weren't even speaking, let alone rockin', by the time the overpriced underneedled tree was shoved in a corner to hide the bad side, secured with enough wire for a circus tent, and hung with lights that wouldn't stop blinking if they lit up at all. How about I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus? Those grainy photos of the kids in their Christmas pajamas clutching Cabbage Patch dolls never included their bleary-eyed Mommy and Daddy who had been up all night fighting over the interpretation of the dollhouse directions written in Japanese. It seemed there was always A Christmas Party Hop back in the day when everyone in the neighborhood held competitive holiday house parties. There is a reason why, once the kids are gone, that most of the holiday parties to which we are invited are thrown by people who get paid to do so. Work parties may have the warmth of Frosty the Snowman, but they don't entail searching for the perfect hostess gift, preparing standout canapes from complicated recipes, tastefully decorating your own home, or comparing it unfavorably to your neighbor's Winter Wonderland. Feel bad when you hear I'll be Home for Christmas because Dad's gone and Mom's in assisted living? Tell me how much you really miss climbing in the car on Christmas morning while the kids are crying because they have to leave their presents behind so you can drive over the river and through the traffic jam to grandma's house. How about Blue Christmas? At least they got that one right. My most memorable blue Christmas was one I shared with my friend Mary in Boston in 1969. We spent the night before Christmas break in a bar after trudging to Lord and Taylor to cash in the cashmere sweater that she had bought her boyfriend after he presented her with a bottle of Evening in Paris cologne. And even the most optimistic sugar plum fairies among us can't be anticipating yet another performance of The Nutcracker Suite?

We can't ignore Christmas, but maybe we can stop shaking those chains and anticipate a Christmas Future (without that annoying Tiny Tim.) Consider a Christmas without A Christmas Carol, but with David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries (or the Godfather trilogy.) Forget the plum pudding and even the Christmas dinner, and do a morning after brunch instead, so the kids can beat the traffic instead of eating more turkey. Give the family a buy and invite some friends over to hang out, with or without their Christmas sweaters. Finally, here's something we can all (not) anticipate. New Year's Eve is just around the corner!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'll Take Manhattan

All of it! The lawyers in town for a little conference and a lot of Christmas who thought they may have seen Matt Lauer. The maitre d' who pinned an unsuccessful purse snatcher to the floor while the bartender successfully served cocktails to the onlookers. The NYPD and the guys wearing NYPD hats. The hostel on West End Avenue for $113 a night and the hotel room at the Sheraton for $400, both with the same square footage. Craftbar and Kenny's Broome Street Bar. Old friends Eileen Fisher, Barney, Kate Spade, Max Mara, and Bloody Mary, and new acquaintances Maribelle Chocolate, The American Craftsman, and Rosie O'Grady. The line at TKTS that snaked around the Marriot Marquis like it was Disneyworld, and the line to look in the windows at Saks and Macys. Grey Gardens' Christine Ebersole who was Jackie O's aunt in Act One and her cousin in Act Two, and who was almost Joe Kennedy's wife, but ended up the crazy daughter of a crazier mother. Betsy Bray who saw Renee Zellweger at the Miss Potter premiere, and was on her way to see Chicago. A friend of a friend from Texas and Betsy's nephew from Brooklyn. The tree at Rock Center, and Tom Geoffino's library at New Roc City. ABC Carpet & Home and Alphabet City. Central, Gramercy, Madison and Washington Square parks and a parking ticket for $115. Models in SoHo, out-of-towners in Midtown, and everyone in Times Square. French, Spanish, English English, Chinese, and Brooklynese spoken and no one being heard. Hummer limos for six and subway cars for sixty. Taxis stuck in traffic and people stuffed into pedicabs. A public toilet from Charmin in Times Square, and public displays of affection everywhere. Babies dressed up like band boxes riding in strollers like Cadillacs. Christmas trees for $400 and Christmas lights on every tree. Is it all too much to take? Give Manhattan 72 hours and she'll give you the world!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Making Mixes

This post could also be called "The Wonder of iTunes" but, much as I do think their software is truly wonderful, I refuse to plug the proprietary Apple, in the title at least. I've been madly making mixes as part two of my personal holiday gift giving guide (books coming in first,) so how trite did I feel when I picked up the NY Times Arts & Leisure section last Sunday, only to see a baggy-jeans-clad baby boomer rockin' with earbuds on the front page? The headline was worse--"Uncool but True: the AARP Demographic Leads the Music Market."
The truth is that most of us who came of age in the Sixties love music, and there was a lot of great music produced back in the day. If you never converted your vinyl collection to CDs, you can still buy (or copy from your friends' and the local library) most all of it on iTunes, (except The Beatles, whose entire opus is owned by Michael Jackson!) If books are the gift-giving trifecta (easy to wrap, inexpensive, and readily available) music is the perfecta (easy to wrap, inexpensive, and for those of us with iPods, readily available.) Not that there aren't other ways to make a mix, although it is too bad that Microsoft's most recent would-be iPod-killer, the Zune, also depends on a proprietary music source, and, a great music site (Thank you Deb Zulick) allegedly has a way to download, (scrobbling?) which I have yet to understand. You could also just buy CDs, also easy to wrap, inexpensive, and readily available, but there is nothing better (or cheaper) than a good mix made just for you, or for someone else whose musical taste you appreciate.
My friend Dave's mix, now in a four-CD boxed set produced locally by yours truly, is the best. If you were a sweaty palmed sixteen year-old the last time you heard Roy Orbison crying, this one's for you. The old standards are all here--Dylan, the Byrds, Tom Petty, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne, and Dave's favorite, Cheap Trick. Remember The Raspberries' one hit wonder, "Go All the Way", "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd, or Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper"? Add a little Blondie, Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks, 10,000 Maniacs, and even Elvis, and you'll hear life pulsing through those ear buds, or better yet, from your car stereo, because this is great driving music.
Being a fan of Top Forties Pop from almost any era, I created my own boxed set, "Some Songs Since", and there have been some good ones. Most of my list, unlike Dave's, is pure Emo, but I know what I like--old and new Pop from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, Oasis, Goo Goo Dolls, The Killers, Keane, Three Doors Down, Nickelback, Hoobastank, the Fray, and Liz Phair. Who can resist Sting's "Fields of Gold", "One", sung by Mary J. Blige with U2, the Smashing Pumpkin's "1979," and, on the top of any chick's list, Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"? I also include, from the twenty-first century, Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars", Howie Day's "Collide", Anna Nalick's "Breathe", and Five for Fighting's "The Riddle". So many bands, so little space on those CD-Rs! The Scissor Sisters' "Filthy/Gorgeous" is the music to get you ready to go out, and Foo Fighters' "Best of You" and Alicia Keye's "If I Ain't Got You" will both nourish broken hearts. You won't find any Country, except for the Dixie Chicks, on my list, (Listen to Imus for that!) nor Rod Stewart, except for the obligatory "Maggie May", and the only rap is the really witty "Gold Digger" by Kanye West and "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado.
They are all there on iTunes for $.99 a click, or better yet, check out the CD's from your local library and download the whole CD to get the songs you want for free, (or buy the songs from your own downloading source of choice, legal or not.) Now mix it up and burn CDs for those friends and family who haven't read the books you bought them last year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Better than Google

Tonight I was a guest lecturer at Karen DeLoatch's Introduction to Public Services class in the Library Tech program at Capital Community College. I look forward to these annual visits because the community college students are always so interesting, an adjective that is never used to describe my presentation on the mysteries of library cooperation in CT. But tonight was different, because both I and the students became InfoAnytime customers. What I didn't know until tonight was how cool it is to get a serious question answered by a real librarian. Usually, when I have a question, I do like most people; I go to Google, the source of all knowledge. And, having logged many hours at various library reference desks, I am pretty good at coaxing information out of Google, but then I met Julia, and she is better than Google.
Julia, (which may not be her real name,) is one of many professional librarians employed by to answer questions in cyberspace chat sessions while they are sitting at their computers somewhere in America. At 8:21 pm, I clicked on the InfoAnytime logo and typed in Chris, (which may not be my real name,) and then a student's question: "What are the CT DEP regulations for the disposal of aqueous waste?" At 8:25 pm (as I was becoming impatient, accustomed as I am to Google's instant gratification,) Julia welcomed me to our online reference session. She did the whole reference interview thing that I learned in library school, but in chat mode, rather than across a desk. When I typed that I was just starting my search, she sent me the CT DEP website and typed, "Please take a look at it and tell me if it's complete enough, or if we should keep searching." After looking at the site, the student determined that she needed more specific information on the disposal problem. Julia then sent two more websites, which we scanned until the student determined that she had the info she needed. It was 8:38pm. The student was thrilled. The class was engaged, and I was in love.
The thrill of a question being asked and answered successfully shouldn't have come as such a shock to me, since I am the official shill for InfoAnytime. Until tonight, however, it was just another program to administer and promote. I know how much it costs ($175,000,) how many libraries contribute to its cost (180,) how many sessions have been completed since August (3220,) and which libraries' customers use it the most (Capital, Manchester Gateway, and Norwalk Community Colleges, CCSU, Post University, the University of New Haven, and the public libraries of Danbury, Hartford, Manchester, Milford, Stamford, Trumbull, Wethersfield, Hamden, and Glastonbury.) What I didn't know until tonight was how really valuable it is to chat with a real librarian, anywhere, anytime, 24/7. My relationship with Google will never be the same. I've met Julia, and she is better. She's a librarian.
Try it yourself. Go to Click on "Launch InfoAnytime" and ask your question. You may have to wait five minutes, and you may not get Julia, but you will get a librarian, and she will get you the answer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What is it about Bond?

"James Bond." I've never missed one yet, and so on Sunday night I went to see the latest offering in this long line of twenty-one mediocre films based on a series of misogynistic Fifties spy novels. What is the attraction? It's not that Casino Royale was the best offering at the local multiplex, with Bobby, For Your Consideration, and The Queen also playing. (I already saw The Departed, which is the best.) Other than any movie produced by Woody Allen, even the most recent, not-up-to-his-usual standards fare, I can never pass up the latest Bond. Is it the quest for action-adventure after a dutiful weekend of household chores and family visiting? Is it curiosity about the new face of an old spy? Maybe it's the theme song, the gadgets, the clothes, the locations, and certainly the villains? It is most certainly not about the non-existent plots, the right-leaning political orientation, or the bodalicious babes.
It could be that in these times of constant change, an 007 movie is, well, constant. When you know what to expect, you cannot be disappointed. Nor are you expected to unravel the director's deeper meaning, discuss the plot points, or critique the production. It is what it is. Casino Royale, in its third re-make, delivers. The theme song accompanying the graphic opening credits is no Goldfinger, but the opening chase scene is one of the most tortuous and best, on foot through an African oil field into a shabby village, and ending with a shootout in an even shabbier third world embassy. Daniel Craig, the new Bond, is a dead-ringer, not for Sean Connery, but for Steve McQueen, a real step-up in any baby-boomer's book. I won't even try to unravel the plot. Instead of the quest for an earth-ending weapon (of mass destruction?) Casino Royale's villains fund terrorist groups by short-selling the stock market. This somehow works, proving that it is the chase, not the quarry that makes an impossible mission thrill. Casino Royale's only departure from the Fleming paradigm, however, doesn't. I'm not giving anything away, (and you know you're going to see it,) when I tell you that Bond unexpectedly falls for the babe, who has a secret which even the most gullible among us figures out too early on. But it is never about the plot, so we can forgive the unexpected and unwelcome lovey-dovey scenes in exchange for a wonderful, looking-her-age Judi Dench as M, the short-selling villain with a telltale bleeding eye, and Venice, Montenegro, the obligatory beautiful beach, and of course the tuxedos. And there is an unexpected plot twist that does work. When asked if he prefers "shaken or stirred," this Bond doesn't give a damn.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hot Tips from CT Bookies

Missed out on Playstation 3? Credit cards already maxxed? Holiday specials lost their charm? Don't fear December. Put down that Sunday Styles section and pick up the December issue of Connecticut Libraries. Every year at this time, CL's editor, David Kapp, cajoles his colleagues in the CT Library Association to share their answers to his annual query, "If You Could Give Just One Book . . ." The result is a trifecta of gifts that are all easy to wrap, inexpensive, readily available, none of which will require you to stand in line at Wal-Mart. Even if you've long since given up on the whole gift-buying thing, the December CL offers a choice of boon companions with which to enjoy a piping hot TV dinner and your own company. When the solstice is over and the Long Dark sets in for its annual three month stay, you (and/or your gift recipients) can settle in with any of these hot tips.
First, there's fiction. The editor himself recommends Ken Bruen's books, with "lots of profanity of the Irish variety, and violence and sex of the universal variety." After too many re-runs of Christmas in Connecticut, escape with Kate Sheehan's tip, The Ruins by Scott Smith, "an engrossing and frightening tale of a trip (to a Mexican beach) gone awry." Ramona Harten promises that with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, (historical fiction/time travel/romance,) "the fireplace won't be the only thing keeping you warm." Cynde Lahey guarantees that The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, set in the contemporary Middle East, will "keep you reading to the end." Finally, (not fiction, or is it?) Gail Thompson-Allen suggests Stephen King's My Year of the Memoir.
If you are not afraid of too much reality, there is Xiaomei Gong's Dealing with Difficult People by David Whitemyer, Bruce Johnson's Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel, and Vince Juliano's The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs. Not that I'm hard to buy for, but some of these non-fiction tips were already on my list. Peter Ciparelli's The World is Flat by Thomas Freidman, has been updated and expanded in 2006, (to enable the procrastinators among us?) My cousin Doug, as well as Henry Dutcher, was insistent that Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris is a must-read. The always-unpredictable Les Kozerowitz offers The Book of Ecclesiastes, illustrated by Depression-era artist Ben Shahn. Even if you've given over completely to take-out, and have maxxed not only credit cards but also vacation time, you can still read Betty Anne Reiter's tip, Biba's Italy by Biba Caggiano, which offers vicarious cooking and travel experiences. If you are lucky enough to still be receiving invitations to holiday parties, take Jacqueline's Toce's tip, The Cake Mix Doctor by Ann Byrn, with which you can impress hostesses with your gifts of delicious, and only half-homemade baked goods.
There are picture books aplenty for kids in the December CL, but, in addition, CLC's webmaster, Christine Sarrazin, has edited over 60 CT children's librarians' tips for CLC's annual booklist, "Best Books for Children & Teens: Lists for Holiday Gift Giving," available at The hottest tip of all is to forget Wal-Mart completely, and go to Barnes and Noble on December 1-3. Before you go, first print out a Love Your Library voucher at, so that 10-20% of your purchases will be donated to Connecticut's InfoAnytime, the 24/7 virtual reference service. Guilt-free giving, gifts for the giver, hot tips for a cold climate--Christmas in Connecticut is looking better already!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Home Alone? Not OK this Day!

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the proportion of households consisting of one person living alone increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent in 2005. But what about Thanksgiving? One quarter of us may be living alone, but this Thursday, Americans are prohibited from actually being alone. This is the only thing I resent about Thanksgiving, (and New Year’s Eve, but that’s another story and another blog.) I have to hand it to my mother. Her Thanksgiving tradition is to respond with regrets to all of her invitations, telling each one that she will be dining elsewhere, only to spend the day home alone watching the Macy’s parade and the football games. She may be quirky, but she knows not to appear un-American.
At my house we always have a crowd since this only child married into a family, which, however long it’s been since they’ve spoken to each other, will always rally for this holiday. Even the seating chart must impose a patriotic togetherness. This is why I just spent hours creating a hodgepodge of tables and chairs in order to seat 16 people together in the dining room, rather than setting up small tables in different rooms as I would do for any other dinner party. Thanksgiving, however, may be dinner, but it is no party. We overeat. The food is white and preferably overcooked. The menu may not vary, (except for the occasional tofu turkey.) The choice of wine is cheap white, but thankfully lots of it, because the conversation is not even expected to sparkle.
I don’t mean to knock Thanksgiving. There are a lot of good things about it. Everyone helps with the dishes. The nieces usually bring a new boyfriend to grill. Even library employees get the day off, and maybe even two. There is no gift-giving, no anxiety about the menu or the guest list. It is not a religious holiday, so you can wish everyone a happy. There is great shopping the day after. Actually, it may be the perfect holiday, as long as you’re not home alone!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Outlaw Jimmy Wales?

Hardly. Jimmy Wales was not at all what I expected when I went to hear the founder of Wikipedia tonight at the University of Hartford’s Lincoln Theater. He was too old, too corporate, and too confident, (but Wales’ lecture was sponsored by the Barney School of Business?) For those of you who have been in Shangri-la since 2001 when Wikipedia was created, it is “a freely licensed encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages for every single person on the planet.” Wikipedia is the seventeenth most popular website on the Internet, the seventh most popular in Germany, and the thirtieth most popular in the United Arab Emirates. One million articles (30% of the total) are in English, (and 300 of those are about the Muppets!) Wikipedia’s “reach” last year was greater than the websites of CNN and the BBC combined. It’s no wonder that Wales was named one of the world’s top one hundred people in Time magazine‘s Scientists and Thinkers section in 2002.
How good is Wikipedia? Wales says that in December, 2005, Nature magazine gave a copy of similar science articles from both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica to its reviewers to analyze. Wikipedia had an average of four errors per article, but Britannica had three! An even better contrast was what happened when the errors were revealed. The Wikipedia people asked Nature to give them a copy of all the errors, and then they fixed them. Britannica, however, issued a twenty page denunciation of the Nature reviewers’ work, and threatened to sue the magazine. Wales claims that neutrality and moderation are the criteria at which Wikipedia excels, (like public libraries?) He claims that Wikipedia’s value lies in its ability to generate a calm and reasoned debate, especially on controversial topics, because “the writing that survives is the writing that is fair. Trolls and Flamers are pushed to the margin.”
To counter claims that Wikipedia, as the BBC said this year, “is not as Wiki as it used to be,” Wales explained the progression of its open editing policies. The old time (before 2001?) Wikipedians’ philosophy was to keep everything open, assuming that an atmosphere of trust would encourage people to do good. An era of protection followed, however, (when the new Pope Benedict’s picture was replaced online with a picture of Darth Vader?) Articles which were subjected to a “flame war” were locked down immediately. An era of semi-protection was next, when only anonymous users and those with accounts of less than four days’ duration, were prohibited from editing. Presently, Wikiworld has become more open. Anyone is allowed to edit, but edits on controversial topics are flagged and must be approved before they are posted online. Wikipedia is managed by a tight knit group of volunteers. (Only 615 hard core users, one of whom was in the audience tonight, are responsible for half of all edits.)
Wales suggests that Wikipedia’s success has led to Creative Commons licenses’ becoming hugely popular, helping people to create a culture of sharing by using sites like Flickr. He closed by saying, “Other people talk about the democratization of knowledge. I say, ‘Let’s do it!’ Wikipedia will never compromise on censorship. People must have the right to share information freely.”
When Wales opened his lecture, he asked the audience, (which was older, better dressed, and shorter on students than I expected,) how many had used Wikipedia. Half the hands in the theater went up, (which I also didn’t expect,) so when I returned home I immediately became a first-time user. When I looked up"library," I thought, “Not bad.” Forget what you expect, go to, and see for yourself what Jimmy Wales has wrought.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Who Knew?

The kid won. If you scroll down to the post of June 14, you will see a title which I must have subconsciously plagiarized for yesterday's post, "Tip was Right. All Politics Should be Local." That post was about another political party which was very different (if not in spirit, certainly in venue, cuisine, and cocktails,) from the one I attended on Election Night. That party was held in the living room of friends of mine, and it was in honor of the local boy who would dare to make good against some pretty impressive odds. "If he even makes a good showing against her, he will have a bright future," they said. And does he ever! Yesterday the kid from Wethersfield High beat Connecticut's longest serving Congressperson. There was nothing but joy in Wethersfield last night. All of our combined $25 checks helped launch the campaign that may just change the way many people, especially young people, look at party politics. Chris Murphy took on a popular incumbent on the issues, and with both his youth and those issues, he prevailed. And as I said in June, Chris did not arrive from somewhere else to seek national office. He worked his way up through local and state offices in the traditional party system, helped along the way by the traditional party faithful, as well as by his young friends, to become the Mr. Murphy who is going to Washington. (I still can't believe that my 29 year old daughter will have a childhood friend, or at least the big brother of her childhood friend, in Congress. She was overwhelmed by just seeing him on CNN, wait until she hears the election results!) I predict that Chris' story will have the same impact on state politics that Barack Obama's has had on the national scene. We've got our youth back. No baby boomer can help but look longingly at that poster portrait of an achingly young JFK in his shirt sleeves when he was first elected to Congress. We, who so loved politics in our youth, (although not necessarily the traditional party kind,) welcome this next generation to take charge of it. Their values are not ours, but neither are the times, and we know we need them to lead us forward into the future if we would have one. We need political leaders who are young, who have young families and friends, who will care for the America of the future (and take care of our own supernumerous, superannuated demographic?) Back in June, I asked, "Who knows? The kid just might win." I join the party faithful who were assembled in the Greenblatt's living room that summer evening in saying, "Thanks, Chris. You did it. You won one for us, and for the party."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Local Politics is all Good.

I don't yet know the results of the state and national races, but tonight in my hometown, it was a win, not only for my candidate, but also for what is all good about politics, and that is local. Tonight we had a victory party, but the party is always the same, win or lose. The venue never varies, the Solomon Welles House on the Wethersfield Cove for us, (the American Legion Hall on Main Street for them.) The entree is always cold cardboard pizza with an Italian cookie tray for dessert. The choice of cocktails is Bud or Bud Lite, White or Red, Coke or Sprite. The candidates can vary, but never the crowd. We are lawyers, (rarely doctors,) teachers, (rarely librarians,) sheriffs, realtors, accountants, octogenarians, high school kids, babies, young marrieds, (rarely singles,) state workers, (rarely municipal,) retirees, and those of us for whom tomorrow is another day of work. Some of us are well-educated, well-housed, and prosperous; others' income is fixed and living space tight. We don't always agree on (and therefore rarely discuss) the issues. But on election night, we are all together, and we all know the drill. The newsprint is spread out on the wall. The district captains stream in with their results. The party chairwoman reads the totals for each candidate. The votes are recorded with the same markers, always red for the Republicans, blue for the Dems, and green for everyone else. We know the results before the tally is official. We hug and kiss people whom we haven't seen since the last election, but whom we cherish on this night every year. Then we go home to our TVs to see what happened in the rest of the country, forgetting that those results are just the tally of all the other towns like ours. And those Senators, Representatives, and Governors were all elected because people like us registered voters, put signs on our lawns, walked with candidates, and called our neighbors on Election Day. So tonight we party, and it is all good, and, Tip was right, all politics is local, and that is all good too.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Missing Styron

We had a lot in common, Bill Styron and me. We both loved Vineyard Haven. We both lived in Connecticut. He was a Marine and my father was a Marine. And, on a spring evening in 1999, we were both on the steps of West Hartford’s Town Hall, where we had our first and only private conversation. The occasion was National Library Week, and this was my first big show for the West Hartford Public Library. You know how it is when you are the one in charge of getting an author for a library appearance? Everyone is expecting no less than Stephen King, (because we know that all authors are just dying to speak for free at a library,) but your budget would barely cover the local unpublished poet. But somehow that year we got Styron’s publicist to agree to considerably less than his usual speaking fee for him to be driven from his home to Roxbury down to West Hartford.

It was magical night. Styron, looking and sounding like all of the Virginia gentleman that he was, closed the evening by reading a long passage from his unpublished manuscript about his experiences as a young Marine Second Lieutenant in 1945, poised with his even younger men to invade Japan. His Chesty Puller-like commanding officer came to speak to his young officers who had just been through the hell of the Pacific campaign. He told them that what they had experienced in Okinawa, Peleliu, Tarawa, and Iwo was easy compared to what they would experience in the invasion of the mainland. They must be prepared for a house-to-house bloodletting beyond even their war weary imagination. And then we dropped the bomb. They didn’t have to go, be terrified, question their own manhood, or lose a limb, an eye, or a life. It is the story that has never been told, the story of these exhausted, spent young men who wouldn’t have to go because our nation did the unthinkable. We created an inferno for the people of two cities and their future generations, but we saved our own, and Styron was one of them. And who else but Styron to tell their story? That night in West Hartford, Styron told us that his book would be published the following fall. My father had been a grunt in the Pacific campaign, a kid from the streets of New York whose education was completed at Guadalcanal. I had just finished following his course of study through William Manchester’s remarkable (and now sadly out-of-print) Goodbye Darkness, an account of his own experiences as a Seond Lieutenant with my father’s First Marine Division. I couldn’t wait to read the story that Styron would tell, and which demanded no less a storyteller than he. I waited for it that fall, and the next, and now I know that we will never have it, the story of these young men who welcomed someone else’s atrocity because it saved them from their own. I hope that the reason we never got that book was not because Styron had once again descended into a darkness visible, but because, as Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times on Friday, “a writer’s career is not ‘a series of mountain peaks,’ but rather a ‘rolling landscape’ with vistas perhaps less spectacular, yet every bit as resonant as those ‘theatrical Wagnerian dramas with peak after peak.’”

Friday, November 03, 2006

In the Company of Teenagers

I had the occasion this week to facilitate a focus group of teenagers for a public library that is planning an expansion. It’s been a long time since I was the only adult in a room full of teens. (I remember my years as a high school librarian when I was always surrounded by teenaged faces, and would be startled by a mid-day glimpse of my own middle aged face in the ladies room mirror!) As I used to tell my students when they would complain about the shoddy treatment they received from shopkeepers and other adults in charge of their world, “People don’t like teenagers, and they especially don’t like them in groups,” teens’ preferred mode of travel.

You may not like them. They may not be attractive, or well-spoken, or even clean, but they are truly, unabashedly alive. Except for the few who are adept at manipulation, teens aren’t usually skilled at the pretense they will develop as adults, the pretense of caring about worlds outside their own. Holden Caulfield’s contempt for the phonies still resonates because being a teenager in the Fifties is not so different from being a teenager fifty years later. The same questions abound. Will I have friends, be invited, loved, listened to? Adults can’t do much about the first three because teens don’t want to be friends with us, be invited to our dance, or even care if we love them. They do, however, want us to listen, give them credibility, and try to know them. This we can do.

On behalf of the library, I listened. What these teens want in a new town library is very much like what the old people, the moms, and the businesspeople want—their own space, a Third Place that is neither work, (or school,) nor home. Teens want to IM, to use the best technology, to sit on comfortable furniture, to have quiet areas, to be able to talk, to get new books and DVDs, to have unrestricted Internet access, and unrestricted (meaning with carbonation, salt, sugar, and trans fats) after-school snacks. Only phonies would tell us what they know we want to hear. When kids do tell us what they really want, it’s not that they expect us to do it all, but they do expect us to listen, and that we can do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Place Matters

I admit it. I’m the only semi-literate American who hasn’t actually read Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. I have, however, read about it, and so I was feeling pretty comfortable with the topic, “Can the New Haven Region compete in Tom Friedman’s Flat World?”, the subject of a community discussion at New Haven Public Library’s new Wilson branch in The Hill neighborhood, subtitled “Action-Oriented Dialogue on Economic Development.” (I was actually more comfortable with the topic than I was with my ability to actually find the Wilson branch at 5:30 pm post daylight savings, but who can refuse an invitation from New Haven’s courtly City Librarian Jim Welbourne? And New Haven does have the best signage of anyplace in Connecticut in which I’ve been lost.)
What struck me was the last point that the speaker made about Freidman’s take on the global economy--place matters. It doesn’t matter in the sense that one has to be close to where one works, as it did before the flattening. In this global economy with its virtual highways, cities like New Haven don’t have to worry so much about attracting business and industry as they do about attracting people who want to live there. (In my breakout group I made the astute observation that I had to agree with one of my twenty-something students that New Haven is much cooler than Hartford, a fact signaled by its proliferation of downtown women’s clothing stores. One of the other participants, also a woman of a certain age, although less so than I, said that when I said "cooler," she thought I was talking about the climate, until I mentioned the shopping. This could be another blog, but I’ll spare you.)
The follow-up discussion of the importance of place led to some radical talk about one of this country’s most sacred cows, and the source of much of its workforce’s inflexibility and subsequent inability to compete in the global economy. That would be the public school system, and the places that matter are the very expensive buildings paid for by the taxpayers and presided over by very proprietary local boards of education. As Jim Welbourne said, “Why can’t we transform these wonderful school buildings at 3:00 to serve other community needs?” He and others called for people to make some big changes in the opportunities that Americans have to educate themselves outside the K-12 system. Take back the schools? When I heard that K-12 students in Connecticut have an average of 3.6 computers per student, I was ready to enlist a gang of librarians to liberate some of those computers for the lifelong learners in the public library who make due with an average of one computer for every 1911 people, (and that is in the Fairfield County public libraries!) Place does matter, and beautiful places, especially like some of the magnet schools in cities like New Haven, should be places for everyone in the community.

Monday, October 30, 2006

About Burroughs

OK, you saw Running with Scissors, but the story of Augusten (and his coterie of equally dysfunctional friends and family, including my personal favorite, Drugged Out Debbie) continues in his other memoirs, all of which are amazingly true. (Augusten is no James Frey. My friend Jane actually knew his mother's psychiatrist when she lived in Amherst.) I recommend them all: Dry: A Memoir, Magical Thinking: True Stories, and Possible Side Effects.
Now, about Debbie. Debbie liked to drive, anywhere, at very high speeds, and not always with all of her mental pistons firing, but she would get very upset when other drivers disobeyed the traffic laws. (You know, those who would cut you off, steal a parking space, slide into your lane, etc.) Debbie soon found a solution, aided by the opportunities that her day job at Staples provided. She went in search of porn, and as Augusten says, not just your garden variety porn that can be found on the Internet, but really bad stuff from Scandinavian countries. Debbie enlarged her favorite truly disgusting pictures to poster size, then laminated them so they were sturdy signs, and affixed as captions common traffic admonitions, innocuous stuff like, "Use your signal," "Don't pass on the right," "No tailgating." When someone cut her off or equally offended her traffic sensibilities, she would tell Augusten, who would be riding shotgun, to flash one of the randomly selected signs at the offending driver. The people were so stunned by the horrific visuals that, although they may have failed to see the traffic admonition, they usually drove off the road anyway. If you liked this, you'll love the rest! If not, there's always fiction.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Nothing is wrong, but neither is it what you might expect, if you are given to stereotypes, that is. The two in the middle are the librarians. OK, you can’t see their comfortable shoes, but neither Plainville’s Peter Chase nor Library Connection’s George Christian are what anyone would expect if, for instance, one were going to be a librarian for Halloween. In fact, the one who comes closest to actually looking like a librarian is the one on the left, but she would be a lawyer, specifically Ann Beeson, the ACLU’s lawyer who defended the Doe family, aka the Connecticut Four, for their challenge to the gag order imposed by the USA Patriot Act. The only one who matches a stereotype would be Kevin O’Connor, on the right, Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney who looks like central casting’s idea of what an FBI agent should look like--Irish, beefy, clean-cut, etc.

These four were gathered at Hartford’s Old State House to be interviewed for CPTV’s live broadcast of “Front and Center.” The small audience was, however, exactly what I expected, lefties all, (except for librarians Louise Blalock and Irene Iwan from Hartford Public, Mona Scully-Smith from Glastonbury, and Tony Bernardo, formerly of Suffield’s Kent Library, plus Jack Bradley, library husband and sympathizer.) They all said what I expected them to say, but I just can’t get enough of hearing about this wonderful episode, a classic case of civil disobedience led by four of my colleagues and friends who just said No to the FBI. (If you also can’t get enough, scroll down to an earlier blog, “The Connecticut Four: Just Doing their Jobs.”)

When Peter talked about the urgency of protecting patrons' privacy in the public library, my heart swelled as if I were hearing it for the first time. I was never able to attend any of the court sessions in Bridgeport or New York, but Ann Beeson was just as smart and compelling as everyone said she was. Unexpected was my reaction to Kevin O’Connor, (who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the First District against John Larson, and who will, I predict, eventually win national elected office.) Kevin and I don’t agree on anything, but I had to admire the man’s mettle in just showing up in a venue where he was the only one on his side. (It was, however, a little hard to take when he tried to get sympathy for his agents by saying that they worked long hours and were not well paid!) Yes, it was all pretty much what I expected. Peter and George (and Barbara Bailey and Jan Nocek, two of the four who couldn’t be there) are people who will always be what you expect them to be—smart, courageous, pro-active, and secure in their convictions.

I say let’s replace that stereotype embodied in the popular culture by the shushing librarian doll and the countless media portrayals of the bun and the half-glasses sitting behind the desk looking out disapprovingly. Let’s replace that image with the picture above—our esteemed colleagues bookended, not by Patience and Fortitude, but by advocacy and adversity.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

You Call Him Skippy?

Skippy? That would be Henry Louis Gates Jr., W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Humanities, Chair of the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, producer of the PBS mini-series Wonders of the African World, author of numerous books, and recipient of numerous prestigious awards, but Skippy to his friends in New London. It was a great night at The Garde Arts Center this past Thursday. As I was hustling into the theater, three buses pulled up to disembark a hundred Coasties intermingled with literary types and just plain folk from the neighborhood. The occasion was "An Evening with HLG, Jr." sponsored by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut to promote their "Let's Read" initiative, whose goal is "to get every child in southeastern Connecticut, no matter the town or school or family of origin, to love to read by the third grade." Good goal for a good organization in a region with a high school drop out rate that is way too high.

Skippy was introduced by the woman who cajoled him into coming to New London, Bettye Fletcher Comer, a beautiful woman in a smashing light blue suit who is a retired New London school principal and an old friend. I admit it, as charming as Bettye was, and likewise Alice Fitzpatrick, the Community Foundation's President, I expected Skippy to be a bore. The last prestigious author I heard speak in a setting like this was Mr. Updike, and he certainly was, and so very full of hisself. But Gates (I just can't call him Skippy!) was wonderful and compelling, and as much as I hate it when people say he's a regular guy like it's an accolade, he was. (When I leaned over to Betty Anne Reiter to whisper my amazement, she said that if I had read his 1995 Colored People I would have expected just the man he is.) With none of that academic pretentiousness that I was fearing, Gates began to talk about what it was like to grow up in the Fifties and Sixties in America, in West Virginia, no less. He talked about his family and what he termed their blackest values--reading, writing, and aspiring to be a doctor or a lawyer. He talked about how the factory workers in his home town of Piedmont, WV, were proud of his and his brother's academic accomplishments, how they encouraged him when he transferred from the local community college to Yale. And when he went on to Cambridge (not the one in Massachusetts) he found African teachers and fellow students who have remained lifelong friends.

Gates reminded us that this is the generation that produced not only Beloved, the number one novel of the last twenty-five years, but also Invisible Man, 1965's number one novel of the last twenty five years. Gates was unequivocal in attributing his success to affirmative action, without which he believes he would never have gotten out of the community college, no matter his record of straight A's. (He tells how his older brother was demoted from valedictorian to salutatorian so as not to embarrass his high school, and how his friend Governor Jay Rockefeller re-instated his brother's Golden Horseshoe award which a segregated society had been too skittish to bestow on a black man in the 1950's.) As further proof of the need for affirmative action, Gates brought it home by reminding us that Yale had a quota for Roman Catholics until 1963. In 1966, only six Black men graduated from Yale, compared to 96 in his class of '73. "Do you think Black men got that much smarter in ten years?" he asked. He told us something else I never knew about civil rights icon Rosa Parks. He said, "Do you think she was just tired that day on the bus in Montgomery?" On the contrary, Parks' disobedience was carefully stage-managed by civil rights leaders, and Parks was just as carefully chosen for her role. Months before Parks' action, another black woman had taken a seat in the front of the bus, but she was too dark, and too pregnant with an out-of-wedlock child, not the type they wanted for that historic role. Parks had been schooled in the ways of non-violence, and her looks and her manner were just right for her to be able to represent the race. Likewise, Gates said, with Jackie Robinson, James Meredith, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

"What has happened since the Sixties?" Gates asks. He thinks if Martin Luther King were alive today he would say that we need another civil rights movement based on class. Gates would like to see the "Let's Read" campaign go national because he says everything comes from literacy. Gates wants a return to the "barbershop values" of the men who encouraged young men like himself and friends Cornell West and Bettye Fletcher and her husband to get a job, avoid having babies out of wedlock, and never show up without your shoes shined, because you've got to represent the race. "We've got too much bling. We've lost our way and we've got to get it back."

When interviewer Reid MacCluggage offered to donate his copy of Gates' documentary series African American Lives (for whose production Gates credits Oprah Winfrey) to the library, Gates told MacCluggage to keep his copy; he would give six copies to the New London Public library. As Gates said, "If I sell 30,000 copies of a book, that reaches a lot of people, but 11 million people saw that documentary." Oprah's Roots is due out in February, 2007, to be followed by a sequel to Lives in 2008. Gates closed with a good humored account of his induction into the Sons of the American Revolution, for which he was declared eligible after tracing his genealogy with the help of DNA testing.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. may look like a pointy headed intellectual from Harvard, but he's still his mother's son who went to Yale and who came to New London so Bettye Fletcher's students and the students who will benefit from the "Let's Read" campaign will get back in touch with those barbershop values. Thanks, Skippy. We needed that, and you.

Communications 101

Let's face it; those of us whose fiftieth year has come and gone are a little skittish about communications these days. Sitting in an audience watching the twenty-something in front of you madly text messaging while you are just madly bored brings on a certain jealousy. Those of us who are thumbed out when it comes to texting can feel communications-challenged. We've never made a video for YouTube. Our faces are nowhere to be found on FaceBook. And for our ilk, MySpace is just a hangout for predators. When we were twenty, we sat around waiting for our princess phones to ring, and a calendar was something hanging on the wall on which you wrote in peoples' birthdays.
So it was with a certain satisfaction that I read my daughter Liz' first publication--Client Meeting Guidelines. Liz is a 29 year old vice president at a Boston public relations firm. As such, she has the responsibility of supervising many young (younger than she is!) account executives. And, guess what, they don't know how to communicate with us. Frumpy as we baby boomers are, we are the ones who are now in positions where we make decisions about which PR firms to hire. After enough bad experiences, Liz thought it necessary to give these young texters a short course in communicating with us. So go ahead, be smug as you read these examples from Liz' manual, and I'm not making this up, (because I couldn't!)
from Meeting/Greeting the Client:
"Provide a firm handshake and a confident smile."
from Away Meetings: Getting There:
"MapQuest should only be used as a back up for obtaining directions. If the client's website does not include directions, you should obtain directions from your client directly."
from Appearance/Demeanor during the Meeting:
"Do not chew gum during the meeting."
"Appear awake and interested in the subject matter at all times."
from Communication during the Meeting:
"Do not ask obvious questions about the client's business--you should already understand their business."
from Safe Conversation Topics at Lunch/Small Talk before the Meeting:
"Sports: Red Sox (remember, this is Boston!) or whatever team your client prefers."
and my personal favorite, The Maturity Factor:
"Do not make references to your parents or 'going home' to your parents' house."
"Do not make references to 'when you were little.'"
"Do not let the client know if you have just graduated from college."
"Do not make references to keg parties."
"Maintain solid posture and polite table manners."
Heck, we may be old, but we do know all this stuff. So don't feel sheepish about needing a manual to understand web 2.0 and social networking sites. At least we already know not to trust MapQuest!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Getting to Know Osama

A couple of weeks ago the NYTBR featured Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 on its cover. It was one of those reviews that compel even a librarian to run to the nearest bookstore and pay full price. (My rationalization for this reckless behavior is that the independent booksellers are good guys too and need our support.) I also rationalized this unnecessary expense (Why so guilty about the purchase of a hardcover book for $25? It's not like I wouldn't spend it on a belt.) by the prospect of a long plane trip, always the best venue for cracking open a nice new hardback. (Maybe this is what bookstores have that we don't have--it's not the coffee; it's the crack of the new book.)

I boarded Swiss Air flight LX52 to Athens and started making the acquaintance of the man who changed our world. Having closed the book just before landing in Boston yesterday, I can say that the NYTBR got this one right, (encouraging because I was also taken with their front page pick the following week, newbie Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics.) Wright's book is so compelling because he examines not just the movement, but the men, (and they are all men. Women are only bit players in this production.)

Wright starts with radical Islam's spiritual father Sayyid Qutb, whose loneliness as a foreign student in 1940's America is palpable. Wright tracks the evolution of medical doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri's leadership of al-Jihad, the radical Islamic group that he hoped would take over his native Egypt until Zawahiri allied with Bin Laden to take over the world. Although the book belongs to the Arabs, Wright does well by the FBI's brilliant, profane John O'Neill who knew the threat that al-Qaeda posed, (and ironically died on 9/11 in the North Tower,) but who could not disentangle the bureaucratic web that kept U.S. government agencies from making use of their own intelligence. (FBI requests for intelligence were so routinely denied that agents in the Washington office started holding the phone receiver to a recording of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall when CIA operatives began their "I can't share that information" speech.)

Any book about al-Qaeda is a book about Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was created when the Russians invaded Afghanistan and Osama, using the personal fortune earned in his family's construction business, funded young Arabs who would come to the aid of their Muslim brothers in fighting the Communists. How al-Qaeda grew to attract men capable of planning and executing the African embassy bombings, the destruction of the USS Cole, and 9/11, despite the fact that both suicide and the slaughter of innocents is expressly proscribed in the Quran, is Wright's story.

When Osama's favorite wife of 27 years left him just before 9/11, (Osama choose to have four wives, like the prophet.) she said she married a rich Saudi teenager, not an exiled ascetic who kept his family living in caves with hardly enough to eat. Although Wright doesn’t see him as especially intelligent, (the only one of the bin Ladens not to attend university abroad) the book makes it clear that Osama put his money where his mind is, on a declaration of war on America and its allies, with the prize an Islamist empire with no national boundaries, and no separation between church and state. (And that, unlike his need for weekly dialysis, is not just an urban legend.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Kiss

Now that Dick Cheney and Chris Dodd and every interested national political pundit (and that would include most of them) have had a chance to comment on the Lieberman /Lamont primary, I have to weigh in. I think it was about The Kiss. One would like to think that it was all about The War, but a primary is a family feud, and Joe's fate was sealed with The Kiss.

Even a multimillionaire like Ned Lamont couldn't pay enough for that picture. Not only are Americans still not fully comfortable with men kissing each other, but The Kiss incorporates aversions inherited from the tribes who brought down the Romans in 476. It was public. It was personal. It was disloyal. Like it or not, ever since Leonardo's plaster dried in 1498, the kiss has been the image of a betrayal of one's own. It was arrogant for Joe to think that The Kiss could be just a kiss.

Voters in both parties can accept, and even encourage, their candidates' working with the folks on the other side of the aisle. Bill Clinton was still adored by Democrats even as he moved his party to the right of center. It wasn't until he was seen as a betrayer of personal trust that he was maligned by his own. His wife also lost political ground when she chose to overlook that betrayal. That is what The Kiss did for Joe. It made it personal

We send a Senator off to do our bidding only once every six years, so voters had to speak on August 8 or for a very long time hold their piece. A vote for Lamont in this primary was most certainly a vote against the war, but it was also a vote against The Kiss, (and maybe also about holding on to the Senate seat while running for the vice presidency?) Statewide elections are never determined by just one issue (if they are determined by the issues at all) even when the issue is as important as a war. In any election, a candidate asks people to choose him and not the other guy. You can't get more personal that that.

Eighteen years ago when Joe Lieberman first won the Senate, he had an arrogant opponent whose arrogance helped to defeat him. Joe should have remembered how successful was that image of the slumbering bear, an image strong enough to make voters forget even the Watergate hearings. Many have touted Ned Lamont's Howard Dean style mining of the Internet and the blogosphere as the way he used the media to win hearts and minds and money. But the medium that won this election was more old style. A picture is worth a thousand words, and many more votes.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

DOPA'd in the Dog Days

First there was CIPA, then the USA PATRIOT Act, and now, when no one is looking because it’s too darn hot, there is DOPA.

At a time when many of us are just beginning to learn about social networking sites (and how they might be used for good rather than evil!) they’ve been summarily banned from schools and libraries by the U.S. House of Representatives. At the end of July, the House approved, on a 410-15 vote, the Deleting Online Predators Act, which calls for any school or library receiving federal funding through the E-rate program to employ filters to prohibit minors from accessing social networking sites and chat rooms where they may be subject to "unlawful sexual advances."

Just as they did with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, those who would believe that a piece of software could protect children have forced their colleagues to support censorship rather than be perceived as supporting evil. Public institutions dependent on federal funds are being forced to shut down a whole mode of communication because some mistakenly think they can stop the bad guys, and others are afraid they’ll be mistaken for them. Maybe if schools and libraries had more government resources they would be safer, but that would mean putting one’s money where one’s rhetoric is. Instead, this legislation denies freedom of speech to those who are vulnerable because their schools and libraries are dependent on E-rate funding to which these strings can so easily be attached.

I agree with the rep who said DOPA "makes good press releases, but it won't save one single child from one single incident." As the American Library Association has noted in their opposition, school districts and libraries already have the power to block access to social networking sites, and a number of them already have done so. There is no evidence of a correlation between school and library computer use and sexual predators. The correlation is, I fear, between child safety and apple pie in the fall elections.

Is this what we’ve come to in our democracy? Our elected representatives can now be coerced into censorship? This legislation is now scheduled to go to the Senate, which may or may not have time to vote on it before their session ends. I hope that once the fall elections are over, senators will be more courageous than their House colleagues and stand up for the safety of our beleaguered Bill of Rights as well as for the safety of our children.

I thank my colleague Peter Chase, one of the Connecticut Four and chairman of the Connecticut Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, for providing us with information about DOPA and other issues of importance to libraries and librarians.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Never Fail to Communicate

“Conversation, Community, Connections, and Collaboration: Practical, New Technologies for User-Centered Services" was a workshop presented in Darien last week by Michael Stephens of and Dominican University and Jenny Levine of ALA, both of the generation who never sat home alone by the telephone, who never waited a week to get their photos developed, and who will never have to ask a librarian for a reference book. They are people who will never have a failure to communicate.
Blogs, RSS, wikis, instant messaging, FLICR, webinars, gaming--these are all two way streets. (Except for my blog, which is so one-way because it really is a column that I post to my friends.) With RSS, you can set up a feed from all your friends' blogs, or from your library's catalog, to have one place to check to be apprised when something new comes along. And how about those wikis? Forget the abomination of students using Wikipedia as the source of all knowledge. Think about what a great way a wiki is to work collaboratively with colleagues across the hall or across the country. And IM isn't just the communication of choice for the teenagers who tie up all of the library's computers chatting with the people sitting next to them. IM is minimized on everybody's desktop at Deloite & Touche. (You don't think those accountants trust their tax tips to email, do you?) Could FLICR, etc. mean that you will never again have to flip through a wedding album emitting the requisite oohs and aahs? At the least, it is a great way to live vicariously, flipping through your friends' vacation pictures while you're sitting at your desk listening to your voice mail. And I love those webinars--not that we all don't love meetings, but sometimes when you just can't get away, a webinar will do. At CLC we love using them for database demos and for those "long tail" workshops that are of interest to just a few people. With a webinar, those few people, or one person, can have a two-way with the presenters without ever leaving their desk, (and we at CLC don't have to set up a workshop for fifty that only five will attend.) Finally, maybe it's just Xbox to you, but I listened when Jenny said that people who game know how to try something, and then if it doesn't work, to try something else. Not that this would ever be a problem for some of us, but the message is that we don't have to know it all before we get started.
So start. Go to bloglines and set up a feed. Hey, it's summer, go to FLICR and post your own vacation pictures!

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Night with Abdul

I've been itching to replace my clunky Samsung pocket PC phone. It has neither voice recognition nor Bluetooth, both of which are really handy on the Merritt Parkway, and I really want to text message (to whom, besides my daughter Kate, and Al Gore, I don't know, but I want to.) I want an external keyboard and live Internet and emails like everyone with a Blackberry has. I really wanted to get a Treo, but not for $600. Then I saw it--in David Pogue's column one Thursday--the Motorola Q--$199 and it does all of the above, and is as sleek as a Razr phone. It was only a matter of time, and my time came last week in NH. The battery on my Samsung finally gave way. To replace it would have cost $130, and what better place to buy a new phone for just an additional $70, but the land of "Live Free or Die?" The "Q" was mine, and with no sales tax. I could talk with Connecticut and New Orleans while in NH. The only thing missing was the sync, but I knew that when I got back to the office I'd be able to get the contacts, calendar, and notes on my desktop synced into my beautiful new Q.

Hence my night with Abdul Aziz. After arriving in the office following a two and a half week hiatus, I became obsessed with syncing. I installed the Active Sync 4.1 software that came with the Q, but nothing happened. You know the thing about pushing and, when that doesn't work, instead of pulling, pushing harder? I was starting to realize why David Pogue, although he couldn't say enough good things about the Q's hardware, couldn't say enough bad things about its Windows pocket PC software. It was now almost 6:00 pm, and I had been pushing harder all day with no sync in sight. Who you gonna' call? I dialed Microsoft (after a good half hour spent trying to find a phone number.) I got connected to a live person who offered me a deal--for no money, he would lead me to a website where I could work through my problem step by step, (which I had been doing all day) or, for $35, (which won’t even buy a decent pair of shoes) I could talk to a person.

Then came Abdul. For the next three hours he methodically and sanely eliminated each potential home wrecker in the syncing process. Finally he diagnosed Microsoft Outlook as the culprit. (For some reason this elimination process resulted in Al Green's "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" being synced to my Q. "Have you ever heard Al Green?" I asked Abdul. "Oh yeah!" he replied. They have Al Green in India?) Then Abdul asked me if I knew David Pogue (because I had a note on my calendar to call David Pogue to speak at CLC's October Trendspotting symposium.) It turns out that Abdul also reads Pogue's column in the New York Times as well as his blog. (And I bet he gets a lot more out of it than I do!) So now it's 9:13 pm and we know the problem is Outlook. Abdul makes a copy of all of my 1113 contacts, etc. and starts to re-install MS Office. Then the computer asks us to insert the Microsoft Office CD. (I guess it’s not just Apple who gets proprietary about their software.) Do you think I can find the CD? "No problem," says Abdul, "I'll call you back tomorrow when you'll have the CD." And damned if he doesn't, and right on time. Except, I, of course, am not back in the office yet when he calls promptly at 2:00, so Jan Gluz tells him to give me 20 minutes. He did. He re-installed MS Office. My desktop computer and my Q synced. I once again have everyone's phone number with me at all times, and I know where I'm supposed to be going when. And it is all because of Abdul Aziz at Microsoft India, where it has been raining for the past two weeks, who has never been to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and who likes to read murder mysteries. I'm glad it’s a small world!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Just Eight Weekends

And one of them has already gone by. It is hard not to get anxious when you live in New England and have such a long winter to plan for such a short summer. Below are some DOs and DON’Ts to help maximize the little time we have left.

DON’T buy a new bathing suit. By the time they go on sale, all the good ones are gone anyway, and besides, this is an activity that always takes way too much time because time only flies when you are having fun, and this activity is never (and was never, even when you were ten or forty pounds lighter) fun. So wear the old Speedo (unless you are a guy, and then please DON’T,) and DO invest in a nice roomy cover-up.

DO read, (or better yet, listen to, when you are stuck in beach traffic) all of Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs, starting with Running with Scissors. He is just so funny, in that inimitable way of irreverent, dysfunctional fifteen year old boys who swear a lot (and those who love them.)

Not that you would, but DON’T even think of reading James Frey’s memoirs. I don’t even care that they are not true; they are soo not well-written. (If you want a well-written, witty, and honest memoir of addiction and recovery, DO read Burroughs’ Dry.)

DO get one of these cool air cards if you plan to travel and are averse to sitting in the parking lots of public libraries (or Starbucks) to tap into their wireless connections. For $59.99 a month, you can access the Internet on your laptop wherever you can use your cell phone (which does eliminate Easton, Connecticut, but you probably weren’t planning to vacation there anyway.)

DO read Beloved. It is not overrated. It is one of the most remarkable experiences I have ever had. I still don’t know if I understand what it meant to be a slave in the USA, but it is the only time I felt like I did.

If you want to, DO read The Terrorist, and tell me what you think. Can a 74 year old Episcopalian from western Massachusetts know what it is like to be Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy? Please DON’T, however, go to see Updike on his book tour, and definitely DON’T pay $15 for the privilege as I did. I’ve been ripped off enough for all of us.

DON’T try to visit all your out-of-town friends this summer. By the time you reach a certain age, you will have more friends than you do summer weekends. If you do plan to visit even some of your friends, DON’T even think about taking a two week vacation. That would use up almost 40% of your summer weekends. There is always next summer.

DO renew your acquaintance with the Beach Boys. Even if you didn’t like them their first time around, no other music is going to make you feel like “that” again, and it is even better belting out “God only knows what I’d be without you” when you really do know.

Summer weddings--just DO it. But DON’T fall for the fool headed idea that the cost of your gift must equal the cost of your plate of food.

DO or DON’T read War and Peace this summer. Am I the only one who thinks it’s like a Russian Gone with the Wind?

DO read last summer’s July July by Tim O’Brien. The critics hated it, but I think it is one of the few works of fiction about a Big Chill reunion that gives equal time to how both men and women feel about having a lot of life under and over their belts.

DON’T read Curtis Sittenfield. I finished Prep, but I wish I hadn’t, and her new one sounds even more self-indulgent and depressing without any good reason to be either.

DO just sit and read anything you damn well please this summer--by the pool, in a boat, on the beach, in a car, or on a plane. And when you do have to get some exercise, DO listen to a book while you are walking, running, or treading the mill. Just don't try to use your iPod to listen to a book unless you want to pay for the download rather than getting it for free from your public library. For that you will need to use another MP3 player. (And that is a subject for another blog.)

Finally, DO make time for the beach this summer, even if you live on a lake or a golf course. There is just nothing as sensuous and life affirming as the smell of the salt, (and the onion rings and the fries,) the sound of the surf, the crunch of the sand between your toes, and the feel of a breeze on a sunny day. I'm sorry my words come out sounding so trite, but the beach experience is like having a baby--such an ordinary, everyday occurrence, but the most extraordinary one that even the most accomplished among us will ever have!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Big Night in the Big Easy

Last night was a Big Night in the Big Easy. Leslie Burger was inaugurated as president of the American Library Association, an organization of 65,000 members. Probably because of her (and another smart, attractive, only child librarian) our other president has pledged $18 million to rebuild New Orleans’ libraries. My daughter and my mother-in-law tell me that Leslie was on the NBC Nightly News talking about how ALA is the first big conference (meaning over 20,000, like Rotary, which bailed to Chicago) to stay in New Orleans since Katrina. Friends Jay Johnston and Alice Knapp, who have been good enough to send regular dispatches this week from NO to NH, were interviewed with Leslie by NPR at Emeril’s restaurant. Leslie has built a smashing destination library in Princeton, NJ, and, as ALA Prez, has been an inspiration to our sometimes beleaguered profession wherever she speaks—Chile, Argentina, or Wallingford, Connecticut. Not only was last night a Big Night, but Leslie is a Big Deal. Since I couldn't be there for "the best party ALA has ever had," according to a late night call live from New Orleans, this morning I'm going Boswellian (and maybe just a little maudlin) to celebrate some of the little deals that I remember about my friend and president.

I met Leslie in 1976, when she arrived at the State Library in Hartford from the Bridgeport Public Library. There were a lot of us young’uns there then—Connie McCarthy and Maureen Well, with whom I’ve unexplainedly lost touch, Vince Juliano, who remains the same prince-among-men that he was then, and Dick Akeroyd, who was Leslie’s boss, and quite the young Turk before he went on to stodgy fame and fortune. We were young, and we had fun, and we believed. Leslie might have $2.50, and I might have $3.75, and then we’d find some other loose change, and then we’d go out to lunch—almost everyday. And we thought we could make things happen, and yes, we thought we could change the world.

The scholarly State Librarian, Chuck Funk, once said, when forced to undergo one of the team building activities so popular in the eighties, that the one he would want in his lifeboat was--Leslie Burger. Who wouldn’t? She saved the state $40,000 when she wrote our way out of an audit exception during the Reagan years, when Ronnie had instructed the Department of Education auditors to be “as mean as junkyard watch dogs.” Then came another State Librarian who promoted someone else over Leslie, a move I’ve never forgiven, but with which Leslie never had a quarrel nor a moment of indulgent rehash.

I remember back in the day when we were both young mothers, doing the Hanukkah candles at Leslie and Buddy’s (aka Alan Burger, her husband and boyfriend since they were 14) and Leslie’s reading the prayers straight from the Book of Jewish Observance propped open on the kitchen counter. I remember our being on the beach in Nantucket, pretending to watch our kids while listening in on the Muffies’ conversation, and Leslie making us all take the pledge to "live each day to its fullest.” I remember our collapsing in giggling hysteria when the Governor’s Conference on Libraries (which we planned with Homer Babbidge, of the Babbidge Library at UConn) was finally over. And I remember our latest (but not our last) shopping trip when we had to admit that we spend money like we had it.

Just last year we organized a visit by Connecticut librarians to Leslie’s beautiful new Princeton Public Library (after we both almost got sued by the Nassau Inn) and she toured and charmed them all, about five minutes after she had brought Buddy home from Sloane Kettering. Leslie is also a cancer survivor, something even I forget because she always looks so great, so young, so gorgeous and full of life. Leslie can build a state-of the-art library. She can get money for American libraries. She can get press coverage for librarians. She can do all the big deals, not only because she believes and because she is smart and talented, but because she knows what is important, even the little deals.

Last night was a Big Night, and Leslie Burger is a Big Deal.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Is It Just About the Coffee?

I’m here in Portsmouth, NH, (when I should be in New Orleans, but that’s another blog,) and I need the Internet. My 84 year old mother, whose ill health is the cause of this unusual midweek visit, has no Internet access, and it seems that no one else in the neighborhood does either. I’ll go downtown, where I’m sure both the public library and Starbucks will have wireless.

Portsmouth is an interesting place. When I left here for Hartford some 30 years ago, (another proof that love is blind,) Portsmouth was a lot like Hartford is today—no downtown shopping, people drinking out of paper bags in broad daylight, and with not much more to recommend it than its proximity to Boston. It was a small place from which the valedictorians fled and the rest went to work at the Navy Yard or had kids with those who did. But there were those who loved it, including the local librarian, maiden lady Dorothy Vaughn. She and some friends started up a little something called Strawberry Banke, capitalizing on Portsmouth’s colonial history and its place on the river and proximity to the beach, as well as to the Boston of Kevin White. Portsmouth’s redevelopment of working class housing, unlike Hartford’s botched Front Street demolition, was the beginning of Portsmouth as a destination, a destination so pricey that I couldn’t reverse course now even if I wanted to. But enough about Portsmouth, back to the Internet—Starbucks or the library?

I made my choice. I spent two days sitting in front of Starbucks trying to make their touted tmobile wireless connection connect, even though I knew I would have to pay for it with a credit card if it ever worked. I only went to the library (whose connection worked perfectly every time) as a last resort when I became seriously email deprived. Why was I so reluctant to give up Starbucks for the library? Was it just a librarian’s aversion to a busman’s holiday? The library turned out to be perfectly fine and I spent two days working there quite happily. My reluctance to abandon Starbucks for the library, however, is a puzzlement. What does she have that I don’t have?

If anyone is comfortable in libraries and with librarians, it would be me, and I actually prefer Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. So what is it? I fear it’s the old perception vs. reality thing. Starbucks is perceived to be bright young things behind the counter, new music playing and available for sale, comfortable furniture inhabited by comfortable people, bright sunny windows looking out on the agora, and almost unlimited hours open. Whether perception is reality or not, there could be a lesson here, and it’s not just about coffee.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tip was Right. All Politics should be Local.

There I was, in the Greenblatt's living room, listening to the kid who would be a congressman. Thirty-two year old Chris Murphy, who was just another kid from the neighborhood a few years ago, was talking about changing the world, starting with the fifth congressional district. He wasn't haranguing like sometimes even our local pols do. He was talking in a clear, earnest voice, with his Mom and Dad and grandfather looking on, to a houseful of people who are the parents and teachers of his boyhood. He was telling stories the way all politicians, even the young, are expected to--about how his first political activity was handing out leaflets--for the Republicans! (This one getting a big laugh in this room packed with the flower of the local Democratic Party.) Chris went on with his story to tell about how he saw the (Democratic) light as early as high school when he got involved with the Young Dems, led by a remarkable Wethersfield High School teacher (Physics, no less,) who is a district captain in our local party apparatus. Wethersfield is not in the fifth Congressional district; Chris was hitting up the hometown crowd for much needed money to challenge a well funded ($3 million already!) incumbent, and that was fine by us. You never saw checkbooks come out so fast. Except for one of the lawyers who thought she might be able to use some of her firm's PAC money for Chris, I'm sure most of the figures written on those checks were two rather than four.

This scene is politics at its best. A kid whose parents are not even Democrats has been working his way through the party system to get to the Greenblatt's living room, a space last used politically for the likes of Joe Lieberman, (which is so another story!) Although Chris is a comer by any standards--incredibly good-looking, smart, articulate, Williams' grad--he has not gotten, nor did he expect, a free ride to being a Congressional candidate. He didn’t even get to start his career in his hometown in the very Democratic first district, (a place where if Dracula were on the Democratic ticket, he would be elected.) Chris moved to Southington, where he won the nod to run for state rep, then state senator, and now, with Diane Farrell in the fourth and Joe Courtney in the second, the right to challenge an entrenched, well-funded incumbent for a seat in Congress.

I have always felt comfortable with local politics. We have a devoted, tenacious town chairman, a teacher and an Episcopalian. Party workers like myself, while fiercely partisan, are totally incorruptible. The party is to me like church, a place where everybody knows your name, but no one is familiar enough to breed contempt. We rarely discuss issues because we probably don’t agree on many, but we do agree on people.

While we were all in the living room listening to Chris' speech, some of the current WHS Young Dems were hanging in the Greenblatt's den, creating there a latter day smoke-free smoke filled room. Hanging with them were some slightly older, but still decades younger than we, workers from the Malloy campaign, (showing the kids how it is done?) This entire tableau, with the young candidate, the teenagers, the mayor, mayor's wife, state rep, would-be state senator, grandfather and the $25 checks, is what politics means to me. I'd like to think that this is what Tip O'Neill was talking about when he said that all politics is local. I know that this is all good, and who knows? The kid just might win.

Friday, June 02, 2006

In the Company of Books

Tonight I had the pleasure of the company of books and the people who write them and read them at Eastern Connecticut's kick-off for One Book One Region. This phenomenon started five years ago when Steve Slosberg challenged the folks who read his column in The Day to come up with a One Book community read like they were doing in Rhode Island (and in Chicago and Seattle.) Betty Anne Reiter and I invited people to a meeting at Groton PL to see if anyone else besides the two of us and Steve was interested in the idea. People actually showed up to the meeting, (but not as many as the hundred who showed up tonight!). We chose Pete Hamill's almost-out-of-stock Snow in August and then emailed him to see when he could come out to Eastern Connecticut to accept this honor in person. Pete said he'd be delighted. Little Brown reprinted enough copies so Jim Landherr could buy 2400 of them for all the students and faculty of Norwich Free Academy. Tara Samul got students at Mitchell College to make buttons. Betty Anne and I visited Alice Fitzpatrick at the Community Foundation who gave us a grant. The Day printed bookmarks. The Norwich Inn and the Lighthouse Inn gave us free meals for Pete and the committee. The now defunct Boats, Books and Brushes PR people designed a logo, and Bank Square Books in Mystic promoted it with a reception and book signing (as they did again tonight!) and donated 20% of the sales of Snow in August to Literacy Volunteers.

We did it! A bunch of locals who had never done such a thing before got a lot of people reading and talking about a novel. Snow in August covers a lot of ground (and caused a lot of controversy which generated a lot of anguish, but also free publicity) but it is in essence a story of the Holocaust, as are two of the three books chosen this year. (How did we end up with three books for our One Book One Region community read? Let's just admit that you can't please all of the people all of the time.)

Tonight I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Zelinsky, illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book, Hansel and Gretel, Jane Yolen, author of Briar Rose and 289 other books, and the wonderful Louise Murphy who wrote The True Story of Hansel and Gretel and who traveled all the way from Berkeley to talk about it. When it was Louise's turn to speak, she said something both moving and unexpected. She began describing her miserable journey across country, sustained from early morning only by Southwest's salty snacks. She said, however, that when she got to Mystic she was lifted out of her depressive state, not only by the beauty of the place, but by who we are and what we are doing. She said that she noticed that people here enjoy the trappings of affluence and the comforts of living in a traditional New England community. "So why aren't you reading the DaVinci Code or doing a Jane Austen Summer?" she asked. "You could be serving lemonade and having the children dress in period costume, and make it easy for yourselves. Instead, you are reading about something difficult. You're reading books about the Holocaust." Louise went on to say that she was encouraged by the slow but steadily increasing sales of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel because maybe it means that Americans are coming to grips with the serious situation we are in with the war in Iraq and the violence and tragedy in other parts of the world.

Both Hansel and Gretel and Briar Rose are dark tales. They strike at our deepest human fear, that of abandonment, and also at our highest joy, the embrace of a loving family. Ever-present is the forest primeval that grows around Briar Rose and threatens to smother her until she is rescued by a prince, and in which Hansel and Gretel are first abandoned and then ultimately saved. In the hands of these gifted 2006 One Book One Region authors, the power of both the forest and of family love and the evil of abandonment is unforgettable, as is the pleasure of their company.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Connecticut Four: Just Doing their Jobs

There they were, this morning at breakfast, four of my colleagues on the front page of the Hartford Courant, and above the fold--George Christian, Peter Chase, Jan Nocek, and Barbara Bailey. (Leslie Burger and Alice Knapp were also in the picture in the New York Times Metro section, but were cropped from the Courant, probably because they aren’t local, even though Leslie is president of the American Library Association, and Alice is president of the Connecticut Library Association.)

They are the Connecticut Four. They didn’t set out to make the papers. They were just doing their jobs as librarians. Three of them are directors of public libraries in small towns around Hartford—Plainville, Portland, and Glastonbury. Last summer they happened to be serving as the Vice President, Secretary, and President of Library Connection, a cooperative of 27 libraries in the Hartford area that share an automated library system. Then the FBI sent a national security letter demanding records of patron Internet use to Library Connection’s Executive Director, George Christian.

Exactly what happened then, they still cannot say, but these four people, now known collectively as John Doe, did their jobs. They refused to give up any of the records sought by the FBI, and they are the first in the country to challenge a national security letter, 30,000 of which are estimated to have been issued this year.

Unlike search and arrest warrants, a national security letter can be issued by the FBI without judicial review, and the recipients are bound by a perpetual gag order to refrain from telling anyone they have received a letter. Anyone means friends, family, colleagues, their own library boards, even the other librarians on Library Connection’s Board of Directors.

I was lucky enough to have a previously scheduled meeting at Library Connection’s office in Windsor this afternoon. I drove up hoping to get some inside information, but George and the Library Connection officers still cannot talk about who was targeted in the letter or what records were sought. And, although they were above the fold today at ACLU headquarters in Manhattan, my colleagues still face a legal battle over other portions of the demand, and they still are prohibited from discussing details of the letter and its delivery.

But at least today, and maybe for a few days, they were there—in the New York Times and the Hartford Courant and on TV and radio, and attention is being paid to the importance of protecting the privacy of public library patrons. Now, thanks to the Connecticut Four, all those audiences (as well as our own friends and family) know something about the job of a librarian.

As George said this afternoon, (before he had to leave to be flown to Washington DC for an interview with NPR,) “Who ever heard of such a thing—no probable cause, no subpoena, just a letter demanding information about people who use the public library?”

Who gives up that information? Not the library!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Not Just Another Day in the District

It was just another day in D.C., but oh what it seemed to me! Not only is Washington several weeks further into springtime than the cold rainy Connecticut to which we returned, but the District is beautiful. Years ago a friend of mine who worked for the National Park Service told me that they spend 90% of their entire budget in the district, and I’m here to tell you, we get our money’s worth. Except for the major construction site (of a new visitors’ center) around the Capitol, the city begs to be walked, and Tuesday was a day that would inspire e.e.cummings:
“Thank you God, for most his amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of a sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

But the real inspiration was not from the May flowers or the way the marble buildings gleam in the sunshine. (It just seems a little more important now that I’m back in the drizzle.) It was not just from meeting with Rosa DeLauro and John Larson. The thrill was from having a real conversation with both of them. I’ve been on this annual appeal before, when librarians from all over the country descend on Congress for the American Library Association’s annual Legislative Day in May. Often we delegates from the Connecticut Library Association end up discussing library legislation in the hallway with congressional aides. I am always star struck when we meet with actual members of Congress in their Capitol hill digs, which get more elaborate as the members gain more seniority. Both DeLauro and Larson have always supported not only library funding, but also intellectual freedom concerns like the Patriot Act, and federal funding for libraries is faring pretty well these days with a librarian as chief spouse.

So we didn’t have to lobby either of them. Instead we got to talk—-about Rosa’s “Rosa’s Readers” program to reward kids between the first and second grades who have read 20 books, about how funding for the arts is not “not our business” as some of her colleagues think, about how much her immigrant parents valued both reading and learning the English language, and finally about Rosa’s fabulous clothes. (OK, that was only me, but this is a woman who has found her style!)

We got to congratulate John Larson for his courageous vote against the war in Iraq and he got to show off a new book of which this former history teacher is justifiably proud--The House, a History of the House of Representatives by historian Robert Remini. The first bill that Larson ever introduced was to commission an historian to write a history of the House of Representatives. Tom Geoffino, the president-elect of CLA, knew of Remini right away, having read his biographies of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, and so he was as excited as Larson.

These are good people, Rosa DeLauro and John Larson, and it was an amazing day to have a chance to talk with them, not just about supporting increased federal funding for libraries, but about things that we all care about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The 4% Solution?

Just 4%, that's all that it is. Not that I was surprised. I think the national average is about 3%. But when the town manager projected that pie chart at the public hearing on Wethersfield's budget, that 4% sliver looked pretty small. The Board of Education's budget is 57% and growing. The rest of it is in the category of things not in our control like debt service, or untouchables like public safety and public works. As I was sitting in the high school auditorium waiting for my turn to speak for the library, I kept thinking about the four percenters--4% for the library and 4% for parks & rec. So when it was finally my turn to speak, it was as much about parks & rec as it was about the library.

In many ways, we are our natural allies. Both departments are staffed by highly trained professionals with advanced degrees who provide services in the evenings, on weekends, and all summer long, and who are usually not as well compensated as are staffs in other town departments, (especially those in the elephant in the dining room.) The library and parks & rec often serve the same families--as preschoolers, in after-school programs, and later, as seniors looking for recreation when their jobs no longer provide it. Likewise, both the library and parks & rec are well served by talented and dedicated volunteer boards. When I was a member of the Town Council, I was (by choice!) liaison to the Parks and Rec Commission; I can attest to the quality of commissioners and their tenacity and devotion to the cause. Similiarly, the library board remains one of the easiest of the town's boards and commissions for which to find willing appointees. My husband has served for many years on the Democratic Screening Committee and I can tell you, by virtue of that second hand experience, that it is increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to serve on boards and commissions, let alone run for elected office. There is, however, always a waiting list for the Library Board. In a town like Wethersfield, with an increasing number of over fifty fivers, this combined 8% solution is more than a bargain; it is where the service is!

Now, about that tax increase. I had some fun with the elected officials at the hearing, which I'll share here. We have a taxpayers group, as do so many towns, and they were predictably concerned abut the projected $440 per household tax increase that is projected in the FY 2006-2007 budget. Not to be totally obnoxious about the real burden that this may present for some of our residents, but Wethersfield is, after all, a suburban community, and $440 doesn’t go that far in a year. It may buy:
A daily coffee, and that's at Dunkin Donuts, not even Starbucks.
Extended basic cable, with no HBO.
A fuel pump for a 2003 Passat (I have that one on personal experience!)
Your windows washed in the fall.
A Big Bertha driver.
A new set of Cleveland irons.
One night at a hotel in Manhattan.
A musical instrument that your child may never again play
Membership in health club, whose doors you may never actually darken.
And my personal favorite, a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Damn those Retirements!

It's not that I believe everything I read in the newspaper, but there it was, a headline--Betsy McDonough is really retiring as the Danbury library director. This follows too many others--Barbara Gibson from Farmington, Ralph Arcari from UConn Health Center, Denis Lorenz from West Hartford, and Stuart Lamson has sold Bank Square Books in Mystic, and Barry Williams has retired from lobbying for the good guys (except for us in CLA!) And by all reports, we ain't seen nothin' yet. It's the demographics. We are an old profession, and one in which many have a real pension, (Real meaning not a 401K, but one of those where the checks don’t run out just because your contributions did.) and they are exercising their right to collect it while they can still enjoy it. And whyevernot? Thirty years is probably enough for one person to do one job, even a job as diverse and unpredictable as being a library director. But what about me? What about those who are left behind? Its not that I ever saw or spoke with Betsy or Barbara or Ralph or Denis every day. But they were always there. I left the library world for almost ten years, and when I came back, everything was as it had been. Everyone I had known before was still here. Need a wise man to facilitate a planning day? Ralph will do it for you, and you know he will do it right. Need someone who doesn't have a dog in the race to give you advice? Barbara will listen to you and will bring her smarts and experience to bear on your behalf. Need someone to knock the Polyanna out? Denis will do it. And Betsy--everyone involved with creating a fledgling should have a Betsy on their board. She's smart and funny and a fighter. Oh, sure there are others of us who can do some of those things. And there are bright new people who are wise and smart and funny, but, well, you know. It's just not the same because it is about the people, and contrary to what we say as managers, people are just not replaceable.