Weeding the Personal Library

Once again I seem to have anticipated a column in the NYT.  On November 29 I posted a piece about weeding my collection, and now I find an article from Sunday, Dec. 27, in the online, "Room for Debate" discussions, Books You Can Live Without.  Several authors and the owner of the Strand bookstore offer their thoughts on "what to cull and what to keep".

I enjoyed what all of them had to say, and not all of them were willing to consider weeding their collections.  I liked Billy Collins's remark, "I am well into the second phase of life when one begins to enjoy getting rid of all the stuff one enjoyed accumulating in phase one."  Many of the comments by readers were insightful too, though the column clearly hit home.  There are 324 of them as I write.

Once I made a start, it got easier to make decisions.  The Tarot, by Mouni Sadhu, how I devoured it and sucked out its marrow  when I was seventeen!  Mouni Sadhu made the journey to the East, finally taking refuge with the sage, Ramana Maharshi.  His book is a masterpiece of the French school of occultism.  And it's in my rear-view mirror.  Bye, Mouni Sadhu!  Four cartons so far.


E-Book Reader Inquiry Form Letter

 I composed this today, as a response to a couple of e-mail inquiries about downloadable e-books for offline e-book readers.
Thanks for your question.  The library offers electronic books for access online through NetLibrary, but at present they can only be viewed online.  They cannot be downloaded for use offline with an e-book reader such as Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader, and Barne's & Noble's Nook.

While our downloadable audio books have been very popular, since they can be used with many portable MP3 players, or burned to CD, there has not been a comparable demand in the past for e-book texts that would have justified the significant additional cost of providing them in a downloadable format.  A number of e-book readers have come and gone, without really catching on with the reading public

This may change.  Yours is one of several inquiries we have received in recent weeks.  Libraries are watching the e-book reader market with interest.

NetLibrary's downloadable texts are in the PDF format, which will work on all the current readers.  If the library makes them available in the future, they will work on the (patron's e-book reader).

Yours sincerely, etc.
 Just last week I had sent a link to my colleagues to a story in USA Today, comparing the leading devices and analyzing the problems publishers have with e-books as they are currently being offered for these readers.

Public libraries can't afford, in these times, to be, "build it, and they will come" institutions.  We've been burned by expensive databases that our users don't know what to do with.  They think any "search box" works like Google or Yahoo.  We lose sight of the fact that only a quarter of the U.S. population has a college education.  No, it's, "let's see if someone else builds it, and they come, and then we'll think about building one too."

It's not only that.  I am, I admit, a dinosaur.  I don't even wear a wrist watch, much less carry a smart phone or a Blackberry.  I am not a "road warrior" who spends a lot of time on airplanes or in hotels.  But I was playing with the Mobipocket Reader, which uses an e-book format originally developed for PDA's, (Personal Digital Assistants, remember them?), and which format Amazon has adapted for it's Kindle reader.  Project Gutenberg now offers it's free e-books in the Mobipocket format.

I was looking at Project Gutenberg's offerings by Anthony Trollope, and I had to be honest.  There was no way I would read Trollope on my PC.  Nor would I spend several hundred dollars for the privilege of reading him on an e-book reader.  I can borrow the book from the library at no expense.  I can sit in my comfy green leather chair while I read it.  I can mark my place with a bookmark if I need to get up, or if I am through reading for the day.  I can put the book in my bag, and continue reading the next day at lunch in the park, with my place saved by the bookmark.  I will concede that an e-book reader can be "as good as" this, but if a new skill set and an open wallet are required for the same result, where is the compelling reason to switch?


So Easy To Tell It's A Book.

We attended the 8 o'clock Christmas Vigil Mass last night, as the first bands of rain passed over of what would, in the small hours after midnight, be a prolonged and very windy storm.  Father S. and the two deacons looked like angels in their golden vestments!

We had our old friend JH over for a 2 p.m. Christmas dinner.  We went with Piggy's this year for our Christmas ham, and it was excellent,  with sautéed green beans and heavenly potatoes au gratin, Ronda's version of the Williams-Sonoma Waldorf salad, (yogurt and a touch of horseradish instead of mayonnaise, with dried cranberries instead of raisins), and a pumpkin pie from New Leaf Market for dessert.

Our dinner music had been Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come Darkness, Come Light:  Twelve Songs of Christmas.  Now we put on Sting's new album, If On a Winter's Night and opened presents.

Ronda gave J. My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times, by Harold Evans.  J. is a professional journalist, and Evans's book is a memoir of old-school British newspaper reporting.  J. gave Ronda Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout, and Home, by the award-winning author of Gilead, Marilynne Robinson.  J's book group at the Neumann Center is reading Home.  Ronda gave me The Bedside Book of Birds:  An Avian Miscellany, by Graeme Gibson.  I gave her Bono:  in conversation with Michka Assayas.

Book talk followed.  J. said that she used to buy her fiction, but that it's so easy to reserve and renew books online now at our library that she's become a regular library user.  She works downtown, so it's also very convenient for her.  She recently read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a popular choice of book clubs. I had not known that it is an epistolary novel.  She said she began to enjoy it about halfway through, but that the correspondence had an anachronistic, e-mail-ish quality to it.  I said that we had recently seen the movie of 84 Charing Cross Road again on television after many years.

The conversation turned to Mary Doria Russell, whose book, The Sparrow, Ronda had read.  J. talked about Russell's novel of WWII and the Holocaust through Italian eyes, A Thread of Grace, in a way that made me want to read it.  She had not cared much for Dreamers of the Day, set in Cairo after WWI, where the British, Churchill and T. E. Lawrence among them, are drawing the map of the modern Middle East.

J. took herself off, with other stops to make.  I cleaned the kitchen and deboned the rest of the ham.  Ronda fed our neighbors' cat, Betty, (they are away in New Jersey, returning tomorrow).  We took a walk to decompress after the Christmas push.  The sun had lost the battle with a grey winter sky, and fled down the horizon.  Returning home, I called my father in Eustis to wish him a merry Christmas.



Forgive me my sins, O Lord,
forgive me my sins;
the sins of my youth,
the sins of my age,
the sins of my soul,
the sins of my body;
my idle sins,
my serious voluntary sins;
the sins I know,
the sins I do not know;
the sins I have concealed for so long,
and which are now hidden from my memory.

I am truly sorry for every sin, mortal and venial,
for all the sins of my childhood up to the present hour.

I know my sins have wounded Thy Tender Heart,
O My Savior, let me be freed from the bonds of evil
the most bitter Passion of My Redeemer. Amen.

O My Jesus, forget and forgive what I have been. Amen.


The Revolution Has Gone Online - Le Monde Diplomatique

(The link I had posted here doesn't work except from Le Monde's e-mail, drat! Beefing up quote a bit.)

Le Monde sent me a free article to persuade me to resubscribe. I won't, but it's a pretty good article, by Dan Schiller, professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of How to Think about Information, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, 2006). Schiller appears to be an academic Marxist.

Strategic third screen
Cheap network service is supporting a partial re-centralisation of computing and software services, and these challenge the autonomously configured desktop and notebook computer. Mobiles threaten the growth of computers and television. There are roughly 4.5bn mobiles, and they are beginning to function as a ubiquitous and strategic third screen. In the nine months after Apple opened its first iPhone App Store, 25,000 applications were published for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and there were 800m downloads. (That has increased substantially with Apple's conquest of China and South Korea.)

Apple, Amazon and Google are demolishing longstanding oligopolies in music, book, gaming and film markets. Digitised texts and audiovisual commodities, and new devices (iPods and e-book readers), draw this inter-corporate rivalry. As CD markets collapse, the four transnational conglomerates whose music subsidiaries channel most global musical recording are being compelled to cede profits to Apple. The half-dozen transnational conglomerates whose film subsidiaries control global distribution contend with Google's YouTube.

Our communications and information system is being thoroughly transformed. Both its quantity and quality contrast with prior historical patterns, characterised by small avant-garde projects to revolutionise painting, or the novel, or film; and by the market-based assimilation of individual new media, such as radio. Today, the system of information and communications overall is being reordered. Unlike the pattern set by social revolutions in individual countries in 1789, 1917 and 1949, patterns of cultural change are being worked out internationally and, so far, the leading role has been taken not by popular social movements but by capital. Oppositional impulses have only occasionally become organised at a politically meaningful level.

As the technologies of message processing and communication are revolutionised, wage labour and markets are driven ever farther into society and culture. The internet is the most important enabling mechanism for these enlargements of capitalist social relations. That is one reason why power over the internet is both jealously coveted and fiercely sought.
Nostalgia for the revolutionary "good old days" aside, Schiller provides a good summary of the state of information technology, and names the major players and rivalries.

Interesting that he begins with a swipe at cloud computing.  There are a significant number of "rebel" users who eschew the Web almost entirely, communicating and working from shell accounts at places like Super Dimension Fortress using terminal emulators.

I love his description of Apple as a purveyor of "totemic consumer appliances". Apple has been so successful at selling "cool" off the rack. Buy a MacBook, be a member in good standing of an "avant-garde project", and strike a "blow against the Empire" into the bargain.

How should public libraries respond to these upheavals in information platforms and containers? I really ought to get myself over to FSU and read some LIS journals, but I feel like we're a bit flummoxed. We are stuck waiting to see what our readers want. Videocassettes are almost dead, audiocassettes are not far behind. CD's are on life support, but at least they can be borrowed to rip. Downloadable audio books from Overdrive and NetLibrary have been well-received, e-book texts not so much.

A lot of resistance remains to reading anything longer than a few pages on a screen, though there is now a lot of competition among e-book readers.  Sophisticated technology is being developed to make e-book reader screens more comfortable to read. It would be interesting to know how many libraries are offering downloadable e-books that can be loaded into a reader.  Our NetLibrary e-books are only offered as readable online.  It costs more to offer them as downloadable e-books in the Adobe format.  Printed books chug along with tremendous inertia, which I expect to continue until long after I have left this earth.

"Media", as a service in public libraries, has reached a crossroads, it seems to me.


The Library at Night

For me, the library comes into its own at night, as I do myself. The Bhagavad Gita says that,
The sage awakes to light in the night of all creatures. That which the world calls day is the night of ignorance to the wise.
Rimbaud's "scholar of the dark armchair", from which poem, Childhood,  this blog takes its name.

From The Library at Night
The view from the reference desk.

From The Library at Night
The users.

From The Library at Night
Reading area.

From The Library at Night
The Florida Collection anteroom to the workroom.


More Low-Res Captures

Friend Steerforth likened my shots to Lomography, which I have learned is a "school" of photography centered around fans of the inexpensive Lomo compact camera.  According to Wikipedia,

...the Lomography motto of "don't think, just shoot" presumes spontaneity, close-ups, and ubiquity, while deemphasizing formal technique. Typical Lomography cameras are deliberately low-fidelity and inexpensively constructed.
But they are also, typically, analog cameras.  The Lomo camera, now produced by an Austrian firm, uses 35mm film, while other Lomographers use even more archaic pinhole cameras

The Low-Res artists I've been looking at on Flickr are all using digital cameras, which can produce quite different effects with low-fidelity images.  Nor are they necessarily averse to formal technique.  See Cobaltika's exquisite stonehouse2.

Homeless Man

Working on the library's second floor affords me views difficult to come by in tree-infested Tallahassee.

The Hotel Duval and Georgia Bell Apartments, taken from a window facing north in non-fiction.

Quick N Save.

The Vivitar Mini Digital Camera is so small, and exposure times in low light are so long, that any movement while shooting can blur the image, much as a jeep requires greater attention to steering than a limousine.  The camera must be braced against a fixed surface for a good shot.


The Low-Res Adventure of Claudius the Cat

I stumbled across the cult of low-res photography, looking for a miniature digital camera I could carry in my bag for times when I see something and don't have my regular camera at hand.  This little Chinese camera appears to have had many brand-names.  At present it is Vivitar.  I bought one at Walgreen's for $7.99.

It has no preview window, only a little clear plastic viewfinder that slides up on top.  The front Mode button provides a limited set of functions that are selected with the Snap button on top.  It has 16Mb of storage.  "High-resolution" pictures are 352x288 pixels, with a capacity of 20 images.  "Low-resolution" are 176x144 with a capacity of 81.  It can also store many more pictures "compressed", but with a "decrease in quality".

It was a heavily overcast day, and I expected to hear the three beeps the manual said would sound when there was not enough light.  It has no flash.  But I didn't.  The little mini-cam strove to capture the image as best it could.

The McQueens' place at 352x288.

Claudius on the move past the BVM.

The BVM.

The BVM at 176x144

Ginger Plants

My back yard, back to 352x288.

Hit snap button by mistake.

Watching squirrels.


Ginko tree.


Blogging Reference

Rotten morning. Cold, raining.  Amazing that people still show up, waiting for the doors to open.

10:00  Open.

PC for Shanna

Phone:  Mom's in hospital.  Is her book, The Help by Stockett still on hold?  No, she missed it, sorry.  Re-place hold.

PC for Robert.

Books on football.  Take to shelf.

Today's paper?  It's out.  "Dang! dang!", he mutters, "What else you got, New York Times?"  Is in reading area if not in use.  He looks and leaves down the stairs.

Typewriter.  She doesn't like word processing. Everything gets all messed up.   Is typing son's science fair project.

MF thinks pencil sharpener might be broken.  No, removable shaving reservoir wasn't all the way in.

10:45  Still raining steadily.  Would be snowing if it were cold enough.

PC for a very wet Ollie Atkins.  She wonders if it will rain all day.

Woman w German accent, "I read on de Internet dot dere is a Frenss uff de Library bookstore?"  Point her to it down through the stair well.

Nice donations:  Grafton, G, H, and I, all-in-one hardback, American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd ed.  ML was just saying yesterday that we need more circulating dictionaries.

10:54  18 PC users.  Dead quiet.  Printers hum now and again.

"'Scuse me can I use this pencil with an eraser?"

PC for Zu.  16 users.  Still raining, still dreaming.

MF goes to shelve large print.


German woman takes bookmark on way to exit.  Did she find some treasures?  "Plenty!"

The Winner by Baldacci.  Is out.  Place hold?  No.  Only one of eight copies at main is left, the rest lost, missing or WD.  Baldacci's third novel, 1997.  Outsold previous two, got starred review in PW.

How to spell "Christ".

PC for Zik.  What's with "Z" people today?  Zu, Zik?


Coming up on the noon hour.  Volunteer L. should be here soon.

Help Ollie send e-mail.  Garbage in the CC field.

Handbook of Medical Sociology?  Sorry, no.  Our medical books are "What's wrong with me" books.  Is FAMU student & his library is closed for break.  Show him what we have.

12:04  L. is here, time for lunch.

Still raining and very cold out.  Couple of homeless white guys, sitting on cardboard, fixing lunch for themselves on the landing.

I have my own little piece of cardboard between the cold concrete and my posterior, as I smoke and read.  Taking a break from A. N. Wilson's delightful comic novels while I wait for Lampitt No. 3, Daughters of Albion from ILL, I have put to sea again with Richard Woodman's In Distant Waters.

12:50  Back.  L. says 2 users complained about PC 55's mouse.  Test.  Pointer slipping a bit.  Deglaze ball w glass cleaner & paper towel.  Good.

Help mom, dad, girl w printing articles about Thomas Edison from Newspaper Archive db.

The Last Olympian, final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.  All copies out, place hold?  Yes.  Requests for this YA series have been percolating up to the second floor lately.  Percy's first adventure, The Lightning Thief, came out in '05, but I only heard of him in the last few weeks.

Rosalie S., whom I have not seen in many years, with her librarian daughter from Washington.  Looking for reviews for microwave convection ovens.

More Edison article printing.

Security gate goes off, pass boy through.  It's almost two, and it looks like people are venturing out.  It's getting a little busy. 

Phone:  Tiger Woods's father's name?  Earl.  Tiger's original name?  Eldrick, nicknamed "Tiger" after Green Beret Earl's Vietnamese combat buddy, Nguyen Phong.

2:05  Still raining.

3:14  Only sprinkling now.  L. gone.  Been shelving large print.

PC for Valerie.

Restock holiday display.

Help Will print picture.

PC for Calvin.

Phone:  Riding the Jetstream:  The story of Ballooning From Montgolfier to Breitling by John Christopher.  Trap for her hold.  Will pick up Sunday.

Calvin needs different PC, printer has poor resolution for his job.

4:03  It's raining harder again.  We agree that it's been the quietest Saturday we've worked in a long, long time.  Internet PC's are just full, but no waiting.

Help w newspaper archive.

PC for Laura.

30 min. announcement, blink lights.

"Y'all close at 5?"

Count & bag change.

PC for Yon.

Do we have umbrella she left two weeks ago?

Today's paper.

15 min. announcement.

Turn off catalog PC's.



Tension grows as publishers target Amazon Kindle pricing - USATODAY.com


Interesting snapshot of the e-book and e-book reader industry at the crest of the holiday-shopping wave.  Publishers are leery of cheap e-books eating into their lucrative hardback profits.

Doc Searls Weblog: What's right with Wikipedia?


Lately Wikipedia itself is the subject of a story about losing editors. The coverage snowball apparently started rolling with Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages, by Julia Angwin and Geoffrey A. Fowler in The Wall Street Journal

Keeping Up Appearances

It's been a week of dress shirts and ties.  A woman from the Information Use Management & Policy Institute at Florida State wanted my thoughts on a hurricane preparedness web site they are developing for libraries, and I was on a hiring committee for an IP position in my department.  I had to to look un-scruffy, (i.e. do some ironing).

Painful, these days, to be on a hiring committee, to be an up or down thumb.  It's a buyer's market, and scores of people don't even get interviewed.  Of the ones who do, if you could, you would hire them all.  They want only to put their shoulders to the wheel.

It's hard for young people, with we cursed boomers hanging around so interminably.  But I remember myself, thinking about the old reference staff, motoring down country roads on the bookmobile, "Will they ever leave, retire, die?".  And they did.  And here I am, where they were.


All He Needed Was Encouragement

A poor man of about 60 approached the desk last week.  He needed to apply for food stamps, and the staff at Circulation had told him to ask for me.  I will fill out the application for people if we are not busy, and I supposed that this had become known to them.

But we were busy.  Calls and walk-ups were rolling in, the desk was humming.  ML and I were it, no backup.  I couldn't abandon her for 20 or 30 minutes to do his application.

Could he go to the DCF Service Center on Sharer Road for help?  No, he didn't have the bus fare, and he had walked a long way to the library.  I thought for a minute.  How could I help him?  Could he type, I asked?  He nodded yes!  Just maybe, I thought, we can work with that.

"Do you see all these people?", I said, indicating with a back-sweep of my arm the Internet users, who really were 'all sorts and conditions' that morning.  "They aren't geniuses.  They're ordinary people like you and me.  You can do it too. It's not that hard.  Just have faith in yourself.  Let me get you started."

I got him a PC and took him to the application at ACCESS Florida.  How to hold the mouse, what the buttons and wheel do.  How to spot a link, and how the pointer makes a pointing hand to click on it.  Read everything carefully, and it will tell you what to do.  Note the "go back" and "continue" buttons at the bottom of each page.  Maybe 1-2 minutes of instruction.  I would be at the desk if he needed help.  And I turned him loose.

15 minutes later, he came to find me while I was showing someone databases.  I hadn't explained radio buttons and check boxes.  The mouse pointer doesn't make a hand for those, I realized.  30 seconds to train him with those.

20 minutes after that, I came up for air, and walked over to check on him.  How was he doing?  A young man was talking him through some things, but he was doing it.  He dismissed me, "We're good."

Maybe 10 minutes after that, he waved to me as he headed for the stairs, "Thank you."  I heard dignity in that thank-you.  It was the thank-you of a man who had taken care of his own business.  And it encouraged me.

I've tried this before and failed.  The crucial difference here was that he could read, and he wasn't afraid of a keyboard.


Ode to the West Wind


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!


Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

by Percy Bysshe Shelley