Blogging Reference

Back streets are almost empty as I ride to work, this Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend.  It might be a quiet day at the library.

Working with MF today, MC is Super.  Go down to get money.  Helga's vacuuming the Friends Shop carpet.

My display, "Mind Games", is ready.  I am going to put it out at the end of the day.  Normally, it would go up on Monday, but I won't be back until Wednesday because of the holiday.  I install the Magical Mystery Tour font from my folder on the G drive on the PC at the service desk, so that I can print out my poster on the color printer in the workroom.

10:00  Open.  Australian Myrna comes up first off the stairs.  Brent in a Braves t-shirt.

People can't get sessions w their cards.  SIRSI down.  Issue manual reservations to all.

Phone:  Buddy at MIS, transfer to MC.

Phone:  B. at BL Perry branch.  Any word on SIRSI?  Not yet.

10:13  PC for Brett.  PC for Chris.

Phone:  Mayo Clinic Diet & Nutrition book?  Tell her catalog is down, but try OCLC Worldcat.  We're supposed to have a 2010 book, The Mayo Clinic Diet.  Check shelf, don't see, but find Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight for Everybody.  She says that sounds good, will pick up this morning.

PC for Clara.
PC for Paul.
PC for Robert.

10:32  Not very quiet, so far.  Media appears to be passing out generic numbers.

Persuade girl to shift her laptop to another table so her cord is not a hazard.

PC for Tim.
PC for Maria.

Man wants help looking at and printing diagnostic scans of his spine on a disc.  Viewing app is something called Media Ambassador.  Yikes!  We get it sorted after some playing around.

Is Ken Burns's Civil War DVD set available for him yet.  Sorry, system's down,  see if they're holding it for you at the checkout desk.

Sorry, self-checkout not working, go downstairs.


"Ah jus wanna grab one yo pens, phonebook."

Jackie Gleason-like man, badly winded from climbing the stairs.  Peers at my badge, addresses me as Mr. Castleberry.  Chris not working today?  No.  Wants Writer's Market, Complete Poems of Robert Frost, Frost criticism.  Fetch for him, glad that I know where they are likely to be.

Phone:  Can I tell her where she is on waiting list for a book.  No, sorry, catalog's down, try later.  What is name of Russian who wrote The Long Walk?  Look on Amazon.  Slavomir Rawicz.

Unjam printer.

PC for Robin.

11:30  SIRSI's up.

11:45  Harried Mercedes kids me about my "quiet day".  But now it actually is.  PC's were full at 11:00, but half dozen vacant now.

Remember to look up Mayo Clinic Diet title.  Yep,  checked out.  I see we own series of DVD's, Mayo Clinic "wellness solutions".  "Wellness solutions", sounds so...what?

Phone:  JT at Northeast Branch.  Pull Love, Medicine & Miracles, trap for pickup here.

R. brings me my lunch.  Yay!

Where is Psychology section?  Take her to 150's.

Call MC to open 3rd floor room for English tutor.

12:00  Lunch! 

1:04  Back from lunch at 12:35.

Helping woman start session, kept hearing loud cartoon "boing" sound.  Man w laptop at table in reading area.  No sound w/o headphones, I tell him.  Drop dead, says he.  No can do, is library.  Those people over there are making noise too, he whines.  Am talking to him.  He doesn't want to talk to me.  I leave him.   No more boings.

Took me twenty minutes to write previous para.  Busy.

Where is he on list for Turow's Innocent?  76.  Baldacci's Deliver Us From Evil?  103.  Asks to reserve also Preston's Fever Dream, for which he is now 24th in line.  Ah, bestsellers.

PC for Celeste.  You lucked out, I say.  Got one now.  She doesn't want one now.  Huh?  Wants to wait.  Give it to other patron.  See if we can more greatly inconvenience her, I say.  All right, 35 min. wait!

Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.  Take to shelf.

Today's NYT, take id.

Celeste wants Greek mythology.  Take to shelf.

PC for Christy.

1:37  Thunder outside.

Wailing boy downstairs.

Books on cleaning house.  Take to shelf.

1:51  A lull.

Can copy pages from house cleaning book?  MF helps her.

Who Moved My Cheese?  Take to shelf.

Mandela woman now wants Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss.  She can't find on shelf.  Take to shelf, find book.  She rolls eyes and laughs.

Long-limbed black man solemnly gives me thumbs up on way to rest room.

Can photocopy little flier about local music show?  Yes, but won't be in color like his original.  Would take several tries to get 4 images on single sheet.  Then could get 4 per sheet after that.

Phone:  Mr. L wants some company addresses.

Sorry, no second session w/o card.  No, can't look up your number.

Today's paper.

Pen or pencil.

Woman asks for help w food stamp form.  It says his info doesn't match their records.  Not much I can do.

Practical Intuition by Laura Day.  Not on shelf, find in check-in room.

Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook by Sally Fallon.  Came back yesterday.  Check cart up here, find in check-in room.

Another request for Practical Intuition.  Copy on bookmobile.  MC fetches it.  Woman glides about with dance-like steps as she waits.

Very upset woman w little girl who have waited 40 minutes, only to miss their sessions.  Thinks the people there now "have our computers".  Doesn't really understand how it works, that they have only five minutes to log in.  I'm not getting anywhere with her, others are waiting to be helped, pass her to MC.

Request for Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas on DVD.  Send to Interlibrary Loan.

3:25  Currently 40 min. waits for PC's

PC for Rick.

Feels like the right time to put up my display.  Take MK's down, move books to pre-shelving carts.  Cut down number of book stands.  I am afraid my books will go too quickly.

Man wants to see weather forecast.  Show him radar on my PC.  Rains all up in Georgia.

Phone:  Needs directions to library.

Woman & girl need business and economics dictionaries for girl's homework assignment.


Phone:  Number for Hazelpeppergood.com.

People keep asking if we have computers any earlier than they have reservations for.  We have sessions beginning at ten minutes to closing at this point.  It's bad.

4:14  PC's are booked solid until closing.

Already four books are gone from my display.  It won't last a week, I'm thinking.

4:25  Waiters are thinning out, was able to get sessions for a couple of people.

Travel guides to Amsterdam.  Take to shelf.

Count money.

Paper for copiers.

Paper for printer.

15 minutes to closing.

The Invisible Library

I had a kind of epiphany, years ago, on the bookmobile.  We made a weekly stop every Wednesday at the Sing gas station and convenience store in the northeast part of Leon County, where most of the county's growth was happening in the '80's and '90's:  Killearn, Oxbottom Manor, Killearn Lakes, Golden Eagle Estates.

Our other stops were bi-weekly, but this weekly stop was so busy that I had to  take extra bags of books to restock the shelves.  We regularly checked out over 500 books in that three-hour stop.  Toward the end, before a permanent branch was opened there in 1994, our courier had to come in the middle of the stop to pick up the bags of returns stacked outside the vehicle for lack of floorspace inside.

Anyway, one day,  after a wave of patrons had picked the shelves clean, I realized that the living collection, the materials that are actually being used, is mostly not on the shelf.  This might seem obvious and simplistic, but it hit me then with some force: that what is on the shelf is what our users don't want, and what they want is not on the shelf.

This has become even more the case since patrons have been granted the power to reserve their own materials  online, even titles that are still on-order.  Bestseller books and DVD's often come down from processing with tens or hundreds of outstanding holds, and do not land on the shelf for months.  I think The Da Vinci Code must have set a record, having taken a couple of years before a copy could be found on the shelf.

The observation was brought home to me again recently when I began to create a display of what I initially called "Malcolm Gladwell readalikes".

I had noticed that Gladwell's bestselling non-fiction titles, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, had inspired a host of imitators, many with unabashedly imitative one-word titles, Sync, Traffic, Drive.  He had sparked a new style of writing about popular social psychology.

One thing I did discover is that Gladwell was not entirely original in his very successful approach.  In 2000, Harvard Business Press published The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid:
From the chief scientist of Xerox Corporation and a research specialist in cultural studies at UC-Berkeley comes a treatise that casts a critical eye at all the hype surrounding the boom of the information age. The authors' central complaint is that narrowly focusing on new ways to provide information will not create the cyber-revolution so many technology designers have visualized. The problem (or joy) is that information acquires meaning only through social context. (PW)
The Social Life of Information has gained the status of a seminal work, continuing to garner reviews at Amazon as recently as last year.

In 2002, Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker magazine, The Social Life of Paper.  It was the first time I had heard of him, and I was fascinated, sending the article to a number of colleagues.  Brown and Duguid  had discussed paper, and I think that Gladwell used that as a jumping off point for his essay.  I am a "messy desk" person, and here was Gladwell demonstrating that the piles on my desk had a kind of logic and design.

When I was in the Library & Information Studies program at FSU, I was most interested by the classes that looked at bibliometrics, (the "behavior" of information), and at "sense-making", (how and why people search for information).  Understanding these things is what makes an Information Professional, (a librarian), more valuable than a clerk or a paraprofessional.  My Gladwell readalikes idea began to be very interesting.

I used Amazon to generate a raw list, using the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" tool, and added titles by finding what else was on the shelf where those titles would be.  I came up with 40 titles, almost a third of which had all copies checked out or were only available from branches.  I was attempting to display a portion of that "invisible library", to take a snapshot of a moving target.  I was able to round up a fair number of them by placing holds.

So why bother, if these books are already in demand?  Because it pleases me to do so.  But also because of my duty to advise our readers.  They may have enjoyed Blink, and not know that other, similar books exist.


Tongues of Fire

R. had a busy day ahead, out & about in Tallytown.  I was left to myself, and enjoyed my usual late Saturday morning breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, with pink grapefruit juice.  I sat on the front porch, smoking and drinking coffee, reading Mr. Darwin's Shooter until noon.  R. returned briefly to change for a lunch date, and again departed.

Our ginger cat, Claudius, rising from his morning snooze on the bed, longed to go out.  Whoever owned him, before my mother got him from the Humane Society, cruelly declawed his front paws, and he was always an indoor cat until he came to us, so we don't let him out by himself.  He gets lost easily, disoriented and panting, without someone to watch over him.  He was a biter when we got him, crazed by his incarceration.  He was so pitiful when we first let him out, uttering little cries of relief.  Would he not be seized and hauled back inside, as he was used to before when he managed to escape?

So out we went.  He is not much trouble.  I have a portable gardening bench that I follow him around with, along with a book and a cold drink.  When he ventures too far into a neighbor's yard, I will bring him back to ours.  He  wanders to various spots where he reclines to watch other animals, squirrels and birds.  He will stalk squirrels, but when they run up a tree and chuck angrily at him, he runs away.

He crept through the azaleas, and found a spot under a nandina bush along the side of a neighbor's house, from which he could observe a sunny patch of lawn, and cock an eye at the brown thrasher who chirped out a warning from a limb above to the other birds.  He settled there, and licked his paws.  I waited at a distance, wishing him some time to take his ease.

I looked up at the thrasher, and at the blue sky and the clouds, a swatch of heaven hemmed round by the tall trees in full leaf of spring.  Cicadas chanted their great Om in the heat of the day.  I had been here before:  1972 Houston, sitting in front of Ram Das Conscious Cookery on my break between lunch and dinner, watching the tops of the pecan trees tossing in the hot Texas breeze, cicadas buzzing so loud that all thought gave way.  Glory be.

Pierce Pettis sings of a imaginary, rural Southern town, Moontown:
Tourists stop for gas
All heading southbound for Orlando
Wondering how we could ever stand it here
Stuck in this dry county, no Budweiser
No Black Label
But we can dream you under the table
Here in Moontown
 Probably someplace like Mayo or Cross City, but I know what he means.  Even Tallahassee gets dreamy in the summer, when the students and the legislature are gone.  We are a long way from anywhere else: 5-6 hours to Atlanta, New Orleans, or Orlando, and why would you want to go to Jacksonville?  Now that I think about it, why would I want to go anywhere?  Mark Hohmeister, writing in the local paper, knows what I mean.

It's thirty years ago today since Father George Kontos, an Episcopal priest, baptized me on Pentecost Sunday, in the company of an infant.  Glory be.


The Catholic Church Saved My Life

I don't like to get "political" at Branches and Rain, but I owe the Catholic Church a debt of gratitude.  That I have a rewarding and nourishing life on this earth is largely due to the Roman Catholic Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ founded upon the rock of the Apostle Peter.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and care about truth, please do me the favor of reading Conrad Black's article, Pope Benedict and the Scandal Mongers, at National Review Online.

It feels funny to be linking to National Review.  I don't think of myself as a conservative.  My parents were very much so, and as a teenager I enjoyed William F. Buckley's television program, Firing Line.  I even went to hear him speak at Rollins College around 1970.  But I never found his reflections on his Catholicism to be very profound.  He seemed to assume that God was on his side, rather than that he was on God's side.  He was such a political animal.

I remember one episode of Firing Line when he had Malcolm Muggeridge on.  Muggeridge, an eminent British journalist and secular liberal, was converted late in life by the experience of meeting Mother Teresa.  Buckley kept trying to get him going on a variety of conservative hobby-horses.  Muggeridge wouldn't bite.  He'd said goodbye to all that, as I have.


Deliciously Boring

Friend Steerforth made me laugh with this post at Age of Uncertainty about boring postcards.  And I sorely needed  a laugh.

No E-mail For Him

He came to the desk for help.  A friend had set him up with an  AOL mail account, but he'd lost his password.  "Show me where you're at", I said.  He had tried to reset his password, but AOL needed an alternate e-mail account to send his new password to, and he didn't have one.  He would have to create a new account.  I got him to the new account web form, and had to leave to answer the phone.

He came to me again.  AOL told him that his "screen name", TonyD, was already taken, (possibly by his old account), and to choose another.  He was using his Social Security number for his password.  His girlfriend was trying to help him.  I explained that he should probably add extra letters or numbers, because countless thousands of users already had taken the more obvious screen names.  He tried Tony1.  Taken.  Anthony.  Taken.  Tony111.  Taken.  And every time he had to do that maddening image verification thing where you retype the distorted letters & numbers designed to foil spambots.

AOL offered to suggest a screen name if he would supply three keywords.  Again I had to leave to answer the phone.  As I got off the phone I saw him leaving.  Did he get it done?  No, he muttered darkly.  I said that I was sorry.  MF thought he might have had better luck with Yahoo or Gmail.

He was just so frustrated when his input was rejected.  He didn't want to generate new stuff to have to remember.  That someone else was already using "TonyD" as a screen name seemed to offend him.  In a time when an e-mail address is the price of entry for so many things online, particularly applying for a job, he found the process insurmountable.


Among the Episcopalians

Not inexpensive tickets passed from one retired couple to another, and finally to us.  It is a benefit at St. John's Episcopal Church for its Grace Mission in Frenchtown, which has recently been written up in the newspaperHors d'oeurves and wine will be served.  We will be entertained by jazz vocalist Pam Laws, who will perform traditional black gospel hymns.

I grumble.  I don't care for gospel spirituals on the whole.  But I suck it up.  We know they'll put out a good spread.

What to wear?  St. John's, along with 1st Presbyterian and Trinity Methodist, is one of the elite, downtown, old guard Protestant churches in Tallahassee, some of whose families have plots in the Old City Cemetery.  On Sundays, I know, coats & ties are de rigueur.  But it was hot today.  I'll take my chances with a pressed, button-down, short-sleeved, buff linen shirt, with off-white slacks and tan loafers.

When we arrived at 7 p.m., the men were about evenly divided between shirts only and coats & ties, so I didn't feel under-dressed. The rector was in short sleeves with a clerical collar.  Around the periphery of the wood-paneled parish hall were tables with food and drink.  Tables reserved for large donors were grouped around the piano.  We who had single tickets got chairs lined up behind them.  Ronda noted that the wines were very drinkable.  I had chardonnay.

Episcopalians are masters in the art of hospitality.  One woman, in particular, was tremendously busy welcoming and orienting the guests.  Here was the food, there was the bar.  

The food was everything that we expected:  frenched, perfectly done lamb chops; shaved roast beef bruschetta with sauteed onions and feta; smoked salmon on rounds of French bread with creme fraiche, red onion and capers; plump marinated shrimp.  Roaming Episcopalians with trays plied us with various cheese balls;  mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes impaled on sprigs of rosemary, Gorgonzola and nuts, and with cheese and spinach pastry swirls.

The hospitality woman materialized again to tell us that there were tables outside in the courtyard between the hall and the church, where we could sit to eat.  An additional bar had been set up there as well.  She was unhappy that we "groundlings" had to juggle our plates of finger food and our napkins in our chairs.  "I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable", she fretted to me, bless her heart.  We stayed put, enjoying the people-watching.  Not many took up her offer of the outside tables.

We had positioned ourselves at the back, for an easy exit.  In the next rank behind us we discovered Sherry Rauch, who had written the piece in the paper about Grace Mission.  I stepped out for a smoke, and by the the time I returned, Sherry had moved up next to Ronda  to chat.  We had known Sherry back in the '70's.  Linda Cole, who used to volunteer at the reference desk, introduced me to her husband, and asked how the library was doing.

In the end, we stayed for the whole of Pam Laws's performance.  I had not known that she was a scholar.  Even the hymns that I dislike, Go Tell It On The Mountain, This Little Light of Mine, and Amazing Grace, were prefaced with interesting historical details.  I loved her rendition of Give Me Jesus:  "You can have all this world...".

I wish that she had done Oh Happy Day.  I remember hearing it on the car radio as a boy, my mother driving me home in Maitland on Highway 17-92.  I had probably had to stay late at school for band practice.  Was it Aretha, Mahalia?  I don't know.  [Edit:  It was neither.  See the link for the whole story.]  I leaned in to listen, as we passed the Steak and Ale, heading for Horatio Avenue to turn in to our subdivision, Dommerich Woods.  The singer was echoed by a choir of black voices.  I heard a joy that I longed to share.

Oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.


The Ultimate Virtual Kitchen Tour?

A few weeks ago, a woman called to find out the closest dealer for Electrolux ranges.  That's when I took the Electrolux Ultimate Virtual Kitchen Tour.  You can select a kitchen appliance and see (Flash?) animations of their different features.  I especially enjoyed the refrigerator door ice and water dispenser animations.  The tour is accompanied by a voice-over narration.  There is also a virtual laundry room tour, which is not as impressive.  AND you can design and send virtual cupcakes!

But is it really the ultimate virtual kitchen tour?  Branches and Rain undertook to find out.

It was not hard to find other "virtual" kitchen tours. They are inevitably 360° virtual panoramas using Java or QuickTime VR, when they are not simply before & after slide shows.

Some of them, like Kitchen & Bath Gallery and Klaff's, are really showroom tours.  The "kitchens" are really groupings of samples.  Klaff's is nice, but the panorama is static.  They have many sample kitchens, but you can't navigate out of the one you're in.

I had fun with Gusteau's Kitchen, (7/11, link is dead), from the Disney film, Ratatouille.

There is also the Consumer Reports Greener Choices Virtual Kitchen tour, which focuses on the contents of your kitchen, helping you to choose products consonant with "sustainability".

I began to see that "virtual kitchen tour" can mean different things.  After all, Electrolux is not selling kitchens.  They are selling kitchen appliances.  The "kitchen" in their tour is merely a vehicle to display the cooktop, the refrigerator, etc.

Similarly, Kitchen & Bath Gallery and Klaff's are not selling kitchens either, but only the elements: cabinets, sinks, mouldings, counter materials.

So who sells kitchens?  Contractors, who help homeowners decide what they want in the way of cabinet, counter, back-splash, lighting, and floor treatments, and then build to suit.  Here, for example, is a panorama of a real kitchen built by Tantillo Construction.

Kitchen & Bath Factory Incorporated blew me away with their portfolio of kitchen panoramas, some of them "works in progress" panoramas, where you click once to see the construction phase, and click again to see the finished kitchen.

Kitchen & Bath Factory gets the blue ribbon here, not only for displaying a broad selection of kitchens, but also for giving the customer an idea of what a kitchen renovation is like. 

I know what I am talking about, because we went through a kitchen renovation last year.  Here are the photos.


Secret Teachings of the 20th Century

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be publishing Philip K. Dick's Exegesis in two volumes, according to an article in the New York Times, Publisher to Release Philip K. Dick's Insights Into Secrets of the Universe.
In 1974, after a number of novels that explored the notions of personal identity and what it means to be human, Mr. Dick had a series of experiences in which he believed he had information transmitted to his mind by a pink beam of light. He wrote about these and similar occurrences in autobiographical novels like “Valis,” but also contemplated their meanings in personal writings that were not published. 
I can't help associating this news with the similar publication of Carl Jung's Red Book last year.  Dick's Exegesis and Jung's Red Book are both what the Church would classify as "private revelations", though they are also heterodox and roughly "gnostic" in character.

These two works indirectly had a tremendous influence on me when I was "seeking" in my twenties and thirties, by way of Jung's wonderful memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and Dick's novel, Valis.  One insight from Valis that has stuck with me over the decades is that, "the empire never ended".  That is, in some sense, we are still living in the Roman Empire, and that the Church is still the Church of the Apostles, resolute in unworldly opposition.


The Captains and the Kings Depart.

Sine Die!  The 2010 Session of the Florida Legislature is over, and I have got my wife back.  A drafter for House Bill Drafting, she reckons that this has been the most grueling session in all of her 21 years there.  She's so tired, poor thing, after 14 and 16-hour days at the end.

It is also the end of term at our two universities, FSU and FAMU.  Graduation ceremonies are Saturday morning.  Next week, tumbleweeds will be rolling down our (relatively) deserted streets, and the halls of the  Capitol, as Tallahassee enjoys a sleepy summer reprieve from lawmakers and college students.

I couldn't have hoped for better weather during my week off.  Every day was sunny, dry, and cool.  I felt restored, working outside most of the day, letting Claudius out for a romp at the end, showering, mostly having supper with Ronda, (in this I was surprised, but she was able to get away briefly every night but one), and spending my evenings reading until she returned home again from work.  I was able to get a lot of leaf-moving, pruning, and weeding done.  And then today, when no more than light showers were expected, if any, they gathered in late afternoon into a genuine soaker, still in progress now at 11, with distant, rolling thunder.

My Vespa ET-4 150 has been in the shop this week.  A troublesome, weak battery has had me putting the charger on nightly to ensure that it would start, every day ever since our severe cold spell in February.  It also needed a new rear tire and a general checkup.  I had bought a new battery last fall from All About Scooters, mainly because they are so much closer than the Vespa dealer here in town.  I was impressed by their customer service and by their focus on scooters.  Roy Smith, who owns All About Scooters with his wife, Susan, serviced my Vespa with diligence and an eye to cost.  It turned out the battery they'd sold me had a bad cell, and Roy gave me a credit toward a new battery.

They called me today to say it was ready.  I was stuck at home.  Ronda couldn't get away to give me a ride to pick it up, and they were going to be closed tomorrow.  Susan sent her son, Matt, to give me a ride.  We settled up, and I rode off on my refurbished, purring scooter.

I stopped by the library to get the sequel, Artemis, to Julian Stockwin's sea novel, Kydd.  It was ML's last day.  Tomorrow she starts at our Northeast Branch as manager, so I said my goodbyes.  I had brought my poncho with me, and as I left, the rain resumed in earnest, so I put it on for the ride home.

Stockwin's Kydd novels take a different tack from the other series of "wooden ship" novels.  Usually they chronicle the progress of a more or less privileged man from midshipman up through the officers' ranks to admiral.    Here, Thomas Paine Kydd is spirited away from his life as an apprentice wig-maker in an English country town by a press gang to serve  on a Royal Navy ship-of-the-line.  Encouraged by the experienced sailors to make the best of it, he decides to learn the trade and qualify as a seaman.

Kydd reads, um, "woodenly" at times.  It is a first novel.  But Stockwin has done a lot of research.  He wants to show what it would have been like for a man to be pressed into service in the Royal Navy in the 1790's.  He is out to restore the dignity of the working sailor, whose duties were complex, and required considerable training and skill.  It has often been said that sailors in those days were the "dregs" of society.  Stockwin, a veteran of the British and Australian navies, disagrees.  Sailors, he maintains, were proud of their occupation and traditions, and were valued by the officers, who relied upon them to sail their ships.  I like that.