150 Years Ago Today

The New York Times blog, Disunion, "revisits and reconsiders America's most perilous period - using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded."

In "A Sad, Fearful, Raging Year", Adam Goodheart collects some reflections at the close of the first year of the American Civil War.


Nuns With Cat

Mother Dolores Hart, who exited Hollywood in 1963 to become a nun, is back in the spotlight trying to raise $4 million for renovations to bring the Abbey of Regina Laudis up to code.

Slide show of Mother Delores, the nuns, & a cat.

The Uncertain Status of E-Lending

Randall Stross has an interesting article in his Digital Domain column in Sunday's New York Times, Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War.
Worried that people will click to borrow an e-book from a library rather than click to buy it, almost all major publishers in the United States now block libraries’ access to the e-book form of either all of their titles or their most recently published ones.
I had the opportunity to play with a new Nook Simple Touch e-reader that has been provided to us for training, but I got stuck in the set-up phase.  The Nook wanted to register itself with Barnes & Noble, but was unable to connect using the library's wireless network, which, though open, has a library-access policy click-through page that the browser-less Nook can't render.  I was told that someone with a basic Kindle had the same problem recently.

Higher-end devices like the Kindle Fire have browsers that can display the click-through page.  M. said she would complete the set-up on the Nook at home.  Then we'll see.  The Nook Simple Touch is attractive, and feels good in the hand.  But, as with the Kindle, it presents itself as a container for content from a single source.   "Congratulations, Nook Owner!  Now let's go buy some books from Barnes & Noble!"  Library e-books will have to be downloaded and transferred from a PC to the Nook Simple Touch over a USB connection, apparently.

A couple of people have told me that, due to the small screen on a typical e-reader, the frequency of paging becomes tedious.  M. said that it's even worse reading on a smartphone.  I am beginning to think that the codex will continue to hold its own for a long time to come.

I am currently reading Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, in a cloth edition published in 1989 by Oxford UP as part of its World's Classics series.  It is finely printed and bound, a delight to hold and read.  It is one of several Barsetshire novels that I added to the collection from donations in 2006.


More on E-Book Readers

It's interesting to look at the offerings for e-readers now, a couple of years  after they have gained a mass audience.  It is only since Christmas 2009 that there has been significant demand for e-books at the library.  Before that, our digital downloads from NetLibrary and OverDrive were focused on audio books.

Two years ago,  e-readers were not connected devices, and had to be loaded with e-books that had been downloaded to a computer.  Now they are all wireless, though they still have USB ports.  I had hoped to find one with a large display, approaching the size of a page in an octavo book, but of the Sony, Nook, and Kindle e-readers, only the pricey Kindle DX, with its 9.7" screen, meets this requirement.  The 6" screen is common, but I'm concerned that PDF's of out-of-print, copyright-expired books from libraries, of which I have many on my PC, will be hard to read on them.

I am not willing to go with a Kindle because they do not handle the EPUB format.  The Sony PRS-T1 seems to work best with PDF's, with a pinch-zooming feature, but I'm not sure this is good enough.

I've been reading the reviews at The e-Book Reader.com.  The video reviews have helped me understand how e-readers work.  And he says, reviewing the Sony, "If you want a hardcore, everyday PDF reader I would suggest getting a tablet", something I was beginning to think on my own.  Then, what is the e-ink display worth to me?  I have done plenty of PDF reading on PC's.  I just wish I could read PDF books in a comfortable chair.  So, maybe a tablet?


E-Readers for Seniors, continued...

MK, a colleague at my library, in a comment, makes a good point in favor of the utility of e-readers for seniors:

In defense of e-readers for older patrons...most e-readers have the ability to enlarge the size of the type, turning all e-books into large print books. Consequently, e-books allow libraries to increase their large print collection without having to pay extra for a special copy of something they probably already own, and patrons who need large print aren't restricted to just the (relatively) small collection of books available in large type.
 I had also decided to look for some data about who is using e-readers.  I found a Nielsen survey from last August that does not bear out my concerns.  Changing Demographics of Tablet and eReader Owners in the US shows that by the second quarter of 2011, an impressive 30% of e-readers were owned by people aged 55 and over.  Only 18% of smartphones were owned by the same age group.  And whereas the majority of tablets, (iPads, etc.), are owned by men, and smartphones are evenly split between the sexes, a solid 61% of e-readers were owned by women, which shows that they have a unique appeal.

This survey predates the launch of the Kindle Fire this fall, with which the e-reader morphs into an all-purpose text/music/video/gaming digital entertainment tablet.  Barnes & Noble and Sony are in the race as well, with the NOOK Tablet and the Sony Tablet S.  It looks as though these products are no longer primarily e-readers, as they seem to have back-lit displays, and not the reader-friendly "e-ink".  I doubt that our Old Women will opt for these over a dedicated e-reader.  Book readers are small potatoes.  Book publishing has always been a marginal industry.  They have decided to challenge Apple, and to compete for the music and video market, where the real money is.

I have to confess that my reservations about e-readers for older readers are in part due to my own frustration with taking calls asking for help using them.  It is like not knowing how to drive a car, and trying to answer questions about driving by referring to the driver license manual.  I try to talk them through the "dance" using the OverDrive help, but I don't have a picture in my mind of what they are seeing on their device.  I don't own a "portable device" of any kind, be it a mobile phone, a Blackberry, an MP3 player, a tablet, or an e-reader.  I don't even wear a watch.  I use a desktop PC at home and at work.

And, dear reader, I too am, at 57, a "senior".  I'm not alone, among librarians my age, in finding the whole digital scene too much to take in.  There is a bewildering variety of devices; smartphones, iPods and other sound players, tablets, older e-readers that need to be loaded from PC's and newer, wireless ones that can download directly.  All of them need different "apps" and set-up to work with our library audio books and e-books.  I am grateful that we have some younger staff who are more able to help.

But I think the time has come to shop for an e-reader, late-adopter though I am.


Are E-Book Readers Suitable Gifts For Aging Parents?

People are calling the library with this question this holiday season.  Should they buy their old mom or dad an e-book reader?  What does the library have to offer?  Which reader is most compatible with the library's e-books?

Last week, a quite elderly man came in, an "eighty-something", wanting to get some library e-books for his Kindle.  He seemed to think that he could check out a stack of e-books, take them home, and put them on his Kindle to read.  Where was his Kindle?  It was in his car.  There was no way I could give him the help he needed.  I was simply too busy.  So I sent him down to KH, our e-media expert at the Media Desk, after calling her first.  She was also busy, but said she'd do what she could.

Today, a man called from Boston, wondering about giving his father, who lives in our area, an e-book reader.  I explained that the library currently offers fewer than a thousand e-book titles.   Until recently, the Nook seemed to be the most commonly used reader, but that our vendor, OverDrive, had recently done a deal with Amazon to provide e-books for the Kindle.  But Kindle owners had to have an Amazon account as well as a library card, since OverDrive will send them to Amazon to get the Kindle version of the e-book.

Did his father do e-mail?  Many of the library's e-books have waiting lists, and users are notified by e-mail when their e-book is available.  Yes, he said.  Well, that was encouraging.  Once the reader is properly set up to work with OverDrive, it should be pretty painless, I said.

The more I thought about it, the more I was filled with doubt.  I remembered how we had given my parents DVD's we'd thought they would like, only to find them still in their wrappers when we visited.  My parents had been unable to make their DVD player work with their new cable box, and had actually lost their remote controller.

These Boomer adults have gotten the impression that, if they buy their parents e-readers, the library will be able to supply their parents' reading needs with free library e-books.  And at this point, that is just not realistic.  Even if learning to use an e-reader is not too steep a learning curve for their parent, libraries don't have the funding to provide e-books in the same numbers as they do hard copies.

I've delivered services to senior communities, and I know how much they read.  Assuming that they become comfortable with downloading e-books to their readers, they will very quickly read through our current selections.  They will be able to get the most popular authors from the library, provided they are willing to wait.  But they will also have to purchase additional titles on their own.

  I guess I would ask a couple of questions when people call, wondering if an e-reader would work for their parent.  Is the parent already computer literate, and using e-mail?  Do they have any experience with portable devices, such as an iPod or a smartphone?  If not, an e-reader may be outside their comfort zone,and will likely stay in its box in a closet.


People Look East, An Advent Carol

We sang this lovely carol at mass this morning.  I'd never heard it before.

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.
3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.
4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

"People, Look East" was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as "Carol of Advent" in Part 3 of "Modern Texts Written for or Adapted to Traditional Tunes" in The Oxford Book of Carols, 1928. Farjeon, a native of London, was a devout Catholic who viewed her faith as "a progression toward which her spiritual life moved rather than a conversion experience." (The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, p. 323) She achieved acclaim as an author of children's nursery rhymes and singing games, and is best remembered for her poem "Morning Has Broken."




A couple of interesting articles linked to on Arts & Letters Daily, the Chronicle of Higher Education's free aggregator of news, reviews and essays.  I read the CHE's daily updates at work by virtue of the library's subscription to the print edition.

From The Nation, there is Upheaval at the New York Public Library, by Scott Sherman.  Clearly the NYPL has it's own unique set of issues, but it made me think about the struggle over what a public library should be:  a quiet temple of learning, (the traditional idea), or a lively community center with mass appeal.

Sherman catalogs the budgeting woes of public libraries in general.  It is in the interest of library directors to increase the door count and circulation numbers.  They are an index of community support.  Our own library system has done comparatively well in recent years by welcoming all comers:  doing away with the no-food policy, offering free printing from public computers, allowing cell-phone use, building a large DVD and audio book collection.

Inevitably, perhaps, the pendulum swung too far.  Quiet areas are now more rigorously enforced, those with hot meals are asked to eat them elsewhere, and free printing may be limited in the near future.

From The New Criterion, Commune plus one:  On Occupy Wall Street & the legacy of the Paris Commune, by James Panero, makes a doleful connection that I have not seen elsewhere, but which seems obvious once it is made.  Live and learn, kids.