Friday, December 31, 2010

Woody Allen

I love Woody Allen. I recently picked up a book, Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip, featuring the great strips from the former newspaper funny "Inside Woody Allen." I didn't even know the comic strip existed, but I stumbled upon it while browsing the 741.5s on the 3rd floor of Faulk Central. The title alone made me giggle and seemed apropos to the Woody character most that have seen his movies or been a fan of his stand-up are familiar with. "Inside Woody Allen" is full of self-deprecating humor as well as Allen's comic pursuits of women, love, and philosophical questions. The author and artist of the strip, Stuart Hample, actually met Woody in his stand-up days and had his explicit permission, cooperation, and even assistance in writing the strips. It's been a delight to read through and I highly recommend it to any fan of Woody Allen's comedy.

I'm sure I never would have picked up the book had I not seen so many of Allen's movies. The first one I ever saw was "Manhattan;" the opening scene of that movie instantly captivated me with its awesome black and white shots of Manhattan, the Gershwin tunes, and Allen's comedic narration. I went on to watch "Annie Hall," of course, and my all-time favorite, "Hannah and Her Sisters." After just adoring those three movies, I moved on to his earlier stuff with its slapstick humor such as "Bananas" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (*But Were Afraid to Ask)" (unfortunately, our copies of this title were damaged or missing and it is no longer available). At this point, I've seen most of his movies (except some of the newer stuff, which I don't like as much), so I could go on at length, but I'll provide a brief list below of some of my personal favorites and some of the critically acclaimed I haven't yet seen. (Hint: click on the Catalog Record tab above the title when viewing these movies in FindIt, the online catalog, to get a description of the movie along with a list of the actors.) Granted, Woody Allen's personal life and the notorious scandal regarding his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn may not make him the most likable figure in the world this present day, but, if you can put that aside, his works are well worth the watching.

P.S. Happy New Year! When you're making your New Year's resolutions consider this quote from Allen's movie "Interiors": "You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred."

Two moral crises regarding love and betrayal play themselves out in this dark comedy/drama.

Everyone Says I Love You
I admit to watching this one probably hundreds of times. It's a musical with an all-star cast singing standards and dancing around. I freakin' love a good musical and nothing beats listening to celebrities belt out classic songs (this is your chance to discover the musical or not-so-musical talents of Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Alan Alda, and more!).

A co-worker suggested this one to me - it's a spoof on Russian novels such as War and Peace full of silliness and philosophical debates featuring Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. Hilarious!

Just a fun story featuring murder, mystery, and Diane Keaton.

This is an intense tale of love and betrayal featuring the always lovely and often seductive Scarlett Johansson.

I just love this silly plot of dim-witted would-be crooks that end up making it big legitimately. Tracey Ullman is fantastic and was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And the Champagne Poured

Just in time for New Year's Eve, a study may settle that long-standing disagreement over the best way to pour a glass of champagne. Scientists in France report that pouring champagne in an angled, down-the-side way is the best way to preserve its taste and fizz.

I searched the Library’s ejournal finder to see if we had the study full-text, but we don’t, but you can read the abstract from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The tiny bubbles that are the essence of fine champagnes are formed during the release of large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide gas. When making champagne, grapes are fermented into wines and then bottled. Then a second fermentation is induced in the bottle, which produces carbon dioxide that carbonates the wine.

The French scientists found that pouring champagne down the side preserved up to twice as much carbon dioxide in champagne than pouring down the middle — probably because the angled method was gentler. They also confirmed that chilling champagne to a cooler temperature (39 degrees) helps reduce carbon dioxide loss and preserves the taste.

More champagne information at the Library:

The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook has a chapter titled “Once in a While a Little Champagne”.

The Everyday Guide to Wine
, a Teaching Company dvd.

The Finest Wines of Champagne, published by the University of California Press.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mighty Boosh

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the BBC comedic series The Mighty Boosh. Needless to say, it cracked me up. After talking it up to friends and acquaintances, I've discovered that it's a bit of an accquired taste so consider yourself forewarned. All that aside, if you remember watching H.R. Pufnstuf in the early seventies (possibly as a child) and were intrigued by it, then I think you will readily see some similarities.

Essentially, the show revolves around the misadventures and experiences of two characters who are outwardly very different. The straight man (comedic term) is Howard Moon who considers himself a connoisseur of Jazz as well as a thespian in the deepest Shakespearian sense of the word. His alter ego is Vince Noir who is really in to fashion and following trends. So much so, he has a subscription to Cheekbone magazine that is so cutting edge it goes out of date every fifteen minutes. The show is also peppered with a rich variety of outlandish characters like Bolo the talking gorilla who gives Vince fashion advice, the acclaimed actor Sammy the Crab (who is really a crab), or Bob Fossil an all around shady character who dresses like Mr. Furley from Three's Company and strikes me as someone who wasn't happy with his life at Seinfeld's Del Boca Vista and decided to move to London. Trust me, any discription of the show cannot do it justice. It is just too funny, in my humble opinion. There are so many hilarious exchanges. Judge for yourself. The Austin Public Library has all three seasons available for checkout.

The Mighty Boosh 1
The Mighty Boosh 2
The Might Boosh 3

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mark Twain's Autobiography

Mark Twain's 743-page autobiography hit bookshelves Nov. 15, and now sits high atop the New York Times' best-seller list for hardcover non-fiction at No. 3, leaving Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin in the dust. The Library’s 12 copies are all checked out with holds, with more on order.

The director of the Mark Twain Project said the book is in the structure the author himself wanted. In 1904, Mark Twain wrote that he had "hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography." Instead of writing down his autobiography, Twain wanted to tell stories to another human being. And instead of telling his life story in chronological order, Twain wanted to talk about what interested him at that moment — and to allow himself to change the subject when his interest waned. It’s not a “tell all” memoir that is so popular today. Three months into the dictations, he says, "I have thought of 1,500 or 2,000 incidents in my life which I am ashamed of, but I have not gotten one of them to consent to go on paper yet." Versions of the autobiography have appeared over the years in newspapers and in print, but this is the first time it has been left in the order Twain dictated and with the honesty requiring Twain’s 100 year embargo. This first volume of the autobiography meanders through his thoughts on politics and religion, success and failure, friends and enemies. He grappled with the same things we continue to grapple with today.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dessa for the Holidays

If you need a last minute holiday gift, I suggest the 2010 hip-hop CD by Dessa, Badly Broken Code. (Dessa was in Austin in November as part of her 40-city tour.) Singing was part of her upbringing, but performance wasn't. Her mother used to challenge her to come up with harmonies to songs on the radio. But her first career path was to get a masters in philosophy and then become a technical writer.

Then she took a stab at slam poetry competitions at the urging of a friend, which brought her into contact with the Minneapolis hip-hop scene. Through the poetry slam circuit, Dessa met members of the Doomtree collective, of which she was soon a member, and started rapping with them.

She began writing her own hip hop songs with a more writerly approach at the urging of P.O.S., another Doomtree member. Being a wordsmith, she likes the rap format where she can get a high word count in three minutes.

Her solo debut, A Badly Broken Code is loaded with literate, thoughtful rhymes influenced by her background in poetry and philosophy. I especially like the violin-enhanced Matches to Paper Dolls, a song about clinging to a failed relationship.

Check out the cd from the Library, or browse any Library location's music cd collection. You will find something to like and check out.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Leftovers

Alistair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations, 1951

I was going to blog about the holiday goodies you can check out from the library to have on hand to read to your kids in front of the fire or to slide into the DVD player when everybody's stuffed with Christmas goose, but you beat me to it! All the classics, like A Christmas Carol, or The Gift of the Magi, or A Visit from St. Nicholas, are just about gone! We're down to slim pickings in the Christmas department, except for music. We still have a lot of Christmas CDs to check out. Here's a list of some of them:

And here's a list of some Christmas orphans: funky DVDs that will be alone here in the dark library on Christmas Eve if somebody doesn't take them home:

And here's a little something new for 2011: a puzzle.
If it's a hit, I'll post more (if I can think of more).

So here goes: Guess the title of the book depicted literally in the photo to the right and win our admiration. (Click the photo to enlarge it.)

Friday, December 17, 2010


Lunch can become terribly boring. PB&J is quite tedious and downright unappetizing after consuming it 5 days a week for weeks on end. Taking lunch with you to work is a great way to save money, but continuously coming up with tasty things to pack in your lunch, can be a real challenge. I'm lucky to have stumbled upon Vegan Lunch Box, a great blog with tons of great ideas for packing a nutritious yet delicious lunch. I am not vegan or even vegetarian, but I do like trying to get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in my diet, so this blog is perfect. The author, Jennifer McCann, has published two books of the same name based on this successful blog that I recently checked out from the library and they have saved my lunches. I've been eating things like Thai Spring Rolls, Black-eyed Peas and Potatoes, and Mini-Veggie Burgers and I'm happy to say that my days of PB&J are (mostly) over.

By discovering these little gems, I also found that lunch-specific cookbooks can be located in FindIt, the online catalog, by using the term "lunchbox cookery." Oh, Library of Congress Subject Headings, how mysterious and elusive you can be! Some of these say they are for kids and I think most lunch-related cookbooks typically are, but there is still a lot in these for adults to enjoy as well!

Lunch Boxes and Snacks: Over 120 Healthy Recipes, From Delicious Sandwiches and Salads to Hot Soups and Sweet Treats

Paula Deen's Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set

The Top 100 Recipes for a Healthy Lunchbox: Easy and Exciting Ideas for Your Child's Lunches

Vegan Lunch Box: 150 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!

Vegan Lunch Box Around the World: 125 Easy, International Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oxford English Dictionary Online

While pondering what classes to take my last semester in college I seriously considered a course in lexicography. What is lexicography you ask? The act of writing dictionaries. A noble act indeed. For a few days I could think of no better way to spend a semester than examining the intricacies of dictionary writing. My mind's eye saw bushy eyebrowed zealots amidst piles of words and a gilded scale of linguistic judgment. While my interest in taking the course thankfully waned, my interests in dictionaries did not.

The Austin Public Library offers the Oxford English Dictionary Online. The OED Online is an incredibly dynamic resource. Oxford University Press continues to provide paramount etymology and has now integrated their groundbreaking Historical Thesaurus into OED Online. A search for a specific word will now retrieve all known historical spellings, first noted usage of each spelling, as well as similar words used throughout the centuries (one of my favorite words alacrity first appeared in the English language in 1510 and was spelled alacritee). OED Online now also offers a filter search, which allows you to narrow or broaden your word nerd conundrums. Using your Austin Public Library card number you may access OED Online from just about any computer in the world.

If digital dictionaries aren’t your cup of tea, we have you covered as well. You may peruse all twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary at the Faulk Central Library. It does not check out though. It weighs 130 pounds.

An interesting related read is The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The book tells of the nineteenth century idea to create the seminal dictionary and the thousands who assisted in the dictionary's creation. Noted scholars responded to the call, but one contributor remained unique: an American expat confined to an asylum contributed thousands of entries.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Escaramuza Charra

When my wife and I were dating, she took me to a Mexican rodeo or Jaripeo here in town. It involved all of the ususal bull riding and horse roping events common to many U.S. rodeos. All of the brute force and machismo on exhibition was entertaining enough, but I think I would have really howled if it had included escaramuza charra. These events consist of teams of women dressed in brilliantly colored dresses, executing intricate movements or passes at high speeds on horseback all the while riding side saddle. No easy feat to say the least. Below I've listed some resources we have in our collection. However, remember the world's libraries are at your disposal via Interlibrary Loan.

La Charreria Mexicana : Su Historia y Practica
Charreada : Mexican Rodeo in Texas

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book vs Film

Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is a stylish action movie about a handsome bounty hunter in pursuit of coolly attractive androids. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the 1968 book it’s based on, is a very different story about an unhappily married man who’s afraid he’s growing fat and bald. It’s also a meditation on religion, consumerism, community, and what it means to be human. Set in the wake of an environmental disaster, Deckard, the bounty hunter, tests the androids’ humanity with an empathy test and, if they fail, destroys them. Since the newer models are so advanced, the fakes can seem more empathetic than Deckard himself. And the question of his own humanity is not certain either.

The humans who have not left Earth for colonies either worship Mercer, a Christlike leader on television or a cheerier alternative named Buster Friendly. "Buster Friendly, a 24-hour TV talk show host who is the messiah to androids, does not even appear in the film.

A more recent book about a not-too-distant future crazed consumerist, high-tech society that you should read before Hollywood gets a hold of it, is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. In this over-the-top satire, the US is an incompetently run police state, and its citizens are illiterate and addicted to shopping and streaming images and audio- all on a device everyone is required to wear around their necks. Do Androids was set in 2019, and this story may be set a few years after that.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Vol 1

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Vol 2

Blade Runner
Cd Scf Dic

Blade Runner
DVD Feature Bla

Blade Runner (Do Androids dream of electric sheep?)

Future Imperfect; Philip K. Dick at the Movies

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Model Prison Librarian

With over 1.4 million people incarcerated in the US, prison libraries are often inmates best link to the outside world. Sixty-eight percent of the inmates come into the system without a high school diploma. In a good prison library, they can research the legal system, take classes, participate in book discussions, gain their GED, and check out a book for recreational reading. Educating them is not only a good thing to do; it’s essential. How good a prison library is depends on the state. The law does not specify how access should be provided, so states have various interpretations. Prison libraries range from institutions that are open every day to books-by-mail programs. Some states go way beyond the minimum and provide services that model public libraries. The American Library Association and ACLU also help fight for prisoners' right to read.

The Maryland Division of Correction prison library system is an example of a model library. This fall they have bought hundreds of copies of Fahrenheit 451 and organized dozens of reading and discussion groups thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Maryland Correctional Education Libraries acquired two bookmobile units that travel to each pre-release library, providing prisoners with access to forty-inch smart screens, computers, wireless access, as well as databases and books.

Avi Steinberg, a prison librarian in Boston, has just written Running The Books: Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. He gives literary advice, teaches creative writing, and tries to gain the inmates trust and help untangle their damaged lives, just the kind of librarian you would want
in a prison library.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Comedy circa 1975

I weed the showbiz books, which is lots of fun. While I was going through the comedy department I came across I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder. The book is about the Comedy Store, the Los Angeles night spot where Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Tom Dreesen, Elayne Boosler, Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, all but a few of today's big-name comics, got their start, and they worked there for free! It's hard to imagine Jay Leno and David Letterman, two of the richest guys on the planet, working until dawn just for the experience of working, then curling up to sleep on a friend's couch, but they did.

Mitzi Shore owned the Store and liked the price she was paying for entertainers: nothing. For a lot of years the entertainers didn't mind, until they noticed Mitzi was putting money in the bank while they were cadging maraschino cherries from the bar for dinner. Once the comics did the math, it was the beginning of the end.

One reason I liked the book is that I was in the vicinity at the time. We lived near L.A. in the 70s. On a big night we'd drive in and see a show at the Roxy. At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion we laughed until we couldn't breathe because Steve Martin had an arrow through his head.
I took my mom to see Robin Williams. (He talked a lot about cocaine. Sorry Mom.) After Vietnam it seemed to me that rock and roll had stopped saying important things and that comedy was the language of subversion.

Now that I'm done with I'm Dying Up Here I'm reading Milton Berle's autobiography: Lots of knock-out dames in spangles and seltzer water in the face. It's the library. We have it all.

Friday, December 03, 2010

New Life

** UPDATE: There is mounting evidence that the science behind this finding is flawed! Read more in this good article at **

Yesterday NASA announced the discovery of a new type of life, not on Mars, but right here on Earth. What they found is a bacteria that can use arsenic to build the stuff of life, rather than the known elements all living things typically use: phosphorus, sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The microbe, GFAJ-1, replaces phosphorus with arsenic, known to be toxic to most other life forms on Earth. By discovering GFAJ-1, scientists believe we will be better equipped to potentially find life on other planets considering we now know that we need to look for more than just the six elements once believed to be the only building blocks of life. As Ed Weiler of NASA said, "The definition of life has just expanded."

I just love scientific developments like these. I've always secretly wanted to be some sort of biologist studying life forms all day long. This discovery was made while NASA astrobiologists were running tests on bacteria collected from sediment in the beautiful Mono Lake. I, mean, who doesn't wish their job at least sometimes looks like this picture. I explored the NASA Astrobiology webpage and found information on some amazing sounding careers (now, all I need is another degree!). They even have an Ask an Astrobiologist feature where the public can submit their astrobiology-related questions and hear back from a professional. But you don't even have to wait because they've already answered your Niburu and 2012 question, you can view the answer here (apparently over 2500 questions have been submitted regarding the topic!).


Astrobiology Magazine - Searching for Alien Life, on Earth

NASA Astrobiology
"Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe."

NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical

NASA News Conference in its entirety: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


Beyond UFOs: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Its Astonishing Implications For Our Future

Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone

The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Notable Books of 2010

Each December the New York Times releases its 100 Notable Books of the year. Each year I like to compare what I have read to what the self-styled tastemakers declared best. So how many of this year's notable 100 did I read?


That's not to say I wasn't reading this year, but the paltry number did surprise me. Upon reflection I realized the answer: while I read lots this year, all but a handful of those books were at least several years old.

My sole read from this year's 100 Notable Books was Robert Stones' Fun With Problems. This collection of stories portrays despicable people in often selfish situations, yet you will end up not only sympathizing with them but cheering for their redemption.

Some other books from 100 Notable Books of 2010 that caught my eye:

David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists

Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn

Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall


Lewis Hyde's Common As Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership

Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

Daniel Okrent's Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia

I'm hoping to get to a few of these, but the 2011 books are quickly approaching (not to mention 130 million books estimated to have been written in recorded history).

What were your favorite books of 2010?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ebooks and Ejournals at APL

Austin Public Library has not yet purchased a service that provides downloadable audiobooks or e-books. We plan to offer downloadables in 2011; we are still investigating options and then we will need to get the licenses in place.

Downloadable audiobooks can be used on many devices including iPods, iPhones, and iPads, and other smartphones.

Downloadable ebooks are more problematic for libraries; for example, Amazon's Kindle operates with a proprietary file format, so any subscription we choose for ebooks would not be compatible with Kindle. The B&N Nook is compatible with a subscription service used by libraries. Other ebook readers are completely compatible, like the Sony reader.

Currently. we do have full-text ejournals and nonfiction ebooks that you can read online. You can listen to animated children's books, read your favorite magazine or newspaper, read reference eBooks on medicine, art, history, religion, or take practice certification or school entrance exams.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Thought You Would Be Funnier

Cartoonist Shannon Wheeler finally has gotten his cartoons in the New Yorker, after years of penning the misadventures of not-quite-superhero Too Much Coffee Man, one of the oddest, funniest and occasionally heartbreaking alternative comic strips. He moved to in Austin from California in 1991, hanging out at the Daily Texan offices with a backpack until they thought he was a student and ran his cartoons.

Now living in Portland, Oregon, he has been submitting cartoons to The New Yorker magazine for some time now, and he has learned that the prestigious periodical is very particular about what it publishes.

In an interview, Wheeler said that the New Yorker wants you to submit ten cartoons a week to show that you’ve got the stamina to be a solid cartoonist. Wheeler began collecting the rejected cartoons and posting some on his Facebook account, to positive reviews. After choosing his favorites from his library, he created
I Thought You Would Be Funnier.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Short Fiction for the Busy Holidays

During the busy holidays, we will have even less time to read Freedom or Matterhorn. But we should have time to read a few short stories, especially ones that are just as weighty or thought-provoking as a full-length novel. I just finished reading If I Loved You I Will Tell You This - each story is like a mini-novel, the characters are fully drawn, the paragraphs pack a punch, and worlds are contained in a single page.

Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives by Brad Watson
Dysfunctional world of divorce, alienation, and domestic unrest. Here, eccentricity and madness are the norm, and life, even in its best moments, is unrelentingly bleak.

Alone With You by Marisa Silver
Eight stories, three first published in The New Yorker, tap into the unsettled nature of our times. In “Temps,” an Oklahoma transplant rooming with another temp worker in a loft in L.A. finds herself in a love triangle that happens almost at random. Other characters who find themselves in extremis—facing cancer, recovering from suicidal depression, adjusting to life after emergency bypass surgery—somehow find the confidence to move forward into uncertainty.

Best Short Stories of 2010
Reviewers have said that the 2010 collection which was edited by Richard Russo is vibrant and engaging and without the distractions of heavy-handed philosophy and stylistic tricks.

Burning Bright by Ron Rash
Intense twelve story collection focuses on the people of Appalachia who though impoverished refuse to give up their pride even as they seek a shimmer of happiness.

How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique
Set mostly in the U.S. Virgin Islands, part oral history, part postcolonial narrative.

If I Loved You, I Will Tell You This by Robin Black
These then fresh and original stories were written over eight years, each demonstrating the rewards of a writing and re-wrtiting. Her characters try to imagine life through each other’s eyes even as they accept that this is one sight they can never see.

Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates
More dark stories from Oates about people who are severely tested, profoundly punished, and tragically transformed.

A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim
Author of The N Word, uses 18 vignettes to re-create the racial tensions of 1967 in a fictional Midwestern town. Asim's portraits flesh out through the stories, sprinkling humor as the book moves beyond depicting police racism and hard lives.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Radical Holiday Idea

I long for the days when, post celebration dinner people would sit down and play whist, like they did at the balls that Jane Austen wrote about. People would dance, eat, then settle in for long games of skill played over Chippendale tables while they eyed each other's d├ęcolletage and gossiped about who had danced with whom.

Yes I know, I watch too much Masterpiece Theatre, and I don't know how to play whist, but this Thanksgiving (and Christmas and New Year's Day) wouldn't it be nice to turn off the football (ok... record the football and watch it later) and play a game yourself, dagnabbit?

Here is a list of the games I have in my cupboard at home:

Favorite table game, anybody?

Friday, November 19, 2010

A National Digital Library

David Rothman, a writer and founder of Teleread, has called for the creation of a National Digital Library (NDL). In fact, he first made this call in 1992, so he’s been arguing the case for NDL for quite some time now. His arguments are compelling, particularly in our increasingly digital world. First off, concerns over the way DRM, digital rights management, restrictions are implemented have made many nervous that if the ebook industry continues developing the way it has it will be difficult to impossible for libraries to be much of a player in the ebook world. While some libraries offer downloadable ebooks, and Austin Public Library hopes to in the near future, libraries cannot offer any content whatsoever to users of the Amazon Kindle, one of the biggest names in the market, largely due to DRM restrictions. Additionally, companies like Amazon usually have restrictions on each book you download stating that you may not loan it to anyone (though, there is reason to believe this may change soon). Now consider the (so far) less than favorable to libraries Google Books Settlement and the (so far) iffy legality of libraries purchasing ebook readers themselves to loan out to people and a happy, user-friendly future for ebooks in libraries may seem distant.

With the plethora of restrictions preventing individual libraries from building significant digital collections (particularly ones that they actually own rather than essentially rent from a vendor), a national digital library including bestselling books, reference materials, journals, magazines, multimedia, and more is appealing. If this library were available digitally to people nationwide, this could have a big impact on literacy and the preservation of culture in digital format. Not only this, but the NDL could be an education center geared toward helping people get the training they need to get a job, prepare for an exam, or write a research paper. It could be a place where users just like you and me could add our own content, such as photos or family recipes, as well as comment on and/or interact with any of the content found in the NDL. Imagine a digital repository with video, images, audio, and more that isn’t actually a repository at all because anyone can add to, manipulate, and enhance the content. Imagine the preservation of the intellectual creations of a society by an impartial body content to preserve and share rather than profit. Imagine a digital library where your imagination can run wild and education has no limits.

In the immortal words of John Lennon, “you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


Can We Create a National Digital Library?
An article by Robert Darnton who also would like to see a National Digital Library; his view is more of one as NDL as repository rather than it being anything people can actually interact with or add content to.

A Conversation with David Rothman about the Need for a National Digital Library System in the U.S.
Just this Wednesday, David Rothman held a conversation about NDL that you can listen to for free via this webpage.

The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools
A report that reflects the significant economic impact of not putting a priority on American students’ education. In Rothman’s argument, a National Digital Library would help American students and teachers by putting a mass amount of educational content freely available and accessible 24/7 in their hands.

Information Stimulus Plan
David Rothman’s idea for an Information Stimulus Plan – “how iPad-style tablets could help educate millions and trim bureaucracy – not just be techno toys for the D.C. elite.”

Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library
David Rothman’s recently published article in The Atlantic calls for a National Digital Library – a compelling and passionate argument.


Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership
“The question of how our cultural commons, our shared store of art and knowledge, might be made compatible with our modern age of stringent copyright laws, intellectual property rights, and restrictive patenting is taken up with considerable brio by Hyde.” (see two full reviews here)

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)
“It’s an irony so commonplace it’s become almost trite: despite the information superhighway, despite a world of knowledge at their fingertips, the younger generation today is less informed, less literate, and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it. But why?” Bauerlein seeks to tell us (read more reviews here)

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empire
“According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium--the master switch.” (see more reviews here)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I wish I could break 4:00

If I could choose one physical accomplishment, without a doubt, I would run a sub-four-minute mile. Growing up in a running family, the four-minute mile was--and remains--the zenith of cool for me. I never got anywhere close to breaking four minutes, but I have witnessed a few at various track meets and get goosebumps each time.

To get a better idea of how fast one must run to break four minutes, consider this exercise: Go to your local track, run one straightaway of the track in under fifteen seconds. If you can accomplish that, then keep running, and repeat it fifteen more times without stopping. You will have circled the track four times in slightly under four minutes and accomplished a feat once thought impossible and achieved by no more than a few hundred runners in human history.

For the first half of the twentieth century, many physicians believed the human heart would burst before allowing a human to complete a sub-four-minute mile. Then came 1954. Australia’s John Landy came close to breaking 4:00 a couple of times early in the year and America’s Wes Santee declared that he assuredly would break 4:00. Roger Bannister, a twenty-five year-old Oxford medical student, grew increasingly nervous throughout the spring of 1954 that Landy or Santee would become the first to run under four minutes. The afternoon of May 6th, Bannister stepped onto the Iffley Road track in Oxford and achieved greatness. His time: 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Forty-six days later, John Landy ran 3:58. Santee got close, but never broke 4:00. His fastest time came in early 1955 when he ran 4:00.5.

Neal Bascomb’s The Perfect Mile is an outstanding book that encapsulates the efforts of all three men as they strove to be the first. Bascomb’s account conveys the pressure each man felt as they reached for an individual result that captivated the collective.

Another extraordinary book about the race to break 4:00 is Roger Bannister’s The Four-Minute Mile. Written just weeks after Bannister ran his 3:59.4, The Four-Minute Mile provides a unique peak inside Bannister’s time at Oxford both as a student and as a rapidly developing miler.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oddities from the APL Collection

One of our duties here at Austin Public Library is to cull old books. We call it "weeding". We do it continuously, just as new books are published continuously, because if we didn't, we wouldn't be able to fit the new books on the shelves. If we didn't weed, we'd still have astronomy books, for example, that say the sun goes around the earth, that dragons lurk in the skies at the edges of the oceans, that Pluto is a PLANET!

Recently we held a contest to find some of the oldest, oddest, most out of date, least politically correct books in our collection from dark corners of the library that we haven't looked into in awhile. Here are some of the entries. (Click on the photos to enlarge them; the winners are at the top.) If these intrigue you, you might find them soon at the library's used book store, Recycled Reads.

I'm happy to report there exist worse examples in libraries than we found at APL. See them here: Awful Library Books.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fado from Portugal

Last week we blogged about the Portuguese Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago who was born in Lisbon and surely spent many nights in an intimate restaurant listening to Fado by candlelight. Fado is of African origin, traveling from Brazil to Lisbon cafes in the nineteenth century. Fado means fate in Portuguese. This music's sad but tender themes began with sea songs from Portugal's past as a maritime power, when its sailors left for colonies and new worlds. These are love songs, confessions of regret, laments of betrayals, but also the expression of hope for a better future. Fado has grown into a cherished national heritage and Lisbon has applied to the UN cultural organization, UNESCO, to have fado included on its world list of "intangible heritage" -- cultural and raditional arts and practices.

Listen to popular fado artists at
National Geographic's World Music.

The Libray has a fado collection that will surely continue to grow.


Era uma Vez un Jardin



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Vietnam War Novel for Veterans Day

Dave Barry once said that "the badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of helicopters in it." I agreed with his sentiment, especially because helicopters often appear in action or war movies, my least favorite. But after reading Matterhorn, the Vietnam War novel, by Karl Marlantes, I now view helicopters differently. The helicopters brought water, food, ammunition, and most importantly, a ride out of the jungle, or "the bush". This devastating war novel includes the racial tensions and the military callousness or incompetence that occurred during the 9-year war forty years ago. The book describes the brotherhood that develops when soldiers fight together, but for the most part “the kids” (most were 18 or 19) are feeling extreme misery, fear or boredom.

It took Marlantes three decades to find a publisher for Matterhorn. Marlantes went to Yale and Oxford before shipping out to Vietnam with the Marine Corps. He had started writing the novel in the 1970s, in response to a group of war protesters who yelled obscenities at him when he returned home, and he wanted to tell his side of the story. Marlantes' first draft was 1,600 pages. With an editor, he cut it to 598 pages to speed up the pace of the plot. Over the years Marlantes improved the book by reading Tolstoy and Flannery O'Connor and others -- and asking, 'How did they do that?' The story gives you an historically accurate and alarming vivid experience of the conflict and the unfolding of the day-to-day lives of soldiers - a leech getting stuck inside a soldier's penis, an argument over an afro, or “humping” for 4 days in the fog with no food, water or shelter.

So tomorrow we should think about veterans of all our wars - those that died, were disabled, suffer still with post traumatic syndrome, or have returned from their service intact, but have still lost out in career and family time. You know that they never stop thinking about it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Traveling Librarian Gets Lost

My sister and I took a road trip from Austin to Washington DC to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30 and we got lost--twice--once looking for Neely's Bar-B-Que restaurant in Nashville, and once trying to find our hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. We had a big Rand McNally road map of North America (a two-year-old edition that cost a dollar at Recycled Reads!), Mapquest on our laptop, internet on our cell phones, and a GPS stuck to our windshield, and we still got lost. (We named our GPS Hermione. She spoke with a British accent and called the freeway "the motorway.")

In both cases your lost traveling librarian spotted a local public library and made a beeline for it, and there found comfort and information. In Nashville we asked for help at the Looby Branch of the Nashville Public Library (pictured below), and found that Neely's was right across the street, we just couldn't see it (Hermione was trying to tell us we had reached our destination but because we were in the middle of an intersection at the time, we didn't believe her). In Alexandria we stopped at the Kingstowne Library, part of the Fairfax County Public Library system where, after a long, long drive through the valley between the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge, Lori Day, the youth services manager, helped us find our warm, soft hotel beds.

So travelers, if a gas-station attendant can't untangle the streets for you, keep an eye out for a library (and dream of a day when libraries are open as many hours as gas stations).

Friday, November 05, 2010


No one wants to consider disaster. I watch the news quite a bit, so I guess I consider disaster more than some might. While I’ve definitely read and seen a number of things emphasizing the media’s use of fear tactics in news reporting, it is a fact that we can see people around the world suffering disasters, harsh conditions, oppression, and war at any given time. A heavy dose of this can get you thinking about living through such adverse conditions yourself. I realized that in most cases I would be utterly unprepared if anything sudden and unpredictable were to happen. But, as with so many subjects, I found there’s a whole section of books here at the library for planning for the unforeseeable. Like a good Boy Scout, you can Be Prepared for anything.

Crisis Preparedness
This is a very popular book in the survival “genre” and a very thorough one that has a special emphasis on food storage.

How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It
The title of this one says it all – this book aims to prepare you for absolute breakdown covering every aspect of what you would need in such circumstances including fuel and home power, getting out of town, communication, and more.

Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens
An excellent guide that focuses on both short and long-term crisis including fires, ice storms, and even biological terrorism. Her focus is on teaching people the skills to be self-sufficient and independent so they will be ready for disaster.

Outdoor Survival Guide
An excellent guide on surviving outdoors including finding and building shelter, building and managing fires, finding and storing water, obtaining food from plants and animals, navigating, putting together a survival kit and more.

The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life
The author discusses what it takes to survive a catastrophic event by examining reactions of survivors. He also helps you uncover what kind of survivor you might be.

When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency
This one covers most aspects of basic survival in the event of a major emergency, but also focuses on general sustainability and environmentally-conscious approaches to things such as home energy.