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.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Jose Saramago

The chicken or the egg? Saramago or Portugal? Am I enjoying reading Jose Saramago because of my recent fascination with Portugal, or did the Portugal fascination open the door to Saramago? I honestly do not know which came first. I do know for sure that over the past couple of weeks I have enjoyed planning a someday trip to Portugal and am pleased to have finally read the great Portugese Nobel Laureate.

Born in Libson and with limited formal education, Saramago worked as a mechanic, translator, journalist, and newspaper editor before finding critical acclaim as a sixty-year-old novelist. The Swedish Academy awarded Saramago the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, citing him as a writer "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality." I agree with the Swedish Academy, but add this: Saramago succeeds in writing beautifully while vigitantly maintaining his resolute beliefs. Only the best writers do that.

Mr. Saramago passed away June 18, 2010. Below are three of his books I greatly admire.

The Notebook
Saramago's journal from his last year. Originally published in blog format as his family had convinced him to keep a blog where he could write daily about anything he desired while allowing fans to follow his musings.

Blindness strikes as an epidemic and the frayed edges of society unravel

Journey to Portugal
Saramago's cultural history of his beloved country. Saramago deftly reveals the beauty, history, and riddle that is Portugal.