Monday, January 31, 2011


Four years ago I bought a 5.1 megapixel camera. It was expensive, but all those megapixels! Wow! These days it sells for less than a third of what I paid for it (even with a lot of well-cared-for accessories), and now 14 megapixels sell for less than I paid for 5.1! But I'm told I shouldn't dwell on megapixels. It turns out they aren't the thing to look for. The thing to look for is the size of the image sensor (analagous to the size of the film) because the image sensor works the same way film does: the larger the image sensor (or film), the more detail in the photo, the bigger you can blow it up in your darkroom (now Photoshop), and the more you have to work with. So photography has changed completely... and not so much.

The mechanism for fixing light has changed but the rules for illuminating a subject haven't, and neither have the rules of composition. Old photography books can still teach you a lot about those things. It's easy to set a digital camera for the ambient light (How cool is it that now you can push a button to change the film speed instead of changing out the film?), and Photoshop can find a few good pixels in almost any shot you take, but the fundamentals: where the sun should be, how the subject should be situated, those haven't changed.

Obviously, I'm no expert. I just skim the surface of the camera's and the software's features, and so can anybody and make some very good pictures. But I warn you: once you have 5.1 megapixels, you'll want more.

Photography books at APL:

Digital Photo Madness
Real World Image Sharpening
Color, Light & Composition; a Photographer's Guide
Digital Photography: Top 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks
Digital Photography for the Over 50s

A couple of rebuses (names of authors):

Friday, January 28, 2011

Budget Woes

I'm sure you've heard about the massive state budget cuts that have recently been proposed and will begin to be considered by Texas legislators. They're certainly alarming - the Washington Post reported that the draft would cut almost $14 billion in spending. The cuts would be made in libraries, public schools, universities, criminal justice, and health care (including mental health care). There's no doubt that cuts must be made, but when it comes to what we end up cutting, there's plenty of debate. I'm sure we're in for some, uh, "spirited" discussion in the coming weeks and months, but let's take a look at what could happen should libraries get cut.

Texas public libraries stand to be cut quite dramatically this year - in fact, it puts some significant library funds at nearly $0. Rural libraries, in particular, will be hit hard; many rely on the state funds to function and without the libraries entire rural communities could lose their only source of free computer and internet access among many other services. Public libraries provide classes on job searching and resume writing, provide books and many other types of materials for the educational pursuits of their communities, provide a source of free, life-enriching programming such as children's storytime, help acclimate new immigrants and get them on the path to citizenship, and offer assistance to people needing help locating information, just to name a few of the services they offer.

Since the economic recession hit, libraries are being used now more than ever. This is not a justification for library funding unto itself, but I think this fact raises the question of how Americans that were effected by the recession are to get back on their feet in these difficult times without their public libraries being funded appropriately. I think it's easy in a big city like Austin that hasn't been effected by the recession quite as much as other cities around the country to write it off as unimportant or irrelevant. But, as an employee of the downtown library, I can tell you that I'm at a loss as to where people would go for much needed assistance if not for us. I'm aware of the nonprofit resources out there and they're nowhere near as extensive as all of the resources we offer.

What about the guy I helped the other day that got laid off in 2008 and slowly lost his car and house and is now living at ARCH desperately seeking employment? He uses our books on cover letter and resume writing, uses our computers to search and apply for jobs, and comes to our Job Searching Computer Lab to get assistance from a librarian filling out job applications. What about the lady with two jobs and two kids I helped find some test prep materials so she can finally get her GED and, hopefully, a better job? She uses the test prep books, accesses our Learning Express Library database for practice tests, and takes her kids to children's storytime. What about the recently immigrated woman that needed help learning English so she could get established in this country? She uses our New Immigrants Center to listen to language learning CDs and attends Talk Time, a program for people to come together and practice speaking in English with one another. These are only three small examples of people in THIS city (I could list so many more!) that need the services the public library offers - can you imagine the assistance needed by residents of the harder hit rural towns in this state?

Bottom line, to invest in Texas public libraries is to invest in the future of Texas' citizens and residents. If we are to improve the unemployment rate and make our state and country more economically viable, we need public libraries to be funded well enough so people can take up educational pursuits that will help them in such endeavors. If we are to strip rural communities of library services, it will only serve to further devastate these areas.

Let your voice be heard! The Texas Library Association (TLA) has plenty of talking points and scripts you can use to contact your legislators, friends, acquaintances, family, whoever and let them know how important it is that we fund Texas libraries. Check out the links below for more info.


Library Issues & Taking Action

Legislative Day
Join the Texas Library Association on Legislative Day February 16 and help get the word out about the importance of libraries. You can participate virtually too.

Save Our Texas Libraries
"We cannot say we believe in a strong Texas – in promoting education, economic development, and a competitive workforce – if we decrease investment in the very institutions, resources, and staff who equalize learning opportunities for everyone in Texas."


Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy

Library: An Unquiet History

This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 25th: The Day of Virginia Woolf and Barack Obama

This week I’ve been thinking about Virginia Woolf and President Obama. Woolf, born in 1882, had the anniversary of her birth yesterday. President Obama, more obviously, because of his recent State of the Union Address. But aside from this coincidence of dates, what does an English author from the early 20th Century have in common with the 44th President of the United States of America?

Books! To start, they are both prolific readers and writers.

Virginia Woolf has nine published novels, countless short stories and essays, a pair of biographies, and at least three book-length essays. Her most lauded works include: Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, The Voyage Out, and To the Lighthouse.

Obama's works stay primarily in the Non-Fiction category: Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaims the American Dream, and the children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (this last one, I will admit, made me tear up). Obama is slightly behind in numbers but perhaps he can catch up when he retires.

What I find more interesting than their own work (if I can find anything more interesting than Woolf’s prose) is the amount of literature written about these authors. They each have a kind of mystique that attracts people to write about them.

In our catalog we have nearly fifty items about Obama, his life, and work that were published in the last year alone. Books on the election (Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House); books on his family (The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, Homeland: An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival); and books, of course, on his policies (The Promise: President Obama, Year One and The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s). Additionally, yesterday was the publication date for O: a presidential novel – a quasi-fictional account of the 2012 election. This one promises to be rather controversial as the author has chosen – at least for the time being – to remain anonymous

Woolf has inspired quite a bit more fiction than our President but Hermione Lee has written an amazing biography on the author. Additionally, Woolf’s life has inspired Michael Cunningham's book (and subsequent movie version) The Hours, Jacqueline Harpman’s Orlanda, Susan Seller’s Vanessa and Virginia and Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden.

We’ve got a little bit of everything here at the library!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Patterns, Profits, and Market Meltdowns

When I was in library school I was fascinated by the idea of sifting through enormous amounts of disparate information and theoretically picking out similarities of pattern and causal relationships. Wall Street is fascinated with this concept as well only they employ complex computer programs to sift through massive data steams in hopes of trying to predict how the stock market will behave and thereby profit from those changes. The problem with the over-reliance on this type of rapid, automatic type of buying and selling, which currently accounts for over 70% of trade volume, is when these algorithms begin to erroneously influence the price of stocks in nonsensical ways such as a stock losing 90% of its value in 5 minutes or shares of Apple selling at $100,000 per share. All of this is detailed in a recent article in Wired Magazine entitled, "Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street." The SEC has put into effect measures that work to control or slow down the rate at which these financial disasters unfold. However, many practitioners agree that the scale of the interconnectedness is so vast as to suggest that this web of financial algorithms has taken on a life of its own.

Super Searchers on Competitive Intelligence: The Online and Offline Secrets of Top CI Researchers

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Shah - A New Biography

Imprisoned by the shah for a year in 1977 at the notorious Evin prison, Stanford professor Abbas Milani has now written an enlightening biography of the of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979 and whose policies inadvertently brought on the Iranian upheaval. The Shah, who decked himself out in uniforms and medals, is portrayed as being timid and indecisive and who was ill-suited for a very difficult job. Milani was able to draw on more than 400 interviews and newly released documents by the U.S. and British embassies. The Shah was a shy, coddled boy suddenly thrust into the spotlight at the age of seven by his father who had proclaimed himself king of Iran in 1925 with the help of the British. The Shah's father secularized the country and began to industrialize. In ancient Iran, Zoroastrian priests ruled in conjunction with divinely anointed shahs. This idea of melding the autocratic grandiosity of yesterday's kings and the progressive pragmatism of modern leaders was accepted by both Pahlavi shahs. Ultimately, it led to their downfall, first the father's, then the son's. What remained was a modernized populace with a hollow political infrastructure. The one area where Pahlavi diverged from his father's policies was in regards to the clergy. The Shah reinstated many of the privileges his father had wrenched from the clergy. In large part, he believed that the clerics were the best "antidote to communism," a policy which weakened the democratic left while the strength of the clerics grew.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Deserted Island Books

One of the inevitable truths of life is its impermanence. What we think and feel today often changes by tomorrow. When pondering my favorite books, the list remains in constant flux. If I am entrenched in a fiction mood, the list is weighted towards fiction. If I am hiking often, the list leans towards natural history. If I am spending most of my free time on my porch, well, you get the point: the books that shape us change. Despite the exercise containing an ample amount of futility, I find it a worthwhile endeavor to occasionally consider what books at a particular moment mean the most to me. I have tried to distill this fluctuating list to those books that over numerous reflections continue to stand out as important books. These are my deserted island books.

The Bible
A treasure trove of stories and the subject of infinite allusions throughout history and literature

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays and Lectures
These writings helped to shape American thought—how a person becomes a fulfilled private individual and public citizen

Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude
A pocket collection of beautifully written short meditations on life, faith, nature, and isolation.

Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories
For my money O’Connor wears the crown of short story queen. Tales of broken, hardworking people and the redemption they seek and sometimes find.

The Bhagavad Gita
An epic poem that begins on a battlefield and quickly delves into the crux of humanity: honor, family, war, love, dignity, and duty

Eduardo Galeano's Walking Words
A collection of brief short stories that weave creation myths with modern tragedy and humans’ interconnectivity with it all

Roy Bedichek's Adventures with a Texas Naturalist
A reflection on historical and natural Texas written after a sabbatical in the Hill Country. Written in the 1940s, Bedichek advocates for folks to connect with nature and preserve it.

What are your deserted island books?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is one of the recommended books on the Library's APL Recommends 2010 Nonfiction list (formerly Good Reads).

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, it's sobering to read in this book that the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The author believes that the The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Puzzles Galore

This post is puzzles only. Bubba guessed the one above a week ago, but I paid $12 for that doll--sorry, action figure--and I want to get some more mileage out of it.

This next puzzle (right) is a tough one, I hope (Bubba). It's the name of a book. Click to enlarge and then control + to make it big enough to read.

And here are three rebuses (rebii?). They are the names of authors (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stitch-opedia: Learning a New Craft

The beginning of a new year is a time when I make all sort of promises to learn and do new things. This year, to help me along with this promise, my sister (who is awesome at doing and learning things) gave me an embroidery starter kit. I’m convinced that, like knitting, embroidery is due for a comeback of epic proportions. Sadly, since she left the day after giving me this gift I found myself feeling a bit lost.

Luckily, my sister isn’t the only one invested in my lifelong learning. I turned to the library and was pleased to discover Helen Winthorpe Kendrick’s Stitch-opedia: The Only Embroidery Reference You’ll Ever Need – named one of Library Journal’s Best Do-It-Yourself books of the year. Claiming to be the only reference I’d need seemed hard to believe but I put my misgivings aside and it’s a good thing I did. Kendrick breaks the book into easy-to-digest sections including a history of the craft, a list of equipment you’ll need, an explanation of various techniques, and 30 projects of various difficulty levels to get you started. In addition to many helpful pictures to illustrate supplies and techniques, the book has one of my favorite things: an index! Learning a new craft sometimes means learning a new language as well so it’s nice to have a simple way of looking up the difference between a criss-cross stitch, a crossed stitched window, and a cross stitch.

I promise to finish up with Stitch-opedia quickly and return it to its rightful spot in the new books section on the first floor of Faulk. If you’d like to get started on your own needlework project before then, rest assured we have plenty of other resources for you. For starters, you’ll find several other books on the subject in all of our branches (look around 746.44), you can check out our Research Guide on Fabric Crafts or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even attend a meeting of the Austin Stitchery Guild.

Remember to check out the library for help accomplishing your own New Year's Resolutions!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ceci Bastida

I'm always interested in discovering new alternative music from Latin America. The trouble is, my sources tend to be scattered and my discoveries haphazard. Whenever I do stumble upon an inspiring band, I am always quick to check the library's catalog to see if it's already in our collection. If it's not there, I will check the WorldCat database and potentially place an Interlibrary Loan request for it. My final recourse is to Suggest a Title in the hopes that the library might purchase a copy. All of these options are open to all patrons of the Austin Public Library. All of this is a round about way of saying that Ceci Bastida has released her first solo album since leaving Tijuana No! and playing as a backing musician with Julietta Venegas. This was news I happened upon by following NPR's Alt.Latino. Suffice it to say, I have suggested that the library order a copy of Veo la Marea for its music collection. Look for it to appear in the library's catalog in the not too distant future. Remember, once the item's record appears in the library's catalog patrons can Place a Hold on the item and have it reserved for them to be picked up at an APL branch nearest to where they live.

Friday, January 07, 2011

An Author's Authors

Paul Murray, who wrote the well-reviewed and popular Skippy Dies, noted his favorite authors in a 2009 interview. Being Irish, his favorite authors are also Irish but his other favorites are varied. Skippy Dies, his third novel, takes place at an all boys school in contempoary Dublin. The funny, tragic and very moving novel conjures a world of teen angst, sophomoric humor, and social satire. Skippy is such an endearing character, you will warm to him instantly, but be prepared that he dies in the first chapter. Then the story rewinds to show what led up to the fateful day. You will learn something of Irish life, Irish folklore, and quantum physics. Skippy Dies was longlisted for last year's Booker prize and it was included in Time magazine's books of the year, placing third in the fiction section after Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Murrays' favorite authors:

James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, W. B.Yeats, Oscar Wilde
J.D. Salinger, William Gaddis - post-war American novelists
Lorrie Moore - American novelist and short story writer
David Foster Wallace made him want to be a writer when he was in his 20s.
Roland Barthes - French social and literary critic (lots of authors like him)
James Merrill - American poet
Daniel Clowes - American author, screenwriter, and cartoonist
Ali Smith - British novelist and short story writer

Find what is so great about these authors in the Literature Resource Center or Jstor.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Akira in New York

Katsuhiro Otomo’s legendary Akira anime and manga series is being adapted to a live action film. The story centers around a teen biker gang member who was subjected to a government experiment which unleashes his latent powers. The movie is being produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and is directed by the Hughes Brothers who also directed this year's Book of Eli, another doomsday film. In the new film, the setting has been moved from futuristic Neo-Tokyo to an equally dystopian New York. It's too bad the action could not have stayed in Tokyo with Japanese actors. The Library has the animated action film directed by Otomo that is set in Tokyo in 2019. The call number JPN BLU FEATURE AKI tells you that it is a Blue-ray feature film (movie) in Japanese (with English subtitles).

APL Graphic Novels Book Club

Wednesday, February 16, 7:00 pm : Akira, Vol. 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo

Monday, January 03, 2011

Keep Austin Reading

We've just hung a spectacular new painting at the downtown library. It's called Keep Austin Reading (that's it above). Be sure to come see it in person, this blogger copy doesn't do it justice.

If you'd like to read what the woman in the beautiful gown is reading, Catch-22 is available, and if you identify more closely with the well-dressed man, here's Life of Pi. If the painting puzzles you; if you wonder whether the couple has just come home from a formal event or if they couldn't tear themselves away from their books to go--or maybe they just like to dress up to read?--then some art-appreciation instruction might be in order (if you find out why they have no heads, let us know):

Understanding Art Objects
Learning to Look at Paintings

And speaking of puzzles, here's another one. It's the title of a book. As always, click the photo to enlarge: