Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

I've always thought of Amelia Earhart as a legend. Candace Fleming's 2011 biography about the aviator presents her as a real person who followed her heart.  There are details in the book that make Earhart's disappearance less of a mystery and more of a tragedy of poor judgment.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart tells in alternating chapters the story of Earhart's life and what happened in the hours, days and weeks following her disappearance. The biography is written for kids age 8 - 12, but it's so well done that adults will appreciate the book.

At 10 a.m. on July 2, 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, heading for Howland Island, a minuscule piece of land in the Pacific Ocean. It was the most difficult leg of their 27,000 mile journey. Finding the island would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Howland Island was within flying distance of both New Guinea and Hawaii. When planning her trip, Earhart at first had considered requesting help from the Navy to refuel in the air between New Guinea and Hawaii. But then she asked President Roosevelt to build her an airstrip on Howland Island. He authorized the funds, and asked that it be built swiftly and secretly. "After all, commented one Earhart biographer, 'the American taxpayer -- in the throes of the Great Depression -- might not have understood the necessity of building an entire airport for one-time use by a private individual'" (90).

Before reaching Howland Island, Earhart and Noonan disappeared.  I didn't know until reading this book that Earhart was heard on radio transmissions after the disappearance.  The U.S. military searched for 16 days.  They covered 250,000 square miles and spent what today is the equivalent of about $58 million dollars.  But neither Earhart or Noonan, or any wreckage, were ever recovered.

Earhart's technical advisor Paul Mantz and communications expert Joseph Gurr thought that Earhart needed more practice with her new plane before attempting her around the equator flight.  Gurr recalled that Earhart spent only one hour with him going over the communications system.  He said, "We never covered actual operations such as taking a bearing with the direction finder, [or] even contacting another radio station" (92).  Some aviation experts speculate that understanding how her plane's radio worked may have saved her life and the life of Fred Noonan.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is a welcome addition to biographies for children.  The writing is good, the layout is attractive, and the photographs are interesting.  Sidebars present  additional facts.  My only complaint is that I found it difficult to read the black type on the pages and sidebars colored grey.

Amelia Earhart was an icon for American women.  "Wrote biographer Mary S. Lovell, '[It] is the legend of an ordinary girl growing up into an extraordinary woman who dared to attempt seemingly unattainable goals in a man's world'" (110).  For that, I am thankful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Your Librarian Doesn't Like You

A while back LISNews shared a blog post on twitter by titled This Is Why Your Used Bookstore Clerk Hates You.  I tweeted back, "I could write the list for why librarians hate you!"  Most of what I deal with day-to-day working at a public library was never covered in graduate school.  If it had been, I would have probably transferred to underwater basket weaving ... or at least IT.  So here are 12  reasons why librarians wish certain people would go elsewhere.

1 - You consider us a babysitting service.
I noticed a young boy wandering the stacks alone for more than 30 minutes, so I went to talk with him.  He was four-years-old.  "My Mommy went to get gas for the car and then she is coming back," he told me.  This is one of the worst cases I've encountered.  Most of the time, the caregiver is at the Internet stations while their young child pulls all the DVDs off the shelves looking at the cover pictures, or plays tag in the stacks with a sibling.  Sometimes it's an eight year old caring for their three year old cousin.  As one mother told me when I called her to come pick up her two very young children, "I've taught my children how to behave in a library, and my babysitter knows that they're here, so what's the problem?"  The problem: Librarians are not babysitters.  We can't keep track of your kids and do our job.  And we know all to well what you obviously don't -- not everyone in the library is a trustworthy member of society there to conduct library business.

2 - You cruise in and out several times a day to see who's hanging out.
There's nothing in the library you want, except to see who's hanging out.  You case the joint, leave, and return an hour later.  We notice you, and wonder at how boring your life must be.  Why not grab a book and read?  Or just go to the park across the street. 

3 - You want to use the Internet computers but don't have a library card, any identification to obtain a free library card, or $2 for a guest pass. 
All businesses require an ID and/or money in exchange for goods and services. The same is true at a library. It doesn't help if you argue.

4- You smell.
When I began working in libraries, I was told that, "body odor is not a problem behavior."  We're taught to grin (meaning hold your breath) and bear it.  Please.  Your body odor is highly repulsive.  It's difficult to assist you when we can't breathe in your presence.

5 - You put lots of books on hold then never come for them.
It's not a magical process.  When you place a book on hold, that information appears on a daily report.  Staff go to the stacks to look for each book placed on hold, take them to the back to scan, place hold identification slips in each book, cart them to the hold shelf, and shelve them alphabetically by your last name amidst the hundreds of other holds.  If you don't pick up a hold, the title shows up on another report, and the process is reversed.  It's a lot of wasted time and energy, reminiscent of moving rocks from one pile to another and back again.

6 - You take the DVDs out of the cases, put the cases back on the shelves, and smuggle the DVDs into your personal collection.
It's called stealing, and it reduces the amount of free material others can borrow.

7 - You use the library as your telephone booth.
Remember those?  The library is not a telephone booth.  We can hear your entire conversation, and it's disrupting those who are reading, studying, and working on the computers.  Go outside.  If it's raining, go sit in your car. If you don't have a car ...

8 - You use the library to conduct job interviews.
You're having a conversation.  We can hear you, and so can everyone else who is there to conduct library business. 

9 - You flirt with the library staff on your every visit.
If you're George Clooney or the like, we're okay with this.  Otherwise, leave us alone.  We don't want to see a picture of your chick magnet car.  We don't want to be invited to accompany you to the Bahamas.  We don't want to have coffee with you, or give you our telephone number, or hear about your marital problems. 

10 - You don't silence your cell phone.
Once, it's a mistake.  But twice, three, four, ten times -- so that by the time you leave we have your ring-tone memorized -- you're being disrespectful of all those in the library.  We've posted signs to remind you: "Please silence your cell phone."  As I tell my colleagues, when I become Library Queen, I'm going to ban cell phones from all libraries.

11 - You argue about every fine, every time.
You signed an agreement when you registered for your FREE library card.  You agreed to pay fees on materials returned late, and to pay for the replacement of materials lost or damaged while checked-out on your card.  What's amazing about this one is that usually those who owe big bucks -- like more than $50 -- pay up without any mouth.  Those owing less than $1 usually argue the most.

12 - You are the reason we have to call the police.
Your young child is left at the library and we can't reach you; you kick the window in on the front door because we wouldn't issue a free guest pass; you yell loudly at staff to make an exception for you because no one will know -- except that everyone is now gathered around listening; you drop a bunch of uncased DVDs while heading toward the door; you get into a fist-fight with someone you cruised in to look for.   Police calls result in stress and mountains of paperwork, which result in loss of sleep, which result in us liking you even less the next day when we're tired.

And you thought librarians worked with books!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Always Kafka

My high school and college years were repetitive in their reading assignments. It was always Franz Kafka.  To be specific, it was always The Metamorphosis. Which is why today when waiting in a doctor's office, the New York Time's Magazine caught my attention. There on the front was that name. Kafka.

It turns out that the September 22, 2010, cover story is about the legal wranglings over Kafka's materials. Elif Batuman's article, Kafka's Last Trial, is rich with the history of Kafka's friendship with Max Brod; of Brod's disregard for Kafka's instructions to destroy all his writings upon his death; and of the travels those writings have taken since Kafka's death at age 41 in 1924.

While Batuman provides an insightful and interesting retrospective, Max Fisher gives this overview in his article Kafkaesque Court Fight over Kafka's Estate, printed in The AtlanticWire.

"One of the most frequent uses of the word "Kafkaesque," evoking the dark absurdity of Franz Kafka's fiction, is in reference to his 1925 novel The Trial, which describes an illogical and convoluted court case that stretches on forever. Now 85 years later, in exactly the kind of dark irony that Kafka would have appreciated, an international and deeply Kafkaesque court case has raged for 50 years over the ownership of a large piece of Kafka's papers."

I was unaware of this literary intrigue until today. More than reminding me of my school assignments, it has put a human face on a writer I once only thought of as weird.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's Your Web Site's Personality?

Can you describe your web site's personality?  The Web Manager's Academy at Computers in Libraries 2011 distributed a handout based on William Slawski's blog post What Kind of Personality Does Your Website Have?  Based on each, here are a selection of questions to ask of your site.

  • Is it cold or warm and welcoming?
  • Does it attempt to evoke emotions in visitors or persuade them with facts?
  • Is it cooperative or competitive?
  • Is it responsive to questions, to criticism, to praise?
  • Is it more like a peer talking to you directly or like a parent lecturing you?
  • Is it inviting for first time visitors?  Why?
  • Does it provide reasons for people to return?  How?
  • Does it change over time, of is it fixed and unchanging?
  • Is it written for a male, female or general audience?
  • Does it speak to a younger crowd or and older group?
  • Is it innovative in scope or design?
  • Is it innovative in what it offers?
  • Is it graceful in design or practical in appearance?
  • Is its focus upon the benefits it offers users?
  • Is its focus on the features of the organization to which it belongs?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An eBook Epiphany

I have not jumped onto the eBook band wagon.  I like the look and feel and smell of “real” books.  My reading time is in bed at night, just before lights out.  My nightstand is filled with books in three stacks.  Beside the nightstand is a basket filled with books, and at the foot of my bed is an L. L. Bean canvas bag filled with books on their way to or from the public library.  eBooks don’t fit my reading style.  I like books all around. 

My epiphany came because of Computers in Libraries 2011. Commuting by Metro to the conference, I observed the reading habits of other commuters.  It was split about half between eBooks and “real” books. 

Usually I commute by car.   I hate driving and I hate traffic.  Living in the D.C. area gives me lots of time to hate both.  To help ease the stress, I listen to books on CD.

This morning watching a mid-aged woman on the Metro reading on her Kindle, I realized that if I had to use public transportation, eBooks would be for me.  They would enable me to carry my library with me in one small package.  

Right now, eBooks are not my lifestyle choice.  But I understand how and why they could be. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Survival Strategies for the One Person Team

L to R: Frank Cervone (Purdue University), Darlene Fichter (University of Saskatchewan), Jeff Wisniewski (University of Pittsburgh), and Marshall Breeding (Vanderbilt University and Library Technology Guides), presenters of Web Managers Academy 3.0 at CIL11.

Many attending the Computers in Libraries pre-conference session Web Managers Academy 3.0: Seamless Websites & Expanded Presence confessed to being a "one person shop."  The financial crisis of the last several years has resulted in staff cuts and resource downsizing.  What hasn't diminished are expectations.

Darlene Fichter, a librarian at the University of Saskatchewan, said, "The number one most important thing you can do if you're a solo shop is to manage your own expectations and the expectations of others."  She and the other three presenters offered these suggestions.
  •      Invest time and /or money into developing a design brand. 
  •      Unify your presence, carrying your brand throughout your Web presence.
  •       Produce a standard style sheet that addresses all devices.
  •       Manage expectations up the food chain by having a Web presence plan as a reference document.  If your   boss tells you to do B, you can respond with, “To clarify, you would like me spend 10 hours a week working on B and leave A alone for six months.”
  •       Manage your own expectations by being realistic about what you can do well. 
  •       Educate others as to what you can do, and what you can farm out.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the Blue Comet

The cover caught my eye, but the book did not meet my expectations.  On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells is a time travel fantasy for kids age 8 to 12.  The story is about Oscar Ogilvie, who lives with his father in Cairo, Illinois.  They collect model trains and run them in the basement of their home.  When the stock market crash forces Oscar's dad to move to California to look for work, Oscar stays behind with his aunt.  His loneliness is assuaged by a mysterious drifter who befriends him.  Then Oscar witnesses a violent crime that catapults him into a time-traveling train journey to find his father.

Growing up, my grandfather allowed me to play with his Lionel trains.  Consequently, I related to many parts of the book.  But I also kept wondering for whom Rosemary Wells wrote.  Many of her historic references (Life magazine, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, etc.)  will be lost on and uninteresting to today's young readers.  I found the time travel weakly developed and even confusing, especially in chapter 17.

BooksForKidsBlog and School Library Journal both like and recommend the book.  Reading from a kid's point of view, I maintain it won't be popular with young readers.  I agree with Daniel Kraus, writing for Booklist, "The plot’s Twilight Zone potential—the intriguing concept of a spectral train providing haven for unhappy children—is not thoroughly plumbed, and one wonders at the appeal of such a retro story." 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Iditarod 2011

Photograph is courtesy of Alaskan Dude with some rights reserved.
Iditarod 2011 began on March 5. It's a race of over 1,150 miles across extreme and beautiful Alaskan terrain. Each musher and their team of 12 to 16 dogs will cover the mileage in 10 to 17 days.

I was a 2008 Target® Teacher on the Trail™ finalist, and subsequently volunteered to update the list of Books About Iditarod and Alaska for the official Website of the Iditarod.

Cheryl Hannon and I collaborated via email to provide a resource list which we divided into seven categories.

1. Adult Non-Fiction
2. Adult Fiction
3. Children’s Non-Fiction
4. Children’s Fiction
5. Young Adult Non-Fiction
6. Young Adult Fiction
7. Teacher’s Resources and Website Resources

It is part of the For Teachers section of the Website, which offers excellent lesson plans and resources for including the Iditarod and Alaska in schools and libraries.

Please let me know of any other books or resources to add to our list.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Robert Frost: The Derry Years

In March 2010, I was in Middlebury, Vermont, when I was reacquainted with the poet Robert Frost. I’d long been fond of his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Now I learned that Mr. Frost had spent time in a cabin northwest of Middlebury, and that he had taught at Middlebury College. My interest was piqued.

In The Vermont Bookshop, I looked for a biography and found Robert Frost: A Life by Jay Parini. Parini is a poet, novelist, and biographer serving as Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College.

For the last year I’ve been savoring the biography, and I took it with me to New Hampshire when I learned that Frost’s farm in Derry was only;12 miles south of the Manchester airport.

Frost’s ten years on the farm in Derry (1901 – 1911) were key in his life as a poet. It was during this time that he developed his own voice. While working with and talking to his New Hampshire neighbors, Frost realized a connection between poetry and conversation. “I was after poetry that talked,” wrote Frost. If my poems were talking poems – if to read one of them you heard a voice – that would be to my liking,” he said (page 88).

Parini writes that, “By the time he [Frost] emerged at the end of this decade of farming, writing, and teaching, he would be fully formed; a major modern poet,” (page 73).

Today the Robert Frost Farm is directly off State Highway 28. I turned left into the muddy driveway, the white farmhouse and barn on my right surrounded by piles of snow. Behind the buildings and yard is a large field, bordered on three sides by pine and birch trees. A couple with baby in a backpack made their way on snowshoes across the field toward the back tree line.

For me, there is a mix of magic and romance in being in the place where someone I know through their writing or art once lived. There is an imagining of the reality of what I’ve read actually occurring in this location. It makes the person more real to me. It makes history live.

I walked the muddy driveway and along the shoulder of Highway 28. The snow was too deep for me to get any closer, or to walk all the way around the house; I did not have snowshoes. The house was closed for the season.

During his Derry years, Robert Frost taught at the Pinkerton Academy, two miles north of his farm, in order to earn extra income. He was a highly regarded teacher by students and colleagues, and was even asked to speak about his teaching philosophy. Parini says Frost focused his talk, “on the need for teachers to develop their own minds before they thought about developing the minds of their students. He [Frost] also said it was important that students be made to feel so dependent on books that without them, ever afterward, they would feel lonely,” (page 99).

I went away knowing more of Robert Frost, inspired to read again Parini’s book, and dedicated to memorizing another Frost poem.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Read Across America Day

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.  The fun in your books spilled over into Read Across America Day.  At the library we provided Dr. Seuss book marks for kids to color; a Seuss is Loose story time; and a Dr. Seuss book display.  I wore my Dr. Seuss shirt, saved all year for this day, and my red-and-white stripped stove pipe hat.  Lorton Patch published my Read Across America Day guide for parents, reprinted below.  It was a good day.

A Parent's Guide to Read Across America Day

Grab a book! March 2 is Read Across America Day.

The National Education Association’s Read Across America Day is a reading motivation and awareness program “that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.”

Adults are encouraged to read aloud to a child on Read Across America Day. For that purpose, here are four books recommended by school librarians as great read-alouds.

Green Eggs and Ham is one of 46 children’s books written by Dr. Seuss. “Do you like green eggs and ham,” asks Sam-I-am? The patter and pacing of the rhyme help children recall the story and anticipate the words. This generates participatory reading. Best of all, when the unnamed character finally tries green eggs and ham, he likes them! The next time a child tells you they don’t like something -- you can remind them of green eggs and ham.

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Jill Barton, is another participatory read. On a hot June day, Jake, Junie, Poppa and the baby head to lake. Getting there is quite an adventure. If the reader prepares ahead of time, the sounds of Poppa turning the key to start the car will repeat at each juncture, and listeners can be encouraged to add the last “pop!”

Poetry is a great read aloud for children, especially when introduced in small doses. Small Talk: A Book of Short Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins provides just that. Thirty-three short, simple poems picture common events in a child’s life. For example, Aileen Fisher provides “Growing Up”:

"When I grow up
(as everyone does)
what will become
of the Me I was?”

Even older children enjoy hearing stories. The unexpected and frightening events in Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg captivate kids. And just when they think they have it figured out, Daniel and Walter Budwing set out with a long, thin box. Yes, the book is better than the movie!

These are just four of hundreds of books your local librarian can recommend for you to read to your children on Read Across America Day or any day.

You'll also find suggestions in a new book by the editors of Horn Book Magazine, a premier guide to literature for children and young adults. A Family of Readers: The Book Lovers Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature by Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano, provides essays and book recommendations from a variety of authors and editors.

A Family of Readers is divided into four sections: Reading to Them; Reading With Them; Reading on Their Own; and Leaving Them Alone. It covers everything from picture books to teen fiction, poetry to graphic novels, all in an engaging, conversational tone.

According to the NEA, “Motivating children to read is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers.” Read Across America Day is a perfect opportunity to model and motivate reading. For more information and resources, visit NEA’s Read Across America Day and Seussville, the official Dr. Seuss site.