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Paper vs. Bytes

Part artist, part gossip, part therapist – the hairdresser.  I’m sitting in her chair talking about . . . e-books.  She’s a veracious reader and I’m a librarian – what else are we going to talk about?

I do not have an e-reader and, at the moment, am not particularly interested in getting one.  On the other hand, I don’t have a strong reason to avoid them.  And as my hairdresser notes, she’s reading a 1000 page novel at the moment and doesn’t have to carry that weight around as she walks to work.  There are other valid reasons for owning an e-book, too, but that’s another discussion.

However, we both agree there is something about holding the book and gratification to see how far you’ve gotten.  Not to mention that you know exactly how many pages the characters have to figure everything out – a natural point of suspense that the e-reader can’t provide you with.

There’s another reason, the page itself – or rather the paper.  I recently devoured two books I thoroughly enjoyed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin and Laviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  In both cases I found myself – quiet subconsciously – stroking the page as I held it in anticipation of turning.  Crisp, nearly pure white, weighty, smooth with clean cut edges.  I simply enjoyed holding the paper.

Juniper Berry  was the very opposite.  Rough, nearly yellow paper with the most jagged edges.  Yuck.

There is a physical experience with the paper that, or better or worse, is at the core of the book.  Smooth though the e-reader’s case may be, it will never be warmed beneath my fingertips as I take a sigh of pleasure at the turning of the page.

As I catch up on the year-end lists of “Best of” books I’ve noticed something.  The title and author are always listed, often the publisher, and sometimes the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) unique to each edition, and then occasionally the page count.  Never the byte size or download time.  In other words, when we “measure” a book we still do it in paper.  It makes me believe that the death of the printed word is still quite a ways off.


And the Award goes to . . .

Award season has begun!!  And it’s a guilty pleasure to waste my time watching the red carpet and cheering for my favorite films to win.  This year I’m rooting for The Artist, although, truth be told I didn’t see many movies in the theater.

Usually I try to jot down all the movies, TV series, or min-series that I missed during the year with the promise to myself that I will retrieve them from the library.  I lose the list every year; sometimes it does make it to my work desk but then becomes a causality to more important tasks.  This year will be different.

This year our new online catalog allows me to sit here with my laptop and place the titles on hold right away.  Of course if I do that they are all likely to arrive at the same time, and I would need to take a week’s vacation simply to watch them all.  (Actually, that’s not a bad idea.)  Better yet, the catalog has a “For Later” shelf.

I love this feature.  The “For Later Shelf” lets me grab as many items as I like from the catalog and it will remember for me that I want to read, watch, and listen.  Each time I log in the system lets me know which of these items are available right away.  It assures that every time I go to the shelves I will come away with something I’ve been looking forward to seeing.

Sizing things up


This past weekend I was canoeing.  Not a real revelation to those who know me, but all the same, there I was paddling away when the flies started biting.  This part was unusual.  Normally the insects don’t really bother us and hence neither my paddling partner nor I thought to bring bug spray.  Soon it was J-stroke, slap, C-stoke, slap, as we headed up the river.  A mile or so later a storm blew in and we found ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Standing on the muddy shore, only slightly better equipped for the weather than the insects, I couldn’t help but think of all those questing heroes I’ve read about over the years – Bilbo Baggins, Maia (Journey to the River Sea), Katsa (Graceling), and (my most recent read) The Tapestry series.  Sure, the weather and temperature are always mentioned in the likes of these tales but never the insects.  And anyone who has tried to picnic, garden or walk through the forest preserve knows that are ALWAYS insects.

So, why is the buzz of the most prolific creature on earth left out of these stories?  I don’t know.  More readers can relate to being dinner for mosquitos than being tasked with a quest.  And what brings home the misery of a trip more than the long painful sting of a wasp?  That reminds me!  Bud (of Bud, Not Buddy) had an encounter with wasps that didn’t seem to have any lingering effect.  There, I remember thinking as I listened to the audiobook, is an author who has never been stung by a bee and suffered without medical attention.  Bud’s multiple wasp stings certainly would have swelled, provided distracting pain, and could likely have caused even more serious side effects.

A truly good book touches all our senses.  Sight, sound and smell are easy.  Taste is usually evoked with a sense of satisfaction or decadence. Touch however is underused.  I want to know more about the soft pillow our hero finally puts her head down on, or the way the tree bark snags on her dry skin as she hides in a tree, and most certainly about the nagging bug bit that makes her squirm as she is trying to stare down her foe.  Now, that has the ring of truth.

An act of citizenship

Listening to the radio on the way to work the other day an NPR story on musicals reminded me that I’d never seen the whole of West Side Story.  Perfect, I thought, something to watch tonight.  Half way through the day I actually remembered to find the DVD and check it out.

Back home I slipped the DVD into the machine just as a Netflix commercial was playing.  “Hah!”, I said to the TV, “I got my movie for free.”  Yet in twenty short minutes I was singing a different tune.

The disc began freezing and then jumping a scene or two ahead.  I played with the remote for quite a while before giving up and just watching what it deemed to show me.  “Hmm, I bet Netflix users don’t have this problem.”, I had to admit.

I found myself upset, not with the situation, but with the patron who had the movie before me.  Why hadn’t they mentioned this problem when they returned the DVD?  The library cleans, repairs and replaces DVDs all the time.

It’s the obvious thing to do in my mind:  mention your unsatisfactory experience, look out for the next guy, suggest a better way.  The more I stewed (and waited for the movie to pick up again) the more I thought, “It’s not about doing the obvious thing.  Libraries are participatory.  In fact, dang it, reporting a broken DVD is an act of citizenship!”

It may sound like righteous indignation but think about it.  Public libraries are tax based – your money at work within the community.  Something as small as reporting broken material is participating in the common experience and looking out for your purchase.

A fresh perceptive in my back pocket and some resolve to tell patrons they need to speak up, I finished watching the movie.  Days later Netflix rose their rates too much outcry.  Smug stratification.

Hi, my name is . . .

Kerry.  I also go by “Rangatira”, a nickname my staff gave me a few years ago when our summer reading program borrowed from the Maori.  It means “chief”.

I’ve worked in public libraries for over 20 years.  I started in my college library, and, after graduating, came back to my parent’s home in northern Illinois.  Since then I’ve earned my library degree, worked in in three different public libraries – all in the children’s department, and found my way up the administrative ladder.  And, I’ve seen a great deal of change.  When I started in my first children’s department, we did not have VHS tapes.  Last year I withdrew our entire collection of VHS tapes to make room for the Blu-Rays.

As I become better acquainted with the blogging world and those blogs specifically aimed at children’s literature, I find a gap that I believe I can help fill.

I’d like to offer the real world of a working librarian – a world that is a few months behind the newest releases (at best), a world where I’m actually a library user discovering what’s on my shelves just like my community, and a world where I struggle to keep up with the theory and make it practical.

I hope to meet you at the intersection of life and the library.  I think it’s going to be an interesting spot to consider the view.