Thursday, November 29, 2007

Makes A Great Stocking Stuffer

I definitely need to find a can or two in my stocking come Christmas morning. Then it's organically blasted batter pancakes all around on me!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Library As Place Video

Here's the video Nicole and I made for our group project. We explored, somewhat haphazardly, this notion of the library as place.

Here, too, is our wiki page and flickr page for any interested. The wiki is not entirely coherent, but there's a lot of "brainstormery"going on. The flickr page is a nice example of how willing the library community is to share what they're doing with their spaces, how they're creating new and exciting places.

I should note, too, that buildings like Harold Washington, where form triumphs over function, aren't necessarily trapped by their infrastructure. There are some relatively simple, cost-efficient ways to improve the functional aspects and I wish we had more time to discuss that.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ronald The Dirty Clown

Abby loves two merry-go-rounds. One of them is outdoors at Navy Pier and recently closed for the season. Grandma and Abby went there earlier this month and a tent had been placed over it. Grandma told Abby that some folks were "fixing it" and Cathy and I told her she could ride it again when her flowers came up in the spring.

The other merry-go-round is indoors at some mall near Naperville. I've never been there. Abby has, though, and the first time she rode it she noted that the clown sitting near to it was "dirty," which, according to adult witnesses, it was.

A couple weeks ago we had this conversation:

"Where are we going to to go for Thanksgiving, Abby?"


"That's right. And will Abby ride the merry-go-round when she's in Naperville?"

"Yes! And Abby will see the dirty clown!"

The clown was clean this time round. She had her picture sitting next to it. I think from now I'm going to call all McDonalds restaurants "The Dirty Clown."

Friday, November 23, 2007

This Weeks Delicious Musical Biscuits

Sit tight and listen keenly:

1. "D-1" Gescom

2. "Coming Up" Paul McCartney (The video has held up nicely, no? Unabashedly wonderful new-wave cheese-funk!)

3. "Slap the Back" Cobblestone Jazz

4. "Is There A Ghost" Band of Horses

5. "Saudade" Moacir Santos (Continuing evidence that Brazilian musicians have been making some of the sweetest, most lilting music of the last 50 years.)

6. "Don't Pay Them No Mind" Nina Simone (Soulful, swinging pop, though this cut, the album's first, has a mournful quality to it that Nina works beautifully.)

7. All of the amazing "Anthems in Eden: An Anthology of British and Irish Folk 1955-1978" box set. Over 4 hours of consistently surprising, engaging and downright amazing music from our brothers and sisters across the pond.

8. "Just As You Are" Robert Wyatt (Please, no Wyatting.)

9. "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (from Live at 'The Club')" The Cannonball Adderley Quintet (Almost as good as the music is the soulful, engaged crowd response...where audience celebration becomes polyrhythm.)

10. "Rainy Night In Georgia" David Ruffin (The sonic equivalent of wet leaves on blacktop. "I've got a feeling it's raining all over the world.")

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Libraries Learn


While the Library 2.0 collective frequently reminds us that it's concerned about more than just technology, the bulk of its evangelizing has been focused on just that. One often hears this sentiment echoing through the literature the movement has spawned, this conviction, tentative though it may be, that there's more to it than just technology.

I don't discount this sentiment. Library 2.0 really is about more than the technology. I often wish, however, that more attention was paid to some of these other, non-technological factors. Reading the literature, it becomes clear that while other areas within libraries, especially public libraries, are ripe for 2.0 treatment, extended meditations are rarely encountered.

That being said, this is not such a meditation. It's me rambling. About place mostly.

If Library 2.0, at its root, is about transformation, then we need to be careful to not let the allure of technology, powerful as it is, stop us from fully exploring and taking advantage of some of the other tools at our disposal. This is especially vital when one recognizes just how much the thrust of Library 2.0's technological vision disrupts or recasts the roles of these other tools. In order to work effectively, the technology components needs to work seamlessly with a number of other, sometimes resistant, factors.

Earlier this summer, John Blyberg wrestled, far more eloquently, with some of these issues, admitting that the prerequisite to Library 2.0 was the internet. He wrote:

So now I’m asserting that there would be no Library 2.0 without the internet. More specifically, that the internet was a prerequisite for what we now agree to call Library 2.0. Like an awkward adolescent, however, L2 will inevitably experiment with independence from its high-tech bloodline.

I like that. Technology is the primary agent for change--it's the engine under Library 2.0's hood. It's leading the way, generating the most excitement and causing the most tangible change in libraries. The LBI Shanachie Tour from earlier this autumn provides a telling snapshot of how technology is both reinvigorating and redefining a handful of libraries here in the U.S. (I'm especially fond of the hushed campground introduction on episode five. And I want a t-shirt!) But what other potentials is it churning in its wake that demand our attention?


The rapid, whiplash technological changes over the last decade have rocked more than just the library world. Media conglomerates, for example, are desperately treading water as they attempt to regain their footing and lost revenues. Whether it's the film/music industry fretting over its precipitous losses while wagging angry fingers (and lawsuits) at file sharers, or newspapers like the New York Times (and soon, the Wall Street Journal?) abandoning access fees in favor of making their online content freely available, there's a very real and sometimes clumsy, even ruinous series of changes underway, prompted, prodded and pushed (sometimes kicking and screaming) by this technological paradigm shift.

And these technological shifts are causing organizations, for-profit and non-profit alike, to reevaluate more mundane elements like their missions, policies, organizational structures, management styles, marketing strategies, programming and how they use their physical space. What, they're asking themselves, needs to be changed, tweaked or discarded? What needs to be expanded, reigned-in or sent packing?

It's the physical space/place element that I've been thinking about lately. How can the interest in "library as a place" play a more active role in the Library 2.0 movement? Are we already seeing it? Libraries like Seattle Public Library. Not long after it opened a New Yorker article breathlessly described as "the most important new library to be built in a generation", one conveying "a sense of the possibility, even the urgency, of public space in the center of a city." Heady stuff, and a powerful demonstration of the potential for libraries to be something other than sturdy institutional buildings storing slowly yellowing books.

Or maybe we're seeing it in libraries like Maricopa when they challenge rigid notions of classification, and so pulling themselves up from the trenches of Dewey in favor of more user-friendly findability. Or perhaps new attention to the potential of library as place is happening in those libraries actively evaluating and redesigning their interiors to make way for more collaborative uses. Places where teenagers (or, my goodness, adults!) can let out an occasional excited holler without fear of an accompanying shush. Places where patrons can not just consume information but create it.

So what's stopping other libraries? In his wonderful book, How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand writes that institutional buildings, like many of the old libraries still being used, "were designed specifically to prevent change for the institution inside and to convey timeless reliability to everyone outside. When forced to change anyway, as they always are, they do so with expensive reluctance and all possible delay. Institutional buildings are mortified by change." Which is to say that their form doesn't cope well with the evolution of its function. Or, as Brand goes on to suggest, "First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again--ad infinitum."

So then, how do libraries, especially some of the more bombastic, seemingly impenetrable specimens out there, gracefully respond to changes in user needs being driven by technological advances? Especially when patrons expect and crave both the serendipitous joy of discovery that comes with idiosyncrasy (wandering/browsing=findability) and the oasis-like calm that comes with continuity? What are the costs involved? What trials must be overcome? While some changes to such places can be relatively simple (better signage, a new furniture layout, interactive displays) others (new wiring and plumbing--allowing for more natural light) can be costly and protracted procedures.

Stewart Brand writes (and he could be describing the urban sprawl of Chicago's Harold Washington Library):

Institutions aspire to be eternal, and they let that ambition lead them to the wrong physical strategy. Instead of opting for long-term flexibility, they go for monumentality, seeking to embody their power in physical grandeur. Post offices, colleges, and state capitols bellie and hinder their high-flux information function with stone walls, useless columns, and wasteful domes. The building tries to stand for the function instead of serving it.

Right on.

What are some of the more simple, cost-effective ways a seemingly static library can change/evolve to better serve its users?

And not just better serve them, but excite and transform their very expectations of the library experience.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Libraries as Creators and Stewards of Content

Monica wrote:

I stumbled across The Hub which is a site that uses You Tube as a platform for human rights media and action. For a library I love the idea of gathering sites like this and showing patrons how You Tube can be used for the greater good. I think it’s important to show, especially our younger patrons, that they should use YouTube for fun and creativity, but that there’s also more ways to use the technology.

Definitely. In fact, there's no reason these patrons, young and old alike, can't be creative and have fun while taking advantage of YouTube to inform their community about any number of greater goods. And libraries shouldn't just passively aggregate such sites, I'd argue, but openly encourage and facilitate their production. Such productions, created by and for the community, would then become a part of the libraries permanent collection.

Hasn't the library always championed civic engagement? Haven't they always yearned to draw their communities in with rich programming and encourage collaboration?

We know from the Pew Internet and American Life Project project that "57% of online teens create content for the internet." That comes out to roughly 12 million of them. As the report's authors write:

Today's online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print and recorded media outlets.

And, according to a recent white paper headed by Henry Jenkins, this 2005 Pew report actually

..undercounts the number of American young people who are embracing the new participatory culture. The Pew study did not consider newer forms of expression such as podcasting, game modding or machinima. Nor did it count other forms of creative expression and appropriation, such as music sampling in the hip hop community.

Which is to say, a whole lot of young folks are generating and messing around with online content, YouTube being simply one of the more popular platforms for doing so. Certainly some of the more well-funded, progressive thinking libraries are stepping into the thick of such content creation. The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenberg county, for example, is truly expanding the very notion of what constitutes "literacy." They represent a new breed of library--one that recognizes a 21st century brand of literacy needs to encompass more than just text. Or, as the folks at The Media Spot write, the "21st Century idea of 'Literacy' should include new media to serve the democratic ideal of an educated and informed citizenry."

Those 12 million plus teens are no longer content to passively consume information and culture. They want to play a more active role in creating, manipulating and disseminating it. How can libraries assist them? The opportunities are there. Because I fear if libraries don't become part of this evolutuion, if they continue to shrug and turn their backs rather then actively engaging in the rapid (and exciting--holy cow, it's exciting!) transformation of how their patrons and communities are consuming/interacting/manipulating information, well, then we truly will become dusty warehouses of books. Then we truly will become irrelevant.

Summarizing the notoriously chastising 2006 keynote address author Andrei Codrescu gave to the American Library Association, Karen Schneider wrote:

Condrescu sees libraries in the role of community digital repositories and producers of culture, and he called librarians to embrace the role of libraries as cultural centers.

That's right. Public libraries have an amazing opportunity to reinvigorate and engage with their communities in new, constructive ways. And while fret over the lack of constructive criticism and analytical/evaluative depth coming out of the Library 2.0 community (what methodologies are available or even being used to quantitatively measure, for example, the impact of the staff time and resources necessary in maintaining a library's social-networking presence?--I'll write more about this later) there's no doubt that the Library 2.0 movement, over the last couple years, has fostered a loud, vibrant conversation while simultaneously challenging a number of well-worn assumptions regarding the "role" of the library.

It's through the door that Library 2.0 is prying open, with all its evangelistic fervor, that we have an opportunity to bring libraries more fully into the 21st century. And while I'm both heartened and dismayed that so many current and future librarians are currently learning, at the cusp of the new year, about blogs for the first time--it does demonstrate that the profession has stopped wringing its collective hands and is beginning to listen. There's a hunger for change, a recognition that we must adopt or die.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lovely Ladybug

Abby had a posse accompanying her this Halloween. At first she approached the spooky, candy bearing homes tentatively, not entirely sure what this "trick or treat" thing was all about. Soon, however, she had it mastered, charging up walkways and steps with aplomb.

It wasn't long before she caught on to the fact that the shiny packaged nougat goodness being deposited into her basket may, indeed, be edible. "Can you eat it?" she asked. "Yes, you can," we replied. She wasted no time in doing so. So of course we let her.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

Library Place and The Life of the Mind

I spent some time this afternoon reading and enjoying the essays included in the book The Library as Place. I've been haphazardly curious about this notion of "place," for some time now. My wife, Cathy, took a fascinating class when she was a Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning graduate student at U.C. Berkeley called Sacred Landscapes. In their first class they drew maps of their favorite childhood places. For many, this was the route they took to buy candy. Places of sugary enchantment. The class came with a hefty reader, some of the articles of which I've returned to again and again. Randy Hester's Subconscious Landscapes of the Heart, Peter Smirniotopoulos's The Meaning of Place and Yi-Fu Tuan's Topophilia and Environment. I'm especially interested in those places we value the most, for reasons we rarely ever think to articulate. They effect us emotionally, we react viscerally to them, these unconscious attachments to certain places.

One of the quirkier essays/papers included in Library as Place explores "the meaning of library space in the life of the mind." The essay, Stimulating Space, Serendipitous Space: Library as Place in the Life of the Scholar, written by Karen Antell and Debra Engel, reminded me of this unconscious emotional connection we have to place. They write that scholars deeply value "the physical library, often for intangible but nonetheless crucial reasons such as 'conduciveness to scholarship.'" Concerning this nebulous "conduciveness" the authors write:

This theme is where our results got interesting. "Conduciveness to scholarship" was different from other themes because it revealed how scholars used library space independently of library resources.

So, it's not because the library offers a myriad of information resources, the books, the databases, the eager reference desk librarian--it's something else that brings scholars to the library to do their work. Something that, according to the scholars the authors interviewed, helped them to channel their minds and allowed for them to have a "dialogue" with their resources. Something conducive.

And not just for the old timers. The young scholars, too. You might think they'd conduct their research wherever they could get a decent WiFi connection. That sitting at home in their pajamas, accessing online databases and texting their peers would be more conducive. Not so.

"Contrary to all expectations," the authors write, "we found that younger scholars, by both age and scholarly age, were far more likely than older scholars to comment on the physical library's conduciveness to scholarship."

The library put them in an "academic attitude," helped to "increase their attention," it was, in fact, highly conducive, a live wire sparking the intellect. What power! The library has the ability, it would seem, to physiologically orient the mind of innumerable scholars over time so as to work optimally when in its embrace.

Well, alright!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Said If U Got A Feeling

There's one great, maybe even classic scene to come out of the first few episodes of Jude Apatow's short-lived television series Undeclared. Maybe not enough to put the next disc in my Netflix queue but brilliant and funny enough to make me happy I checked it out.

Because his roommate, LLoyd, is in the habit of getting it on in the dorm room they share, Steven resignedly shuffles off to the student lounge with blanket and pillow in hopes of getting some sleep. Here he finds roughly a dozen other banished roommates taking refuge amongst the well worn couches and television. "We're here because our roommates are having sex," one of the banished offers by way of welcome when Steven arrives.

The banished roommates, Apatow freaks and geeks all, bond by offering each other sympathetic ears and listening as each rationalizes why, in fact, it's them and not their roommates sitting in the lobby at 3 am. After all, why shouldn't they be back in their respective rooms enjoying a little thunder under the covers?

Later, as the night drags on, the camera lingers on the lounge television as D'Angelo's sultry torso rippling video for How Does it Feel, as sexy a slow jam come on as you'll ever find, plays. As the camera pans back to offer what you expect to be the glassy eyed gazes of the sleep deprived roommates, we witness instead the freaks and geeks coupling up and making some mouth music of their own. It's entirely unexpected but perfectly executed, as smooth and sultry as D'Angelo even without the perfectly customized abs.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I've been meaning to pick up one of Oxford American's annual music issue's for a few years now but had never gotten around to it. So when I recently had a half hour to kill before meeting family to enjoy (or at least my nieces reaction to having) lunch at The American Girl Place (which began with mini-cinnamon buns and ended with chocolate mousse, a sugar cookie and a heart shaped piece of frosted white cake) I ran to the bookstore to buy a copy. Really glad I did, too. Not only is the accompanying CD stellar, but the articles I've read so far have all been beautifully written. Highly autobiographical, historically rich with context, each author dives deep into their subject and comes up with great surprises.

Roy Blount, Jr.'s contribution, American Yawp: Doddley dew de dowm woodle-y dee d'doodle ya day eedel-y doo do, takes a look at the yodel. The biggest surprise of the piece was this:

The version of "Blue Yodel No. 9" that you should hear, of course, is Jimmie's 1930 recording of it, on which Satchmo plays coronet. The first yodel almost almost seems to throw Armstrong--he tosses in a couple of faint, embroiderish tootles. He's quickly back in stride, laying down his own fine stuff and letting the yodel be. But the last note he plays, which is the last note on the record--I may be imagining this, but isn't there a winking little yodelish break in that note?

I don't think there's any existing footage of that session, but you can watch Armstrong perform it on this clip from the Johnny Cash show:

For a genre not exactly known for its racial breadth, it's easy to forget how much early country and honky tonk were attuned to what was happening in the worlds of blues and jazz.

I love Johnny Cash, but he sure can't yodel.

Dance, Dance, Dance to the Radio

Control's cinematographer, Martin Ruhe , had the challenge of replicating director Anton Corbijn's photographic aesthetic into a moving picture. Corbijn's been photographing musicians in elegantly grainy plays of shadow and light that practically burst with melancholy grandeur for over three decades. Early in his career, fascinated with the late 70's post-punk scene then taking off in Manchester, his camera captured many of the most iconic pictures of Joy Division's Ian Curtis (whose short life as lead singer of the band the movie depicts) available to the public. Control, his debut as a director, sets those photographs reverently in motion.

In one of the film's early scenes, the future Ian and Deborah Curtis frolic on the side of a hill that's so strikingly dappled with hyper refined blacks, whites and grays that it takes on a fairytale-like quality.

There's a blunt, schematic feel to much of the film. Sometimes a scene feels like it's nothing but a clunky windup to the musical cue. Corbijn wants to demonstrate how Curtis's life, especially the slow, painful whithering of his marriage to Deborah, fed the muse of his tortured lyrics and wayward distractions. After dropping the bomb on Deborah that he no longer loves her and is, in fact, in love with another woman, Joy Division's most famous song and anthem, Love Will Tear Us Apart awaits a bit too conveniently (slavishly?) at the gates to grace the scene with some narrative enrichment.

What works are the concert scenes, where we get to see the band playing "live" to an audience. Especially good is the scene that lovingly recreates the band's first televised appearance on Wilson's locally based television show in September of 1978. They rip through fierce version of Transmission and Corbijn nicely distills some the hypnotic intensity of their work. A good part of the power of these scenes, I think, beyond their holodeck/time machine-like replication, came from the fact that this was easily the loudest freaking film I've ever seen at the Music Box. Their sound system isn't nearly what it could or should be, but it did a nice job of getting the point across.

So who's lining up the Martin Hannett biopic?