Sunday, November 4, 2012

Top Ten Underappreciated Novels or Series--Part One: Precious Bane by Mary Webb

The thought that there are "so many books to read, and so little time in which to read them" is not a new idea.  Bibliophiles the world over have lists of books to read and re-read, and the lists keep getting longer (or the piles of books deeper).  Prepare for the list to to get longer, because this is a list of the top ten novels or series that are under-appreciated.  Some have been overshadowed by the popularity of other books in a similar genre and some have just remained obscure.  The purpose of this series of reviews is to explain why they should see the light of day (or be illuminated by a reader's book light).
1. Precious Bane by Mary Webb, first published in 1924, is a novel set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, but is very different from what readers tend to think of as a "Regency novel."  It is the story of Prudence Sarn and her brother, Gideon, who are left to make something of the farm their father leaves behind when he dies.  Gideon becomes obsessed with ambition and wealth (his 'precious bane').  He pushes Prue to work even harder than most men.  She obeys because he promises that he will give her the money she needs to correct her hare-lip when the farm is a success.  The story is full of harsh realities, but in the midst of hardship arises a precious love story between Prue and Kester Woodseaves, the local weaver.  By the time the story is finished, Prudence and Kester, and even Gideon have taken residence in the reader's mind, and it is a story that is impossible to forget.
The characters in the story are a quirky bunch and the harsh realities of life in this time and place are punctuated by the mystical beliefs of the people who populate it.  Gideon becomes a 'Sin Eater' at the death of his father; Prue takes part in a plan to 'raise Venus' for the local lord, and Sarn Mere is a giver of both life and death.   All of these moments capture the reader's imagination and memory.  Stanley Baldwin, Britain's Prime Minister at the time, was so taken with the poetic beauty of the story that he wrote the introduction to the 1928 edition.  In the University of Notre Dame Press edition (1980), Erica Duncan writes, " . . .what is finally evoked in us [by Precious Bane] is more than the fairy tale longing that our inner beauty will be seen so clearly it will make us beautiful before the world, it is the longing to be known and loved for all our blemishes, our warts and wens and contradictions, to be 'let in' whole.  Thus Precious Bane becomes the secret gift, our deepest dream."  This novel becomes personal to the reader in an almost holy way, simply because the characters are human, but driven by forces that they cannot see.  Their world is real and magical at the same time.  Any reader who does not take the time to dwell within the pages of this book is missing an opportunity to experience true beauty.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

When a new job comes along in a new city, there are a lot of things to consider: where to live, where to shop, how to travel . . . it can all be overwhelming.  This is the shortlist of things movers need in new cities--a bit of advice to take a little of the stress and worry out of one of the biggest changes life can throw at you.
  • Even when renting, find a property agent.  Avoid "apartment locators." Stick with a property agent who will show you what you need to see--not just what they want to sell.   Renters need several options--not just the one apartment complex that will pay a locator a commission.  It is worth paying for.
  • Have a good GPS system that will navigate well through the new city streets.  New inhabitants often find treasures when they take an unnecessary turn, but they should be sure they can get back on the right path again.
  • New inhabitants should never move on their own.  They should have some support with them in the days of apartment hunting, information gathering, and settling down, even if the support system is temporary.
  • The newly-employed should always have time to undertake a move.  A month is a good period of time to find an apartment, pack and get things transported to a new location.  Any less time, and the stress will build to intolerable levels
  • Pack an iron and ironing board in an accessible place.  The movers may not make it to a new residence by the first day of new employment.
  • Take the bus in a new city if it is available. New and needful things may pop up that would not be noticed otherwise.
  • Take extra underwear and stay in a less expensive hotel.  Apartment/house hunting may take longer than expected.
  • Find the public library.  Librarians know everything and can help a new patron to find a good grocery store, a local theater and all kinds of other delights.  They also know about things going on in the community, and friends may be found there, too.  Use the opportunity to get involved and become part of something larger than life.
Also published at

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

Utopia. Paradise. Perfect society.  What is it about "blissful" societies that cause so many dystopian images?  And what is it about these dystopian images of society that draws readers in?  There is an attraction.  The Hunger Games and many of the trilogies that follow it in popularity are definite evidence of that.  The readership is captivated by worlds that are altered from current existence.  As these societies begin, their goal is perfection, but in seeking perfection, existence for their inhabitants becomes frightening and unbearable.  The strange thing is that readers are as enticed by these horror stories as they are by fairy tales and happily-ever-after--especially when these stories are as well-crafted and personal as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
First published in 1986, Atwood's story is as gripping and poignant now as it was over 25 years ago, because its outcome is more possible now than it was then.  It is a world where reading, especially for women, is prohibited.  The narrator of the story, Offred, is not an activist.  She wants to live quietly, keep her head down, and survive.  She thinks constantly of her past, of "the time before:" her husband and daughter.  For her, there is no future that she can readily imagine.  She hopes only for a glance of her former family.  As a handmaid she gets caught in the politics of a world that has become Biblical by Old Testament measures--there is no Christianity anymore.  It has been wiped out by the sect wars and the government has been wrenched from the hands of open-minded reason and grabbed in a manner reminiscent of Hitler's rise to power.  Society becomes idealized in a way that is bleak, colorless.  Individuality is swallowed up in rites, uniformity of dress, and down-cast eyes.
Though the story is dark, the reader comes to love Offred.  She had dreams of love and a career, of family and home.  She rebels in small ways.  Her narration is an act of rebellion.  She constantly tells her reader that she is not brave and looks at those she perceives as courageous with mild envy.  The reader loves her, and is caught up in her story, because the reader is led to ask what he or she would do in the same situation.  That is what draws the reader in. She sees Offred and she sees herself.
The ending of the story is indefinite, and this reader believes that Atwood composed the ending precisely this way so that the reader can decide what happened.  At the end of Offred's record, there are notes from a conference of scholars, from a future generation that deliberates the possibilities of what happened to her, why it happened, and how.  Any of these possibilities are feasible. Was she taken?  Did she escape?  Did she survive?  Readers can choose, and choose their own destiny as well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Job, New Challenges

I just started my third week with a new employer.  In a lot of ways the changes have been stressful but I was able to get through all of the initial stuff: the house-hunting, the move, the new rules (or lack thereof in some cases).  Now that I'm "back on my feet again, I plan to take BiblioBrainStorm off the back burner again.  It's wonderful to have a new beginning with such a wide expanse of possibilities ahead.  I can't wait to see where the journey takes me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Education Entrepreneurs:(I mean Information Professionals) Bringing Technology and the Liberal Arts Together

I just read this article by Jeff Silingo about Education Entrepreneurs, and the question came to me, "Aren't libraries the perfect places to bring technical skills and the liberal arts together? Librarians do that now, right? 

The idea of education-based businesses doing away with traditional schools makes my stomach drop.  I see the need for change in education, but the severe focus of an education based solely on technical (or other) skills leaves such a whole in students' intellectual development. And yet, is the debate more about credentialing practices or about curriculum content?  The focus seems to vacillate between the two.

Jeff Silingo, the author of the article, quotes Josh Jarrett of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “If we break up certification into packages, badges, and classes, who is going to verify the entire package?” This does seem to be a slippery slope.  How can education truly be measured--how can graduates be found to employ if no one can guarantee through comprehensive testing, discussion and practice that skills have been learned?  Writing and communication must be attached to technology--and too often it is not. The focus is too much on the doing of something, and not enough on the analysis of it.  Students are in danger of becoming automatons with no ability to think critically or problem-solve.

I quote Silingo, because I could not communicate the point better myself:
The issue I have with Smarterer’s model, and many other [education startup] companies that pitched here, is that it is based on educating and hiring largely technical workers with specific skills. It’s relatively easy to provide online courses in computer coding, and then assess that learning through crowdsourced tests. It’s much more difficult to do that for intuitive disciplines, like English, or softer skill sets, like critical thinking and communication.
 And, yet, even the forces behind these very companies admit the need for a more well-rounded education.  In fact, what is needed is an even more well-rounded education than is available now.  What is needed is a degree that brings together the searching investigation that thrives in the academic realm and the practical skills that are needed in the professional, career-oriented world.

I ask you, does not library and information science do that already?

We are here--SEE us!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Great Story from A Great Bookstore

Do eBooks isolate us?  Read this and see what you think:

One of our customers shared a great story with us about a book he purchased from us online. We had listed the book as inscribed, but we did not include a description of what the inscription said. It turns out that our customer's grandfather was the author of the book, and this particular copy was inscribed by the author to his mother when the book was published! The book is now back in family hands, and everyone is happy. A heartwarming ending, and one that serves as a good reminder about the physicality of books--have you tried inscribing an ebook recently?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Libraries Have Survived the Economic Depression, But Budget Cuts Threaten Access

A new study out (supported by the ALA) affirms that libraries have "weather[ed] the storm of the economic depression, but funding cuts now threaten to undermine public access to public libraries. Find the Final 2011-2012 report here: Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012I will also place a link on the Articles Page.

Sadly, though libraries are being used more and more, those who fund libraries continue to think that they are a luxury, not a necessity.  Hopefully, this study will help to change public perception.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Updates to the LIS Articles Page

I have added two very interesting pieces to the LIS Articles Page:

Toward an Index of All Stories: Previewing Small Demons Jason B. Jones of the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks well of the possibilities for this new service that allows readers to discover how stories might intertwine, influence and reflect on each other.


Tovin Lapan (Las Vegas Sun) reports on How Libraries Reinvent Themselves for the Digital Age.

I've also added sections to the page, to try and make it more navigable.  Sadly, I still can't get internal links to actually link.  I will solve this problem soon!  The sections are:

·  Perceptions: What Librarians Do
·  Literature and Language
·  Career Insights
·  New Technology, New Skills, Innovation and Adaptation

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Revenge of the Rose by Nicole Galland

I was delighted with Nicole Galland's take on Jean Renart's thirteenth-century poem.  She blended the story into an engaging novel with well-developed characters and a plot-line that made it hard for me to put the book down.  For those of us who are familiar with the original, the charmingly sarcastic Lienor is still there, and so is the gorgeous Willliam of Dole.  Jouglet is there too; only this time, the author lets him stay through the entire story.  In fact, it is through the court minstrel's eyes that the reader is introduced to almost all of the characters.  Galland did not just rewrite the original story in modern language.  She added a few plot twists of her own.  Those whom Renart dismissed with a snap of his fingers or wave of his hand, Galland turns into very sympathetic characters. Even those students or enthusiasts who spent a lot of time with the original will be surprised and delighted by the turn of events, as well as pleased by this picture of medieval life.  You will love the story and it will haunt you for days after you have read the last page (with a smile on your face)!  I look forward to reading Galland's other novels.  She has won herself a dedicated fan--and that is a compliment coming from someone who is a purist when it comes to medieval literature!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How Can Inaccurate Ideas about Librarians be Changed in a Positive Way?

I recently started a group on LinkedIn entitled Changing Public Perceptions about Librarians and Information Resource Professionals.  The first question I wanted to ask is, "How can inaccurate ideas about librarians be changed in a positive way?" I got some wonderful feedback and wanted to share.  You can find a link to the discussion here.  I won't take you through the whole discussion here, but I did want to share my responses.  Here is my reaction to the initial responses I received:

These are some great answers to the question, and you have shared wonderful ideas.  Annette and Karly--You are right!  Community engagement is the key and we need to put ourselves out there and get involved.  One of the things that I think is great about the Douglas County Library System in the Denver area is that they take a very proactive role, not just in community engagement but in economic development. Librarians there have coordinated with local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce to help them access needed information--in a lot of ways the librarians there have made themselves indispensable to the business community, and being "indispensable" can only be a good thing in reference to relevance and job security.  See and

Karly--Coordination at a national level is indeed needed.  I've always thought that librarians need a national marketing campaign that can "show" people what we do.  Librarians work hard on a local level, but I'd like to see a grand slam of marketing dollars be invested in PSAs or similar--that everyone in the country would see. Your observation about libraries being more than books is so true!  We are tied to books so much because it was the first information resource, but there are so many other types of resources out there that we need to connect our image better with those as well.

Carolyn--Your ideas about conducting and publishing research could be part of this.  Librarians are adept at research and we need to find a way to make our research publishable for public consumption, not just for academia or some "dry" study.  I love that "Don't settle for half the answer" line.  It is so perfect!

Chelsea--You are also right about needing to be aware of patrons and their needs.  I have been guilty of getting too caught up in my computer work or whatever, too, and I've neglected to say  hello or make sure patrons know I'm available to them.  Some patrons need help asking for help, so we need to make them as comfortable as possible. Acknowledgement is a big part of that.  How can we make ourselves indispensable (or change negative ideas about librarians) if we aren't even approachable?  Good point!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Mexico Cultural History Pathfinder

I've just redone a website that I started for a project assignment for my Reference Services class in December of 2008.  Take a look! I'll be doing a few more edits on it as I get time, but I think it can be helpful to anyone interested in the cultural history of New Mexico or the southwest.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I love this blog: The Unquiet Librarian

Buffy Hamilton is a needed voice in the fields of librarianship and education.  She is fearless and I admire her spirit.  Check out her blog, The Unquiet Librarian, for her take on Digital Literacy, Participatory Learning and more. I have a lot to learn from her and wanted to share my enthusiasm.