Friday, October 9, 2009

Sports Museum of Los Angeles

My husband Tim and I had the great fortune to attend a fundraiser at the Sports Museum of Los Angeles last night. The cause was completely worthwhile: raising money for Junior Achievement of Southern California, a terrific volunteer organization that teaches kids financial literacy. The real reason we were there, though, was to see the Sports Museum.

Tim, of course, is a far bigger sports fan than I’ll ever be; but I do love baseball and get especially misty-eyed when I see footage of the team I adored when I was a kid: the L.A. Dodgers. We have since switched our allegiance to the Angels, partially because Tim used to work for the radio station that broadcasted their games. Still, as native Angelenos who grew-up here when the Dodgers were truly phenomenal, we retain a soft spot in our hearts for the boys in blue. And having them in the play-offs this year doesn’t hurt either!

I had read about the Sports Museum, but was totally unprepared for what I was about to see. The 32,000 square foot building, located on Washington and Main in downtown L.A., houses over 10,000 items displayed in 30 “galleries.” The museum, owned by entrepreneur Gary Cypres, is the largest private sports collection in the world. Although most American sports are represented, baseball—in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees (Cypres was originally from NYC)—is especially emphasized, with an entire room dedicated to Babe Ruth memorabilia. The walls of another room are covered in framed baseball cards. There are exhibits of the evolution of baseball mitts, balls and uniforms, and several replicas of Ebbets field and other long-gone stadiums. Cypres told last night’s crowd that, even more than the sports themselves, he loves the history of sports and so purposely displays his collection to show how athletics has grown and changed.

As magnificent as the collection is, the museum, from a librarian’s perspective, could stand to be better organized and managed. Descriptions of each item are lacking as are narrative signs explaining the significance of some of the exhibits. I was also appalled at the lighting, which is far brighter than any museum I’ve ever visited. Sure, it’s great from a fan’s point of view, but I worry about the integrity of the artifacts. Will the lights eventually lead to fading or other disintegration? And what preservation techniques are being used overall? I also wonder if Cypres has a collection plan or if he just purchases items on whim and/or instinct. His passion did, after all, start by happenstance when he bought an old tennis racket in London many years ago. Now he’s got thousands of items to care for and house. What will eventually happen to the collection if there is no plan?

Nevertheless, if you’re a collector and/or sports aficionado, the Sports Museum of Los Angeles is a must for you. It’s open now only through appointment, so if you get invited to an event there, by all means go!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Carma Leigh (1904-2009)

I first met Carma Leigh in the early 1980s when I was a young librarian with the San Diego County Library. No longer able to drive, she would accompany friends or colleagues to library-related social or professional events. I knew she had been California state librarian, but had no idea what that meant until many years later.

Then in 1996, one of my doctoral studies professors suggested that I do a paper on Carma’s career. My professor had done research on Carma’s husband Robert D. Leigh and, in the process, had become intrigued by his wife. Since I knew Carma from my days in San Diego, I agreed to investigate her accomplishments. I was soon amazed!

An alum of UC Berkeley's School of Librarianship (1930), Carma worked briefly at Berkeley Public Library before becoming director of the Watsonville
Public Library (1931-1935). In 1938, she became Orange County library director and then director of San Bernardino County library in 1942. She left California in 1945 to become Washington state librarian only to return six years later when a search committee recruited her to interview for the job of state librarian. Not surprisingly, she got the job and was appointed California state librarian by Governor Earl Warren in 1951. She eventually retired in 1972, making Carma the longest-tenured state librarian in California library history.

Over the years, Carma was very involved in the American Library Association (ALA)—this despite the fact that long-distance travel was far more complicated then than it is today. In 1952, ALA asked her to be part of a cultural envoy to West Germany as part of the post-WWII reconstruction effort. Among her traveling companions were deputy Librarian of Congress
Frederick Wagman and sculptor Alexander Calder. The following year she
was asked to become part of DACOWITS (Defense Advisory Committee on
Women in the Services), which toured military bases and reported on
the living conditions, etc., of servicewomen.

Although Carma considered the creation of public library systems in California her greatest accomplishment, her influence was far wider than just the west coast. For ten years, she was one of a group of stalwart librarians who regularly lobbied Congress for passage of the first Library Services Act, which finally became reality in 1956. She also lobbied for reauthorization after the law was renamed the Library Services & Construction Act. In addition, she and her husband Robert helped reshape the general library philosophy of the mid-20th century by emphasizing the power of cooperation in maximizing library services for all. In 1996, Carma was honored as one of several “Legislative and Grass Roots Library Champions” feted by ALA in Washington, D.C. I met with her shortly afterward and decided to write my doctoral dissertation about her career.

She was a wonderful research subject—still as sharp as a tack despite her advanced age: 91 years old when we decided to work together on her life story. She was very involved in the research process and opened numerous doors to former colleagues whom I then interviewed. Without any prompting, they all noted how dedicated she was to the profession and how
beautiful and charming she was. (I always imagined actress Geena Davis playing her in the movie version of my dissertation!) One former colleague called Carma’s time as California state librarian a “golden age” of innovation and modernism. My own conclusion was that she was that rare mid-century woman who managed to shatter all gender and library stereotypes.

Carma died peacefully on September 25th. She was 104 years old. She was a remarkable librarian and role model for many of us. To say she led an extraordinary life would not be an overstatement.

(Photo credit: California State Library photo archives - Carma in 1954)

Friday, August 21, 2009

How I See It - My Place

One of the best teen projects I've ever had the privilege of being associated with is "How I See It - My Place," a writing and photography program developed by the California Council for the Humanities and financially supported by the California State Library. The purpose of the program was to get kids to think critically (i.e., intelligently) about their surroundings and to record those thoughts through words and pictures. The results of that fabulous project are now posted online. Get ready to be blown-away by the teens' insights and critical eye.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

California Library Association conference, Oct. 30 - Nov. 2, 2009

Information about CLA conference and registration is now available online. As the chair of this year's conference planning committee, I can tell you we've worked long and hard to offer the best, most cost effective sessions possible. Please let me know if you don't find anything here of interest.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Comic-Con 2009

In recent years, July has become one of my favorite months. Sure, it’s the midway point of summer. But even more importantly, July is when the annual Comic-Con is held in San Diego.

During the 1980s, I attended a couple of Comic-Cons when I lived in San Diego. In those days, the Con was mostly just collectors buying and selling comics and science fiction/fantasy books to each other. Well-known authors would show-up to discuss how to incorporate, say, Arthurian elements into a short story, but the celebrity factor was kept to a minimum.

Not so much today, of course. Over the past several years, Comic-Con has become the most massive pop-culture event in the world, welcoming all sorts of media celebrities to hawk their current and upcoming projects. This year featured the likes of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland), the cast of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, James Cameron (director of the original Terminator, Titanic and the long-awaited Avatar), and the stars of Iron Man, to name just a few. All this in addition to a gynormous exhibits area where everyone from Disney to Southern California Comics displays his/her wares.

So why even mention this on a library blog? Well, for one thing, librarians are a presence at Comic-Con, with at least one annual panel discussion dedicated to library collection development issues. This year’s topic was “Graphic Novels in Libraries,” moderated by Snow Wildsmith, reviewer for SLJ and Booklist. Other panels of potential interest to librarians included “Evolution of Fantasy,” where authors tried to predict the next big fantasy series, “A Darker Shade of Ink: Crime and Noir in Comics,” “Underground Comix,” and “What’s Up with Penguin and DK.”

Youth services librarians—and actually anyone interested in media and/or pop culture—would enjoy the vendor area, which is always larger and certainly ten-times louder than ALA’s exhibits. The big themes this year were: TV remakes (new versions of The Prisoner and the cheesy 1980s series V), sequels (Iron Man, Twilight), 3-D (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Tron), and anything having to do with vampires.

Gaming seemed to be less of a presence than previous years, while publishers (e.g., Abrams, Chronicle Books, DK, McFarland, and Random House/Del Rey) were in more abundance—but maybe I’m just reflecting my own media preference. I did see lots of people lined up to get autographed books and graphic novels, almost to the point of looking like a BookExpo convention. I’m starting to think librarians should be given special badges (like at BookExpo) so Comic-Con vendors can promote their products directly to us (e.g., my snappy new Rex Libris poster above).

What about the rest of you? Did any other librarians attend Comic-Con?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Advice to Students Attending Conference

Although I’m not attending the American Library Association (ALA) conference this year (I’ve done Chicago in the summer—too hot!), I have gone to many national conferences in my 30+ years as a librarian and so have lots of advice for first-timers who have never experienced ALA before:

1. ALA’s annual conference is ENORMOUS! Not only are there meetings and exhibits in the convention center—which, in Chicago, is miles away from anything else—there are also meetings and events in the various conference hotels, restaurants, and local venues (e.g., the Art Institute and Navy Pier). Therefore, you should plan ahead by carefully reviewing the online conference program before even boarding your plane. As you’ll see, there are hundreds of programs offered over the course of four days and many of them conflict with each other. Choose the ones that interest you the most and then plan how best to get there. If two (or more!) good programs are scheduled at the same time, there’s no penalty for leaving one early so you can attend others. However, if you think you are going to leave early, then it’s best to sit toward the back of the room so as not to disrupt the proceedings when you sneak out.

2. Shuttles (i.e., the infamous “Gale buses”) transport attendees for free to and from the various conference sites. But be prepared to stand on long lines of librarians waiting for the buses to arrive. Also, if you’re not staying at one of the official conference hotels, then you’ll need to find the closest one to you if you want to catch a free ride to the convention center, etc. Conference hotels should all have big signs in the lobby describing shuttle times and locations.

3. Plan to spend at least half-a-day (or more!) at the exhibits as this is where you’ll see all the new library products (e.g., technology, furniture, services, etc.) that vendors have been waiting to rollout. This is also where you can grab lots of freebies, like books, bags (canvas are the best!), posters, magnets, etc. If you go hog-wild, there should be a special post office set-up inside the convention center where you can mail all your precious SWAG back home. And, oh yeah, be sure to wear comfortable shoes as there are miles and miles of aisles to walk before you see the end of all the exhibits.

4. Which brings me to: What to wear at conference. You’ll want to dress comfortably but professionally, because you never know where you might meet your next job prospect. So women: a dress or skirt (or nice pants) and blouse; be sure to pack a sweater as conference rooms are always freezing! Men: slacks and shirt, no tie necessary unless you’re actually interviewing for a job at conference. Save jeans, t-shirts and shorts for after-hours events and/or sightseeing after the conference. Shoes should be comfortable.

5. If you don’t already have some, then make business cards to take along and distribute when you meet someone you’d like to see again. As I said above, you never know where you might meet your next job prospect (or future colleague), so it’s always best to be prepared with business cards in hand. If you just graduated from library school, then list your name (followed by your degree, e.g., MLIS), phone number, e-address, and web site (if you have one that’s suitable). You could also list your areas of specialty, but only if you want to limit your possibilities.

6. Chicago is going to be rife with librarians, so take advantage and make new friends. Talk to the person next to you on the shuttle. Offer to share a table with someone waiting to eat lunch at the same restaurant. It’ll be pretty obvious who’s attending ALA from the bags they’re carrying and their general librarian “look.” Conference is no time to be shy.

7. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for free social events (e.g., the New Members Round Table’s Friday night “meet and greet”) and vendor parties. If you work in a library, you’ve probably already received invitations to various after-hours soirees. If you haven’t, then check with your coworkers to see if they’ve got invitations lying around they’re not going to use. Parties are a great place to meet new (and old) colleagues; plus the food is usually pretty darn good, too.

8. Have fun! This is the one time of the year when you’re surrounded by thousands of your peers, so relax and be yourself. Librarians are the warmest, most generous people on the planet. They’ll be very happy to see you and welcome you into the profession.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Librarian Trading Card

I am now #27 in Amy Pelman's pack of librarian trading cards! Hooray! Thanks Amy (one of my stellar former students)!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dewey-less in Arizona

When I first heard that the Maricopa county (AZ) library was abandoning the Dewey Decimal system (DDC), I was appalled. How could anyone find specific nonfiction books without a DDC address on the spine?
No call numbers
Then I attended an Infopeople webinar on the Dewey-less library in Gilbert, AZ, and suddenly became intrigued. The presenter, Marshall Shore, insisted that patrons didn’t miss Dewey numbers and, in fact, found what they wanted just as easily without them. I decided I had to see this for myself, and so that evening announced to my non-librarian husband Tim that we needed to add a day to the trip we had already planned to Arizona (to see baseball spring training), so I could visit the Perry library in Gilbert.

We pulled into the branch parking lot at about 4PM. Although the library is located on the Perry High School campus, the place was deserted. “Could this be a sign that kids don’t like Dewey-less collections?” I secretly thought to myself. But, no, we had arrived in the middle of the school’s two-week spring break and no one was around. We parked and walked up to the front door.
Neon wall and "staff picks"
My eye was immediately drawn to a blue neon wall as soon as we entered. Turns out this is where staff display their recommended “picks.” Across from the neon was a bank of self-checkout machines and beyond them two tables stacked high with new books. The rest of the space was open and bright, with the clearest sight-lines I’ve ever seen.
Clear sight-lines
“Wow! This looks just like a bookstore,” Tim exclaimed, while I looked around in wonder. If libraries could talk, this one definitely would have had me at “Hello!”
Book displays
We approached a trio of staffed desks, where I identified myself and asked if we could take photos. A friendly young woman said she’d get the branch manager. The head librarian, Jennifer, emerged from a back room and told us we could (of course!) take pictures. She then took us on a short tour. She explained that the branch has a “browsing collection” arranged by broad Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) (i.e., bookstore) categories instead of Dewey, which are further refined by subcategories (e.g., Travel - U.S.). DVDs, CDs and fiction are shelved separately, but all adult, teen and kids’ nonfiction is interfiled. We saw several freestanding book displays (e.g., “Oprah Reads”), attractively organized on shelves that could easily be wheeled anywhere inside the library.
Shelf end-panels
Signage was large and clean, but (to my eye) brutal. Shelf end-panels were softened by generic photos of people smiling and reading. Tim and I were both surprised to see LGBT fiction shelved next to westerns, which were both shelved near the religious books. Tim was disappointed by the puny magazine collection. But he did like the comfortable armchairs, each outfitted with a small table for folks equipped with laptops. These, too, had wheels so users could move them as needed.

Easy chairs on wheels and with desks
Because the facility is part of the high school, students have exclusive access to the branch every school-day morning before it opens to the public. Their entrance, located on the west side of the building, opens onto an extensive row of computers and a teen room. Vending machines, filled with various waters and “healthy” snacks (e.g., SunChips, granola bars), are clearly visible from throughout the library. Food and drink are allowed.
Teen room signage
Vending machines
We left after about half-an-hour, duly impressed by the library layout and service philosophy. The materials seemed to be logically arranged, as well, even without Dewey. I actually could see myself working in Gilbert, if I didn’t live 400 miles away! Next year we’ll visit the other Maricopa county branches that recently converted to BISAC to see if they’re just as successful. In the meantime, I’m going to ponder how other libraries might look if they adopted the Perry branch model.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Services to Homeschoolers

I attended an excellent workshop last week on serving homeschool families. Offered by Infopeople, California libraries’ premier continuing education provider, the session was conducted by Adrienne Furness, author of the brief but informative book Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (ALA, 2008).

Although I’ve researched kids’ academic needs for almost 20 years now, I still know very little about homeschooled students. I was therefore surprised to learn that more parents homeschool their children out of concern about the school environment (88%) than they do for religious reasons (83%) (see National Center for Educational Statistics). I was even more surprised to find out there are more homeschooled kids in Southern California than any other place in the country.

Several homeschooling philosophies exist, but the most prominent, according to Furness, are “unschooling” and conservative Protestant. Unschooling follows the tenets of John Holt, who espoused a movement of child-led learning that often incorporates “real world” activities. Typically, unschooled kids volunteer at community agencies as part of their education and are well-versed on current events. If there is a curriculum, it tends to be more freestyle and focused on experimentation.

Religious homeschools, on the other hand, are far more structured and purposeful. Conservative homeschool teachers are highly organized and vocal. Curricula come prepackaged and are often shared among families.

Though homeschooling is currently legal in all 50 states, the laws vary widely from state to state. In California, homeschooling families have to declare themselves a private school or enroll their child(ren) in a charter, public or other school that allows independent home study. Instruction must be in English and adhere to the following subject parameters:

• Grades 1-6: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health, and physical education

• Grades 7-12: 1-6 subjects plus an international language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver’s education.

One workshop attendee had a hard time getting her head around the fact that any ol’ parents can identify themselves as teachers and then proceed to educate their kids. My own feeling is that it should make no difference to us whether the parents are qualified or not, just as long they use the library’s resources to teach accurate and current lessons. In fact, I’d rather have them start with the good information available in the library than use questionable information gathered elsewhere.

So what should public libraries do to accommodate homeschoolers? According to the many people Furness has interviewed nationwide, homeschoolers primarily need: (1) space to meet and (2) special borrowing privileges, such as “teacher cards” and extended loan periods. They also appreciate working with librarians to create programs that not only teach library skills, but relate to their curriculum. Library programs should be conducted in the afternoon, because most homeschool “desk learning” occurs in the morning, and should focus on the library’s resources. Since many homeschools encompass a wide range of ages, library programs should be advertised by “skills level” rather than age.

Homeschooled kids know how to talk about books and are extremely well-read. At minimum, librarians can serve homeschooler needs by developing collections that represent multiple viewpoints, conservative as well as liberal. Classic literature should be well-represented for families that prefer not to read contemporary fiction. In addition, the library should carry as many “how-to” homeschool books as possible, even though they are not widely available through jobbers. (For reviews, see Cathy Duffy Homeschool Reviews and Furness’s own Homeschooling and Libraries Blog.) Some libraries even offer homeschool “resource centers” with three-dimensional realia and equipment (e.g., a telescope!) that can be checked out for class use.

Seems like there are lots of opportunities here to develop public library programs for kids from all kinds of educational settings. What's good for homeschoolers may also be just as good for more traditional students. Something to think about when writing that next youth-services grant . . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Occasionally I’ll get a bee in my bonnet and write a letter to the editor of whatever periodical I happen to be reading. My letters tend to be either political in nature or library-related. My most recent letter to Library Journal (11/15/08), for instance, rebutted Joseph Grosso’s assertion that public libraries have abandoned their educational role. My contention, of course, was that they have not. (Don’t even get me started!)

I am no Luddite, but I am easily aggravated by the shortsightedness of those who think the Internet should replace paper-based information sources. I was especially rankled by last week’s L.A. Times “Webscout” article, which not only predicted the demise of print newspapers, but seemed to gloat in the possibility. I had a fit! Why should a format that has served its reading public well for so long be so summarily relegated to the junk pile? Anyway, here’s my response, which the Times published on Saturday (3/7/09):

Regarding David Sarno's "Online/on paper debate" (March 4, 2009), while I agree that many of today's readers are more interested in receiving their news through the Internet than via newsprint, I have some real concerns about doing away with paper periodicals altogether. In particular, I worry about the demise of newspapers as historical artifacts. Sure, we can currently look-up old copies of the L.A. Times on Proquest, but how long will that last in an electronic environment that's so volatile? I'm far more concerned that whole swaths of history can be eliminated with the simple touch of a delete key than I am about the millions of trees destroyed every year to create newspapers. If publishers do away with newsprint, then they better figure out a way to permanently preserve the historical record of our daily lives.

So there! (I’m glad my letter was printed on paper as this blog will no doubt be completely obliterated someday. . .)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Reader

We finally saw “The Reader” yesterday—the last of the major Oscar-nominated films we needed to see. It was powerful and beautifully performed and touched me far more deeply than expected, even though I’m a huge sucker for thoughtful, sad love stories.

Although the entire movie was heart-wrenching, the most poignant part for me was when [SPOILER ALERT!] Michael (Ralph Fiennes) decides to send tape-recorded books to his former lover Hannah (Kate Winslet), whom he knows is illiterate. This tender gesture, which changes Hannah’s life, made me cry like no other scene in the movie.

Certainly there are much grander themes of morality and “doing the right thing” in the film. But the importance of literacy and the power of the written word are an integral part of the larger themes presented here. Maybe it’s just the librarian in me, but the ability to read is so critical that I think the act of reading to another person is one of the most precious gifts we can give someone. Imagine a parent reading to a young child before saying goodnight or an elderly wife reading to her sick husband. It's no exaggeration to say that sharing the written word can be as profound an act of love as any.

So what does this mean to librarians? Would Hannah still have become a Nazi guard if she had used a library when she was young? In the context of the movie, her shame of being illiterate directly forced her into a job that enabled the murder of hundreds of women and children. To me, the implications run much deeper, however. Because she couldn’t read, Hannah’s existence was very black-and-white—almost binary: if she couldn’t do this thing, then she would do that. There were no shades of gray in her life. By reading, however, her mind would have been opened to multiple worlds and ideas, which in turn may have led her to a life of more options. As it was, her ignorance resulted only in tragedy.

Of course, today’s libraries are much more than just book depositories: we offer programs, a “third place” where people can congregate, and information in many different formats. Literacy, too, has expanded to encompass all knowledge, not just reading. There’s information literacy, media literacy, consumer literacy, and even financial literacy. But it still all boils down to the written word.

In a wonderful article published in today’s New York Times, a school librarian helps kids find the best information possible.

“Have you looked in any books?” she asks a 13-year-old doing research on the Internet. “Does anybody like books?” she then asks the rest of the students in the library. They shake their heads no.

“You can read magazines, newspapers, pictures, computer programs, Web sites,” she tells them all. “You can read anything you like to, but you have to read. Is that a deal?”

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Connie Costantino

I met Connie about 20 years ago when she interviewed for a job with the San Diego County Library. I was on the interview panel and was in charge of checking references before we offered her the job. Her former supervisor was absolutely ecstatic that we were thinking of hiring her. I had never heard such glowing praises from a previous employer! The woman clearly loved Connie as a librarian and as a friend.

Though we were never “best friends,” Connie and I did have a lot in common. We supported each other psychologically and emotionally while we both pursued doctorates (me in library science, she in education). And when she became adjunct faculty for the SJSU library school, we shared teaching tips. We kept in touch through email and exchanged Christmas cards every year. One winter, when they were living in Marina del Rey while her husband oversaw a construction project at UCLA, she and Lenny invited Tim and me aboard their sailboat for a leisurely cruise. The four of us spent a lovely evening together, sailing around the marina and chatting.

After a long time not hearing from her, Connie called me last month to touch base. She told me she was looking forward to traveling to Rome with Lenny after the new year—a trip they had postponed while she took care of her mother in Buffalo, NY. Though I was sad to hear that her mom had passed away in November, I was not surprised that Connie had pretty much put her own life on hold to be with her mother the last few months of her life.

Early this month, Connie died suddenly at the London airport as she and Lenny were changing planes to go to Rome. She apparently had a blood clot in her lungs that killed her instantaneously. The news still shocks me and reminds us all that no matter how good a life one leads, death is always just a moment away.

Friends, family and colleagues are gathering to toast Connie’s generous life and spirit tonight as the sun sets outside her Oceanside beach home. She is already much missed . . .