Archive for August, 2009

Book Review: Breathers By S. G. Browne

August 31, 2009 4 comments

Billing itself as a rom-zom-com (romantic zombie comedy), Breathers looks to get into the psyche of those reanimated corpses out to eat  your brains, not to mention deep-fry your fingers.  Andy is in his 30s and living in his parents’ basement after reanimating from a car crash that left his wife permanently dead.  Andy is depressed and slowly decaying, but all that changes when he starts attending Undead Anonymous weekly meetings.  There he meets Rita, and together with other members, they stumble upon southern zombie Ray who gives them jars of his venison that tastes remarkably good to Andy and has some interesting affects on him.

Review [spoiler warning]:
Breathers starts out with a bang.  Nothing sucks you in quite like a main character waking up from an alcohol-induced blackout to discover he’s killed his parents and stuffed their dismembered bodies in the fridge and freezer.  Browne’s dark humor serves the storyline well.  It’s not easy to take a repulsive, cannibalistic, walking corpse and make him a sympathetic character instead of the terrifying other, and Browne achieves this… a certain extent.

At first Andy and the reader don’t know that the “venison” he’s eating is actually people.  Both the reader and Andy see the positive effects of eating humans before they fully realize that’s what he’s eating.  (Although, come on, I had my definite suspicions, even in a world where vampires are “vegetarians” and have Tru Blood.)  Andy stops decaying and starts protesting for his civil rights to be reinstated, for zombies to be recognized as equal and valid.  This is a popular, obvious analogy for various human rights fights going on around the globe.  Awesome.  It’s great for people who aren’t ordinarily treated as an other to get a first-person account of what that’s like.

This analogy though is why I have a bit of a problem with the twist toward the end whereby we see that eating humans leads to cravings for more humans and eventually we have a full-out blood bash eating a house full of frat boys.  Aesthetically, as a horror fan, I love the blood bash.  Nothing quite like reading a first-person account of what it’s like to eat another human being alive.  However, the lesson learned here is that while the other may seem cute and cuddly, all your suspicions about them are true.  Don’t trust them for a minute or they’ll turn full evil on you.

Browne doesn’t seem to have an issue demonizing select groups.  The whole frat boys stealing limbs from zombies as pledges followed by the zombies eating the frat boys and their various one-night stands and girlfriends reeks of a weak, geeky boy’s wet dream.  Revenge of the nerds zombie-style.

It’s unfortunate that Browne lets his bitterness undermine his enjoyable writing style–a wonderful mix of humor and horror.  Hopefully his next effort leaves the personal grudges behind and just gives us the humorous horror we want.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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The ALA’s “I Love My Librarian” Award Excludes Special Librarians

August 25, 2009 1 comment

When I first heard about the “I Love My Librarian” competition/award being administered by the ALA Public Information Office and Campaign for America’s Libraries, I was quite excited.  How wonderful for librarians to be honored and recognized!  Then I went and read the details of the award.

The public is being encouraged to nominate eligible librarians.  Who does that include?  Librarians possessing an MLS and working at a public, academic, or school library.  So…..all librarians except for ones working at special libraries.


Yes, I know the award is sponsored by a business, the Carnegie Corporation.  Who cares?  This is an exclusionary award.  This is not a case of recognizing a select group within a group.  If the award was just for public librarians, I’d be disappointed I couldn’t compete for the cash, but I’d understand.  This award though specifies every group within the group except one.  This is more like if every librarian was eligible for an award except for the Asian-American ones.  That is exclusionary.   This award is not recognizing a select group already recognized within the library community as a definable group.  This is recognizing every group except for one.

To those who would say that the ALA cannot control who is eligible because the award money is being provided by a business, I say, would that be an excuse if the award was for all librarians except for Asian-American ones?  Just because an award is being offered does not mean the ALA has to endorse it.  Perhaps the business was unaware of special librarians, a lot of the general public is.  The ALA could have alerted them to the fact and requested they change the eligibility requirements.

The ALA Public Information Office and Campaign for America’s Libraries claims to be the ALA’s “public awareness campaign that promotes the value of libraries and librarians.”  So apparently, according to them, special libraries and librarians are not valuable or worthy of being in the public awareness.  Nice to know we’re so appreciated by our own professional organization.

Book Review: Pretties By Scott Westerfeld (Series, #2)

August 19, 2009 3 comments

Tally Youngblood lives in a dystopian society where everyone is given an operation at the age of 16 that makes them perfectly pretty.  What is not known by the general population is that during the operation lesions are put on the brain to make people dumbed down and easy to control.  A few people are selected to be “Specials.”  They don’t have the lesions and control the rest of the society.  Some people resist the operation and the control and live in the wilderness, calling themselves “Smokies.”

After being captured from The Smoke, Tally has been made pretty.  She has mostly forgotten her experiences and has a new boyfriend, Zane.  They belong to a New Pretty clique called The Crims.  The book follows what occurs after teens from the New Smoke bring Tally pills created by adults in the New Smoke that are supposed to cure the brain lesions.  She and Zane share them and begin plotting their resistance of the regime and escape from New Pretty Town.

I am quite torn about this book.

On the one hand, I like that Westerfeld is clearly gradually moving our traditional hero, Tally, toward turning into one of the bad guys in this society.  It’s a move not commonly seen in YA lit, and I think it’s a bold thing to do.  It could lead teens to question what makes people behave badly versus what makes people behave well.  It’s a bit reminiscent to me of the key question in Wicked: Are people born bad or do circumstances make them that way?

On the other hand, I am profoundly disturbed at how Westerfeld presents Shay, Tally’s one-time best friend and the one who came up with the plan to escape to The Smoke in the first book, Uglies.  Tally followed Shay there, won over the guy Shay had her eye on, and betrayed Shay to the Specials, causing her to be turned Pretty.  Oh, and in Pretties she completely leaves Shay out of the whole pills-curing-people-and-escaping-to-New-Smoke-thing.

Since Tally is leaving Shay out, Shay is left to her own devices.  These are delineated in the chapter titled “The Cutters.” In this chapter Tally and Zane discover that Shay has discovered a way to temporarily clear the fuzziness in her head caused by the operation.  She is ceremonially cutting herself and has some followers who are now doing the same.  They call their clique “The Cutters.”

Self-injury is a real element of multiple mental illnesses.  People suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and borderline personality disorder will display this symptom.  However, it is most well-known and highly associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is already stigmatized and misunderstood by the media and general population.

Westerfeld’s presentation of self-injury in his storyline reinforces multiple stereotypes regarding it.  First is the idea that self-injurers only cut.  This is not the case.  Burning, head banging, hitting things until your knuckles bleed, picking at and peeling skin, and pulling out hair are just some of the multiple methods people used.  Cutting, burning, and head banging are the most common.  Thus, showing all of The Cutters using the exact same self-injury method to clear their heads is misleading.

Second, Shay and the other Cutters proudly display their scars and make a show of the bleeding.  Self-injurers must face the prejudice that they do this for attention, that they do it in places people will notice to garner that attention.  For the vast majority of self-injurers this is not the case.  They do it in places that are easy to hide, such as upper thighs, or purposefully wear long sleeves to hide the marks.  They are usually profoundly ashamed of what they did, or at least terrified that people will find out.  It would be much more accurate to portray Shay cutting herself in a private room and have Tally accidentally see it, than to have the large ceremony in the middle of a park that is portrayed in the book.

Third, while it is true that some self-injurers say their mind feels clearer from injuring, others say it helps them shut down emotions they don’t want to feel.  It’s perfectly plausible for Shay to be in the former group, but it seems to me that at least one of her followers would be in the latter group.

My real issue though comes from the fact that Tally seeing Shay self-injuring is the final decisive straw to her.  She emphatically announces that Shay is crazy, and Zane agrees with her.  No one dissents from this viewpoint.  Shay’s scars are the markers that she’s gone off her rocker; there’s no turning back.  To top it all off, the cutting is what makes the evil Specials decide that Shay and her group should be Specials themselves, thus associating self-injury not only with “being crazy” but also with being evil.   Additionally, the ceremony in the middle of the woods is clearly connotated as being primitive.

Can you imagine what reading this portrayal would do to a teen struggling with self-injury?  She is portrayed as purely crazy, evil, and primitive.  Shay is a lost cause in the book, and clearly the teen must be too.  So little sympathy is given to Shay.  Not even a spark of goodness is visible in her.

I’m not the type to say that if you display thus-and-such group as evil you’re saying they’re all evil.  I think it’s just as discriminatory to always portray a certain group as good.  However, the portrayal of Shay turns so one-dimensional with the on-set of her self-injury.  There is zero depth to her character, zero exploration of her as a conflicted person.  She could have had rich character development.  Indeed, the entire group of “Cutters” could have been a wonderful opportunity for Westerfeld to explore more depth in his story-telling.

Yet he went the easy, sensationalist route and portrayed an evil, crazy, primitive female slashing her arms while reciting a spell, letting the blood drip down in the rain.

An incredible image to visualize? Yes.  A deep, accurate one?  No.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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The Self Magazine Controversy

August 12, 2009 4 comments

We all are peripherally aware of the fact that a bit of photoshopping is done on magazine covers.  We expect that a fly-away piece of hair in the model’s face might be shopped out or an odd-looking shadow, for instance.  I thought this was about making sure the lighting didn’t make the model/actress/singer look unreal and probably a bit about smoothing out an imperfection that woman is insecure about, like a blemish she had that day.  So when the Kelly Clarkson on the cover of Self controversy came out this week, I was angered on behalf of Kelly.

Essentially, Self shopped off around 20 pounds from Kelly’s frame. Not at her request.  Not with her permission.  In fact, Kelly was appearing in Self to talk about how she’s happy with what she looks like and isn’t letting the “zomg she’s fat and not perfect!” gossip get her down.

Did you catch that?  They photoshopped a singer appearing in the magazine to talk about being comfortable with her weight to look skinnier.

But it gets worse.

Jezebel dug up the Self editors’ response, which did not consist of apoligies, but instead states that this sort of thing is their general method of operation.  When models show up they look so real that they “could be mistaken for a member of the crew or the editorial team.”  The horror.  They then go on to state that they extensively photoshop every cover model, because “It is…meant to inspire women to want to be their best. ”

No, Self, you’re not inspiring women to be their best.  You’re guilt-tripping women to continually attempt to achieve a look that is so impossible you have to photoshop models and celebrities to make them appear that way!  God forbid women look like women.  There are many body types.  What makes a person beautiful isn’t their body type; it’s health and who they are as a person.  Some women have boobs and a big butt.  Others naturally lack curves.  Some women have stick-straight hair; others have frizzy fly-away hair.  But no woman’s body is flawless.

Having flaws, both physically and as a person, is part of being a human being.  Presenting to women, and to the little girls who are bound to see these magazine covers, that this body type that is only possible through photoshop as a tangible possibility is harmful.  You’re telling them that it’s their fault they don’t look like this.  They could look like this if they just work hard enough.  If they follow your crazy fad diets.  If they apply every creme in your magazine to their skin.  If they would just spend an hour in the morning doing their hair and applying makeup, not to mention the two to three hours at night working out.  Clearly striving to keep our bodies healthy isn’t good enough, is it, Self?

This photoshop controversy is worse because Self purports to be about women having healthy bodies, not fashion like Elle or Vogue.  The public expects them to feature healthy women on the covers, not a photoshopped fantasy of what women supposedly should look like.

A online commenter pointed out that this is women hurting other women’s body images.  He’s right.  Women put out this magazine.  Women are putting this image out there, causing other women to obsess and waste their time attempting to achieve the impossible, not to mention putting an impossible ideal into men’s heads.  Shame on you, Ashley Mateo and Lucy Danziger.  You are the worst type of misogynist–a female one.

Book Review: I’m Perfect; You’re Doomed By Kyria Abrahams

Kyria Abrahams is rising in visibility in comic circles.  She originally wanted to tell her memoir as a one-woman show, but instead ended up writing it down as a book.  Kyria’s memoir takes the reader from an inside look at what it was like to be raised a Jehovah’s Witness in Rhode Island in the late 1980s and early 1990s to her marriage at 16 to her eventual disfellowship.  Not your typical serious-toned memoir, Kyria approaches her heavy material with a comic’s graceful tongue-in-cheek snark.

Anyone who had a fundamentalist upbringing will find the first half of Kyria’s book incredibly relatable and will be relieved at being granted permission to laugh at the absurd concerns fundie kids get saddled with.  Kyria was encompassed in a conservative world continually seeing demons lurking around every corner, or even in that plate you stupidly bought at a yardsale from that old woman who is probably a witch.  A typical example of her writing style can be found in the first chapter, “The succession of power was this: Jesus was the head over man; man was the head over woman; and woman was the head over cooking peach cobbler and shutting up.”  It’s rare to find a laugh out loud memoir dealing with something as intense as being raised in a cult, and Kyria handles it well.

This style holds out through Kyria’s early teen years and her rebellion of marrying a Witness eight years older than her.  It starts to fall apart after the wedding though.  The writing becomes fuzzy.  It’s unclear exactly how much time has passed or why she suddenly stopped going to the Meetings (the Witness version of church services).  This, to me, should have been one of the most compelling parts of the book.  Why did she leave?  Why was she so incredibly desperate to be disfellowshipped that she actually asked for it at the meeting about her adultery?  Although earlier in the book, Kyria demonstrates remarkable acumen at analyzing herself and her behavior, at the end of the book she loses this.  I am certain, as an ex-fundie myself, that Kyria spent a lot of time analyzing why she left, yet none of this introspection is written into the book.

Similarly, the reader is left really wondering about Kyria’s OCD.  While it was excruciatingly debilitating in her mid to late teens, it seems to suddenly mostly disappear, or at least disappear enough so that she can live in a crappy apartment in a bad neighborhood by herself.  I’m not discrediting Kyria, but what happened in that interim?

The seemingly sudden decision to get disfellowshipped and the lack of information on her OCD are the two most glaring examples of the disjointedness of the second half of the book.  Of greater concern to me, though, is the fact that Kyria really does seem worse off at the end of the memoir than at the beginning.  She ends up in a crappy apartment, drinking and doing drugs fairly consistently, screwing random poets, having given herself permission to “fuck up.”  This is a stereotype of the ex-fundie woman, and I have to say it’s a fairly accurate one.  Normally though, this is a phase the person goes through before finding her own new footing using morals she has chosen for herself.  I’m a bit concerned that ending on the rebelling and going crazy note rather than the finding the new footing note will make fundamentalists feelvindicated.  They will point to this as evidence that they are correct that apostates really are worse off.  What concerns me more though is the general population reading this book, the ones raised normally who are not apostates, were given no guides by Kyria to understand why she behaved the way she behaved.  There are very good reasons why ex-fundies go crazy for a little bit.  They weren’t given the tools to deal with the world.  The lack of introspection in the second half of the book will leave people who haven’t experienced it thinking the problem is Kyria’s inherent nature and not the way she was nurtured.

The book still does provide good insight into the world of those people who knock on your door in pairs.  Additionally, it is refreshing to read a funny memoir about a serious topic.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Medical Libraries

August 5, 2009 1 comment

When I tell people I’m a librarian, they ask for which town.  I respond, “Oh, I’m not a public librarian.”  They then promptly want to know which university or college I work for. “Oh I’m not an academic librarian either.”

Well what on earth else is there?  Special libraries.  The general public isn’t highly aware of special libraries, which usually consist of coroporate, law, or medical.  Like other libraries, special libraries exist to serve a community, only a much more tightly defined one.  Also, our community is generally out to make a profit, so we must prove that we’re helping with that end goal.  An often stress-inducing issue for special library directors is to prove to the company that we help them gain capital and aren’t an easily thrown-away bonus for employees.

So what exactly are the benefits that medical libraries provide to hospitals?  Hospitals are dedicated, through ethics and legislation, to evidence-based medicine (EBM).  EBM means that a doctor needs to back up her decisions with clinical studies and/or published research.  Doctors are human beings, not robots.  They cannot possibly perfectly remember every study they’ve ever read on, say, schizophrenia.  So a patient comes to an appointment with schizophrenic symptoms and the current drug isn’t working.  The doctor wants to try a new one.  She needs to find the studies done on the efficacy of that drug on schizophrenia, if it isn’t the normally prescribed one.  This is where the medical library comes in.  We are the repository of this evidence.  If a doctor comes in wanting a study on schizophrenia and a specific drug probably done in the late 1990s, we search for it for her.  This is a large part of a medical librarian’s job.  It is even possible to get a rush request for an article.  In academic libraries, this means a paper is due soon.  In medical libraries, this means there is quite possibly a life and death situation.  I am not exaggerating.  Doctors need the information to make the right decision now in some cases.  One of the things that I enjoy about the medical library community is when one of these requests come in, we can directly call another medical library that will drop everything to fill our request asap.

Many hospitals, particularly here in Massachusetts, are also teaching hospitals.  This means that they are affiliated with a medical school of some sort and train interns, residents, lab techs, nurses, etc… In these hospitals, the medical library is even more important.  Interns and residents needs a resources and a place to study in their often long hospital rotations.  These medical librarians then also need a touch of academic librarian skills, mainly in teaching medical students that Googling won’t work for their papers or for practicing reliable EBM.  We help them find resources for papers, educate them on using PubMed and Ovid, and educate them on the importance of EBM.

An even smaller number of medical libraries are also open to the public.  The public will come there for higher-tech, more in-depth resources on medical issues.  I have no personal experience working in such a medical library, but a librarian I know told me that the main challenge is to not let the public start treating you like a doctor.  You provide information, but not advice.

Even medical libraries that are not technically open to the public end up interacting with patients and families and friends of patients.  Hospitals are easy places to get lost in, and a cozy library with a big reference desk looks like a promising place to ask for directions, or for the best place to wait, or even just to find someone to talk to.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked up a doctor and scoured the hospital map to help a patient find the location of their appointment.  Similar are the phone calls from people who call the first number they manage to find on the hospital website and immediately start telling you their entire case history when you answer the phone.

Patients are the main reason for the final difference between medical libraries and public or academic libraries: privacy laws.  Yes public and academic libraries are concerned about the privacy of their patrons, but medical libraries are subject to the patient rights privacy acts.  This means that our laptops we check out to doctors have to be encrypted, our wifi is incredibly limited as to what it can access.  I can’t talk about anything a patron is researching, even if I don’t name names.  What if I mention it and someone else at another hospital goes with it and makes an important discovery before my patron at my hospital does?  I could have cost my patron and my hospital millions of dollars.  Similarly, if a public librarian finds say a tax document in a returned book that doesn’t belong to the patron who returned the book.  She can just shred it.  If I find patient information in a book, I have to report the patron to their supervisor for failing to protect patient privacy.

This truly points out the main difference between medical libraries and public or academic libraries.  Public and academic libraries attempt to present an open inviting image.  They are out to help everyone for the greater good. Even though this is not technically the case, as not just anyone can acquire a library card from them, it is still the image given.  Medical libraries are largely about privacy.  We’re a refuge in the hospital for our patrons.  We protect the hospital’s interests.  We assist our doctors with providing the best care possible so that patients will choose to come to us when they’re sick instead of a competing hospital.  Yes, we’re working to help people, but we’re also a business.

Understanding What “Public Library” Actually Means

August 3, 2009 7 comments

There’s a news story causing considerable uproar and debate in the library community (thanks Stephen Colbert).  It all revolves around this 7 year old named Dominic.  His family was using the library closest to them, which just happens to not be in the family’s tax district.  Dominic was photographed at the library for the local paper and gave his town.  This alerted the librarians to the fact that Dominic’s family are not residents of the towns that pay the taxes that support that library.  They informed the family that the library card had been issued in error, and they would not be allowed to renew it come the end of the year.  (Full Story)

Colbert presented this story as “the big bad library forcing a kid who loves to read out.”  This is simply not the case, and I think the public perception being so negative really boils down to a misunderstanding of public libraries.  Not to mention a misunderstanding of democracy in general.

When the United States was founded, the vision was for mostly self-supporting communities to be united in such a way as to assist each other where they couldn’t and to help protect against large external threats.  Think of it as the communities supplying most things, but Vermont trading maple syrup for oranges from Florida.  Oh, and Vermont and Florida stand together against that whole Canadian and Cuban threat thing. 😉

So then came about the public library.  Each community pools together its resources and offers up a centralized place to educate their populace.  Now imagine that somebody who hadn’t contributed and lives on the outskirts of a neighboring community comes to use the place.  That’s a no go.  The original New England Puritan community saying is: He who does not work shall not eat.  Similarly, he who does not contribute to a service meant to serve everyone does not get to benefit from it.  Public libraries exist to serve the community that supports them, not every Tom Dick and Harry just passing through.

The fact of the matter is, Dominic’s district didn’t contribute anything to the public library he was using.  He doesn’t deserve to use it.  Yes, it’s unfortunate that the library his district does support is further away, but life isn’t always fair.  We would have a far better society if kids didn’t grow up experiencing everyone kow-towing to them, but that is another blog post.

Where I do find fault with the public library in question is the fact that somehow Dominic did wind up with a valid library card for that facility in the first place.  It’s possible that his parents knew what was going on and claimed to live in that district, but they should have had to produce evidence.  This shows me that the library isn’t being thorough enough in validating new patrons.  This is a problem that they need to fix.

I also find fault with how the library handled the situation when it arose.  They left a message on the family’s answering machine.  That is really not the best way to handle a delicate situation.  They should have at least talked to the family on the phone.  I think at best they should have attached a note to the patron record and discussed the issue in person the next time the family used the library.

It seems evident that Dominic’s family is not the only one that would like to use the library in question over their own.  The best way for the library to handle this situation would be to offer the people from Dominic’s district the option of paying for a library card.  Then they would be contributing to the service, and there would be no problem.  Families could decide if the time saved was worth the money.  Problem solved.

Essentially, the public library is right that Dominic doesn’t have the right to use their library.  However, they made a major snafu both in issuing the card and in handling the situation.  The general public doesn’t understand public libraries.  Sometimes librarians forget that not everyone is a librarian.  We speak using terms like “OPAC,” and expect patrons to just innately understand the system.  We must be diligent in presenting the friendly, helpful librarian to the public instead of the shushing angry one.  We can be friendly and helpful and still enforce the rules.