Archive for March, 2010

Creating a Library Culture That Encourages a Love of Learning

March 31, 2010 4 comments

I think most people in my generation who grew up with videogames and computer games know that learning can be fun.  I distinctly remember MathBlaster helping me learn how to multiply but hardly noticing that because I wanted to defeat the aliens.  However, should learning always be fun?  Has learning that isn’t fun flown the coop?  Is there a place for more tedious methods of learning?

I’ve been pondering this lately as libraries are places of learning.  The surrounding culture of the library–whether a town, university, hospital, business, etc…–needs to encourage and embrace learning for the library to get used at all.  Unfortunately, that is often not the case.  In today’s society, learning is often mocked.  It’s where we get the nerd jokes.  Even the First Lady has felt it is a large enough problem that she has spoken out about it.  So libraries are left with a conundrum: the surrounding culture doesn’t encourage learning.  We’re a learning institution.  How the heck do we get people in the doors?

This issue led to the movement to make libraries more fun, largely through the materials held and programming.  Materials now are much more likely to include popular books such as ones written by Heidi Pratt.  Programs include videogaming with games that aren’t educational.  For non-public libraries, some academic libraries have started offering a “fun” reading section with similar, non-educational books.  The movement is pretty universal across types of libraries.  This has led to a backlash though.  Some are stating that sure, people are coming in through the doors, but they aren’t learning anything.  We’re so focused on making patrons happy that we’ve stopped actually helping them improve their mental capacities at all.

I don’t think it’s an easy issue to address because a love of learning is largely something that is instilled in childhood.  Even someone who does love learning doesn’t always find it fun.  I don’t particularly enjoy reading the dense management articles for my graduate research paper, but I value what I learn from them.  I enjoy the fact that I know my knowledge of these management techniques will make me better at my job.

The problem is less a lack of a love of learning and more that a love for being entertained and instant gratification is drowning out the more subtle enjoyment that comes from expanding your mind.  It’s basic psychology.  A famous experiment was done with mice where if they pushed a button, it gave them an orgasm.  The mice repeatedly pushed the button, obsessively, ignoring the needs to eat and drink until they died.  They died from too much pleasure.  Life isn’t all about pleasure; we also need to work to survive.  If all libraries do is provide the pleasure button and not a food button, then we’re not actually helping our patrons are we?

With this in mind, libraries need to be careful to maintain a balance of pleasure and effort.  People attending a Rock Band evening, for instance, could be informed of books and materials the library holds that teach you to play a real guitar or real drums.  Conversely, in special libraries, there is often too little focus on fun learning.  A recent visiting lecturer to one of my classes who works in an engineering library showed us the engineering “toys” she has in her library.  Her library has lego’s and other materials lying around for the engineering students to play with as a study break and inspiration.  I immediately thought how awesome it would be if medical libraries had those anatomically correct dolls or skeletons or jello brain molds lying about.

As with most things, the key to learning as fun or learning as effort is maintaining a balance.  Librarians need to focus on how to naturally connect the two so that patrons on either side of the divide will make the connection and, hopefully, take a leap.

Book Review: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams (Series, #4)

March 30, 2010 6 comments

Dolphins in the sky along with a green glob holding a towel and giving a thumbs up.Summary:
Although the planet Earth definitely blew up, Arthur Dent has found himself back on it again, and not in the prehistoric past like before.  Everything seems about the same, except that the dolphins all have disappeared and apparently there was a mass hallucination of the planet blowing up caused by a CIA experiment.  You’d think this would require all of Arthur’s attention, but instead he’s rather highly focused on a woman named Fenchurch who claims the Earth really did blow up and insists something has felt off ever since.

It’s no secret that one of my favorite comedic books is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book in this series.  While I felt that the third book suffered a bit, it was still pretty damn funny in my opinion.  I really wish I could say the same about this.

I still enjoy Adams’ writing style.  It’s tongue in cheek, snarky, and self-referencing.  It is a pure pleasure to read.  This still holds true here, but the problem is that it’s just not laugh out loud funny.  Oh, there are bemusing moments, but mostly it’s a case of jokes falling flat.  I think the reason for this is that what makes the books funny is Arthur Dent–average British dude–stuck into the bizarre situations that are the rest of the universe with only the equally bizarre Ford Prefect as a true companion.  Indeed, my favorite bit of this book is when Arthur and Ford are reunited.  Without that Arthur stuck in outerspace element, you wind up with a rather run-of-the-mill, “huh, something odd is going on on planet Earth” book.  It’s cute, but it’s not surprising, and the element of surprise is what makes the rest of the series so funny.

I also wasn’t fond of Adams’ obvious response to the fan question, “Does Arthur ever have sex?!” with the addition of the love interest, Fenchurch.  He may think it is witty to reference this and answer it, but I was disappointed.  I enjoyed wondering if poor Arthur spent 8 years devoid of sex.  It added a certain element of mystery to him.  This whole part felt kind of like a cop-out.

I don’t want to sound like I hated the book, because I didn’t.  When compared to books not written by Adams, it actually holds up quite well.  It’s enjoyable and has some unique scenes.  It’s just, in comparison to the rest of the series, I was left a bit disappointed.  I still plan on finishing reading the series, though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Previous Books in Series:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe, and Everything

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Librarian Guest Book Review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

March 29, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  A few weeks ago, whilst pondering what I could do for guest blogs, I thought about all the great book recommendations I get from my fellow librarians.  Huzzah!  How awesome would it be to have my fellow librarians guest blog book reviews?  Not only would you all get some great recommendations, you’d also get more of a feel for the real librarians–who we are, what we do.  These posts will show up however often my fellow librarians send them to me.  If you’re a librarian and would like to participate, email me at opinionsofawolf [at] gmail [dot] com.  Without further ado, please give a warm welcome to my first participant, Chellie!

Meet the Librarian!
My name is Michelle Oleson, and I’m currently the Web/Digital Services Librarian at an academic library.  During a normal day, I coax printers into working properly, manage the library’s website content, help students find articles/books/staplers, and read a lot of blogs/tweetage.  Outside work, I travel near and far, and enjoy keeping up my mediocre skills at playing flute, Latin, and online gaming.

Robin McKinley’s short novel Chalice follows McKinley’s other novels on the Beauty and the Beast theme.  Mirasol, a solitary twenty-something, bee-keeping enthusiast, finds herself out her depth as the newly appointed Chalice of her demesne (feudal styled village).  The previous Master and Chalice both died under tragic and mysterious circumstances leaving the Willowlands demesne in both political and spiritual chaos.  Mirasol must find a balance in her old and new life, in addition to solving the mystery of the Old Master and Chalice’s demise if she’s to successfully serve the new Master: an enigma in and of himself.

Much of this short novel is devoted to describing an overly complex feudal system with a Druid-esque relationship to land.  The story itself could have been concluded inside of 30 pages.

Mirasol leads the narration and all of the movement within the story.  While she represents a strong female character (like any Belle), she also lets herself be caught up in forces deemed beyond her control.  Fans of Hermione Granger will love her proclivity to spend most days holed away in the library trying to teach herself all the laws and mysticism of being the Chalice.

Mirasol spends most of her internal dialogue puzzling over the new Master.  Like any good feudal system, the old Master died leaving an elder son and a younger son.  The elder son, being a spoiled brat drunk with power, sends his brother off never to be heard from again.  Lucky for the demesne, the older brother manages to get himself killed before completely destroying his people.  The leaders of the village have a tough choice to make: bring in an outsider to rule or try to restore the younger brother.

The younger brother has been living his life as a monk in service to Fire Elementals.  He returns to lead his people as something of a Fire Element himself.  His first act as Master is to burn Chalice/Mirasol to the bone by barely touching her.

Then nothing happens for a long time while Mirasol goes to the library, thinks about how awesome her bees and honey are, how neat being a Chalice is, and wouldn’t the new Master be just dreamy if he was anything at all resembling human.  She has two or three conversations with the Master concerning how the land is holding up under all the strain of political upheaval.  Neither of them thinks they’re doing a very good job, but hey, at least we’re not getting drunk and dying horribly in a fire…

At some point the higher ups of the realm decide having a Fire Elemental as Master of a demesne is a Bad Plan.  These interlopers are only Bad Guys for the sake of moving the story forward.  Mirasol, however, comes up with a pretty spectacular plan.  The interlopers want to put their own guy on the throne and remove the current Master so he can go back to being a Fire Elemental.  Mirasol is already showing signs of being completely smitten with the new Master and feels that the land/people couldn’t survive another change.

McKinley takes Mirasol on a tour of the village blessing every inch and corner of Willowlands with her cup o’ honey.  Having successfully done this, she returns to watch the Fire Elemental Master duel it out with swords with the would-be Master.  The new guy is obviously a puppet, and wouldn’t even be a threat if the current Master was more corporeal.  Cue Fairy Tale Ending: Mirasol has her awesome bees attack the interloper in the middle of the duel.  Somehow this is not seen as cheating. All of her bees die; it’s very sad.  But from the bodies of thousands of bees, arises the Master returned in the flesh of his enemy.  The fallen man lies on the ground burnt to a crisp.

Quick resolution: Mirasol and the Master wed, as it’s obviously the only sensical thing to do.

I loved the fairy tale elements of this story.  I think the world could have been more simply explained, but maybe it’s just McKinley’s style to announce something significant, spend pages explicating the history of these circumstances, to return to the conversation once you’re ready to scream Get On With the Story Already.

I’m looking forward to reading McKinley’s Sunshine book, as I’ve heard it’s highly recommended.  I would recommend Chalice to fans of overly complex high fantasy, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books.

3 out of 5 stars

This book was a gift.

Check out
Chellie on twitter and her blog!

Friday Fun! (A Memorial)

March 26, 2010 2 comments

A lot of things happened this week–I got into my WISE course (an online course taken from a different MLIS program than my own), one of my herbs sprouted, we got the Richard episode of Lost finally, and more.  But what I want to tell you guys about today is about my Aunt Kitty, who passed away unexpectedly last Saturday of a stroke.

My father’s sister had 8 siblings, 7 of whom were brothers.  She had two kids of her own, my cousins Chris and Michelle.  I was never super-close to her and many of my childhood memories in general are foggy, but what I do remember is how she always greeted the nieces and nephews with a smile and a hug.  Her house was next to our grandparents’ house and sometimes playing at Grandma’s turned into slipping into Aunt Kitty’s backyard.  She never minded.  In the falls she would make us these delicious, sticky popcorn balls.  I remember looking into hers and my Aunt Linda’s faces and wondering if I’d look at all like them when I grew up, since everyone said I looked most like the McNeil side of the family.

Aunt Kitty touched my life in a way only aunts and uncles can.  She got to be the fun person who let me slip into her backyard and give me super sugary popcorn balls even though they would make me hyper.  I loved her, and I am sorry to see her go.

Categories: Friday Fun!

Book Review: The Thing from the Lake By Eleanor M. Ingram

March 25, 2010 3 comments

Brown paper cover with read lettering.Summary:
In the 1920s Roger Locke is a composer living in New York City.  He buys a house by a lake in Connecticut as a country retreat and appoints his cousin, Phyllida, and her husband, Ethan Veer, as caretakers of the property.  His first night on the property, he meets a woman–whether spirit or alive, he can’t tell–and is promptly intrigued by her.  His visits quickly turn sinister, though, as a dark force based in the lake comes at night to threaten Roger away from the woman.  What is the thing in the lake?  Who is this woman?  Can Roger defeat the dark force thereby returning himself and his cousins to their idyllic lifestyle?

I had a feeling I was going to like The Thing from the Lake when I discovered that every chapter started with a relevant quote pulled from the classics of the western canon, and I was right.  Ingram weaves a complex tale, filled with surprising twists and turns.  Just when you think you know what the overarching point is, or where the story is going to go next, you find out that you were wrong.

Ingram artfully goes back and forth between the daytime where the story is more period piece and the nighttime, which is all horror.  It is a very New England tale, featuring small farmers, big city dreams, references to the Puritans, and quirky, drawling neighbors.  While Phyllida and Ethan are believable and infinitely likeable, Roger’s immediate infatuation with the woman is a bit suspect.  It seems shallow how infatuated with her hair and her scent he is, but I think he later proves himself.  Sometimes people just know when they meet, so I’m willing to give Roger the benefit of the doubt.

Ingram leaves it up to the reader whether to believe the scientific or the supernatural explanation for the goings on at the lake.  It reminded me of my class on the Salem Witch Trials a bit, and I’d be willing to bet that Ingram was at least partially inspired by them.  It’s not easy to make both answers to a mystery equally plausible, but she pulls it off wonderfully.

The only thing holding me back from completely raving about the book is that there are parts that smack of historic misogyny.  I’m not blaming Ingram.  For her time period, many of her thoughts were quite progressive, and I’m sure Roger is an accurate representation of many men of that time period.  However, when he speaks about how his “plain cousin” Phyllida is so much more comely when she’s doing “womanly” household chores, it makes me cringe, and not in the good horror way.  Thankfully, these instances are not that frequent, so they’re easy enough to glide over.

The Thing from the Lake is a surprisingly thought-provoking book.  I highly recommend it to everyone, but particularly to those who enjoy New England literature or light horror.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording by Roger Melin via the Audiobooks app for the iTouch

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Movie Review: No Impact Man: The Documentary (2009)

March 24, 2010 4 comments

Colin and Michelle Beavan in front of the NYC skyline holding their daughter's hands between them.Summary:
Colin Beavan writes history books, but when he decides that the future is just as important, he sets his sights on living with no impact on the environment for one year.  This is complicated by the fact that he, his wife, Michelle, and their two year old daughter live in a fifth avenue apartment in New York City.  As they gradually eliminate elements of their life from coffee (since it can’t be locally grown) to electricity, they both question their true motives and impact on others.

This is really two movies in one.  One is about the modern environmental movement and the other about a year in the life of a couple.

Michelle and Colin are a bit of an odd match.  She craves Starbucks lattes, Marc Jacobs bags, loves her job at Business Week, and wants more kids.  He….well, it isn’t entirely clear what he wants.  In the moments when he forgets the camera is there, it seems that he almost feels guilty for living.  That he feels guilty for humanity existing at all.  Michelle agreed to the project because she wanted to live a moderate existence and she felt that the year would snap her out of her shopping and tv watching addictions, whereas Colin feels guilty about using toilet paper because one tree might die.  He clearly views humanity as a pariah, which leaves me wondering why he agreed to get married in the first place.  That saddens me, because the environmental movement should be about embracing humanity as a part of nature.  We’re not overlords or a pariah; we’re just the animals with the greatest impact on the planet.

The documentary is intriguing to watch.  It strikes just the right pace.  Viewers less familiar with the movement will be shocked at the worm bin (I lived with one made by my old roommate, Nina).  They’ll be surprised and delighted at the dishes Colin creates using only locally grown food throughout the year, an introduction to the localvore movement to viewers who may not have heard about it.  Hopefully they’ll be able to see past the extremes Colin takes it to and realize that some elements of the movement are very much worth working into their life.  For instance, at the end of the year, Michelle herself says that she wants to keep biking to work and going to the farmer’s market.  She enjoys the health benefits of biking built into her day and the sense of community from knowing the people who grew her food.  Personally, I like to view the environmental movement more as a lifestyle movement.  Hopefully viewers will see those aspects of it through the hype and Colin’s self-hating guilt.

This documentary is absolutely worth the watch.  If you enjoyed Morgan Spurlock’s more well-known documentaries, you will enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Movie Review: The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)

Movie poster featuring Jeremy Piven standing with his arms crossed in the fore-ground.Summary:
Don Ready has built his career on helping failing car dealerships save the business with 4 day selling strategizing extravaganzas.  Everything is going as it usually does until Don falls for the business owner’s engaged daughter.  Can he win her over?  Can she or his friends mend his damaged heart?

It’s a good enough sounding plot fleshed out by an all-star cast known for their comedy abilities–Jeremy Piven, Ken Jeong, and Ed Helms among them.  Unfortunately, it suffers from a bad script and falls flat.  Attempts at being funny just induce cringes.  The characters either lack motivation entirely or their motivation is so overly contrived that it lacks believability.  For instance, we’re supposed to believe that Don Ready was wounded when as a child he traded a ball you sit and hop on for one of those peddle cars in the hopes of getting the attention of a neighbor girl, only to have her still like the other boy better.  Um. Ok.  I don’t think 7 year olds really think like that…..

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I don’t have a pc sense of humor.  I’m not uptight by any means, but I do think there’s a line, and The Goods really crosses it with one situation that is repeatedly played for humor.  The used car lot owner has a 10 year old son who has a pituitary problem that gives him the body of a 20 something.  One of the female characters is very attracted to him and repeatedly tries to bed him.  Although the other characters all scold her and tell her to lay off, the audience is clearly supposed to laugh at this.  Child abuse is not funny.  Ever.

Fortunately Ed Helms of The Office is around to save things.  His scenes are all actually amusing, and we get the chance to sample his singing talents, which are always enjoyable.

Overall, the movie isn’t horrible, it just isn’t worth the time.  I’d like those 90 minutes of my life back, please.  If you’re looking for bawdy humor, check out The Hangover or Superbad and skip this one.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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