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Archive for May, 2013

Friday Fun! (May: Cooking, Fitness, Writing, Spring Cleaning, and Reading Of Course!)

Spring means I get to read outside in the sun for my lunch break!

Spring means I get to read outside in the sun for my lunch break!

Hello my lovely readers!

As previously promised, Friday Fun has now become a monthly check-in on the last Friday on the month to touch base with you guys and help you get to know (or stay in the know on) the blogger behind the reviews (and the novels/novellas/short stories of course).

May was a busy month for me.  I attended a conference for medical librarians, which invaded this blog a bit, as I summarized what I learned for both myself and for other librarians.  Thanks to that conference, I worked 12 days in a row, so I took off a few days the week after to give myself a nice long weekend.  On that long weekend, I did some spring cleaning and got started on sorting through and getting rid of stuff.  I usually do this in the spring, but I’m doing it with more vigor this year as my boyfriend and I are planning on moving in together when my lease is up.  I’m of course incredibly happy to be moving in with my partner but also nervous!  To that end, if any of you want to check out my ebay store, there’s mostly lp’s/records, clothes, and of course, books!  This is also why I’ve been reading so many books for my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge.  Most of my print books are for that challenge, and I’m trying to clear off my shelves.

My vacation also consisted of a lot of cooking.  Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I hadn’t had much of a chance to make more complex recipes since I was so busy and exhausted.  I made: 4 hour lasagna (I call it that since it takes me…4 hours to make), twice-baked rutabagas, and pumpkin monkey bread muffins.  You can see all of the recipes over on my Pinterest Pinned It And Did It board.

This month also brought back the real motorcycle riding season.  My boyfriend got me an awesome vegan jacket (for safety) and a helmet (obviously, for safety), and we’ve been going on some nice evening rides together.  I’m looking forward to some longer ones out into western Mass later in the season.  I also got to dig my bicycle out of winter retirement and go on my first ride of the season.  I’m pleased to say my legs stayed in much better shape over this winter season than previous ones, although my seat bones weren’t so happy with the first ride. Ow.

In related work-out news, my gym’s 60 day challenge completed last week.  I had signed up for the body composition challenge, which was about body fat percent rather than body weight.  Over the course of the two months my body fat percent went down by 1.2%, and I gained 2 pounds of muscle!  I was totally shocked by those results, as I mostly just kept on doing my regular fitness routine, where I focus in on being healthy and acquiring more personal bests in weights/cardio/etc… I mostly wanted to see what impact my routine really has on my body, and it clearly is helping me build muscle.  I’m very excited about that.

I’m also pleased to report that writing is progressing on the sequel to Ecstatic Evil! I’m really in a paranormal frame of mind right now, and I’m having fun with it.  I hope to give the Tova fans the sequel as soon as possible.

In reading news, this month I read 7 books, which is the most I’ve read so far this year in a month.  I’m not even going to try to guess as to what made it go up, but I’m glad that it did!  I read a wide variety including scifi, urban fantasy, historical fiction, thriller/mystery, and horror, and I read across all reading platforms (ebook, print, and audio).  I have yet to write up reviews for 4 of these books, so rest assured, more reviews are coming!  For June I intend to continue my focus on predominantly choosing books that appeal to me most in that moment, although I would like to knock out at least one from my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge that is unappealing.  Additionally, I got an arc for the next book in Madeline Ashby’s artificial intelligence series that is releasing next month, as well as the final book in Jackie Morse Kessler’s series that is also releasing in June, and I’d like to read/review both of those around their release dates.

How were your Mays? What was your favorite read of the month?

Book Review: Superior Women by Alice Adams (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Image of a white woman's back with a mirror off to one side.Summary:
When Californian Megan Greene runs has a steamy affair in the summer of 1943 with a Harvard student visiting the west coast for the summer, she decides to follow him back to the east coast and attend Radcliffe.  There she meets four other women, three of whom it might be more accurate to call frenemies than friends.  Their lives and destinies repeatedly intertwine throughout the tumultuous changes of mid-20th century America.

Review:
I kept my eye out for this book when it was named as a read-a-like to my 2011 5 star read The Group (review) by Mary McCarthy.  So when I saw it on a Better World Books sale list, I ordered a copy.  I can see why this was named as a read-a-like.  Both books view a historical time period through a group of women who attended a women’s college together.  What McCarthy wrote stunningly and with subtlety, though, Adams wrote in a barely above-average fashion.

The book covers 1940s to 1980s America, yet as the decades move on, less and less is said.  The 1940s are expressed clearly with exquisite detail, and I was excited to see what would happen with the 1950s and the 1960s.  But the 1950s slowed down, the 1960s were barely touched upon, the 1970s were jumped over almost entirely, and the 1980s were the final chapter of the book.  The pacing was all off.  I wanted to know these women in as much detail in the latter decades as in the first.  Instead of feeling like I knew them more and more intimately, they increasingly became strangers to me.

One thing that I think really works against the book is it is neither an ensemble nor a one character piece.  Most of the book is told about Megan, but not all of it.  We get snippets of the other characters, meaning perspectives that Megan is not privy to, but not enough to ever truly know them.  Since most of the book is about Megan, these bits away from her feel sort of like the story is robbing us of more time with the main character we are interested in.  Similarly, reading the blurb and the title, I thought this was going to be an ensemble book, which is not what we get either.  I wanted to know much more about two of the characters in particular, Peg, who comes out as a lesbian at some point in the 1960s, and Cathy, who has an affair with a priest.  These two stories are wonderfully intriguing, particularly Peg’s since her love of her life is met on a mission to register black voters in the American south, and her love interest is a Latina woman.  There is so much meat to that storyline, and yet it is barely touched upon while we instead listen to Megan hem and haw about her job, and Lavinia try to figure out how best to cheat on her husband.  The balance of telling this ensemble piece was just entirely off.

Similarly, while big issues and events of mid-20th century America were briefly touched upon, the book never really presented a truly personal look at any of them.  For instance, Megan has a friend who is bashed in a drive-by gay bashing but we never get to see Megan emotionally deal with this stark reality.  She hears about it, calls him, and moves on.  Similarly, as previously mentioned, Peg comes out as a lesbian, and we see a snippet of her depression caused by living the lie of being straight, but we never get to understand the emotions or impetus behind her bravely coming out and living in a visible, inter-racial lesbian relationship in the south.  It is disappointing because we get a taste of really encountering these historical issues, but we never actually get to.

In spite of all these problems, I still enjoyed reading the book well enough.  The plot, while frustrating, does progress forward in an interesting fashion.  The characters, although frequently two-dimensional, are bright and vivid.  I came away with the perspective I always have with historical fiction about women’s history.  That I am grateful I was born in a different time, because we women have much more opportunities available to us now.  So I appreciated my visit to that time period but it was a bit disappointing.

Overall, if you are a huge fan of historical fiction about women’s issues, this is an interesting book to add to your repertoire.  It is a good comparison to others that did it differently or better, and it is still fun to visit those time periods.  If this type of literature is not generally your cup of tea, though, I would suggest you instead read stronger competitors in that genre, such as The Group.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Pink coiled snake with a mint green background.Summary:
In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down.  How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.

Review:
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author.  I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review).  I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book.  So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together.  So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.

There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book.  So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile.  (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s).  Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that.  Why these wonderings?  Well, Galapagos is a very odd book.  The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there.  But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans).  Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.

Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name.  And the names appear a lot.  Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear.  He also loves lists.  (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s).  At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.

Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides.  Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors.  Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road.  But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble.  For example:

What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)

Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely.  Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.

The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story.  We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk.  Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.

Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone.  At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together.  It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me.  I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed.  If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way.  Or even if they were just dialed back a bit.  I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.

Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation.  Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists.  If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Photograph-style image of snowy/icy peaks and flats.Summary:
On the planet Winter, everyone is born intersex, morphing into one sex or the other during their mating cycle.  The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent a representative, Genly Ai, to make first contact.  The Known Worlds have discovered that they are all related with the same ancestors who colonized the planets years ago.  Genly Ai is at first horrified by the intersex nature of the Gethenians but slowly begins to adapt as he works the political situation on the planet to reach a state of belief in what this one man from his one ship is saying.  A state of belief that is necessary to bring this planet into the Ekumen.

Review:
I picked this up when I saw it on sale at a local brick and mortar bookstore for two reasons.  I’d never read an Ursula K. Le Guin book, which felt like sacrilege as a young feminist scifi author myself, so she was already on my radar.  But why this book?  Honestly, I liked the cover.  It’s such a pretty cover!  So many scifi/fantasy books seem to be set on a hot planet, but this is set on an icy one, and I really liked that.  So when I picked it up, I had no idea that it’s considered to be a gender theory scifi.  It’s presented as a book about a planet totally lacking in gender.  You’ll notice that in my own summary that is not how I present it.  Why not?  Frankly, a gender-free society is not what I found in this book, which was a big disappointment.

The Gethenians really are not a gender free society, and Le Guin also doesn’t present them that way.  It is definitely an intersex society, but it’s intersex people who predominantly present as male/masculine.  Now, in case you’ve never had it explained, gender is a construct and sex is your body parts.  So you could have an intersex gendered female society or an intersex gender neutral society or an intersex gender male society.  The last one is what we have in this book.  At first it seems that this might just be Genly Ai’s misperception (the off-world ethnologist).  He mentions that he can’t help seeing the Gethenians as male, although sometimes he sees more “feminine features” in them.  Perhaps.  But when the narration changes from Genly’s viewpoint to a Gethenian one, we get the exact same presentation of everyone as a gendered he.  There is no gender neutral pronoun used.  There is no perception by the Gethenians of being free of gender.  Indeed, instead of seeing themselves as gender-neutral or gender-queer, they see themselves as male until their mating cycle when some of them turn into women for a bit.  (They also stay female long enough to be pregnant).  Genly points out after a couple of years on this planet that he’s forgotten what it’s like to be around women.  Not what it’s like to be around gender constructs.  What it’s like to be around women.  This is, thus, not a gender neutral society.  It’s a society of male-identifying intersex persons who are free of sex-drive most of the time, and who sometimes grow vaginas/breasts for the purpose of reproduction but for nothing else. It is definitely interesting to see an exploration of this type of society, but it’s decidedly not an exploration of a gender-neutral society or really much gender theory at all.  It is much more an exploration of the sex drive and a world without female-identifying persons. Now I’m not saying this isn’t a valid exploration or that it’s not well-done.  I am saying that the presentation and marketing of this book gets it all wrong, which makes me wonder did Le Guin think she was exploring a gender neutral society and accidentally make an intersex male gendered one instead?  Or did the publishers completely misunderstand everything about gender and sexuality and mismarket her book as something it is not?  I have no idea, but the potential reader should know that they are not getting an exploration of gender and queerness from a famous scifi/fantasy author when they pick up this book.

Moving beyond the queer theory and mismarketing of it, how is the rest of the book?  Well, the imagining of the world is stunning and clearly presented.  The idea that planets were all settled by common ancestors and then forgotten about only to be rediscovered later (very Stargate SG1) is subtly introduced into the plot without an info-dump.  The world of Winter contains multiple cultures and peoples (something often left out in scifi).  The planet even has its own way to mark the passing of time and has evolved to handle the coldness of the planet without Le Guin just copying an Earth culture from a cold area, like the Inuit.  No, this is all a unique way of approaching the demands of the climate.  It’s also interesting to note that different skin colors are present on Winter, showing that a mixed-race group originally colonized the planet, although their bone structure and height has changed with time and evolution.  The world building is so complex that I’m having difficulty explaining just how awesomely complex it is to you, so that should say something I suppose.

The plot is very political.  Genly is here on Winter to get the planet as a whole to unify enough to become part of the Ekumen.  Thus there is typical political intrigue across a couple of nations and various amounts of striving for power.  There’s nothing incredibly unique about this element of the book but it is clearly done and is not completely predictable.

There is an interesting character development where Genly has a friendship that could take a turn for the romantic.  How that line is walked could be endlessly analyzed.  I will just say to keep it spoiler free that I appreciated what Le Guin did with the relationship, and it was a unique one to see in literature.

Overall, this is a richly imagined scifi world where the setting is much more the focus of the book than the more typical political intrigue/first contact plot.  Do not be misled by the marketing to think that this is a book exploring a world free of gender.  Rather it is a male-gendered intersex world.  Thus, it is a book that will appeal to scifi lovers who prefer world-building over plot but don’t go into it expecting a scifi exploration of gender theory.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (Series, #10) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Cartoon style drawing of a blonde woman and blonde man reaching toward each other with a giant red rose in the middle.Summary:
With the Fae war at an end, Sookie tries to return to some semblance of normal, working on both physical and emotional rehab.  Although she has feelings for Eric, she is uncomfortable with his insistence that she is his wife, even if she technically is by vampire law.  Plus, his maker and his new vampire-brother show up, putting a strain on the relationship.  Meanwhile, the ramifications of the shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, and Sookie’s fae cousin, Claude, moves in with her, missing the presence of other fairies.

Review:
I just need to take a moment to point out two things.  1) The last time I read/reviewed a Sookie Stackhouse book was in October of 2010.  This is why I started the Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge for myself.  Books (even series books!) were getting lost in the pile!  2) Every time I look at that cover I think for a brief moment that Eric is bald.  Something is just off in that painting.  Now, on to the book.

Even though I read it almost three years ago (seriously, holy shit), I still clearly remember really enjoying the ninth book of the series.  It was action-packed with lots of development of both plot and character.  It reinvigorated the series for me so much so that even this much later, I was excited to pick up the next book.  I should have known it would fizzle some after the action of the last book.  It’s not easy to keep that much tension and action going, and it’s not like there weren’t any lulls earlier in the series.  What I can mostly say about this book is that nothing much happens.  Seriously.  It’s longer than some of the books but less happens.  I suppose technically things do happen.  Eric’s maker shows up with a new vampire-brother for Eric, the hemophiliac Romanov brother, who is just not quite right in the head.  This leads to some interesting development of Eric’s background, but not a ton.  And it just isn’t all that intriguing.  Similarly, even though logically it should be very interesting that Claude shows up at Sookie’s and the weres sniff out two fairies around, but it just isn’t.  They sound interesting on the surface, but when you’re reading the book it mostly feels like you’re hanging out at Sookie’s house eating a cookie and wondering if the calories are worth it to listen to her yammer on.

I think the crux of the problem might be that neither Sookie nor Harris is comfortable with Sookie being with Eric, in spite of the reader liking Sookie being with Eric.  If it’s not within the character for her to be with Eric, then a break-up needs to happen, regardless of what the readers like seeing.  It’s important to keep characters acting within character.  Interestingly, Sookie has started to notice that she is aging and thinking about what it will be like to slowly grow old and die.  She seems to be seriously considering her vampire options.  But we all know Sookie doesn’t want to be a vampire.  Sookie wants children. If she gives that up to be a vampire, it will make the series take an incredibly dark turn.  The next book will be an important one.  It’s basically a shit or get off the pot moment for character development, and in spite of the ho hum nature of this entry in the series, I am interested to see if things pick up in the next book in this regard.  They tend not to slump for long in Sookie Stackhouse-land.

There’s not too terribly much else to say about the book.  Weaknesses that are there earlier in the series are still there.  Sookie isn’t very smart and is kind of annoying.  The sex scenes continue to be cringe-inducing.  But the world is complex and fun to visit, even when not much is happening there.  Sookie does need to start taking some agency soon though, or being stuck with her first person narration may become a bit too much to handle.  Readers of the series will be disappointed by this dull entry, although it won’t come as a surprise since lulls happen earlier in the series.  Enough happens to keep some interest up to keep going with it though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review

The Threat of Pandemics (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 4: Laurie Garrett)

A woman dressed in black standing at a podium in front of a white lighted circle stating One Health.

Laurie Garrett giving her presentation.

The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog.  I summed up the entire presentation.  As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.

Got it? Good!

Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture?  Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic.  I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed.  At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.

Why?

In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us?  Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing.  Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them.  I know people in various movements who use that tactic.  It’s not one I’m a fan of.  Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present.  But I think she did.  Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent.  And yet there you have it.  A room full of frightened librarians.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:

Screen shot of a tweet "Nothing like wrapping up a conference with a presentation that will haunt attendee dreams..."One Health? Garrett's doom-scenario suggests we're on course for One Ill-HealthLaurie Garrett is scaring us all to death about pandemics and biosynthesis and germs etc...@Laurie_Garrett is one of the best speakers I've seen in a long time.  Also one of the scariest.YES! RT @mandosally I'm feeling creeped out. Anyone else?I think I'm going to use a 3D printer to make a bubble house and never leave it...Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored.  But.  I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience.  I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals.  Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands.  I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety.  Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice.  You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.

I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end.  With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs.  I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself.  I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population.  But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it.  It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.

In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them.  Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer.  She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.

Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!

So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat.  Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.

Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.

National Library of Medicine Update (MLA13 Boston)

Photo of a slide showing user expectations, ILL librarian expectations, and an ideal future.

Slide from presentation showing What users want out of ILL. What ILL librarians think are issues with ILL currently. What a perfect world future of ILL would look like.

This year I got to go to the annual presentation by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at MLA.  NLM is an important medical library resource, as it provides many free, trustworthy health, medicine, and science research resources to the public.  The NLM Update provides information on any important changes by NLM in the last year, as well as just any information/resources they would like to highlight.

  • clinicaltrials.gov
    • have data available of national origin of studies
    • you can build your own specialized view if you’d like to
    • a unique source of summary results for many trials
    • NN/LMx training for librarians coming soon
  • standardization makes information more usable
  • SNOMED Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT)
  • Genetic Testing Registry
    • 3,005 tests registered by 290 labs in 37 countries
    • useful inks for EHRs (Electronic Health Records)
    • international standard for location of genetic variations
  • PubMed Health
    • more digitized guidelines
    • specifically focused on flu site
    • working on global microbial identifier for food-borne pathogens
  • FY 2013 budget
    • lost 5.5% annum ($19.2 million less)
    • people are the most important NLM resource.  Call them “brain-ware.”
  • Index Cat
    • XML data available for 3.7million citations
    • index journals we trust cover-to-cover to keep up
  • NLM exhibits
    • Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness” is current exhibit.
    • There is an app of the interviews portion of the exhibit available on iTunes
    • The NLM traveling exhibition program has been booked by 457 institution in 48 states.
    • The Harry Potter exhibit grew out of last-minute attempt to make science interesting to middle schoolers.
    • Traveling exhibits consist of 6 banners that can be rolled into mailing tubes for quick shipment.
    • You must do local programming to borrow an exhibit
  • NLM Associate Fellowship Program
  • MedPrint
    • a program to get libraries to commit to keep print runs of journals
    • check page to see what’s been saved already
  • Environmental Health and Toxicology
  • Disaster Information Management Research Center
  • Inter-Library Loan (ILL)
    • requests down almost 50% in last 10 years in Docline
    • investigating this
    • conference call with focus groups representing:
      • hospitals
      • large academic libraries
      • special libraries
    • not planning to take Docline away
    • national survey in March 2013
      • 60% hospitals
      • agreed journals are electronic now
      • disagreement on if licenses are easy to understand
  • MedlinePlus
    • 15 years old in English, 10 years old in Spanish
    • multiple language link –> follows US medical practices, also available in English translation
    • US is 37% of users
    • very active twitter account
    • mobile site
      • going through usability study
      • More Spanish speaking males use than females.  More English speaking females use than males.
      • most of us want the full site not the mobile site
  • MedlinePlus Connect
    • allows EHR to send a code and get back patient-specific health information
  • 5 day posting of jobs is a requirement of the government to speed up hirings.  It is not a sign that they already know who to hire.

After the NLM Update, I attended the poster sessions.  This is not something one tends to take notes at, so I don’t have very much to say about them, except that I am proud of my medical librarian friend who had a poster in the session. Go Katie!

Up next, the final plenary session! Phew!

YouTube, Cochrane, Research Stories, and More (MLA13 Boston: Section Programming)

At the meeting, librarians present their papers that were accepted to the conference.  These are organized into groups of four sponsored by one of the MLA’s sections.  The presentations are timed so that you can see the first presentation in one section then go to another section to see the second, etc…  I wasn’t able to take notes at all of the section programming I listened to, because some of the rooms looked like this when I switched into them:

Image of full seating and people lined up on floor along walls.I thus will post what notes I was able to acquire, but bare in mind I actually got more out of these sections that my notes reveal.

International Congress on Medical Librarianship 2: Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information Section

“Trustworthiness and Authoritativeness of YouTube Videos on Smokeless Tobacco” by Donghua Tao, Prajakta Adsul, Ricardo Wray, Keri Jupka, Carolyn Semar, and Kathryn Goggins

  • Use online media as a tool to educate health care users
  • a future study could use a survey of real YouTube users and test their hypothesis
  • Methodology of published papers doesn’t discuss how they searched YouTube
  • See how videos connect to each other (videos referencing other videos)
  • 3,603 unique videos brought up, randomly sampled 433, of which 278 were used based on inclusion criteria

“Twenty Years of the Cochrane Collaboration: A Legacy of Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information and Plans for the Future” by Carol Lefebvre, Julie Glanville, Jessie McGowan AHIP, Alison Weightman, and Bernadette Coles

  • 2013 is Cochrane’s 20th anniversary, and they have a special anniversary website.
  • Cochrane Collaboration crates the Cochrane Library
  • plain long summaries, free, multiple languages
  • 4 million downloads in 2010
  • 6 million downloads in 2012
  • New publishing agreement with Wiley
    • February 1, 2013 to the end of 2018
    • gold open access –> author pays a publication fee then article is available immediately
    • green open access –> no author payment but there is a 1 year embargo
  • impact of Cochrane Reviews
  • We’re not here to decide if we publish clinical data but how
  • 20 years ago:
    • only 20,000 RCTs indexed in medline
    • no RCT filter in medline
  • Now:
    • new MeSH term for quasi-RCT: Controlled Clinical Trial
    • 1996 Central launched
    • medline’s retagging project supports Central
    • proliferation of search filters
    • Cochrane Handbook has grown
  • Future:
    • registration of clinical trials
    • move toward single portals
    • increased access to clinical study reports
    • PubReMiner will increase use
    • text mining increase
    • strengthen relationship with other organizations
    • challenge will still lie in discoverability

Federal Libraries Section: The Role of Librarians in Evidence-Based Medicine: Part One

“Telling the Research Story: A Role for Librarians in Analyzing Research Impact Based on Evidence” by Terrie Wheeler and Cathy C. Sarli AHIP

  • Genesis project (Not really sure what this is.  Had trouble seeing the slides and hearing).
  • citation analysis
  • “It is no longer enough to measure what we can–we need to measure what matters.”
  • Found a lot of gray literature using Google
  • use clean data –> clear linkage
  • explanation of the h-index
  • explanation of the g-index
  • explanation of the tapered h-index
  • all index factors have one limitation or another
  • can we produce future science with publication data? Maybe.

That’s all of my notes I managed to get.  I’ll have to figure out how to better juggle notebooks/pens next year.  Or maybe MLA can get us more seating.  Up next, the National Library of Medicine’s Update.

 

 

 

The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship (MLA13 Boston: Janet Doe Lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall, AHIP, FMLA)

The third plenary is given by a librarian who is respected in the field, but who is not the current MLA president.  Last year, we had a fascinating lecture by Mark Funk in which he showed us his extensive research documenting what librarians talk about in our published literature.  This year, Joanne Gard Marshall presented “Linking Research to Practice: The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship,” which while an interesting title mostly came across as a list of names of people she considered important.  She also spent 5 to 10 minutes summing up Mark Funk’s previous speech.  I think my tweet from during this plenary sums up my feelings pretty well:

Screenshot of a tweet reading #mlanet13 ehhhh summing up previous yr's doe lectures isn't very impressive as a doe lecture itself As with any lecture, though, I was still able to glean some useful or interesting information from it.  I’ve listed them out below.

  • David Sackett founded Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), and his textbook Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 2e is considered crucial in the field.
  • Sackett defines EBM as, “The conscientious, explicit, judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”
  • Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is influenced by three factors:
    • Best research
    • Clinical expertise
    • Patient values and preferences
  • The old indexing (in PubMed etc…) didn’t used to include type or level of evidence in the terminology.
  • Evidence-Based Librarianship (EBL) is advocated for by McKibbon and Eldredge.  You may see a free PMC article summing that up here.
  • Steps of EBL:
    • formulate answerable question
    • search for evidence
    • critically appraise evidence
  • The research section of MLA has a free journal, Hypothesis, that is recommended.
  • MLA has a research imperative that you may read here.
  • “Randomized Control Trials, contrary to popular belief, are not the only way to control variables.”
  • Booth and Brice are named as big names in EBL.  Their book is Evidence-Based Practice for Information Professionals: A Handbook.
  • There is a journal on EBL called Evidence Based Library and Information Practice.  It is free, but you must register to comment or receive email notifications of new issues.
  • Recommends the book Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rodgers to help with where we are going in EBL.  Take the model presented and adapt it and truly make it work for us.
  • Research must be balanced and paired with professional knowledge.

While the information I garnered is good, for a one hour lecture, it’s not very much. I left off the lists of names of previous Janet Doe lecturers, for instance.  I believe that if Marshall had focused much more in on the topic of EBL and its connection to EBM, which is an interesting topic, that it would have been a much better lecture.  Instead this received only a portion of the time so that we could be subjected to the names of previous Janet Doe lecturers and of course lists of people to thank. I am pleased to have found two new open access journals to read for my profession, but I do wish the lecture had gone further.

Up next is section programming.

 

The Power of Communication to Influence Health (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 2: McGovern Award Lecture by Dr. Richard Besser)

A tanned, white man standing in front of a blue background with a white moon-shape that says "One Health" on it behind him.

Dr. Richard Besser speaking at MLA13 One Health

After the first plenary and a short break came the second plenary, the McGovern Lecture.  I was surprised to see on twitter (the hashtag for the conference was #mlanet13 if anyone is interested) that many librarians didn’t see the value of having a plenary lecture by a non-librarian talking about non-library things.  I responded to this criticism in one of my official MLA13 blog posts The Value of the Non-Librarian Perspective: Thoughts on Plenary 2.  Please do take a moment to check that out.

And now back to the plenary.  Dr. Richard Besser is the medical correspondent for ABC, but more interestingly to me, he also was the acting director of the CDC during the H1N1 epidemic.  Epidemics ultimately were a theme of the conference, which makes sense since the overarching theme was One Health.  One health meaning the global health of all living creatures and how we are all interconnected.  Below are my notes from Dr. Besser’s lecture.

Introduction

  • Describes himself as an accidental journalist
  • If you change your life, then the terrorists win.
  • The reason Israelis are so well-prepared is because they face it every day.

Starting at the CDC and Advice on Being the New Person

  • Recommends the leadership book Good to Great
  • 1st ask your new boss what they think of their organization and ask them if they think it needs: big change, small change, or stabilization

How to Respond to a Pandemic

  • If you can spread out a pandemic so hospitals aren’t flooded, you’ll save lives.
  • You use different words to get different responses.
  • With a new emerging infection, you only get one shot to get ahead of it.
  • Be transparent with the public.
  • Base actions on fact.
  • Apply rapid learning –> guide will change based on new knowledge
  • If you lose the trust of the public, you’ve failed.
  • Three key aspects of communication:
    • Be first
    • Be right
    • Be credible
  • Homeland Security is in charge during a declared national emergency
  • Dr. Besser was featured on The Daily Show during the H1N1 epidemic
  • When he met with the cabinet, Obama said, “I want our responses based on science.”  An excellent support of evidence-based medicine.
  • Don’t use jargon with a non-science expert.  (For that matter, don’t use your specialty’s jargon with someone who is not also a specialist).  Just because someone is intelligent doesn’t mean they know the jargon.
  • Translate science into clear, spoken English.
  • Flu can spread for 12 days after infection.
  • How do you tell a good study from a bad one?  Which are reportable?

Q and A

  • Once someone is obese, it’s very very hard to lose that weight. Prevention is much easier.
  • So many diseases emerge from eating meat.
  • up-to-date is “an aggregator site” be sure to check primary sources
  • “A lot of people practice based on what they learned in residency.”
  • Check out his weekly twitter chat which he has complete control over at handle @abcdrbchat on Tuesdays at 1pm EST.

Check out Dr. Besser’s biography at ABC news, his twitter, and his book Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions.

Up next will be the third plenary, the Janet Doe lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall.