Library Column in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
December 31, 2016
The library and your 2017 reading resolutions
by Jake McGinnis
On a Wednesday afternoon back in early December, a patron at the Moscow Public Library mentioned a New Year's resolution that's gotten me thinking about what I'm calling "reading resolutions."
He was checking out his usual stack of thriller novels, plus a couple of new DVDs. The details escape me, but they were all familiar titles - even one or two that he'd read and seen before. Outside, the sunset was brilliant red, the streets covered in fresh snow. The forecast was for a week of cold weather.
"I need to try something new," he said, laughing. "Maybe something psychological."
We all need to start something new, I agreed. We talked for a while about novels that he'd started years ago. I suggested Henry James. Perhaps, he said, he could finally get back to Vladimir Nabokov. Maybe it really is the right time to finish "Lolita."
What is your reading list shaping up like? For me, a reading resolution is that simple - in 2017, it's finally time to pick up that book that you've been meaning to get to. Set a goal, come to your local library, and let us know how we can help.
Last year, a good friend set a goal of reading a hundred books in a year, and I think she'll meet it. Just a few weeks ago, I helped a patron at the library make a list of exciting new picture books for her grandchildren. Your reading resolution, in other words, should be right for you.
Still thinking about it? You could make a point of picking up a few more classics. Check out the library's copy of "Lolita" while it's still on the shelf, or try "Moby-Dick" - you can even skip the cetology chapters, if you'd like. You have our permission.
On that note, you could try to finish an especially long book. Have you seen "Game of Thrones"? Try "A Song of Ice and Fire," George R.R. Martin's novels that led to the show. Better yet, watch and read them at the same time. You could do the same thing with other series, too - maybe you could start with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the DVD and the novel.
Do you have an old reading list around? Give it a shot. Otherwise, find a list of new books online. Try a new genre or read the literature a of a specific area or period. Nineteenth-century U.S. novels written by women are awesome. Caribbean novels are top-notch, too. Watch a bunch of documentaries about Japan, or start a George Clooney marathon sometime.
You could also try to make a point of picking up more new releases, or books published by regional or indie presses. Dive into the original "Doctor Who" or try the "Outlander" series. Start reading J.R.R. Tolkien with a friend, or let a teenager suggest a series that you both read in tandem. Listen to an old favorite on an audiobook - it might completely change the way that you think about some special scene.
My reading resolutions for 2017 are simple. I'm making a point not necessarily to read more books but to be more, well, deliberate in my reading. Just as Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately, I am hoping to attack my reading list with a sense of purpose. For me, that means keeping a list of what I read, and also narrowing my scope. Most importantly, though, I'm hoping to talk about my reading - and I'm hoping that talking about books can be a part of everyone's 2017 reading resolution.
Holden Caulfield, wandering about New York in that classic coming of age story "The Catcher in the Rye," famously said resolutions are for "phonies." Frankly, though, it's only phony if it's halfhearted.
So, what's your reading resolution? How can the library help?
Jake McGinnis works at the Moscow Library and is also a lecturer in the University of Idaho English Department.
December 8, 2016
3-D Printing at the Library
by Jessica Bowman
Exciting things are happening in the Latah County Library system. Last weekend the library unveiled its new 3-D printer at the 1912 Center Winter Market. Purchased by the Latah County Library Foundation, the 3-D printer will be available for use by the public. The printer is a Lulzbot Mini model that can create objects with polylactic acid filament, a plastic made from corn and beet products. 3-D printers can be used to print all types of objects, from cookie cutters to prosthetics to the snowflakes that were given away this past Saturday.
Libraries, traditionally seen as a place to check out books, are finding increasingly clever ways to offer services to their patrons. Technology is an ever expanding area and libraries are trying to present their communities with access to a variety of modes. We currently have several online databases that can be used for anything from studying for the SATs or the Citizenship Test to picking out your next great book. We have online magazines and free downloadable music. We have Make Kits that you can take home and learn about Raspberry Pi and Arduinos. We also offer free tech help at 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday or by appointment. And now, thanks to the Latah County Library Foundation, we are providing access to 3-D printing.
It’s a neat technology that allows users to practice their computer-aided design designing skills and use their imagination. Plus, you get to take home your creation.
A huge thank you to the Latah County Library Foundation for allowing us to provide this service to the community.
Jessica Bowman is the adult services manager for the Latah County Library District.
November 19, 2016
Reflecting on the importance of picture books
by Elaine Bayly
November is Picture Book Month, "an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book," according to www.picturebookmonth.com. The month is about both appreciating picture books and reflecting on their effect.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has stressed the need for diversity in picture books, stating "what's so important about kids' books - they can be windows to introduce them to the world, but they also need to see a reflection. They should be a window and a mirror."
The most recent statistics on diversity in picture books come from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and demonstrate a lack of diversity in picture books. Of all picture books published in 2015 only 0.9 percent represented Native American/First Nation characters, 2.4 percent Latinos, 3.3 percent Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, 7.6 percent African/African-Americans, 12.5 percent represented animals, trucks, etc., and 73.3 percent depicted white characters.
The We Need Diverse Books movement has gained momentum in the past two years. As a graduate student in cultural anthropology in 2010, my thesis topic involved researching multicultural children's literature with the premise that parents, teachers and caregivers in the U.S. utilize children's books as a child-rearing tool to teach children about the world they live in; this in turn affects children's racial attitudes from an early age. If children of color are mainly exposed to picture books featuring white characters, what does this tell them about our society, and vice versa, if white children are mainly exposed to their own race depicted in books, how can they see the lives of their fellow children in our country? The country's racial demographics are becoming more and more diverse. In 2010 the majority (50.1 percent) of children three years of age and younger were non-white.
Unequal representation in picture books does not end with race; likewise, there exists a disparity in gender representation in children's books, even when the characters are not human. A 2011 Florida State University study found 7.5 percent of 6,000 picture books published between 1900 and 2000 had female animal protagonists, while male animals were the main characters in more than 23 percent of picture books each year. In that 100-year period, there was never a year where more than 33 percent of children's books featured a female animal character, but male animals appeared in 100 percent of the books. Furthermore, when a gender was not specified for a character, the researchers found parents would typically refer to the animal as male when reading to their child.
Evidence would suggest gender disparity in children's books has real-life implications. Past research by J.M. Ochman discovered children who read books containing the same-sex protagonist as the reader showed increased measures in self-esteem. Ochman concluded because storybooks can positively affect children's self-esteem, it is important for both boys and girls to have equal access to strong female and male main characters.
I believe libraries and the books to which our children have access is key to remedy our misunderstanding of different groups in our country and foster empathy for all. Picture books play a key role for how our children view the world they live in and it's important that picture books reflect the world we live in. Picture books should be a window to view the world and a mirror for all children to recognize their presence and belonging in our country.
Elaine Bayly has worked in the Access Services department of the Latah County Library since 2011 and also serves as the marketing specialist for the library.
October 28, 2016
by Jake McGinnis
Imagine a glowing autumn afternoon in the far-flung reaches of Latah County, on a gravel road winding past quiet farmhouses and into the woods. Would you do a double-take if, coming around a corner, you spotted a fellow like me, shuffling along with dog leash in one hand and a book in the other? Would you roll down your window to ask the title?
Recent work in the cognitive sciences has suggested that reading, especially fiction, builds empathy. Basically, when we read a book, we identify with specific characters, and our brains react as though we experience the same emotions. If a character is happy or sad, the reader’s brain reacts as though she, too, were feeling that way. She might even tense the same muscles or have the same aches. But what about the senses? If a good book can build an emotional connection, can it also offer us a sort of sensuous, bodily experience?
During the past few days, I’ve been deeply engaged in “Painted Horses” by Malcom Brooks. The novel builds around the story of Catherine Lemay, a young woman from the East who is conducting an archaeological survey in remote, 1950s Montana. Working in a canyon “as deep as the devil’s own appetites,” she finds herself in a changing world of one-time mustangers and massive hydroelectric projects, a particularly tense blip in the history of the American West.
This tension, the conflict between the past and the present, drives the book forward, highlighting the conflicts within Catherine herself while also underscoring the timeless details of the canyon, where the smell of sage wafts up from the warm stones — just as it always has. In a way, the details of the canyon seem timeless, and just like her, I come away having heard the startling flush of sharp-tailed grouse, having felt that searing August thirst. Returning East at the end of the summer, Catherine is a strikingly different woman. I emerged a different reader, too. But are we changed, at least in part, because of the sensations of that canyon, including the events that transpire there?
Paperback copies of “Painted Horses” are widely available in Moscow and at other Valnet libraries. Best of all, Brooks will be touring the region in November as part of the Everybody Reads series, an annual literary event on the Palouse and in the Lewis-Clark Valley.
Of course, other recent fiction beckons, too. On a rainy Sunday morning earlier this month, I turned the last page on Jim Harrison’s latest collection of novellas. It was a painful last page, not in the least because Harrison, a longtime favorite and a master of the novella, passed away earlier this year. The Moscow library hasn’t yet picked up “The Ancient Minstrel,” but it is available through Valnet. In the meantime, you might try some of Harrison’s other fantastic collections. “Brown Dog,” “A Woman Lit by Fireflies” and “The Farmer’s Daughter” are all available in Moscow even as I write this. For me, Harrison’s work brings bodily sensation to the forefront.
There are also a great many books that take the question of the senses with a more inquisitive, curious flare. If you’re of the nonfiction bent, try Diane Ackerman, whose “Natural History of the Senses” explores the very human ability to perceive the world. “Her Dawn Light” is another favorite — a deeply personal engagement with the private, 4 o’clock in the morning world, when the senses and the heart are most deeply connected.
For me, these titles, and dozens of others, have engaged the senses as much as the mind and heart. But are these books as good as that long walk, the sun on my shoulders on a late October day? Well, for me, walking and reading are almost one and the same.
Jake McGinnis works in the access services department at the Moscow Library.
October 8, 2016
Keeping Up With Koha
by Lisette Scheer
In early August I attended the Koha US 2016 Conference in Monterey, California. Among the 50 or so attendees were all stripes of library staff and nearly a quarter of the Bywater Solutions support team (ByWater Solutions is the Koha support vendor for the Valnet library consortium). Most exciting of all, our furthest visitors were from a Koha support company in Australia! We had people who had been with Koha for a long time, people who had just switched to Koha from another system, and a few people who were just starting the process of switching. Everyone showed up to learn and connect.
A little bit of background: Koha is an open source Integrated Library System, basically a giant database that stores information about all of our library materials, including books, CD audiobooks, magazines, DVDs, and music CDs. In other words, Koha is an online catalog used by many libraries, including the Valnet consortium to which we belong. Because it is open source software, rather than proprietary, library staff can do quite a bit of manipulation to improve the software and make it do things that are helpful to our work. And because it’s open source, it’s cheaper to manage. Our support vendor is also available to help troubleshoot problems and make improvements.
The word “Koha” is a Maori term that means “a gift given with obligation”:
- To pass along the gift of Koha by mentoring new Koha users
- To contribute to Koha’s development by reporting bugs, and testing and writing patches for bugs
The first two days of the conference were mostly presentations on different aspects and uses for Koha. We learned about the community, automation options (such as self-check machines), report writing, and more. The last two days of the conference were a “hackfest,” the most exciting part of the conference. A hackfest is more practical learning. We all pulled out our laptops and got to try out what we were learning about. This part of the conference was invaluable for me, especially as I had only been working on the more complicated aspects of Koha for a few weeks. I was able to ask questions about some real world problems we had and get them fixed right there. The two most useful sections of the hackfest for me were “Tweaking Koha” and “SQL for Reports.”
In “Tweaking Koha” attendees sat down with a couple of very experienced Koha users. They walked us through how to get to different preference settings, how to change these settings, and where to find some good resources. Then they asked if anyone had any specific questions or problems. We had a button that had been added using some code. The last time Koha updated, it stop functioning as expected. After a little digging, we learned that the table the button was associated with had an additional column added during the last update. Once we knew that was the problem we tweaked the code to compensate and now it works like a charm.
The “SQL” hackfest functioned very similarly. We sat down with an experienced report writer and he showed us some resources. Then we broke into groups and wrote a complicated report. Since we had experienced users helping out, we were able to go through the steps of writing a very complicated report that needed information on the circulation of magazines that were only used in the library during a particular time period. This means the report had to connect different tables and look only for the information we were asking for. Now when I get asked to write a report, it usually only takes me a few minutes because I know how to do so much within the report system as well as where to look if I need help.
In addition to all the notes I took and practical experience I gained, I was able to network with a number of veteran Koha users. I have people I can e-mail, call, or find in the Koha chatroom to get answers to my Koha-related questions. This conference came at a great time for me since I was only a few weeks into my position troubleshooting, writing reports in, and fixing Koha. I learned enough that I was able to hit the ground running when I got back, instead of slogging through guides and documentation to find the information I needed.
Lisette Scheer works at the Moscow circulation desk and is also the system administrator for the Latah County Library.
August 27, 2016
Time Warp Tuesdays
by Jessica Bowman
Do you ever just wish there was a way that you could be a kid again? What if I told you there was a magical night that brought all your nostalgic dreams to fruition? Well, there is!
Every Tuesday night the Moscow Library hosts a program designed just for adults who simply want to play like a kid again. It’s called Time Warp Tuesday and is nearly guaranteed to de-stress you. It’s an hour(ish) of time set aside for those of us 18+ who just want to play and leave “adulting” behind.
There are coloring books, marble races, Spirographs, K’nex, Play doh, Lite Brights, fashion plates (and action figure fashion plates). Bring a friend or make one here and play Guess Who or Connect Four. Or build a rad Lego fort. Don’t feel like sharing? That’s fine. You’re an adult who can make your own decisions. There are plenty of toys for everyone.
We also make cool crafts like glitter dinosaurs.
Snackies and juice boxes are also available, in case playing makes you hungry and thirsty. If you are curious, but think it sounds kind of weird, or don’t want to come alone-- you should come anyway. It really is fun and a great way to make friends.
Visiting the library doesn’t just have to be about books and reading-- that is just the surface of what a library is. Libraries are great resources for community building and providing resources for people in all walks of life. So if you find that you are an adult who sometimes wishes that you didn’t have to adult all the time, then this is the program for you. Let the library be your source of entertainment for Tuesday nights.
This program takes place every Tuesday at 7pm and is for adults 18 and older. Come play games, eat snacks and make some new friends.
Jessica Bowman is the Adult Services Manager for the Latah County Library District.