"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Mar 25, 2015

Wet books!

My library is currently in an older structure. It was a rough winter up here. There were ice dam issues all over the region.

Have you guessed where I'm going yet?

Oh yes. A few weeks ago, we had a leak in the stacks. Although I am by no means trained in book preservation, I thought I'd share the story and lessons learned here in case they're useful to someone else.

First, let's discuss the scope of the problem. We were actually relatively lucky. The water came down the inside of a wall and seeped out starting at the top of a short built-in bookcase 4 or 5 shelves high. It wet the bottom of several oversized books shelved along the top of the bookcase and dripped/leaked down the shelves. The bookcase is only about a foot or 18" wide, so the damage was confined to a relatively narrow area. Most of the water went off the bottom of the bookcase into the carpet, which was soaked through for a couple of feet; a little leaked along the very bottom shelf onto an adjacent shelf and dampened a few books.

My/our initial response upon discovering the leak:
  • Get help. I called to my colleague in the back room and ran upstairs to get a volunteer who was doing a nonessential task.
  • Get the books out of the water, and triage. My colleague and I did a rough sort of books into those that were okay, those that were a little wet, those that were quite wet but possibly savable, and those that were an immediate loss. All told, there were about 20 books that were an obvious loss, and another 30-40 that would need to be dried and evaluated.
  • Preserve what's possible. I ferried the books that were wet-but-savable to the volunteer to get paper towels inserted between the pages. (This is a trick I picked up from friends taking an archival preservation class in grad school. We went through several rolls.) Too-wet-to-save got tossed on a shelf to be inventoried and discarded later. Books that were damp but not wet enough to have to be dealt with immediately also got tossed on a separate shelf, to be dealt with when the wetter ones were done. Books that were wet along the covers under the Mylar got their covers taken off ASAP.
  • Sop up water continuing to leak in and leave paper towels there to absorb additional seepage.
  • Contact facilities.

In the subsequent weeks, I've been:
  • Drying the books initially interleaved with paper towels. We have heat/AC vents at the bottom of several shelves and they provide nice airflow. I've been propping books up in front of them and fanning the pages out, a few at a time, till things are dry. Dried books go under a nice big stack of heavy oversize books to flatten out again, which has been working surprisingly well.
  • Assessing the books that were only damp, and interleaving with paper towels/drying out in front of vents as needed.
  • Creating an inventory of what got wet. Thank goodness for Evergreen, which made this really easy - a volunteer scanned everything into a bucket, then I chose the columns/fields I needed, exported to a .csv, and saved it to Excel. This is very useful for our insurance claim. I could even include the price listed in our ILS for each book - though that isn't always the same as list price, so we're going through Ingram to check for current prices and whether a given book is still available.
  • Still yet to happen: actually going through, book by book, and finalizing discards in the ILS/determining what I'm actually going to replace.

Next post: Lessons learned!

Feb 26, 2015

Catching up

It appears to have been nearly a year since I last posted. Goodness gracious.

I hope to have more time to post in the future because I am no longer spending 3 hours per day in the car getting to and from work. That's right... I got a new job! (New commute is in the 30-40 minute range and I am loving that, thank you very much.) In October, I started work as the Adult Services Librarian in Hopkinton, MA.

It's a positive move, though bittersweet in many ways. I learned so much in my four years at Howe Library and left behind many wonderful colleagues. But this job is going to teach me a lot of new things too, and my new co-workers are welcoming, dedicated, and hardworking. I'm also pleased to be geographically closer to some of my friends and family and back in the general area where I grew up. (I got to re-use my old Minuteman Library Network card from ca. 1991 when getting an account at my new hometown library! It was very exciting.)

Overall, this new position is a step up for me in terms of responsibility. Before, though I was planning programs fairly autonomously, I was one of a department of several librarians under a department head. Now I'm the "head" of the Adult Services department (of one), working immediately under my director and taking on some of the kinds of things that might be done by an assistant director if we had one. Since I ultimately want to be a library director, this means I'm getting some good chances to observe, learn, and do things that will give me valuable experience going forward. I've got a very supportive director who tries to include me in a lot of things, which is great!

Here are some of things, large and small, that I'm involved in:
  • Perhaps the biggest: we're about to be renovated and substantially expanded. I came in after the town approvals were dealt with but I'm getting to participate in lots of planning and logistics related to renovating the building, moving to a temporary space, etc. It's fascinating work and I'm really pleased to be able to "ride along" on a major building project before having to actually be in charge of one.
  • Substantial weeding of the nonfiction collection, preparatory to moving. I honestly really love weeding. It's so satisfying to remove the old, worn out, irrelevant materials and have a collection that looks shiny and fresh and interesting.
  • We relaunched our eNewsletter using Vertical Response (we were using Bookletters previously; I only had to do a couple of newsletters that way but I was deeply unimpressed). It seems that these were sent sporadically before; I've established a standard once-per-month schedule.
  • I've started doing displays! This is something I didn't have much time/opportunity to do at my previous job so I've been having a lot of fun with it.
  • Collection development. We have what is to me a somewhat odd system for collection development here - something for a later post, perhaps. I'm in charge of collecting everyone's suggestions, adding some of my own, and doing the actual ordering for adult books, DVDs, and music.
  • Programs - this is similar work to what I was doing previously, just in a different library. I'm still having fun with it, though it's much less of my job than it was before.
  • Managing technology, with the assistance of town IT. One of the more frustrating elements of the job when things aren't working properly (our computers were just down for nearly a week due to seeming malicious activity, so this is particularly fresh in my mind). But I get to learn things like how to re-image a computer and burnish other skills and knowledge that are underdeveloped or rusty, which is good. We've got a very friendly and helpful IT guy, which is an absolute blessing.
  • Reference work, of course! Volume is variable but usually pretty light. I do almost no readers' advisory, which I'd like to change - but it's hard because the reference desk is a bit out of the way and people usually chat with the circulation staff (who are fabulous readers' advisors) about books up front.
There's lots of other things, but that's just off the top of my head.

It's been an adjustment - Hopkinton is a much smaller library than Howe and in many ways a less formal/formalized one as well. It took me a little while to really suss out the culture. But I'm learning a lot, really enjoying what I do and the people I work with, and looking forward to the next several years - it will be a very exciting time as the library grows!

Mar 6, 2014

Read Something! THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King

[First in a series]

Fifteen-year-old Mary Russell is out for a walk on the Sussex Downs when she literally stumbles into one of the greatest minds of her time. Sherlock Holmes, retired to a quieter rural life, is irritated and then intrigued to find sharp observational skills and an intellect to rival his own in this orphaned young woman. With that moment begins an apprenticeship that eventually becomes a partnership as Russell and Holmes confront cunning adversaries in their first cases together. In this series opener, King deftly brings Sherlock Holmes out of the gaslight and into a world on the cusp of the modern era while creating a thoroughly modern young woman as a new foil for the legendary detective.

Three descriptors: woman-focused (i.e. lots of strong female characters, basically all important characters who weren't in the Holmes canon are women), well-written, witty

  • the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Julia Quinn romances - feature strong women, British setting, light, witty writing; perhaps not a good readalike for people who enjoy the intellectual/suspenseful elements of The Beekeeper's Apprentice
  • For those who enjoy the new perspective on Holmes, modern TV adaptations/re-envisionings of Holmes stories that maintain the intellectual/problem-solving feel, including the BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, "Elementary", possibly "House"
  • possibly the Flavia de Luce books (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, etc.) by Alan Bradley? Both feature a young, smart female amateur detective coming into her own in the English countryside

Oct 23, 2013

Be ready for anything...

During my most recent reference desk shift, I...

  • Captured a wasp that had found its way into our quiet room, for release outside
  • Informed three teenage boys that they should not be on the roof of our recycling shed (and asked how on earth they got up there in the first place)
  • Was treated to a poetry reading by a patron who is known for being extremely cranky most of the time - and who then asked for my opinion of his poetry - I'm not touching that with a ten-foot pole!
Just goes to show that when you deal with the public, you've got to be ready for anything.

Sep 27, 2013

Read Something! THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER by Nick Hayes

Nick Hayes

Graphic novel / poetry

This timely update of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem recasts the wedding guest as a cynical divorcee and the mariner as a harbinger of environmental doom. This mariner's murder of an albatross curses him to sail becalmed waters in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, witness the destruction wreaked upon our oceans and their wildlife by our discarded plastics and other garbage, confront the horrors of our lust for oil, and see for himself the devastating effect of humanity's actions upon our planet. But will his listener actually listen? With eye-catching visuals and a powerful message, this graphic novel brings home the need for change in our relationship with our planet while attaining some degree of literary/poetic merit in its own right. 

  • "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Samuel Taylor Coleridge - the poem upon which this graphic novel is based
  • Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn - nonfiction, but touches on many of the same topics and issues; told through the perspective of one man traveling the world to learn more
  • Sin City by Frank Miller - for those attracted to the unusual and striking visuals of the book, Sin City's stark illustrations will provide a similar reading experience although the subject matter is quite different (and violent)

Aug 26, 2013

Read Something! DIARY by Chuck Palahnuik

Chuck Palahnuik

Literary (?) fiction

Misty Wilmot was supposed to be a famous artist, but somehow that didn't quite work out. Somehow she ended up with a husband and a daughter and a dead-end waitressing job at the run-down hotel on Waytansea Island, where she's found herself living after marriage and pregnancy deferred her dreams. Somehow she's supposed to manage things alone after her husband, a building contractor, put himself in a coma through a failed suicide attempt. After his clients started calling, complaining of rooms in their houses found boarded-up, of strange obscene messages left inside.

All Misty wanted was to be an artist, before married motherhood on this picturesque island distracted her. Now, she's at the end of her rope. It doesn't help that all her mother-in-law wants her to do is take up her long-forgotten paints. It's what Misty's daughter wants, too. And many of the old island families are asking after her art... Something begins to seem not quite right as everyone on the island goes to increasing lengths to spark Misty's creativity. It's not clear what her art is supposed to accomplish - but it's becoming increasingly evident that she won't be allowed to not paint.

This is a dark and snappily written little novel for those of us interested in just how far people will go, and how awful the things they do will be, to ensure their own survival. It's by the author of Fight Club - so expect a healthy dose of meta and a plot twist or seven thrown in for good measure.

Aug 15, 2013

Read Something! REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

John Scalzi

Science fiction

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been posted to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union fleet. It's a prestigious post, but when Dahl arrives on board, he finds that life aboard the Intrepid is just a little... well, strange. To start off, it seems like the crew avoids their senior officers. Those that don't tend to get assigned to away teams, and those assigned to away teams... often end up dead. Then there's the Box, a device of unknown provenance that consistently offers solutions to insoluble problems just in the nick of time. Something isn't right on the Intrepid, and Dahl and his friends are going to get to the bottom of it - even if it means their world will never be the same.

Scalzi has written a fast-paced, entertaining narrative great for fans of Star Trek and similar sci-fi shows as well as people who enjoy a healthy dose of "meta" in their fiction.

Jul 1, 2013

Read Something! LOVE AND REVOLUTIONARY GREETINGS by Laurie Levinger

Laurie Levinger

Nonfiction / history / biography

Laurie Levinger never met her uncle Sam, though his pictures were in every house she lived in growing up. Sam died in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War, to which he had gone as one of the three thousand Americans who joined the International Brigades fighting Fascism. In 2001, Laurie's father gave her a box of letters and other memorabilia about Sam - and Laurie's journey to discover who her uncle was began.

Love and Revolutionary Greetings is the story of a young man, idealistic and courageous, who fought and died in an attempt to create a better world. It is the story, too, of Sam's mother, of the family he left behind, and of one of the great convulsions preceding World War II. Levinger has edited an affecting collection of first-hand descriptions of the war and its aftermath - mostly Sam's letters and his mother's written attempts to understand his life and his fate, but also primary source material from others who were in the war and Laurie and her family's own thoughts about Sam.

  • World War II Remembered by the residents of Kendal at Hanover? - also first-person stories of wartime

Jun 14, 2013

Read Something! A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Science fiction / postapocalyptic fiction / literary fiction

In the centuries after nuclear apocalypse, human society rebuilds itself almost from scratch. Told in three sections, each set several centuries after the previous story, A Canticle for Leibowitz shows us the lives of three men in the Order of Saint Leibowitz, an order of monks dedicated to preserving what books and papers remain of the civilization that existed before global thermonuclear war destroyed much of human society and precipitated a violent backlash against the educated, technologically advanced culture that had made nuclear weapons possible. As Miller brings the reader into the hearts, minds, hopes, and dreams of relatively ordinary people, and as the world moves from a dark age through a new renaissance into another technological era, the unavoidable question looms: will humanity avoid its past mistakes?

Warning [and spoiler warning]: This is not a happy ending.

  • Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban - similar post-nuclear-apocalyptic Dark Ages setting, questions of what society would look like after a nuclear holocaust, themes of history repeating itself
  • Miller wrote a sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
  • 1984 - similar for sheer bleakness

May 27, 2013

Read Something! THREE PARTS DEAD by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone 

Fantasy / thriller

Kos Everburning, god of fire, is dead. Without Him, the great city of Alt Coulumb, dependent on his powers, will soon die as well.

Tara Abernathy left the Hidden Schools in fire and lightning, expelled post-graduation in a great battle with her former professors. Despite her irregular method of departure, she's caught the eye of the prestigious firm Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, and now she's an entry-level associate tasked with finding out who killed Kos, how, and why. Soon Tara, her only-somewhat-human boss, and their temporary assistant, the chain-smoking priest Abelard, are avoiding assassination attempts, chasing vampires, fending off attacks by gargoyles, and uncovering a web of intrigue that brings them before the reincarnation of Justice Herself to argue their case.

This is that too-rare work of speculative fiction that combines carefully detailed world-building with well-realized characters who feel like real people. Add a thrilling plot with plenty of twists, turns, and adventure, and Gladstone's debut novel (!) is a winner. This book has it all: murder, magic, intrigue, treachery, power, love - and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel, coming in October 2013.

  • The book jacket invokes Zelazny, Gaiman, and Grisham. I haven't read Zelazny and I'm not sure I concur with Grisham (the legal thriller aspects are there, but I don't really know that it's the same), but Gaiman's writing seems to have a very similar atmosphere/feeling to it.
  • Might be a good stretch for mystery/thriller readers who could be induced to read something in a more fantastic setting.