Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Talk: The Thirteenth Tale

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale is a modern gothic novel involving a ghost, twins, incest, housekeepers, absent parents, a topiary garden, and a governess. I thoroughly enjoyed the prose and pacing of this novel. Actually, it was like two novels in one: the narrator's story and Vida's story. There was only one facet of the story that I felt was contrived, but all in all, it didn't really affect how much I enjoyed the book. For lovers of Jane Eyre or 19th century British fiction in general, I would definitely recommend this book!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Hi Everyone! Supervising is new to me, and so far I find it enjoyable. I supervise two students who are great, very prompt and efficient. The hardest part is making sure there are projects to keep them busy, especially on the really slow days. I am sure things will not always be so great, and I hope that I can remember what I learned in the management class in library school to make sure any issues are handled appropriately. We love to show them how much we appreciate their hard work in the library by giving them candy on holidays and birthdays and featuring a “Student of the Week” on the student library blog.

I am just curious how many of us supervise student workers, pages, and clerks in our libraries? Do you have any stories about supervising workers? What are some things that you do to recognize and show appreciation for your workers?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Talk: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a parenting memoir that has created quite the controversy. Author Amy Chua's article in The Wall Street Journal fanned the flames of hype, in what could be one of the most brilliant PR moves ever - or a naive editorial that's unleashed the fury of people everywhere and culminated in death threats for Chua. The eldest Chua daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, defended her mother in a letter published by The New York Post, which to many readers' dismay actually defends her mother and agrees with the way she and her sister were raised.

This book speaks to me on several personal levels:

1. Right or wrong, I've totally bought into the model minority identity of Asians in American culture. This is a double-edged sword because I have natural academic (and musical-ish) talents, but I was raised by white people. My mother would never sit and oversee my homework or music practice because she herself didn't have the fortitude - fortitude Chua has in spades. But I still made straight As (which I was paid for) though I'm definitely not good at math or science.

2. This book touches a lot on the "nature versus nurture" debate. Are Chinese mothers superior because they are Chinese genetically or because of the Chinese culture? Where do some of my stringent and bizarre tendencies come from - birth order, Asian heritage or proclivities that would be present even if I were white? Did I excel in school because my mother bought into the model minority idea, too, and therefore expected me to succeed despite her not being a Chinese mother?

3. I am fascinated by the idea that Chua pushed her children so hard - and that they fought so hard - but their relationships were built on mutual love. I tried for decades to be perfect and never fight with my mother; when the fighting finally started our relationship disintegrated. If I had ever screamed at my mother that I hated her she would've a) hated me back and b) never forgiven me. If she had been Chinese could she have handled it?

4. In true Western parent fashion, my mother asked me when I was tiny if I wanted to play the violin. She was prepared to find me a Suzuki teacher and jump in. However, for whatever reason I declined (at the age of four or whatever) and to this day I regret never learning. I was certainly allowed to indulge my interests (ballet, tap, jazz, choir, art) but I was never pushed to try things I was afraid of or didn't have a natural talent for. 

5. Another theme of the book is sacrifice - both of Chua and of her children. Just the other day one of my friends described me as "brilliant, but she'll never reach her true potential because she's not willing to sacrifice that much of herself." It's true. I'm human and weak and I get tired and depressed - something that "real" Asians don't experience (I'm convinced). I probably do have gifts that I'm squandering because I think the cost is too high. But perhaps I'd have more success and direction if I were willing to buckle down a little more - or if my mother had buckled down for me? I found myself thinking as I read this book, "Gee, if I'd been raised Asian I'd be smarter, thinner and more disciplined. I might not be happy but I'd probably have more direction."

I found Battle Hymn to be funny, warm and honest. Much like my reaction to Black Swan, where others saw torture and self-abuse I regretted giving up pointe, Battle Hymn totally made me want to have children. Surely that's a reaction only a Tiger Mother would have...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Random Thought

As a public librarian, the end of the day often means shutting things down, checking the stacks and bathrooms for stray patrons...

Sometimes, my day ends with only one random thought: Thank God, today was a good day for flushing....

Friday, February 11, 2011

Primetime Has Gone Library Crazy

Over the past year libraries have made an impressive number of appearances on prime time television. Unfortunately, it is as a joke. Yes, the jokes are usually funny, and I regularly watch all of these shows. However, I can't get past how negatively they portray our profession. Let's break it down.

Show: Modern Family
Network: ABC
Library related situation: After embarking on a competition to see who can last the longest without technology, Alex (middle child, smart one) complains that she can no finish a science paper without the internet. After her mother (Claire) suggests using the public library to do research Haley (oldest child) replies quite negatively.
Featured Quote: Claire- "What do you think the public library is for?"
Haley- “I thought that was a bathroom for homeless people.”
Why is is bad for our public image: This segment dismissed the library as not having anything to offer those with internet access at home. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Libraries have an amazing number of resources for middle school projects, and librarians who will help you navigate them! Also, Libraries are not bathrooms, nor are they homeless shelters. Refusing to limit access to members of the community is a characteristic that should be championed, not turned into a joke.

Show: Parks and Recreation
Network: NBC
Library related situation/dialog: Tammy, Ron's (head of parks department)is the library director. She and the library have a recurring role in the series and are described as "the worst." Also, overdue fines are used as blackmail.
Featured Quote: Leslie- "The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They’re mean, conniving, rude and extremely well read, which makes them very dangerous."
Why is is bad for our public image: The public library is the BEST, not the worst. Parks and Rec portrays libraries in a generally negative light. It furthers the mean librarian stereotype, and general misunderstandings about libraries. No actual librarian would ever publicly humiliate someone by falsifying records so they have a fine for an embarrassing book, or if the fine is legitimate.

Show: Community
Network: NBC
Library related situation/dialog: Troy and Abed compete for the affection of the "hot librarian."
Featured Quote: Troy- "Why does being a librarian make her even hotter?"
Abed- "The keeper of knowledge. She knows the answer to all our questions like "will you marry me?" and "why are there still libraries?"
Why is is bad for our public image: Ok, so this one isn't so bad, it perpetuates the hot librarian stereotype, but also labels her as knowledgeable and authoritative. She even rejects Troy and Abed's attempt to get her to shush them. The bigger problem here is that while the study group meets in the library each episode, they never use any library resources. In fact, this is the first time we have seen a librarian in two seasons. The viewer is given the impression that the library is irrelevant and does not have value outside of providing study space.

I know these are all sitcoms that are not meant to be taken seriously, but I think they illustrate a larger issue with the general public's perception of libraries. We have to find a way to assert our value and importance to those non-users who think the library is stuffy and irrelevant. Portrayals of libraries and librarians such as the examples above perpetuate traditional library stereotypes. I wish community would do an episode on academic integrity that features the library. Maybe someone on Modern Family could join a library book club? I'm sure Cameron would be hilarious in that setting. As I tell my co-worker on a regular basis, The library is a valuable resource that you are not using enough. Perhaps if libraries were portrayed in a better light on television more people would take advantage of them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

tiger librarians

Like everyone else, I heard about this Amy Chua "Tiger Mother" thing and formed an opinion before I actually read the WSJ op-ed she wrote. I'm not going to get into the "is it wrong to call your kid 'garbage'" debate (just kidding, of course I am! calling your kids names seems pretty sad and wrong and not good to me, and I don't really see a lot of ambiguity there. being mean and bullying your kids to be successful isn't really teaching them anything except that being mean and bullying will get you what you want. and also that their parents are jerks. no.)

Anyway, here's the part that made me think of libraries:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.
That struck me as a totally anti-library sentiment -- in addition to not being true, like, at all. I can think of dozens of things I find fun that I'm not good at, including dancing and riding a bike. (Off the top of his head, J has just come up with cooking, playing music, and playing any kind of sports for himself.)

And libraries are all about trying new things... doing research on an unfamiliar topic, learning new languages, figuring out that you want to knit or cook or raise chickens or grow a garden. Idealistically speaking, libraries are all about fun things you aren't good at. Also, I think libraries should be places where children do get to think about their preferences, and read or study what they want to some extent, and that is a good and freeing thing for young people.

So, in conclusion, Amy Chua, I think maybe you are not right about fun and being good at things and overriding preferences, and you probably believe libraries are unnecessary and promote mediocrity or something, and you probably would feel my parents did not raise me successfully because I am not a concert oboist math genius brain surgeon whatever. But I wouldn't go so far as to call you garbage.

Reference Question of the Day*

I had my first reference question at work yesterday! I was very excited. Since I work at a digital archive without physical holdings, I get very little direct patron interaction. It was kind of surprising to pick up the phone and find a real live patron on the end of the line.

I was nervous because I am not a subject specialist, and I'm still very much "learning the ropes" here. I'm not sure how the caller reached me, as he didn't seem to know who I am, but I suspect he called in on the general phone line and the receptionist (who's a friend) transferred him to me.

This patron was looking for help doing research in archives in the Ukraine. He explained that he was doing family research, specifically looking for more information about a relative who spent time in a gulag. I asked for his contact information and told him I would confer with my coworkers and get back to him shortly.

I asked around and found out that none of my coworkers has experience in Ukraine. Unfortunately, we have a very limited collection of Ukrainian documents (mostly from other countries) and don't have any strong links with archives there.

I didn't want to go back to him empty handed, so I did some quick research on our website and the web in general, and sent him the following information:

Hello Mr. Patron,

This is Laura Deal at the Cold War International History Project. I talked to my coworkers about your request, but unfortunately none of them has any experience with archives in Ukraine.

Ukraine's State Archives does have a good English website with contact information and advice for researchers: There are also many amateur genealogy sites on the web that offer suggestions for doing research in Ukraine, although I can't vouch for their accuracy.

At CWIHP itself, we don't have many Ukrainian documents, but some of them may be of interest to you, if you haven't looked already:,%20Socialist%20Soviet%20Republic,

Also, two years ago the Kennan Institute at Wilson Center launched a cooperative online exhibit with several gulag memorials/museums that might be of interest:

I wish I could be more helpful. Good luck with your search and please let me know if you have any other questions.

I wanted to analyze our interaction a bit, so I dug up my old Reference 101 notes and looked up the stages of the reference interview:

1. Welcoming
Well, I kind of failed at this one. I forgot to introduce myself until the end of our conversation, although I did explain a bit about our archive to give him some context.
2. Gathering general information from the user and getting an overview of the problem
In retrospect, I wish I'd let him talk longer and explain his query in more detail. I was a little too over-eager to interrupt and say, "Yes, I think I can help with that!"
3. Confirming the exact question
Next time, I need to remember to repeat the question back at the patron and confirm that I understood them.
4. Intervention, like giving information, advice or instructions
5. Finishing, including feedback and summary
I think I did okay at these two, giving information/advice and providing a summary of our interaction.
Anyone else doing reference at their workplace? I really enjoy helping people with research, so I hope I get more questions in the future.

*Don't know if reference questions will become a regular feature for Klub Kat, but the title is an homage to Brian Herzog's awesome Reference Question of the Week posts on Swiss Army Librarian.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

throw me a bone

When I teach students how to search, I typically ask the class to tell me what I should search for. This serves two purposes:
1. It's an attempt to engage the class. This is an opportunity for them to be creative, funny, and maybe, just maybe, smart (they almost never have me search for a topic related to their assignment or class...)
2. I get to show them what happens when they search using too broad of terms.

For example, yesterday I taught 4 classes. In 2 of them I asked the class to tell me what to search for during my demonstration of LexisNexis' Search the News. In the first class a kid said "dogs" then I showed them what happens when you just type in dogs. I asked for a narrower search. His answer? "Dog bones."

2nd class: A kid has me search for "partying." I ask him to be more specific. What ABOUT partying does he want to know about? "BEER!" "GAMES!" At least with this one I got to show them "beer and games not liquor."

So, sometimes these attempts to make class "exciting" DO work out. Other times it just becomes awkward for everyone involved.