Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The digital divide is real

... and in your neighborhood

A woman hovers uncomfortably next to the reference desk.  "I need help printing something out but I don't know how to use a computer." While the request is quite common, the age of the questioner was a bit startling as she appeared to be in her mid-20's.

"I'm just down for my monthly visit and need to check my email.  There's no internet in the mountains where I live," says a gray-haired lady.

"I just got out of prison after 10 years; I'm not sure how the computers work anymore." A menacing, tattooed man says sheepishly.

"My grandkids got me this tablet-thing for Christmas but I don't know how to set it up and use it", a stoop-shouldered man complains.

"I need to apply for a job, I'm just back from the oil fields but I don't know how these online applications work." Says a despondent man in his 40's.

"I don't know how to get an email address."

"It's asking for a cell phone and I don't have one."

These are situations that happen daily at the public library. It may come as a shock to you, reading this as you are on the internet but, not everyone knows how to use a computer or even has access to one.

I have to admit... even though I keep a smile on my face, there are times when comments by some of my patrons, strangers who discover my profession, or even well-meaning friends offer this question (in some form or another) it makes me grit my teeth:

"How long do you think it will be until everything is digital?"

Other variations include
"Doesn't everybody have/know how to use a computer?"
"What are you going to do when there are no print books?"
"Why do you guys buy so many books anymore Nobody reads in print anymore"

I could go on but you get the point.

There are a lot of assumptions in that one statement. What makes me grit my teeth is the unintended insult buried in the thought.  It also shows a lack of understanding of the world outside one's comfortable little bubble.

Let's look at the reality of living in New Mexico.  We are ranked as one of the 10 poorest states in the U.S.. While the exact position varies depending on the source, the Land of Enchantment (a.k.a. the Land of Entrapment) measures high on the poverty scale and low on the average income scale.  Combine this with a wide geographical area with many topographical variations which make some areas almost inaccessible and you have a state where a few people in "big" cities ("big" is relative when you're talking about our population distribution) make a good living but many more are struggling to make ends meet.

If a single mother (all too often starting as a teenage mom) is struggling to provide food, housing and clothing for her children, what are the chances she is able to afford the luxury of internet at her house?

"But they have computers at the schools" is the argument I've most often heard.

Have you been in the schools lately?  Some lucky classrooms have 3-5 computers for 20-30 (or more) students have to share.  Computer labs provide about 30 computers for an entire slew of classes and scheduling is tight.  Teachers have to schedule their time with the computers accommodating the other hundreds of students who need time on the units.  And with the state-mandated testing schedule, much of that screen time is not used to provide instruction in basic computer skills and critical evaluation skills to teach students how to safely navigate the internet, it is used to teach the kids how to click the answer to take the test.  (This is another completely different issue--standardized tests and the instruction time they steal from teachers doing their best to teach in spite of the restrictive, unhelpful and onerous unprofessional restrictions placed upon them every year.)

Even when teachers fight to give their students enough educational screen time, they are doing so on computers that are out of date.

Which means, the kids aren't getting enough computer skills to teach them the current software much less the skills to keep up with the fast pace of the digital world.  Seniors citizens who may have started out trying to learn the ropes are often outstripped by the rapid changes and updates. I sat with a sweet older couple one day a week for almost 2 months to teach them how to access their Facebook from their iPad so when the day came, they could post a memorial picture and article to commemorate the anniversary of their grandson's death.

From devices to phones to the internet to basic computing skills and typing/keyboarding functions (yes, we've had to explain how to get the @ symbol, the difference between the delete and the backspace key, and to specify that you have to press the keys for anything to happen), the public library helps everyone.

As I've said before, the public library is a great equalizer.  Not bringing down the mighty to a lower level or vice versa but offering a level playing field for citizens of all ages to learn, increase and sharpen their skills so that they can become productive citizens.  Job applications are almost exclusively online for many businesses.  School research needs access to reputable resources that just aren't "on the internet".  Disenfranchised citizens of all walks of life can find a helping hand and training here.

In essence, the library is the bridge to cross the digital divide.

  Keep building the bridge and make it strong!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Book Review--Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

 Where has this story been all my life?  It's not new (1996), how have I never discovered it before now?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is the most satisfying story I have read in a long time.  It so completely immerses in a world that melds seamlessly with reality that you're not sure where one begins and the other ends.

This feeling was absolutely reinforced by the fact that I listened to this story on audio (through OverDrive) and it was read by the author.  Fantastic!

I'm not even sure where to begin...

Just read it!

And now that I've discovered Neil Gaiman, I now have to read Good Omens as he has co-authored it with my favorite fantasy/satirical writer, the late and mourned Sir Terry Pratchett

Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review--Just a Guy by Bill Engvall

I have always considered myself average.

Average height, average coloring, average upbringing... actually I'm probably the only "average" person on the bell curve which, in and of itself, makes me unique.

But I haven't achieved super stardom.  In fact, I get excited when one of my old students recognizes me in the store.  There's no way that someone with such a mundane existence could ever be a household name. It takes special circumstances from birth to achieve that... right?

Not according to Bill Engvall.  This fantastic comedian who has made so many people laugh and learn to take life as it comes and revel in the ridiculous, had just a childhood.  With just parents (and stepmom, who sounds great, by the way) and just sisters and was just a kid.  And a high school student and a "kind of" college student.  And, Just a Guy.

Just a Guy: Notes from a Blue Collar Life by [Engvall, Bill, Eisenstock, Alan]

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mr. Engvall's routines over Pandora and on YouTube and through his DVD recordings but hearing this book (audio from OverDrive) I saw the stories behind those stories.  There are several incidents that I remember hearing from his show, embroidered for emphasis, but here is the backstory.  There are some episodes that he recounts from his childhood that make me laugh because I recognize things that my sons would do or have done.  There are some heart wrenching episodes such as his parents' divorce that hit home because of my own situation but gives me hope that my children can succeed even with that difficulty in their upbringing.  It really was a wonderful warm look at the real man behind the laughter.  I enjoyed it.

My only regret is that I wasn't able to see him when he came to the Inn of the Mountain Gods this summer.  The timing and finances weren't right but if he comes back, I'll be right up there, laughing and shaking my head and remembering that even though he's up on that stage he's still, just a guy.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Book Review--The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Imagine a story that is like a quilt; each piece can stand on its own and tell a simple story but an artist can piece them together to make a new, cohesive, spectacular whole.

That's what Charlie Lovett has done in The Bookman's Tale.

At first it was a gentle story about a man trying to recover from the loss of his wife.  And it is.

But then it was account of the legacy of a literary treasure.  And it is.

And then it was an adventure tale complete with murders and escapes.  And it is.

Then again, it was the legend of a family feud handed down through generations.  And it is.

After that it was a narrative of a tragic love affair, and another.  And another.  And it is.

How can one book be all that and still be a cohesive story?  You'll have to read it to find out!

Paired with some quiet time and a cup of tea or hot chocolate, the Bookman's Tale makes for a delicious afternoon.

p.s. for you bibliophiles, there are lots of details regarding antiquarian books as well as book repair--I don't mind saying, I found these just as compelling as the rest of the story because they were interwoven with the meaningfulness of the person performing the repairs.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

I'm sick of judgmental memes

Enough is enough.

I've spent countless hours over the years talking with my kids about how one incident doesn't define your life.  How we need to remember that everything we do adds up and we want to try to be better today than we were yesterday.  That God doesn't judge us by one bad day but we also shouldn't wallow and abuse his grace by knowingly doing what is wrong.  We take life as a whole and one suspended moment in time does not define the wholeness of our being and spirit.

Unless, apparently, you are a world-renowned athlete competing against (literally) the best of the best of the whole world.  Then one momentary snapshot will define you as a "loser".

I don't care if these two remarkable athletes have a "history" or a friendly rivalry or not.  What I care about is that one candid shot, of which we really don't know what happened, is defining a person in a negative way.  Not the moment, not the action, the person.

Do you really want to be judged by one solitary instant that someone happens to glimpse?  I don't know about you but I have moments of each day that I'm not proud of. I have snarky comments that I sometimes can't hold back.  I am the one who gave my children their epic eye-roll capabilities.  I'm not a perfect person and, I'm taking a wild guess here, neither are you.  So, please think twice about demeaning someone for an instant in time that they may have lost focus.  Please take a moment to think that maybe you are misinterpreting what you're seeing.  Ponder the possibility that you don't know the backstory.

Because, in the end, you might be indicating that someone else's best isn't valuable.

You might be denigrating one of the top athlete's in the world for your own enjoyment.  And, in turn, you might be teaching someone impressionable that the best in the world still isn't good enough.

I really, really don't ever want my kids to think that trying their best doesn't matter if they can't be number 1.  That's a recipe for discontent and a disastrous life.  I don't want my kids to think they have to label someone who is an expert at something as a "loser" to make themselves feel better.

Bringing someone down does not make you any better.  Ever.  It makes you petty.

Instead try, "Focus helps you finish strong."  Or, "Ignore distractions and do your best".  Even better, "If today isn't your day, maybe it's tomorrow."

When you get to be in the top 99.99% of anything, then you can look at this picture and call one of them a "loser".  Until then, work on being your best and not defining a person by a single action.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

New Book Review--Indeh by Ethan Hawk

by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth

That's the first word that came to mind when I closed the cover of this book.  In colloquial internet-speak, it hit me right in the feels.  Oof.

What makes that more meaningful to me is that it is a different format than I typically enjoy.  This powerful historical story is presented as a graphic novel.*

In general, I have a hard time with graphic novels.  Not that I dislike them because of the principle of passing a story through illustrations, there are many readers who were first introduced to the tricky concept of reading through graphic novels, historically referred to as "comic books". I am just a very linear reader that is wholly entrenched in the up-to-down, left-to-right rhythm of reading.  Sometimes the varying shape and sequence of the graphic frames confuses me.  And any switch in the timeline, like flashbacks, is hard for me to catch.

Considering all that, for this book to impact me the way it did, speaks volumes.

I already pity my son's New Mexico History teacher spring semester.  I'm going to make him take it in for her to see; I think this is a valuable asset in any history classroom.

This book addresses a huge part of our history, especially here in New Mexico and the southwest that is misunderstood and largely ignored.  But the story of the Apache Nation and the process of the progress of the "white eyes" across the continent is dramatic and affects many people.

The challenge of writing an excellent graphic novel, especially one that is not intended to entertain with a fictional story but one to underscore the impact of an historical turning point, is balancing the text (minimal) with the illustrations (maximized).  The story has to be carried along on the twin streams of both, running in conjunction and both supporting and compelling each, in turn.

This fantastic work of literature and art does just that. Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth have worked in tandem to bring to life this snapshot of early American history.  I found the afterword emphasized the compelling nature of the text and commend Mr. Hawk for not leaving this when his first avenue of presentation was deemed nonviable.  This was well worth waiting for.

 *A nod to those who misunderstand the use of "graphic" in this sense. It is not used to refer to something explicit or unsavory.  It is instead using the term to describe something depicted through pictures or graphics (those of you who scoff at this, be warned there are more people out there who have this misunderstanding than you know, do not discount them).

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Harry Potter Extravaganza!

My case of Potter-itis has been cured!

I'm all Pottered out.

I'm still tired... but so happy!!  The Harry Potter Release Party Extravaganza was a hit!!!  It was spectacular, it was... CROWDED!!!! (o.k. I'll stop with the exclamation points just read everything from this point on with lots of excited enthusiasm).

As I volunteered to run the Potions class and had 3 different things the participants could choose from, I had no time to take pictures.  Therefore I am shamelessly borrowing from my partner-in-crime for this (and future because we haven't learned our lesson, yet) event.  Ami, the Youth Services librarian you've heard me mention before has a spectacular blog post on this that you won't want to miss.  She managed to collect pictures from every area we had activities. You can also click the link to her blog from the top right corner here (A Mom's Spare Time) any time to read or follow her.

So, back to Potions class.  I wanted the kids (I say kids throughout but it was also for adults--anyone who wanted to participate--and I did have a few of those) to mix something and be able to take it home to use/play with later. We had Slug Slime made with powdered newt bone and pixie essence (a.k.a. corn starch and dish soap) and Lethargio Crystals (a.k.a. scented epsom salts) to soothe tired hands after a long day of wand work.  I also had ink to mix up, with parental permission.  The reason for the regulation was that the base was rubbing alcohol and the ink was permanent.  Although, I did have one parent concerned that when I said "permanent ink" I was talking about tattoos.  No, tattooing is not a service provided by this library.

Miniature ink bottle with corks along with small parchment papers and a quill!

The table got very messy, very fast.  Powdered newt bone gets everywhere!

This is my assistant Potions Master.  He was an excellent asset to the Potions class and took his job very seriously.
He was also selected as the costume contest winner for his handmade wand and explanation of his "generic Ravenclaw Student" costume. He gets his sense of character from me, I've got strong genes ;)

Everyone went home with a potion of their choice!

Beyond Potions class, there were more than a dozen other activities and areas to visit.  There were other Hogwarts classes and friendly shops from Diagon Alley.  Ollivander's was fun and we did what I wasn't sure would happen and that's give out all 150 wands my crafting crew (conscripted effort from my kids, nieces and nephews) started building.  We hot glued what seemed like a million pencils, and got some blisters to remind us that hot glue is hot.  Then Ami finished up and painted them brown to create the stock for Ollivander's Shop: "The Wand Chooses the Wizard"!

Participants were then able to practice their wand work with spells, charms, hexes and curses!

For those of an athletic nature, there was a water quidditch match on the front lawn.  In the words of Mrs. Weasley (my counterpart at the reference desk) who was refereeing the game, "It all kind of disintegrated into chaos but everyone had a good time".  That's all we can ever ask.

Party goers were able to refresh themselves with Butter Beer and then visit Honeydukes.

Here is the awesome Ms. Ami and life-saving library assistant Mr. Cliff!
I was excited to get some cool spots to visit in other rooms of the library, as well.  I put together a Horcrux Hunt with clues to lead you to various areas of the collection to gather stickers.  We had visitors to the lovely Mirror of Erised (made by yours truly--too bad I didn't have more time but it turned out well enough).

I love this picture!

But the mirror looks more rocking in this black and white photo by Lucid Dreams Photography

The Pensieve was a popular station for people to jot down their favorite book or scene or even their favorite part of the library! (Bring on the compliments!)
I had fun with concrete to make the Pensieve.

My baby was the Weasley clock in the Burrow.  My sous-crafters (if chefs can have assistants with cool titles and still take credit for the work, I can, too.) helped with the base work and decoupaging and I added the details.
Here's a closer picture.  It's so cool!!!
We also had the memorabilia on display so people could buy last-minute raffle tickets.
We sold raffle tickets to pay for the party and future programs.
And if displays weren't enough, we had some fun interactive stations... you could interact with a Dementor!
Scary, huh?  I guess I kinda made this display, too, since it's my oldest son :D
But not so scary that people ran away.
Although it appears that I was the one in imminent danger of getting my soul sucked out while I interpreted at the costume contest. (no we weren't dancing and he dipped me, although that could be a cool new show, "Dancing with Dementors"!
Even if we didn't everything done that we wanted (our to-do/to-want list was actually pretty intimidating), it was a wonderful, fun, exhilarating and exhausting day.  We celebrated the world-wide, generation-crossing, best-selling world of Harry Potter!!

I still need a nap.