how did I get here?


With my name spelled wrong and everything.

This is me, in high school. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. I’m not mentioning that to brag — the opposite, really. It’s more that I sometimes ask myself, how did I get here, from there? Wasn’t I supposed to end up doing something, I don’t know, important?

Honestly, I started out on the wrong foot: the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut. This, despite a fear of heights, speed, fire and airless places, also no aptitude for science and an utter lack of the physical skills needed for astronaut-ing, made that particular goal a pipe dream. So when I graduated from high school, despite a resounding endorsement from my peers, I had no particular idea what I was going to succeed at. I’d been on Debate Team, and I was pretty good at it too, so my yearbook is filled with a lot of “good luck in law school” comments. I have not, however, ever in my life entertained the idea of attending law school. Too dry. Too dull. (Though, I will say that when I was in about third grade I told my mother I didn’t want to be President someday, I wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. Presidents only get to keep their job for 8 years at most. Supreme Court judges get hired for life. This future union member already knew the value of job security.)

During orientation in my first week at Cornell, I wandered into the open house for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. Four years later I graduated with a background in costumes and directing. Three months later I quit graduate school before I’d even started, and for the next five years or so I worked at mostly meaningless jobs that didn’t quite pay the bills.

Sooner or later I decided I needed, you know, a career, or something. And in 1998, believe it or not, Library Science was a good field to study if you wanted a job. When I graduated with my Master’s from UB, there were recruiters at the school every semester. I had three job offers to pick from. I chose Amherst Museum. And that’s where I spent the next decade as a solo librarian. I had a great time organizing my library, processing the archives, getting involved in regional professional organizations like WNYLRC, where I spent some time on the Board. It was a terrific experience. I’d be lying, though, if I told you I was following my heart’s desire. Being a librarian mostly appealed to the OCD part of me that liked organizing things. That still likes organizing things. But I saw people who had passion for librarianship. I wasn’t one of them. So when I stopped being a librarian, I missed my colleagues, but not the rest.

So I never did get around to deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, to be frank, Dave and I both try our best to work as little as possible. 🙂 I have a job but it’s not anything worth mentioning; it’s just a job, not a career. I’m not really anything, professionally, and probably never will be. I’m just a little surprised that doesn’t bother me more.

You know, it’s twenty-five years since that picture was in my yearbook, and I look at it now and think, if I’d done a few things differently, maybe I would have fulfilled that promise and done something “important”. There were few times I believe, objectively, that I made the wrong choice. I should have picked a different major in college, or a different graduate school for theatre, or a different library to work in. Those were turning points for me. And it clarifies things for me to see that now, definitely. But in the age-old tradition of everyone who’s lucky enough to be happy, it doesn’t mean I’d go back and change anything now, if I could. Because whatever I did, right or wrong, I ended up somewhere I want to be. I didn’t succeed the way I thought I was going to, or the way my high school classmates apparently expected I would, but I wouldn’t trade my life for the world, wrong turns, failures, and all.

Borrowing from the library – digitally

What excites me most about ereading is the ability to borrow ebooks from the public library. After a shaky start, a few recent developments have helped libraries to move forward with digital lending, though not without some roadblocks.

Libraries ramp up e-book lending –

After a tentative foray into digital lending on PCs and e-readers several years ago, public libraries are opening the next chapter for smartphones and tablet computers.

The movement kicked into high gear in September when Amazon finally turned on its Kindle for 11,000 local libraries, triggering a flood of new users. App developers are also working with libraries to enable book lovers to borrow on their smartphones.

“With more devices for consumers to try, they’re going to get better,” says Christopher Platt of the New York Public Library. “And the e-reading experience will get better.”

The evolution is playing out amid some challenges, including an ongoing squabble between eager-to-grow libraries and publishers that fear copyright infringement and losing money on digital distribution, their fastest-growing segment of business.

Some large publishers — such as Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hatchette — refuse to sell to libraries, thus limiting the availability of popular titles.

Still, customers’ appetite for e-book lending is growing unabated. According to Library Journal, public libraries increased their offerings by 185% this year. E-books will account for 8% of their materials budget in five years, it says.

I can’t afford to buy every ebook I’d like to read, nor do I really need to, just like printed books. I’m a frequent library borrower, but that often involves requesting copies from other branches, waiting for them to come in, scurrying to the library when it’s open and I’m not at work, an intersection of events that can sometimes be rare. To borrow an ebook, though, all I need to do is go online, browse, and download in minutes. Magic!

Unwarped by fashion and uncompromised by expediency

“The libraries of America are and must ever remain the homes of free, inquiring minds. To them, our citizens–of all ages and races, of all creeds and political persuasions–must ever be able to turn with clear confidence that there they can freely seek the whole truth, unwarped by fashion and uncompromised by expediency.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to the American Library Association, 1953.

HarperCollins Puts 26-Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations

From Library Journal, some alarming news:

In the first significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation, HarperCollins has announced that new titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires.

If a lending period is two weeks, the 26 circulation limit is likely to equal roughly one year of use for a popular title. For a three-week lending period, that stretches to a year and a half.

For librarians—many of whom are already frustrated with ebooks lending policies and user interface issues—further license restrictions seem to come at a particularly bad time, given strained budgets nationwide. It may also disproportionately affect libraries that set shorter loan periods for ebook circulation.

While HarperCollins is the first major publisher to amend the terms of loan for its titles, two other members of the publishing “big six”—Macmillan and Simon & Schuster—still do not allow ebooks to be circulated in libraries, much to the consternation of librarians.

Read more: HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations.

Re-Imagine: BECPL

Passing on this press release from the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System, for any local folks interested. I know I’m not alone in my concern for BECPL’s future in the face of next year’s massive budget cut, so this could be a good way to get all hands on deck, at least.

Community Meetings Announced To Create New Vision for Libraries & Services

The public is invited to share its ideas for the regional library system of the future through a series of public meetings, web surveys and focus groups; all part of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System’s newly launched Re-Imagine campaign.

“This is an exciting as well as a challenging time for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System,” said Bridget Quinn-Carey, director of the Library System.  “We are beginning a process to re-imagine the library and create a new vision that will meet the needs of the entire community; a library that will not only accommodate the types of  services that are so heavily used currently, but one that will satisfy the needs of our users for innovative services in the years ahead.”

The Re-Imagine campaign, expected to take several months, is soliciting input from the public, business, corporate, services, cultural, senior, teen, urban and suburban sectors to determine how the library of the future in Erie County will look and what services it will offer. The process is being led by volunteer George T. DeTitta, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist, Hauptman-Woodward Institute, and a citizen’s advisory committee as well as the consulting firm of Architectural Resources.  Participants will learn how libraries in other cities are successfully and creatively meeting the needs of library users in their communities, for today and tomorrow.

Upcoming Re-imagine Community Meeting dates, which are free and open to the public are:

Monday, November 8, 2010
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Downtown Buffalo Central Library, One Lafayette Square, Bflo, 14203
Mason O. Damon Auditorium

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Erie Community College South, 4041 Southwestern Blvd, Orchard Park, 14127
Bldg. 5, Room 5102

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Erie Community College North, Tech Drive off of Wehrle Drive,  Williamsville,
Bretschger Hall, room B401

For more information, call 716-858-7144 or visit

Lighthouse traveling libraries

I recently stumbled across a web site from the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, displaying examples of something I’ d never heard of: lighthouse traveling libraries.

“Lighthouses were often time located in remote areas and as such had no access to city services such as libraries, opera houses, entertainment, etc. that most people enjoyed who lived in a town or city. As light keeping was a lonely profession in most cases supplies were brought to them by lighthouse tender ships. One of the items the tender supplied was a library box on each visit as pictured to the left. Library boxes were filled with books and switched from station to station to supply different reading materials to the families. In 1876 portable libraries were first introduced in the Light-House Establishment and furnished to all light vessels and inaccessible offshore light stations with a selection of reading materials. These libraries were contained in a portable wooden case, each with a printed listing of the contents posted inside the door. Proper arrangements were made for the exchange of these libraries at intervals, and for revision of the contents as books became obsolete in accordance with suggestions obtained from public library authorities.

The books were carefully selected from books of a good standard appropriate to the families who would use them. While largely fiction, other classes of literature were included in reasonable proportions including technical books when requested. The books and periodicals contained in the libraries remained the property of the Light-House Establishment and each was marked in the front with the official Light-House Establishment bookplate. The beautiful 3″ x 4 ½” bookplate label bears a wonderful image of an iron pile lighthouse and Minot’s Ledge Light, and a lightship and bears the words “The Property of the Light House Establishment”.”

Rare color photos from the Depression

Rare color photos from the Great Depression were compiled by the Farm Services Administration from 1939 and 1944 –so it’s really more a mix of the Depression and the War years. These depictions of mostly rural life, however, have a lot to say about hard times, and their vivid colors bring to life what black and white, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, sometimes distances the viewer from.

Photographers working for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1939 and 1944 made approximately 1,600 color photographs that depict life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The pictures focus on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working.

To browse the entire collection, visit the Library of Congress web site.

Libraries a bigger source of DVDs than Netflix

From the LA Times:

According to a survey by the Online Computer Library Center, more people get DVDs from libraries than from Netflix, and more than Blockbuster and Redbox combined…. These days, borrowing movies from the library is a smart way to save money.

Well, that’s true enough. But the LA Times is a little behind the times if they’re just noticing this trend now. My librarian friends in public libraries, and especially the library clerks I know, working in the trenches, will tell you that DVDs have been their biggest business for years. The demand for DVDs in libraries skyrocketed and it keeps every library staff on the run, trying to keep up.

On the one hand, it’s almost not worth commentary. Libraries have long collected more than just books — audiobooks, VHS tapes, readalong books for kids, LPs, cassettes, CDs. So now it’s DVDs, and they’re more popular than the others put together, but it’s still just format.

On the other hand, there’s piracy. I’m sorry, but when a library patron comes in, rents a dozen DVDs, and then returns them the next day and promptly takes out a dozen more — we all know they’re not watching them, back to back, for the ensuing 24 hours straight. They’re copying them, plain and simple. Possibly just for their own personal use, which is still illegal, but less unethical than the other possibility, which is that they’re selling copies of these movies somewhere. No way to say for sure which it is, of course.

Regardless, the next time you’re in the library, try to give the ladies and gentlemen behind the audiovisual/DVD counter (or just your librarian or library clerk, if you’re at a smaller place) a sympathetic smile. They didn’t plan to take over from Blockbuster, and they probably aren’t entirely jazzed about having to do so, but they’re just trying to give the public what they want and need. Which is all libraries ever try to do, no matter how unappreciated they might sometimes be.

5 places to download free e-books

From, this list of five places to download free e-books:

1. Project Gutenberg — The granddaddy of all e-book sites, Gutenberg contains the text of thousands of public-domain titles. From the Bible to the Kama Sutra and everything in between, they’re all there. And you can read their titles just about anywhere, be it your computer, your Kindle, your iPad, or your phone.

2. ManyBooks — Like Project Gutenberg but a little bit prettier, ManyBooks has about 26,000 free e-books just waiting to be downloaded. The site started out with e-book version of Project Gutenberg titles, but has expanded to include many additional public domain and Creative Commons titles from additional sources. — Tor is one of the world’s biggest Science Fiction publishers and they took the steps to embrace e-books years ago. Their website is packed with free books and stories from their best-known authors. Their logic is that if you read a book for free, you might also want to buy it in print. Your mileage may vary on that logic, but it’s still a great source for some good reads.

4. Amazon and Barnes & Noble — If you bought Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook, you may as well keep shopping with them. Each of their sites offers hundreds of free books. They’re often the same books you’d find at the sites above, but you might also luck out and find that a publisher is offering its commercial e-books for free as a special deal through one of the online stores.

5. Your local library — What’s that, you didn’t know that your library has free e-books? Well, it all depends on how quickly your state’s library system is adapting to the electronic world. Some libraries have actual Kindles you can borrow, with e-books loaded on them, while others let you visit a special library site and download e-books to your reader for a week or two. (My library hasn’t gotten that far yet, but I can download audiobooks to my iPod any time I want.) Does your library offer this? You don’t know unless you ask.

I like Tor’s attitude a lot, because I think it’s valid — if I read an ebook for free, I actually just might want it in print, or more to the point, want more from from that author. And I have nothing but terrific things to say about Project Gutenberg. While Google Books are poorly scanned and horribly OCRd, PG books have been carefully proofread by teams of volunteers. Much better quality.

From the Wall Street Journal:


SAN FRANCISCO—Libraries are expanding e-book offerings with out-of-print editions, part of a broader effort to expand borrowing privileges in the Internet Age that could challenge traditional ideas about copyright.

Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.

And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena. Google Inc., which is working on its own book scanning efforts, has been mired in a legal brouhaha with authors and publishers over its digital books project.

To read the books, borrowers around the world can download and read them for free on computers or e-reading gadgets. Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends. Two-thirds of American libraries offered e-book loans in 2009, according to a survey by the American Library Association. But those were mostly contemporary imprints from the last couple of years—say, the latest Stephen King novel.

The Internet Archive project, dubbed, goes a step further by opening up some access to the sorts of books that may have otherwise gathered dust on library shelves—mainly those published in the past 90 years, but of less popular interest.”