Chad Comello

Libraries, culture, typewriters

Author: Chad (page 3 of 58)

A Moomin and his typewriter

Life goals, courtesy of Moominpapa:

(h/t Austin Kleon)

Steve K has a nice write-up about the wide-carriage Olympia on display at Moomin World in Finland that’s meant to stand in for Moominpappa’s typewriter. It does look like a wide carriage in the above illustration, though in this one it’s of normal size:

Dictionary on display

This morning I looked at my bookshelves and noticed my three volumes of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. I haven’t cracked them open since I got them from Half Price Books a few months ago. I was so excited to get them so I’d have an accessible and thorough way to tap into the dictionary’s mighty powers, but, lacking space for exhibition, they’ve just languished on the shelves.

Then I saw that my standing desk—a hefty wooden podium acquired from a library rummage sale—was unusually lacking my laptop. Taking this as a sign, I cracked open Volume 1 and let it breathe:

It immediately looked like it was meant to be there. I like using that space for computer work, but I think I’ll give this a try for a while.

Music of the Moment – International Women’s Day edition

An ongoing series on music I’ve encountered recently.

Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, here’s an all-female list of music I’ve been really enjoying:

“Ain’t That Fine” by I’m With Her, See You Around
The soulful powers of Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins, and Sarah Jarosz combined have become I’m With Her (which I’ve learned pre-dated Hillary’s presidential campaign). Saw them live at Thalia Hall last week. Some bands sound better on the album, but not these women: you can’t fully appreciate their tight, soulful harmonies and virtuosic finger-pickin’ unless you’re up close. I hope this is the first of many albums from them.

“O Gracious Light” by Sandra McCracken, Songs from the Valley
With this blog’s top album of 2015, Sandra’s back this year with more goodness.

“It’s A Shame” by First Aid Kit, Ruins
Saw them live with my future wife back in 2012 when The Lion’s Roar came out. “Emmylou” is a special song in our relationship. They’ve been making equally great pop tunes ever since.

“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter
This was one of those albums where when I discovered it a couple months ago, I was mad I hadn’t discovered it sooner so it could have been in my life longer.

“Want You Back” by HAIM, Something to Tell You
Huge fan of their first album, and this one is more of the same, in a good way. So danceable, if I were a dancer.

“Sometimes” by Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter
As an aspiring banjoist, she and Bela Fleck are in my personal pantheon. I missed the chance to see them together in concert recently and I’m really regretting it. I’m hoping/assuming she’ll stay awesome and return to my town soon.

“To Know Him Is To Love Him” by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris, Trio
Seeing I’m With Her reminded me of this classic women’s trio, which is more classically country. There’s just something about strong female harmonies.

Refer Madness: A String of Beeps

Refer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk.

I was on the phone with a patron when I heard it: that incessant beep the copier makes when something goes wrong.

Once I finished with the patron on the phone, I went over to see what was the matter. This time it was “Insufficient funds”. The coin tower screen showed 25 cents, which was enough for the two copies the patron wanted to make. I cleared the attempted copy job, tried it again, and it printed fine.

I assume copier technology has advanced since the mid-20th century, but you wouldn’t know it based on what’s churning out copies in many libraries.

“I guess it just hates me,” the man said with a smile.

“It’s just old and cranky,” I tell him, which is true.

“Well, I’m old and cranky too,” he said wryly. (A sense of humor goes a long way when dealing with technology—of any age.)

It’s a phenomenon we’re all familiar with: the computer or copier or iDevice malfunctions, but as soon as someone comes to the rescue, it works fine. We made it through this operation painlessly, but it was emblematic of how much of my job is realizing how things get screwed up and how often it’s the machine’s fault.

I can’t tell you how many times a patron brings a device to the desk and says “I feel so dumb” or “This is a dumb question, but…” Sure, sometimes patrons don’t read instructions or signs correctly. But just as often it’s the design of the machine or app that led to the failure. The annoying beeps and popup error messages are just an insulting icing on the cake.

Though the machine is just trying to say:

*BEEP* ERROR

its frustrated victims actually hear:

*BEEP* WRONG
*BEEP* YOU’RE STUPID
*BEEP* SCREW YOU

Counteracting this ought to be the chief quest of good design. It makes everything better: users can actually use things without going insane and devices can be used with minimum intervention from outsiders.

Easier said that designed.

A skeptic’s “Glance at the Public Libraries” of 1928, from H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury

Watch out, world: we’ve got ourselves a 90-year-old hot take!

In the June 1928 issue of The American Mercury, a periodical edited by the famous journalist H.L. Mencken, there’s an article by Fletcher Pratt called “A Glance At The Public Libraries”. I stumbled upon the issue while processing material at the Frances Willard House Museum. It was there because of the article about Willard in the same issue, but the library article was what first caught my eye.

Pratt, a writer of science fiction and history, worked at Buffalo Public Library for a time and used that experience to write this sardonic, dismissive, sexist contrarian take on the public libraries of that time.

Why read it at all? First, as a historical artifact, it provides valuable context from a different era. Second, even though it’s almost 100 years old and, to modern minds, retrograde in its view of library workers and their work, I think it’s important to read contrarian perspectives on issues close to one’s heart and mind. Librarianship is my career and one I love, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore criticisms of it.

It’s also just plain funny, in a tongue-in-cheek, insult comic kind of way. Pratt goes Don Rickles on the profession in a way only someone familiar with it could pull off.

So let’s consider what Fletcher Pratt tells us about how public libraries have changed since 1928 and in what ways they remain the same, if at all. I recommend reading the whole thing to get the full experience. But let’s take a look at some of my favorite parts:

It begins:

Every public library in the United States now places restrictions on the use of fiction.

Librarians, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Restricting fiction seems laughable now, given how popular and dominant it is in the book and library worlds.

American librarians, in fact, have become obsessed with the idea that the national literature will go to the dogs unless they persuade their customers to read something beside fiction. Indignant papers in the library journals and long discussions at librarians meetings are given over to the great question of how to keep the public from reading what it likes and how to induce it to read the moldering stacks of books it doesn’t care about.

That’s what I mean about funny.

Three classes of books—travel, biography and history—are held in orthodox library circles to be the best antidote to this depraved fondness for works of the imagination. To these the best shelves are given, for them the special bulletins are printed, and on them the lady attendant spends the best efforts of her cajolery to make her percentage of nonfiction circulation high.

A favorite device for increasing circulation painlessly is to require every reader who uses a reference book to fill out a slip for it.… Another potent scheme is to take books into the schools; a third is to offer vacation libraries of twenty-five or fifty books for the summer. Are they read? Who cares? It makes circulation, and circulation, in the librarian’s mind, is the summum bonum.

Here is where things get a little more familiar to us moderns. Circulation remains the summum bonum of the profession, however much local value and subject matter still factor into collection development. If a book doesn’t circulate, it won’t last long in a space-limited library.

Nothing is more curious to the outside observer than the typical librarians’ preoccupation with the infinitely little. Recently, for example, an angry controversy raged through the library world as to whether Radio or Wireless should be the heading under which books on the subject were classified. … In the library where the writer once worked hours of discussion at a staff meeting were given over to the absorbing question as to whether it was better to hold a book in the left hand and insert the charge slip with the right, or vice versa.

Book in left, charge slip in right. Wanna fight about it?

This tireless energy over trivialities argues that small minds are at work, and sure enough, there is a certain lack of intelligence among librarians. The reason is not far to see; intelligence follows the cornucopia, and library work is probably the worst paid of all intellectual vocations.

In our defense, tedious discussions about trivialities are hardly exclusive to libraries. But if you’re mad about Pratt asserting a lack of intelligence among librarians, you’re definitely not gonna like his reasoning:

Since girls first discovered that it could furnish them with pin-money while they waited for someone to love them, library work has been a prime favorite with the female of the species. It involves little labor, and that of a highly genteel character; it demands no great mental ability and it places the husband-hunter who enters it on public exhibition, where she can look over and be looked over by all the nubile males of the district under the most refined auspices.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest Pratt would not have fared well in the #MeToo era. Next he tackles library school:

In no case does the course extend beyond two years, and the pedagogues have had to drag in such subjects as the History and Philosophy of Printing to make it last that long. Before the schools got under way the libraries trained rather better staffs than they have now on a month’s lectures with practical experience. The truth is that there is very little to teach; any literate person can learn all there is to a library system in a few weeks. Consequently the library schools have to drill their future B.S.’s and M.A.’s in the beautifully vague principles of “library economy,” and to impress them with the importance of such details as inserting the charging slip with the right hand, or lettering the title on a thin book in the proper direction.

I’ll save the discussion about the pros and cons of library school for another post. But “beautifully vague principles” mixed with arcane details is pretty spot-on—and why I love libraries so much. He then tips his cap to Andrew Carnegie, patron saint of library buildings:

There are never enough branches to go round, but the head librarians, pushed from below by their staffs and from above by aldermen anxious for pork, do their best, and so new branches are added apace. The fund established by the obliging Mr. Carnegie makes it easy; all the city has to do is furnish the books; the Carnegie fund will put up the imitation Greek temple and even the funerary vegetation around it.

Finally, Pratt touts the Newark library as the “highest peak” of effectiveness, unlike that of its neighbor:

Right across the Hudson is the great New York Public, in any one of whose vaulted corridors Newark’s whole collection would be lost. The contrast of striking. In the New Jersey institution one watchman is at the door and a whole corps of eager assistants stand ready to help the visitor; in the marble monument to the Astors one may count a dozen policemen in neat horizon blue idling about to enforce the library rules, while one poor boy struggles vainly with requests for information.

Ace Ventura: Reader

“Fiction can be fun, but I find the reference section much more enlightening.” — Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

I was into the Ace Ventura movies to an embarrassing degree as a tween. They entered my consciousness and comic sensibility at the perfect time. I quoted them often. There’s even home video of me doing a pretty good imitation of his goofy cowboy strut.

But a recent rewatch exposed the painful truth that not a lot holds up about it, or, I suspect, in its sequel. The above quote and Jim Carrey’s bravura performance excepted. And really, the movie is his performance. It’s like watching a professional athlete in peak form: all you can do is marvel at the amazing things he can do with his face and body. The fact that he did Ace VenturaThe Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in the same year only adds to his legend.

For the Ace duology anyway, a supercut of the times Carrey is onscreen is all you need. This isn’t true of all of his early performances: Dumb and Dumber must be beheld in its entirety. But this would allow you to skip some atrocious acting from Courtney Cox and a plot that was concocted simply to showcase a future superstar.

Lincoln’s letter to Grant: ‘You were right, and I was wrong’

This letter from President Lincoln to Major General Ulysses Grant in July 1863 might be the last documented instance of a president apologizing for anything:

My dear General

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did — march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

After reading Edmund Morris’s trilogy on the life of Theodore Roosevelt I made TR my new favorite president, but I think I have to revert back to Lincoln.

h/t Michael Wade

Reading serendipitously

In an interview, Sven Birkerts talks about how serendipity guides his reading:

Any good book will, in the manner of a pool-table bumper, send you angling off to another, and that to another, on and on. The trails are not predictable, they really are serendipitous, but not in the manner of Pandora (“If you liked …”). It’s much stranger than Pandora. Mention of a name in John Berger sends you to some art critic who sends you to the letters of so-and-so, who you find out was mesmerized by X. … You do this for years and it creates this referential network. …

And it never stops, because you really are never done with any worthy writer, you can’t cross him or her off the list. How many times has some writer sent me back to the same essay by, say, Emerson. Each time it’s like “I’ve never read this before.”

Discovery is half the fun of reading. So many books, movies, albums, apps, whatever, I’ve encountered because some other book or tweet or interview or review mentioned something that piqued my interest and sent me pinballing somewhere else.

See also serendipity’s cousin: synchronicity.

Black Panther

So, did it meet my expectations? Definitely. I can’t believe writer-director Ryan Coogler is only 31, and that Michael B. Jordan (also 31) has been in so many great roles already.

I couldn’t help noticing the similarities to Wonder Woman. Hotly anticipated origin stories of beloved but neglected characters, both featuring hidden utopias, badass bands of female warriors, and powerful but conflicted scion-heroes at first uncomfortable with their power and soon disillusioned by unveiled secrets.

And like Wonder Woman, I think the critical hype got just a little too far ahead of the final product. But here are a few things that stood out:

  • Editing. For a long time I’ve pined for an action movie that doesn’t resort to filming an action scene in jump-cut shaky-cam chaos. This one still does, especially in the final act, but the casino fight scene early on is a thing of beauty. Seemingly in one take, the camera flows through the action steadily and lets us behold the combat as if we were there. More of this please!
  • Music. I’m thankful it’s not just more Superhero Action orchestral noise, but a creative mix of hip-hop, African-style percussion, and vocal flourishes.
  • Cast. The bland Martin Freeman aside, they got a crazy-good cast here, with Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, and Michael B. Jordan providing most of the energy and charisma. And though I think he’s perfectly fine here as T’Challa/Black Panther, surely Chadwick Boseman isn’t the only black actor available for the Black Male Icon roles. Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall weren’t enough?

I saw it Sunday morning of opening weekend. We got to the theater a little before showtime and the lines at the box office were crazy long. Quickly found out that our desired showing was sold out, and the next one was in 3D. The last 3D movie I saw was Avatar, which was cool I guess, but the 3D was kinda dark and blurry from what I remember.

Not the case with Black Panther. The image was crisp and bright, and the wide shots had a cool miniaturized look (not sure if this is common to 3D movies or not). Regardless, I was happy to donate the surcharge to help its monster opening weekend.

Wendell Berry on education in the presence of fear

In a speech given right after September 11, Wendell Berry kept his focus on the long-term concerns of a society and the principles of a proper education:

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 Chad Comello

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑