On Warblers and Reference: A Linktastic post

This is a follow up to my post regarding Reference Without Words from October 2008.

For those who missed that post, Mom found a picture of a bird and I tried to identify it through some quick online research. This is that bird:

Yellow Bird

A few months later, in my reference class, I had to conduct a service review that consisted of my asking the same question of three different types of reference desks. I chose to ask them to help me identify the mysterious yellow bird. Given the need to share a photo, I reviewed face-to-face reference, online chat, email reference and Yahoo! Answers just because I felt like it. When I noticed that sometimes searches for “warblers” led users to this blog, I decided to share some of the sources I found. (Incidentally, the professor subsequently said that my choice of questions was “brilliant.”)

First, through my own queries, I located Birding.com. A sub-page on that site has information on bird identification (key features used in bird identification) as well as links to several identification quizzes to test your knowledge. These sources led me to conclude that the bird was a Warbler, possibly a Magnolia Warbler.

The Internet Public Library (something I didn’t even know about before my reference class) was another really helpful resource. IPL has an e-mail reference service. I sent them my question and a few days later got a thorough response back. Having been in class with students who volunteered for IPL I can attest that answering questions is intense and often a labor of love.

They led me to some other neat sources:

UNC Chapel Hill also has an unbelievable helpful e-mail reference service. They took a bit longer, but about a week later I got a response from the service which had forwarded my e-mail to one of UNC Chapel Hill’s Biology and Chemistry Librarians. Talk about customized service!

Last, but not least, never underestimate the help of the masses. Yahoo! Answers provides a giant user forum for, well, everything. You have to have a Yahoo! account, but then you can post a question, pick a category, and wait for a response. In my case I heard back from a woman who works as an ornithologist in real life.

To bring this back to warblers, no one source had a definitive answer. However, after pooling all of the various resources together, I am now able to say with relative confidence thaBlackburnian Warblert my bird was a Blackburnian Warbler.

What do you think?

The Key to the Golden Firebird: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen JohnsonI’m embarrassed to say that this book has been on my to read list for almost as long as it has been published. But then I started following the author’s blog and her twitters and they were so amazing that the idea of still not reading any of her books became unbearable, especially since the author is so awesome that I want to write to her and ask if we can be friends. So, last week I put every YA book I could think of that I had been dying to read on hold. The Key to the Golden Firebird (2004)  by Maureen Johnson was at the top of the pile.

May doesn’t always understand her older and younger sisters, she isn’t even sure she looks like them. But even though May lacks their athleticism or general interest in sports, the three Gold sisters were family; they always had each others’ backs.

That was before their father’s death shattered their previously strong family unit.

Brooks, the eldest, is so busy drowning her sorrows that everything else begins to fall to the wayside. Things get even worse as she begins to run with the wrong crowd and her drinking escalates.

Palmer, the youngest of the Gold  sisters, is trying to understand all of the changes at home while being the youngest member of her school softball team. But as the pressure and anxiety build, Palmer begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to cope with anything ever again.

That leaves May, the smart, responsible middle sister. While her mother is working overtime and her sisters struggle through their own crises, May is left to handle the more quotidian tasks of making dinner and otherwise ensuring the continued (albeit relative) stability of their household. Adrift among a family in crisis, May is putting on a brave face as she balances work, school, and the even more daunting task of learning to drive. When May’s lifelong friend, and sometime nemesis, offers to teach her to drive things get even more complicated. Unlike driving, there are no instructions for grieving . . . or falling for the last person you ever thought you would.

As the girls drift apart each gravitates, in their own way, to their father’s 1967 Pontiac Firebird and also the site of his death. The Golden Firebird might be a horrible reminder of everything the Golds lost, but it might also be the key to finally moving on.

This book is written in the third person. Segments are told from each sister’s perspective with the bulk of the story going to May since it is, arguably, her book. Initially the structure was surprising, but it makes sense since a significant amount of this novel is about how the Gold sisters relate to each other–seeing events from each of their perspectives both complicates and clarifies these relationships. The novel artfully traces the healing process of each sister, and the family at large. Although some things remain up in the air the story ends, as it should, with a sense that these characters will make it through.

Johnson became one of my favorite writers before I ever opened one of her books, but The Key to the Golden Firebird showed that my admiration was well-founded. The story here is incredibly compelling and the characters come alive on the page.

Possible Pairings: If I Stay by Gayle Forman, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker

On Being a Superhero (or at least sounding like one)

The next time you try to explain why you work at your current place of employ, don’t start talking about promotions or transfers or ease of commute. Those things are boring and might reveal more than you intend.

Instead, simply respond: “I was needed here.”

If you can simultaneously look heroic, even better. Instead of unintentionally alluding to your own personal work dramas or providing too much information, this evokes images of capes and Bat Signals. Especially effective when talking to comic book readers who might appreciate a heroic response even more.

Trick of the Mind: A(nother Cassandra Chan) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Trick of the Mind by Cassandra ChanTrick of the Mind (2008) is Cassandra Chan‘s third book in her Gibbons and Bethancourt mystery series (preceded by their debut in The Young Widow (2005), and Village Affairs (2006)). This book starts with the unthinkable. Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons has been shot twice. Worse, no one knows why, least of all Jack who has no memory of the preceding events or the shooting itself.

With mere fragments, Gibbons’ best friend Philip Bethancourt and Chief Inspector Carmichael try to put together the events that led to this brutal attack. As the investigation leads to a seemingly unrelated jewel robbery and a dodgy London neighborhood, Bethancourt begins to wonder if any of the pieces will fall into place without Gibbons’ own memories to connect things.

Initially I was profoundly worried when I heard that Gibbons began this book by being shot. Was he being killed off? Would he go through the book in a coma? Would he be okay? (Gibbons is, incidentally, my favorite of the duo.) Upon actually reading the book, I was deeply relieved to have to these questions answered to my liking. Although Gibbons is necessarily on the sidelines for much of the action and investigation, he did play a key role.

In fact, both Bethancourt and Carmichael spend a significant amount of time bemoaning Gibbons absence and the lack of his excellent investigative skills. After Bethancourt often taking the lead in the first two novels, it was nice to see Gibbons’ role (and importance) acknowledged by the other characters.

Although the case here is as intricate as in her earlier books, Chan spends a fair bit of time on characters here. Much of the novel offers a study of the friendship between her two protagonists–one that neither man is ashamed to admit is a close bond. Written in third person, this book also follows a lot of the characters around in the narrative. Almost anyone who has a piece of information about the shooting also gets a piece of the narrative. The structure is complex and fragmented, but works well with the general chaos of the first pages and the gaps in Gibbons’ own memory.

The design of this book is also different from earlier volumes in the series. The chapters here are shorter and always named (although not in a table of contents). The general span of the book also seems to take place over a shorter amount of time though that, to be fair, might be because of the urgency lent to the shooting case. These changes seem deliberate on Chan’s part although I am still not sure to what end.

“Jack Sparrow?”

While talking to my dear friend “Barbie” via instant message:

Barbie: “I need some Jack.”

Miss Print: “Jack Sparrow?”

Barbie: “Jack Daniels.”

Miss Print: “Oh.”

Barbie: “Either, actually.”

I can’t be sure, but I suspect the above says more about my state of mind than anything else. But, really, who doesn’t need some Jack Sparrow?

Not all romance novels are created equal

I recently had to process a bunch of sketchy romance novels in the library because, after a lot of soul searching, I realized that even though the books were awful and sexist and I would probably be doing a public service by not adding them to the library collection, I still had to. Because that’s what librarians do. They promote information freedom, even the information they don’t like.

But I still felt icky after processing fifteen of them. They had titles like Bedded and Blackmailed by the Ruthless Roman Billionaire (I made that title up, but would be unsurprised to see it in print soon) and seemed to hinge on blackmailing women to get them in bed or marrying a woman to get some random familial vengeance. Huh?

Turns out, not all romance novels are created equal:

Miss Print: “These books made me miss the romance novels that at least pretend to be real books.”

Tori: “Do any of them really accomplish that though?”

Miss Print: “Well, it’s kind of like the difference between watching a romance movie at 2 am on cable TV or watching one at three in the afternoon on Lifetime.”

Tori: “Good point.”

Miss Print: “Yeah, I kind of impressed myself. I just came up with that now.”

Sometimes love really can be a battlefield

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day on Saturday, “Lisa” decided to host a YA gaming program of wii boxing. At first the two things sound rather divergent. However, I had the benefit of seeing Lisa’s lovely (cute and clever) signs advertising the event.

Little pink signs with the middle ground showing a little drawing of a said kid holding boxing gloves. (Can you say lovelorn boxer? I sure can.) The key though, the overarching connection if you will, was the phrase at the top of the sign: Love is a battlefield.

Specifically, the battlefield as described by Pat Benatar in her song “Love is a Battlefield“.

I thought this idea was great and told Lisa so although we wondered if teens would catch the reference since the song is older. I posited that, if they had seen the movie 13 Going on 30 it was entirely possible. Then, being born in the 1990s we realized these teens might be too young to have caught that movie. And then I felt so old. It was very odd.

Anyway, as a result “Love is a Battlefield” has been stuck in my head for two days because of Lisa’s brilliant programming idea. Not complaining, just wish someone was around to suffer with me.

Define “Normal”: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne PetersDefine “Normal” (2000) by Julie Anne Peters (find it on Bookshop) deals with a common theme in teen literature: What happens when people from different worlds come together?

Antonia Dillon and Jasmine “Jazz” Luther are polar opposites. As the cover illustrates quite well. Antonia wears pleated skirts, is on the honor roll, and used to be in math club (she also used to do gymnastics). And she’s still only in eighth grade. With all of that under control, Antonia is eager to volunteer at her school’s peer counseling program in order to add “peer counselor” to her already impressive resume.

Jazz has purple hair, piercings, and tattoos (she might even do drugs and hang out with gangs). Jazz is also the peer Antonia is supposed to counsel. And yet, how could anyone think these two girls are peers?

Even though Antonia is sure her counseling efforts are doomed to fail, she keeps meeting with Jazz who, miraculously, also shows up. As the girls get to know each other it becomes clear that they might have more in common than appearances would suggest. Even more, perhaps, than either girl would like to admit.

As Antonia helps Jazz get her own family life together, Antonia’s own world seems to be falling apart no matter how much she tries to maintain the status quo. As everything starts to unravel, Jazz might be the only one who can help Antonia pull it all together.

This is a book that challenges readers’ perceptions with two disparate, and simultaneously alike, characters. As the title suggests, an important message here is that nothing is as it seems. On another level, Peters reminds readers that appearances are often meaningless without context–something that she provides for both Antonia and Jazz as the novel progresses. Like Antonia, readers begin this novel with a certain idea of how things will turn out. Specifically, Jazz is the troubled teen and Antonia is trying to help her. As Peters delves deeper into both girls’ personal lives, these preconceptions are turned upside down.

Define “Normal” is marketed for children aged 9 to 12 (according to Amazon.com), a range that feels pretty accurate. The writing here is simple, not in a bad way but in a way that will not confuse readers on the younger end of the spectrum. For this reason certain elements of the plot felt predictable to this reader. However that is likely from reading this book for the first time at eighteen rather than from poor writing.

Antonia and Jazz are both strong, resilient characters and give girls a lot to think about. On the other hand, though it might be a hard sell, this book could have an important message for boys as well about how important it is to realize that “normal” is such a relative, and plastic concept. Define “Normal” is in the unique position where it works just as well as assigned reading in school as a book that readers would willingly (and hopefully will!) pick up themselves.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan

MU may be wrong for all I know but MU may be right

It’s been a month since I started a Staff Picks area at my place of employ. It might still be a bit early to tell, but it seems safe to say that it’s a success. Not everyone has done a “pick” yet, but everyone still remembers and says they will. Some staffers are having difficulties getting the book they want to recommend before it gets checked out, not a bad problem to have really.

The display is located on top of a low-level bookshelf and even though it’s not in the front of the library, people are finding the titles. The line for the circulation desk also forms right next to the staff picks which likely helps (and is why I put the staff picks there to begin with).

Plus, they’ve been circulating! Just the other day two people checked out recommended books. Earlier than that another woman checked out one of the books I had written up for the display. I didn’t help her, but “Susan” later told me that the woman thought Staff Picks were a great idea. She said when she went into the library and saw all of the books, it was daunting to wander around and find something really good. And I’m so glad she felt that way because that’s exactly why I really wanted to get this thing off the ground.

I’ve also been urging staff to pick titles from all parts of the library since, having only one circulation desk, all patrons pass the Staff Picks on their way to check out. So far I’ve only written up children’s or YA titles and I have to say that adults have been looking at them as well. My mom says I need to write larger so that older patrons will grab the books and I suspect she is right about that.

On the whole, I’m feeling really positive about the whole thing and am thrilled that I was able to initiate change–even for a small thing like a display–at my library. The true test of any program (I use the term loosely here in reference to writing up and displaying the staff picks) comes when the iniator leaves. Will my legacy live on should I eventually leave this library? I don’t know. But I hope that the first month suggests a certain level of staying power. Time will tell.

Eight is Enough

I don’t know that these meta posts are interesting to anyone else, but I like the symmetry of hashing out this blog’s design on the actual blog.

I had been debating adding another category to this blog for posts specifically about libraries. Then I decided against it because, working in a library, almost everything I write is about libraries. Instead, I decided to created a new “book lists” category, whose appearance you might have noticed a couple of days ago, because I like making book lists and because eight seems to be a magic number of late and that would bring the number of categories I have here back to eight. (There used to be eight when I was posting poetry, but then I stopped due to lack of responses and paranoia about plagiarism.)