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18 Nov 16:59

Pete’s Candy Store

by Caleb Crain

I’m going to be reading from Necessary Errors on Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 pm at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, along with Sarah Bruni. This will be the end of my book tour, so it’s your last chance to get me to sign a copy (Word Bookstore will be selling copies).

17 Sep 18:08

Angst Extra

by Tess Malone

Poet Aaron Belz posted the following ad on Craigslist: “Poet available to begin work immediately. Capable in rhyme and meter, fluent in traditional and contemporary forms. Quotidian observations available at standard rate of $15/hour; occasional verse at slightly higher rate of $17/hour. Incomprehensible garbage $25/hour. Angst extra.” It worked. So far he’s written insults and responses to Aubrey Plaza. At The Atlantic, Micah Mattix wonders if this is a new marketing model for artists.

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29 Jul 18:26

Prison Literature

by Melissa Morrone
Laura Crossett

Fabulous and frightening piece.

What would have happened, do you suppose, if Malcolm Little, instead of serving six years for petty crimes, had been imprisoned for a much longer time, locked in the conditions of long-term isolation common in what’s euphemistically called “special housing” (as, for instance, the prisoners at Pelican Bay in California are)? He would not have been allowed to receive political books, would not have been able to converse with anyone. The mind that developed through reading and talking in prison during the 1950s would probably have been crushed, and there might have been no Malcolm X.
Laura Whitehorn

In recent decades, the landscape of U.S. criminal “justice” has changed dramatically (some visualizations at The Society Pages; bibliography at, not that imprisonment hasn’t always been dehumanizing, racist, and generally problematic. For many years, I worked with books-to-prisoners groups, mostly NYC Books Through Bars. These are grassroots, all-volunteer projects that receive letters from individuals in prison requesting reading material of all sorts (sometimes by topic, sometimes by specific title) and then mail them donated books that—ideally—approximate what they’re looking for.

Some years ago, there was an uproar after the federal Bureau of Prisons made a decision (quickly reversed) to get rid of religious books that weren’t on approved lists for prison chapel libraries. Unfortunately, what many don’t realize is that the vast majority of incarcerated people are in state prisons, where they are subjected to the arbitrary policies of the state department of corrections, including with regard to reading materials.

When a book arrives at a Texas prison mailroom, an employee first checks the database to see if the book is already prohibited. If not, said [Texas Department of Criminal Justice staffer Tammy] Shelby, “he’ll flip it over and read the back.” If that provides insufficient information to make a decision, “they scan through it looking for key words” or pictures that would disqualify the publication. “You can pretty much tell by reading the first few pages,” she said. “We rely on them to use their judgment.” (source)

Once we got a form denying a Texas prisoner Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860-1960 by Mary Helen Washington because “page 29 contains racial material.” Books and magazines have been rejected because they apparently present “a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person” or because information in it might be “designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots,” without further explanation. (Some prison mailroom rejections and letters from prisoners are below.)

Why bring up all this now? As you may have heard, one of the largest prisoner resistance movements is underway. Thousands of prisoners in California have been on a hunger strike as part of a fight for human and labor rights (there was a hunger strike in 2011 with the same demands; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said they would make improvements but have not, hence the renewed action).

Solitary confinement—considered a form of torture, especially long-term—is a common punishment within the prison system. Among the things that can get someone in trouble in a California prison is having particular literature. “‘[E]vidence’ of gang affiliation has included possession of prisoner-rights literature or books like Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ or Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince.’ It has included journal writings on African American history,” Shane Bauer points out. (Incidentally, The Art of War and The Prince, I have observed over the years, are on the unofficial top ten list of requested titles by people in prison around the country.) There is a lot that can be said about philosophies of reading material as proof of (bad) character or predictor of action, or, conversely, as a therapeutic tool, and as librarians we’ve spent more time than most thinking about this. Here I’ll say only that using literature as a criterion of judgment in this way, amid the general violence and toxicity of prison, does nothing to address the wrongness that the prisoners may have done to others, the wrongness that has been done to them, and the systemic wrongnesses that have brought us to this moment of mass incarceration, a “new Jim Crow,” and a correctional officer putting into administrative segregation someone who had a donated copy of Machiavelli in his cell.

Maybe you’ve done library service in a jail or are interested in prison librarianship. Maybe you’ve visited a loved one in prison. Maybe you’ve been locked up yourself. Maybe you grew up with people who got channeled into the detention system in one way or another. Maybe you live in a town where a prison is the largest and most stable employer around. Maybe imprisonment is nothing that you or your community seems to have experienced directly. I think that regardless of which category (or categories) you’re in, we should keep in mind that at least 95% of all state prisoners will be released at some point, and how we approach crime and punishment says a lot about our collective humanity. Former and possibly future prisoners are likely users of your library. Rather than being some separate element of society, they are patrons and would-be patrons.

You can keep up with the hunger strike and support the California prisoners in a number of ways. More generally, there are alternatives to incarceration, organizations for prison abolition and projects of decarceration. And in the meantime, you can always send someone behind bars a good book.

letter from a California SHU

2006 letter from a man in a “special housing unit” (SHU) in a California prison.

Texas ad seg letter

2005 letter from a man in “administrative segregation” in a Texas prison.

James Baldwin rejection form

2008 rejection (“non-appealable”) by a Texas prison mailroom employee of “Nobody Knows My Name” by James Baldwin because “page 100 contains racial material.”

grievance of rejection of Baldwin book

2009 grievance form by the prisoner who was denied the Baldwin book.

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21 Jun 17:10

Nonfiction Authors You Should Know: Stacy Horn

by Citizen Reader

One of my favorite nonfiction authors (and bloggers, as it so happens) is Stacy Horn. She's the author of an eclectic mix of books, from memoir (Waiting for My Cats to Die) to investigative history (Unbelievable: Investigations Into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory) to True Crime* (The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad). She blogs at, and her posts are always a charming mix of news of her pet kitties; snippets about her reading, TV watching, and publishing exploits; and gorgeous, gorgeous photographs of New York City. I am very fond of her books because they cover a wide variety of topics, she takes fact-checking seriously, and her writing is always very, very sincere. Let's put it this way: she's no bestselling hack.**

In July she has a new book coming out called Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, and I am getting just so excited waiting for it. Partly because I like singing, but more because I just love reading Horn's writing.This new book also just made the American Booksellers Association July 2013 Indie Next List, so I hope that helps more readers to find her.***

*And not just any old True Crime; while opinions differed on her book when we featured it here as part of a Book Menage discussion, I consider this a True Crime classic.

**I'm looking at you, Thomas Friedman and Bill O'Reilly.

***She also just did an interview with NPR. I'm so glad she's getting some good press attention. She's earned it.

14 Jun 19:15

True Stories into the Hands of Readers

by ricklibrarian
Laura Crossett

Fabulous presentation by Rick!

Today I am speaking at Reaching Forward Conference in Rosement, Illinois. I'll talk with library staff about helping readers find books with true stories in their library collections.

Click to view my slideshow: True Stories into the Hands of Readers

Click to view some of my true story suggestions arranged by appeal factors: The Appeal of Reading True Stories

Here are some notes to go along with and explain some of what I will be saying with some of the slides:

2. Our focus today is reading true stories for pleasure. I define pleasure broadly, so that does include reading for knowledge. Wanting to learn about a person, time, or place and satisfying that want  can be as good as spending time with well-written stories populated with compelling characters in settings that interests readers.

In doing readers' advisory, Joyce Saricks advises that you suggest books instead of recommend them. That lets the client decline more gracefully, gives the client more control of the transaction. You are working with the reader to pick books. You also have less to lose if the reader then dislikes the books she or he takes home.

3. Readers have long had a choose to read fiction or true stories. Both of these books deal with the Battle of Gettysburg. Killer Angels on the left is a story told by soldiers. Stars in Their Courses is an intimate account of the battle incorporating letters, diaries, and other accounts of the time. Shelby Foote also wrote fiction. Neither his fiction nor history disappoints.

4. Both are emotional stories about women suddenly widowed by well-known authors. I was mesmerized by Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and how she moves around and around her topic. I could hardly put it down.

5. The Natural was first a short story based on a true incident about a former Chicago Cub being shot by a young fanatical woman. Eight Men Out is the true story of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Both stories have complicated baseball players navigating through difficult situations. Both should be required reading for anyone interested in Chicago - no love of baseball necessary.

6. The advantages for true stories are information and authority. Truth should be informative and verifiable. Of course, these qualities may also be in fiction based on truth, but it may be hard to know where authors take their liberties for the sake of story.

7. I am using the appeal categories emphasized in the Read On … series of readers' advisory books. A good story is the most common quality wanted in books by readers. History that appeals broadly is focused. It takes a certain event or follows a certain theme. It validates the story in history.

8. Readers often say that they want books with sympathetic characters. Some like villains. Of course, biographies and memoirs give us plenty of both.

9. Setting has always been a big appeal to me. I particularly like to learn about places far different from my own environs. Stories in Asia, Africa, or South America appeal to me. Place can be presented almost like characters by talented writers.

10. By language, we refer to the type and quality of the writing. Some readers say that they will read anything that is written well. Personal essays are the true stories equivalent of fictional short stories. Sometimes every word and sentence has been crafted.

11. By mood, we mean books that have a certain atmosphere. Like mystery novels, true crime stories have a particular gritty toughness necessary to recount horrible events. Like romance novels, true romance recounts amorous relationships that may succeed or fail.

12. In the past, history and biography tended to be academic in tone, filled with lots of facts with an emphasis on scholarship and less concern for storytelling.

13. The trend now is to write a slice of biography or a slice of history, well-crafted works that use an especially noteworthy bit of the story to evoke the whole story. There is more celebration of true story writing. More reporting and more awards. Colleges and universities offer courses in creative nonfiction, including the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Readers keep books like Seabiscuit and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand on best seller lists for months and years. Bill O'Reilly is reeling in profits with Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, and in Setember Killing Jesus.

Of course, there are a lot more slides. I'll try to add more after the conference.
03 Jun 18:35

A Couple Handy Online Image Editing Tools

by Brian Herzog

It's been awhile since I've talked about image editing tools. My favorite website for quick and easy editing (cropping, resizing, etc) is still Pixenate, but I recently read about Clipping Magic - and it is amazingly awesome.

Here's how it works: upload your image, draw a green line through the part of the photo you want to keep, draw a red line through the background you want to remove, and you're done:

clipping magic demo

The live preview on the right lets you adjust your lines to get as close as possible to what you want - and since you can change your line size and zoom in on the image, you can really fine-tune it.

I've been using Photoshop for years to do exactly this, and this is way quicker. Photoshop is still better of course, but like Pixenate and other web-based tools, I have access to this no matter where I am in the library (Photoshop is only installed on the computer on my desk in the office, which I rarely actually use).

Unfortunately, it looks like Clipping Magic is only free while it's in development. Hopefully it'll stay that way, but try it out while you can.

16 Apr 18:07

Print From Anywhere to the Library

by Brian Herzog

PrinterOn: mobile printing solutionLast week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.

We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.

A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.

Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.

So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).

The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.

How It Works
To use it, patrons start at, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.

When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.

Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:

We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.

But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.


*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.
06 Apr 21:12

Language is important: A feminist primer

by nicoleandmaggie

Dr. #2 is going to have to help me out on this post since she’s the feminist scholar.  (Everything I learned about feminism I’ve been learning from her and academic blogs!)  But I’m beginning to know subtle sexism when I see it.

Language is a tricky thing.  We can say one thing overtly but use language that implicitly says something quite the opposite.  How we say something can be more important than what we actually say.

Woman as child

There is so much infantilizing of women.  When’s the last time you called a woman over age 18 a girl for any reason?  Please, check yourself.  If you get together with a group of women, are they girlfriends?  Who gets called baby?

[disclaimer:  I think this song is MAD CATCHY!]

Pronouns matter

Much of this information comes from the work of Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues. 

Much research shows that when people read, say, or hear “he” or “him” as generic pronouns, they almost always think of male examples.  In one study, participants read a sentence about “the average student” at a university, and that student was referred to as either  his, their, or his or her.  Then participants had to make up stories about this fictional student.  When “the average student” got the his pronoun, 65% of the stories were about men.  Using their resulted in 54% of stories being about men.  Using his or her, 44% were about men.  There are a lot of studies that replicate this finding.

That study was from 1978 with adults, so Hyde wanted to look at children and how they developed these ideas. She gave children a sentence such as:  When a kid goes to school, ____ often feels excited on the first day.  She filled the blank with either he, they, or he or she.  When the word was he, not a single boy in all of elementary school (through fifth grade) made up a story about a girl.  In fact, most children, girls and boys, did not even know about he being (supposedly) gender-neutral.  However, despite not being aware of the rule, most children thought of “human” as equivalent to “male”.  In another sentence, Hyde had children fill in the blank: If a kid likes candy, ____ might eat too much.  Overwhelmingly, the children filled in “he” to represent a random kid.  Even the girls.

This is true in English, which does not have genders on all our nouns, and also in other languages, like German and Spanish, which do.

Finally, Janet Shibley Hyde gave elementary school children a paragraph describing the fictional occupation of wudgemaker.  She varied the pronouns, and then asked children how well a woman could do the job, and how well a man could do it.  When rating men, pronoun had no effect on what children thought of them as wudgemakers.  They answered that a man could do the job pretty well whether the pronoun described wudgemakers as he, they, she, or he-or-she.  However, when figuring out how well a woman could do the job, pronouns mattered.  Children who heard the pronoun he to describe a typical wudgemaker rated a woman as being “just ok” at that job.  Children who heard she rated a woman as being very good at the job.  The other two pronouns were in the middle.

Sexist language can even lower females’ ability to remember content from a passage of reading.

Media and sexual abuse


And don’t get us started on language used in rape cases.  Well, I guess it’s too late.

Problems include passive language:  “Every year thousands of women are raped.  How can this problem be stopped?”  Hello.  Every year thousands of men rape women!

In another study of sexual assault coverage, most of the quotes used were from the perpetrator or his lawyer (eww).  Who gets to tell their story?

Child Abuse

It gets worse with child sexual abuse in the media.

The media often use “it” to describe a child (most victims of sexual abuse are girls), and even when the media identify the gender they will later revert to using it, in something called Gender Slippage.  Language is of critical importance in influencing societal views.  When they do this, the article becomes more neutral and reduces the reader’s emotional involvement.  It also reduces the perceived seriousness of the problem.  Do we want to do that?

When adults abuse children, the media often frames the situation as a consensual relationship.  Media sometimes use the word “affair” between a 60-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.  That is not an affair.  That is abuse.  “Jailed teacher afraid lover boy will dump her”  (O’Mahony, 1998) is one example.  Again, ewww.

Domestic Violence

Johnson (1994) did an incredible study of San Francisco newspapers’ coverage of domestic violence (DV) cases involving death of the victim.  Professional DV experts were quoted in only 25% of articles; the main source of quotes was perpetrator’s family.  Who has voice?

The term “domestic violence” was used repeatedly for non-white couples but rarely for white couples.  White perpetrators were usually described as nice, normal, sweet, and loving; minority perpetrators were described negatively.  In the articles, violence was seen as aberration in white communities but expected in minority communities.

Bullock and Cubert (2002) studied over 200 Seattle newspaper accounts of domestic violence.  They find that many many articles shifted blame from attacker onto victim or circumstances (“the divorce was hard on him”).  EWww!  One possible mechanism for how this happens is DARVO.  There was also a misconception that abusers should be readily identifiable (i.e., not the rich white people-next-door).

But wait, you also get…

We’ve already covered stereotype threat.  Yes, words really can hurt.

You get to choose what you consume in the media.  What will you tolerate?  Do you write letters to the editor?

Tagged: IBTP, layin some education on ya, rant
06 Apr 21:00

My Work Here is Done

by Cloud
Laura Crossett

One can only hope.

Yesterday, Petunia insisted on coming with me to Pumpkin's gymnastics class. So instead of an hour to sit and read (or write!) I had an hour of trying to keep a 3 year old entertained while also occasionally checking in on Pumpkin's progress in the class.

Luckily, I remembered to bring my Kindle Fire this time. Unfortunately, some of Petunia's favorite apps are ad-supported and wouldn't work without network. (Note to self: make sure to pay for the ad-free versions in the future.) She enjoyed playing a matching game for awhile, and also had fun with an app called Slice It (which, incidentally, can also amuse Pumpkin and Mr. Snarky for long periods- I recommend it.) But she got bored with the games, and so I suggested we look at a book- we have quite a few kids books loaded on the Fire.

We picked Secret Agent Josephine's ABC's because Petunia is in a letter-noticing phase right now.

The picture on the "V" page is of a vacuum cleaner. Petunia looked at it and said "V! For vacuum! Daddy has one of those!"