So I was sitting quietly on my patio, reading a book (one cut from trees) and my husband asked me when I was going to enter the 21st Century and start reading e-books. “You have to keep up with your library customers you know.” I was not as surprised, shocked or offended as you may think. All of my children have one or another form of e-reader and it has only increased their reading. But when I had thought of it in the past I always came to the same conclusion: I have access to all the reading material I need, when I want them, with no pressure to return the books (although I always do). Why would I want to buy books online or download them from the library where I will have to return them on time?
Hmmm, I thought, what if the e-reader I purchased had more than books on it…e-mail, movies, music, magazines, games, specifically word games. And more to the point, a popular word game that you can play online with friends. It was too delicious to think about. So I marched down to my nearby appliance superstore and checked out the Kindle Fire. Twas lovely...and so colorful. I love new shiny objects! I bought it and luckily for me, my cousins were visiting, who happened to have a Nook Tablet which is almost the same thing. They helped me set it up and started me on that word game that very night. My addiction had begun.
But I didn’t stop there. After listening to all our elderly customers begging for help with their new e-reader (“I wish my daughter had bought me a sweater, instead”) I was determined to download library books and do it on my own. No help for me from our wonderful teens at Davis Library who come in every week and hold an e-reader clinic (shameless plug). I followed directions from our website and lo and behold, I had downloaded my first e-book: Catherine the Great by Robert Massie http://maryland.lib.overdrive.com/704C4A4C-3042-4606-A502-32C96BFE9E11/10/336/en/SearchResults.htm?SearchID=6842557s&SortBy=Relevancy, a riveting biography of the Empress and all her lovers. I only had to “renew” it 3 times (it actually returned itself and then I checked it out again and again and again) and the best part was: it kept my place in the book! And here’s another wonderful part. Remember how we all lost our power last summer? (of course you do!) Well I was able to read at night with no lights because of the wonderful backlit screen…as long as I was able to power up occasionally. It was magic.
My next goal was to download an e-audio book. I went online and searched under “Download Library E-audio Book to Kindle Fire” and found the wonderful video below. It took me step by step and voila, I downloaded my first e-audio book. But here is the best part: I was actually able to help our customers download their own e-books, especially from Kindle. I am now more at ease with the technology and do not feel so out of sync with the rest of the world. Have I stopped reading “real” books? Absolutely not. I consider myself an equal opportunity reader: • I read real books at home and at lunch at the library • I read e-books at home with lights out (because I can) • I listen to books on CD in the car • I listen to downloadable e-audio books on walks or exercising
And if it wasn’t for that word game I play with friends, I would be doing a lot more of everything.
Few visitors to London include the Albert Memorial in their itinerary, unless by chance if they find themselves wandering in Kensington Gardens. There they will encounter what has been called the ugliest monument in Britain, a Gothic Revival monstrosity commissioned by Queen Victoria to immortalize her beloved husband Albert who died unexpectedly in 1861 after 21 years of marriage. I’ve just finished reading A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the death that changed the British monarchy by Helen Rappaport which details the next forty years of Victoria’s life. Her crippling grief for her husband became an obsession, her only interest in life creating memorials to the sainted Albert, and she sparked a boom in the mourning industry by remaining in widow’s weeds for the rest of her life. Rappaport shows that by elevating grief to an art form, Victoria was the main inspiration and shaper of the morbid, overly sentimentalVictorian culture of death and mourning.
We are so used to that image of Victoria as a shrunken old woman in widow’s weeds that it is hard to see her as the pretty, flighty girl she once was. A portrait by Winterhalter shows a sexy young woman, bare shouldered, her long hair enticingly draped across her breast. As far from the “Victorian” image as you can imagine. In We Two: Victoria and Albert: rulers, partners, rivals Gillian Gill takes us back to those happy years of Victoria’s youth and marriage. She was quite a party girl, staying up late dancing and gossiping with her entourage, habits which the sober, serious Albert soon ended. She gave in to him on everything because she was madly in love, keeping footmen busy running back and forth with love notes all day. She would have been a natural for instant messaging and twitter. Her breathless notes and letters are full of bold capital letters, under linings, and exclamation points. She was poorly educated and unenthusiastic about the tedious paperwork involved in governing. Albert took her in hand and taught her how to be Queen, doing much of the work himself. It was said that he overworked himself into an early grave.
Another unexpected view of the Queen is found in Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the rebirth of the British monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy. This reveals a plucky Victoria surviving eight assassination attempts, impressing her subjects with her bravery. It dampened the republican enthusiasm that was growing as the Queen persisted in mourning for decades. Victoria was also mother to nine children, all of whom survived infancy, unusual for the times. Albert was the more hands-on parent, firmly in charge of the domestic life of the household as of everything else. On his death the children, some still very young, didn’t get any support or attention from their mother who was too involved in her own grief. But she did rouse herself to make sure her daughters made good marriages to European royalty and soon her family members controlled most of Europe. Born to Rule: five reigning consorts, granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia Gelardi tells the story of the next generation. The most famous of Victoria’s granddaughters was the doomed Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, wife of Nicholas II. Her grandsons, too, were destined for historic roles. George V and Kaiser Wilhelm were cousins who ended up fighting as bitter enemies in World War I. Albert would have been appalled. He was a German Prince who loved his native land as much as his adopted country.
The unpopular Albert Memorial was once threatened with demolition and there is a rumor that during the Blitz Londoners prayed that it would take a direct hit. But it was restored during the 1990’s and remains as a grand testament to the extravagance of Victoria’s adulation of her husband.
It was gratifying to see an article in last week’s Washington Post about how libraries have weathered bad times and are adapting to the digital future. So often in recent years, the stories in the press have been about libraries losing funds, closing, or becoming irrelevant. The first two were certainly true, but the last was often overblown and misinformed. Libraries like MCPL are still used heavily by the public, and also have made an effort to participate in social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to transcend the library walls. Most public libraries now provide access to downloadables such as e-Books and music, as well as provide a plethora of databases which offer articles and books that can be read on-line in the library or at home. Library users can study for exams and learn languages on their home computer with interactive software, as well as kick back with a book downloaded to an electronic device. Increasingly public libraries, academic libraries, state libraries, and national libraries all have been making their unique resources available online. An example of this is The New York Public Library's Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, which, with the aid of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is busy transforming NYPL's historical paper map and atlas collections into a powerful digital resource. The Library of Congress, of course, has some amazing digital resources, as does The British Library.
During the cutbacks of recent years, I have often been heartened by the support for libraries that I have encountered on-line and in the press, and realize that there is an unyielding love for books that refuses to be denied. One lovely response to the closing of libraries is the guerilla movement of free mini libraries. Common sense dictates that these can’t really take the place of a well-run, government funded library, stocked with new materials by educated professionals, but the little boxes on poles that have popped up, made from repurposed mailboxes, doll houses, cranberry crates, and metal milk cartons, warm the heart. Want to see some or make your own? Visit the Little Free Library Website.
In England, a place hard hit by library closings, the iconic red telephone boxes once found all over the UK are being repurposed as libraries thanks to the effort of local communities and British Telecom.
Books can be put to use in other forms of art, too, however. In Melbourne, Australia, a massive river of 10,000 discarded books donated by public libraries and collected by the Salvation Army, was created last June for the Light in Winter festival. Each book held small lights within its pages, creating a beautiful effect. On the final night of the installation, visitors were encouraged to take the books home with them.
“The project was created by Brazilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, in collaboration with production company Hungry Man. Inspired by the writer and educator JL Borges, the maze will form the shape of Borges’ unique fingerprint, covering over 500 square metres, with sections standing up to 2.5 metres high.”
Video by Christopher Jobson (Creative Commons permission)
Let’s hope that people will continue to treasure libraries, books, and freedom of information way into the future, or we may end up like this. How can we defend ourselves against the forces of evil without free access to shared cultural knowledge and the ability to interpret it?
One of the most fascinating and beautiful sites on the internet is the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It has been online almost since the beginning of the World Wide Web, and is still breathtaking in beauty and simplicity. Each day features a fabulous photograph and sometimes a video, along with a brief description packed with information. This kind of condensed informative and readable information is not easy to write, and the APOD writers make it look graceful and effortless. The scope of the pictures ranges from local to microscopic to cosmic.
Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is originated, written, coordinated, and edited since 1995 by Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell. The APOD archive contains the largest collection of annotated astronomical images on the internet. In real life, Bob and Jerry are two professional astronomers who spend most of their time researching the universe. Bob is a professor at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, USA, while Jerry is a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland USA. They are two married, mild and lazy guys who might appear relatively normal to an unsuspecting guest. Together, they have found new and unusual ways of annoying people such as staging astronomical debates. Most people are surprised to learn that they have developed the perfect random number generator.
Here are a selection of recent pictures to give you a taste of the site. The caption follows each picture. It is well worth checking APOD on a daily basis for a bit of inspiration and to expand out from the usual narrow focus of daily life.
Explanation: Fresh evidence of an ancient stream has been found on Mars. The robotic rover Curiosity has run across unusual surface features that carry a strong resemblance to stream banks on Earth. Visible in the above image, for example, is a small overhanging rock ledge that was quite possibly created by water erosion beneath. The texture of the ledge appears to be a sedimentary conglomerate, the dried remains of many smaller rocks stuck together. Beneath the ledge are numerous small pebbles, possibly made smooth by tumbling in and around the once-flowing stream. Pebbles in the streambed likely fell there as the bank eroded. Circled at the upper right is a larger rock possibly also made smooth by stream erosion. Curiosity has now discovered several indications of dried streambeds on Mars on its way to its present location where it will be exploring the unusual conjunction of three different types of landscape.
Explanation: What's happened to our Sun? Nothing very unusual -- it just threw a filament. At the end of last month, a long standing solar filament suddenly erupted into space producing an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The filament had been held up for days by the Sun's ever changing magnetic field and the timing of the eruption was unexpected. Watched closely by the Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the resulting explosionshot electrons and ions into the Solar System, some of which arrived at Earth three days later and impacted Earth's magnetosphere, causing visible aurorae. Loops of plasma surrounding an active region can be seen above the erupting filament in the ultraviolet image. If you missed this auroral display please do not despair -- over the next two years our Sun will be experiencing a solar maximum of activity which promises to produce more CMEs that induce more Earthly auroras.