Job opportunity for antiquarian librarian

And while I’m on the subject of supernatural stuff: The Library of the Society of Antiquaries of London is hiring. I didn’t even know
there still was a Society of Antiquaries. I don’t have the archaeological and historical background to apply, but the thought of cataloging for the Society of Antiquaries is deliciously M.R. Jamesian even so. I wonder if the library’s

Opera and the fantastic

So I was flipping through The Encyclopedia of Fantasy in preparation
for teaching an upcoming instruction session (for a class with fantasy
fiction on the syllabus), and came across an entry on "Opera." A really
long entry, consisting of a 20-page-long list of operas "based on
myths, legends, folktales and so on or that contain fantasy elements,"
arranged chronologically by composer. Since classical mythology was the basis for pretty much every baroque
opera ever, there are plenty of obscure
17th- and 18th-century operas I’d never heard of. But the list of modern operas is equally long and fascinating. I promptly photocopied the
whole entry to stick into my Kobbé’s Opera Book as
a supplement.

I wouldn’t have thought that the fantasy fans and opera fans would intersect, but it makes a certain amount of sense: verismo aside, opera isn’t exactly known for sticking to realistic elements and avoiding fantastic ones. Every librettist and their brother seems to have had a go at the Orpheus myth, or the Faust legend, or the Brothers Grimm, or E.T.A. Hoffmann’s "The Sandman."

This is why reference books, especially outside one’s usual areas of interest, are so much fun to browse. Though this one was particularly entertaining; you’ve got to love an encyclopedia that encompasses
Hieronmyus Bosch, Milton, Borges, surrealism, Edmund Spenser, and H.P.
Lovecraft. (There didn’t seem to be any Lovecraftian operas in the list — just as well, probably — but I’d never known that both Debussy and Philip Glass, among others, adapted Poe’s "The Fall of the House of Usher.")

The laundry-cart people: an autobiographical interlude

It’s college move-in season everywhere, and anyone who’s spent any time in academia is probably thinking of this time of the year, not January, as the real new year. The freshmen arrived last week at Swarthmore, and over the last few days we ushered all of them through the library in slightly dazed groups. My Bloglines feeds are full of posts about the return of the students. I’ve been thinking about a bit of personal history.

My dad spent the latter half of his life teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, across the Schuylkill River from where I now live. Some of my early memories are of visiting him after my parents split up and my mother and I moved to Baltimore, running around the campus and sliding down Claes Oldenburg’s Split Button sculpture. On one of these visits, right around this time of year, I noticed large numbers of students trundling their stuff toward the dorms in what looked, to my eyes, like giant laundry carts. I said something about "the invasion of the laundry-cart people," and, for years after that, the Invasion of the Laundry-Cart People was a standing joke between my dad and me. I’d ask if the laundry-cart people had arrived yet; he’d report that he’d spotted the first wave of the invasion on Locust Walk. And so on.

I’d almost forgotten about the Invasion of the Laundry-Cart People until a few weeks ago, when my walk through Center City took me by the Moore College of Art. I heard voices behind me and saw a couple of students and their families, with that returning-to-campus look about them, pushing — you guessed it — giant laundry carts full of dorm-room furnishings. I don’t think I’d even seen those carts for at least twenty years. I think they may be a local phenomenon; maybe the schools around here rent them from the same supplier.

It was a lovely moment: it wasn’t exactly like getting the past back, more like a small reminder from the universe that everyone’s life is made up of echoes and continuities, linkages that go forward as well as backward. I wonder if, decades from now, I’ll still be watching students with their carts on their annual end-of-August run.

Happy new year, everyone.

Random bullets of cataloging (and other randomness)

  • Our cataloging class had its final meeting on Tuesday night. It was a good class; I still don’t think I’d want to be a cataloger full time, but I enjoyed learning how to do it. Next term I’m taking a course on content representation, which deals with some of the same intellectual territory.
  • I’ve also handed in my end-of-term project: I had to pick five books and catalog them. Among other books chosen for the cataloging challenges they posed (series titles, anonymous authors, corporate authors, tricky subject heading choices), I threw in Edward Gorey’s The Broken Spoke, just for the fun of it. I don’t think classing it in the GV1040s with other works on bicycling was quite cricket, but there’s a logic to it, at least.
  • I just finished reading Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark, which is partially based on the life of the soprano Olive Fremstad. I loved it. It had been sitting unread on my bookshelf for ages, part of a little cluster of novels about opera that also includes Robertson Davies’ The Lyre of Orpheus (read, enjoyed immensely) and James McCourt’s Mawrdew Czgowchwz (not read yet, but soon). The latter is #5 on the list of most-shared books for the operaphiles’ LT group. The fiction+opera tagmash page suggests others to investigate, though in this case the LC subject headings are actually useful.
  • In unrelated news, I’m gazing longingly at the spate of fabulous new perfumes from the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (they finally made a scent inspired by Coleridge’s "Kubla Khan," among other things), and reminding myself that I must pay my tuition bill first, then contemplate blowing my budget.

Flying Spaghetti Monster takes over Baltimore

I’m back from a weekend at the family homestead in Baltimore, and as my mother and I were out for a walk along Falls Road and around about, we found ourselves face to face with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in all his noodly glory. I don’t know what impresses me more: the seamless integration of the FSM’s iconography with bits of Baltimoreana ("believe" is the slogan of a local anti-drug campaign, much plastered all over the city, and "hon" is, of course, a central part of the vernacular), or the way the spaghetti is rendered three-dimensionally in tubing.

Then I had to explain the whole FSM phenomenon to my mom, who was a bit puzzled, but much amused.

Department of “Hah. I knew it!”

Hmm. Apparently, lots of walking — especially if you’re a fast walker — adds years to your life. Case in point, New Yorkers’ unusually high life expectancy:

Scientists who study urban health argue that it’s not just that we walk
more—it’s the way we walk that has a surprising spillover effect on
life spans. Researchers have long known that people here walked
fast—far faster than anyone else in the country. Indeed, the easiest
way to tell a New Yorker from an out-of-towner is by walking speed: The
natives blast down the sidewalk at blitzkrieg pace, and the visitors
mosey along like pack mules.

New York is literally designed to force people to walk, to climb
stairs—and to do it quickly. Driving in the city is maddening, pushing
us onto the sidewalks and up and down the stairs to the subways. What’s
more, our social contract dictates that you should move your ass when
you’re on the sidewalk, so as not to annoy your fellow walkers. … the very structure
of the city coerces us to exercise far more than people elsewhere in
the U.S., in a way that is strongly correlated with a far-better life

(Clive Thompson, "Why New Yorkers Last Longer," New York Magazine)

My rapid morning walk to the train station (complete with high-speed
jaywalking) is raising my life expectancy. I
knew it! This, along with ready access to museums and concerts and
interesting architecture and good food and bookstores and all that jazz, is why I’m
never moving to the suburbs if I can help it.

(Hat tip to Laura at 11D.)

Poe mystery revealed? Pity.

Like several of my fellow Baltimoreans, I’m a bit sad that the enduring mystery of the person who leaves roses and cognac on Edgar Allen Poe’s grave every year has apparently been partially solved. It was one of those random cool things about my home town, like the Bromo-Seltzer Tower and Homicide: Life on the Street. I always hoped nobody would discover the mystery toaster’s identity.

Ah well. It could always turn out not to be true after all. At any rate, I hope new mystery toasters carry on the tradition.

They’re baaaack.

Nothing says "fall’s on its way" (not to mention "twitchy nervous
wreck," "constant state of paranoia," and "no more sound sleep for you") like the return of the dreaded house mice to one’s apartment.

They’re back, just as the nights start to get bearably cool again. My landlady’s having the pest-control guy investigate where they might be getting in. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking nervously over my shoulder a lot, and wondering if the situation warrants ordering some powdered bobcat urine, which at least one person on Metafilter swears by. (If I can just persuade them that my apartment is a scary predator habitat into which a mouse would have to be crazy to venture, everyone wins.)

Sorry to be so banal, but rodent-induced paranoia makes it a bit hard to concentrate. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled blog once the Terminex guy has been consulted.

Answers to the last lines meme

Herewith, the answers to the Seven Last Lines meme:

  1. Edith Wharton, “Roman Fever” (guessed by Dorothea)
  2. John Milton, Paradise Lost (guessed by brd)
  3. Arthur C. Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God” (guessed by Mike)
  4. Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 45 (“Stella oft sees the very face of woe”) (the only unguessed one)
  5. James Joyce, “The Dead” (guessed by Mike)
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (guessed by Dorothea)
  7. Wallace Stevens, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (guessed by Hank)

Thanks to everyone who guessed! I hope you guys had as much fun with it as I did. And feel free to appropriate, if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, go look at Mike’s version.

Knowledge organization, reading notes, killer apps

At the end of an article on theory in knowledge organization that I
read for my cataloging class, I found (and circled) this paragraph:

area rife [sic] for theoretical development is the extensive work of
cocitation and coword analysis. This work describes relationships among
scholars, essentially mapping intellectual relationships within
knowledge domains as represented by citations and abstracts. What is
needed are sociological (i.e., cognitive) explanations of the behaviors that lead to these
intellectual relationships. Such explanations could give us real
predictive power for the development of sophisticated systems for the
retrieval of knowledge entities. (Richard P. Smiraglia, "The progress
of theory in knowledge organization," Library Trends 50 no. 3 [Winter
, p. 346)

To paraphrase a bit: you could create some potentially really
useful research tools using the data you get from analyzing who’s
citing what, which articles refer to each other, which works always
appear together in Works Cited lists, and how scholars in a field are
interrelated. It would be helpful to have some data on scholars’
behavior, to describe why these citation patterns happen.

I don’t have a cognitive science background, or a sociological
one. But this kind of thing — figuring out where the intellectual
terrain of a field meets the social networks of the people in it, using
patterns in the scholarly literature to (potentially) develop the next
killer app for navigating the intellectual output of that field —
interests me. A lot. It would be very cool to be the person who mediates between the scholars and the information researchers. If I ever get the chance to work on a study like
this, I’ll jump at it.

And while I’m thinking about killer apps: ISI Web of Science,
clunky and flawed though it is, is a fairly powerful
citation searching tool once you know how to use it. But what I’d love
to see from a citation search, beyond a list of articles that all cite
a certain source, would be groupings showing which articles cluster
together (X, Y, and Z all cite A and B; X cites C, which D and E also
cite; D’s work shows up in Y’s recent article; etc.). Web of Science
does this to some extent, but in an ideal world, I’d also like to have
the clusters presented visually, Grokker-style, so you could see the relative density
of interconnections and the offshoots into other disciplines. Maybe
even make it possible to see how the conversation evolves over time.

And since it would take a gazillion years to produce all of
this citation data, I also think it would be neat (though this is a
total pie-in-the-sky goal) to get scholars themselves involved. Not
with the programming and indexing, but with identifying where the
linkages are.

The question is: where on earth can one start with a project
like that? I suspect this is a question I’ll have when I take Content
Representation in the fall.