I love idiosyncratic shelving systems.

The interval right before cataloging class seems as good a time as any to link to Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books Project. She’s an artist who takes books and stacks them so that the titles on their spines tell a story. Some of them are hilarious: Leonardo da Vinci as a Musician on top of Tone Deaf and All Thumbs?, and the sequence A Day at the Beach, The Bathers, Shark 1, Shark 2, Shark 3, Sudden Violence, Silence. Some are weirdly poetic: Why Spiders Spin, The Memory of All That, Bitter Music. All of it inspires immediate envy. Her work with reconstructed maps is also really cool.

(Via LISnews.)

The great outdoors

I’m back in Philadelphia after five days of the outdoor life. We spent most of the family camping trip in Trap Pond State Park in Delaware, but we made a day trip to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s eastern shore, and paddled three miles up a marshy stream and back again, looking for unusual birds. I discovered that I can canoe for four hours without ending up in major pain the next day, an accomplishment about which I’m rather chuffed. The total bird sighting count from both parks came to something like this:

red-winged blackbirds: far too many to count
cormorants: at least 7
great blue herons: 2
big white birds that may have been snowy egrets: 2
woodpeckers (either downy or hairy, I couldn’t tell from a distance): 1
hummingbirds: 1
ospreys: 1
and, the big excitement of the Blackwater trip — bald eagles: 1 (wheeling overhead right as we were about to drive off)

We also heard but didn’t see assorted bobwhites, Carolina wrens, and bullfrogs. Legions of bullfrogs, by the sound of them. I’m now most of the way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Dolores Umbridge: hands down, best villain of all the HP books I’ve read so far), and looking forward to devouring Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before the final installment comes out. Also, I had completely forgotten how much fun competitive watermelon-seed spitting can be, even when one doesn’t win. Fresh air and exercise must do me good; my good mood wasn’t quenched either by the pile of e-mail to catch up on or this morning’s soaking rain.

Drexel’s summer term starts this week; my first cataloging class is tomorrow night. Back to civilization…

Bloomsday, vacation week, virtual Rome

Happy Bloomsday, all! I’m off to the Rosenbach this afternoon to listen to people reading Joyce. I probably won’t stay for the full seven-hour Ulysses marathon, but it should be fun.

In other news, my last paper and final exam are done, spring quarter is officially over, and I’ve got a week of vacation coming up, during which I intend to do nothing more strenuous than camping with the family, paddling the occasional canoe, and catching up with the Harry Potter series before Book Seven comes out in July. (Thank you, awesome neighborhood used bookstore, which has never let me down for leisure reading, and which houses a friendly resident cat, to boot.)

In the meantime, check out the amazing University of Virginia/University of California Rome Reborn project (hat tip to my UVa colleague Leslie Johnston), a big collaborative effort to create a virtual 3D model of Rome at around 320 A.D. You can’t see it all online yet, but there are some flythrough video clips and still images, and the talks and various pieces of text about the project and its goals are fascinating. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Summer in the city

There was supposed to be a review session for History of the Book this afternoon, but it never happened, so I’m posting from the iSchool computer lab again. And in a little while I’m going to head back into Center City and go back over my class notes at Capogiro, where orange-cardamom gelato has started appearing lately.

(Something I will never understand: people who go to Capogiro, order only one flavor, and confine themselves to the least exotic flavors, like chocolate chip or strawberry. Granted, you can’t go wrong with anything Capogiro makes, and their strawberry is a Proustian reverie of strawberries and cream, but still: how can one resist the cioccolato scuro? Or rosemary and honey? Or grapefruit with Campari?)

I walked home after my statistics final last week, since it was still light out and cooling off. After I’d had dinner I walked around my neighborhood some more, past the community gardens and houses with lighted windows and glimpses of living rooms and people sitting on their front steps and the skyline of Center City visible off to the south, with everything looking a little softer and bluer than usual in the dusk. I’ve been taking my surroundings for granted these past few months, sticking to my usual routes and forgetting what it was that made me fall in love with my neighborhood in the first place. This summer, I think, will be for taking notice again.

Time to go: paper-writing and gelato await.

Exam week update

Whew. One final exam (Research Methods and Statistics) down, one take-home exam and final paper (both for History of the Book) to go. The stats exam was pretty easy, all things considered. Now all I have to do is crank out approximately ten pages between now and next Wednesday.

And now I’m heading homeward to have dinner at Neighborhood Sushi Place I Haven’t Tried Yet — raw fish is brain food, right?

Seen around the web (and offline as well)

I am so totally sending a paper abstract to the organizers of this conference. Spatializations of knowledge, memory, libraries, architecture, intellectual networks — the only way it could possibly be a more perfect match with my research obsessions would be if there was a track entirely about poetry. (But I’ll find a way to work it in somehow.) Via the very useful blog Textual Studies 1500-1800.

Spotted in a bunch of places: passive-aggressive notes from roommates, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. It’s kind of like Found Magazine, only focused exclusively on the subgenre of the anonymous passive-aggressive note. (And they’re completely right about Hot Pockets getting stolen from communal fridges, as the thieving rat bastard who used to steal mine from the college dorm kitchen can attest.)

Via if:book, a map of online communities. I’ve lived in the Blogipelago for nearly four years now, but I’ve visited quite a few of the other places.

Speaking of maps: literal translations of Swedish subway station names, from the excellent Strange Maps. I want to know the story behind Gruel Village.

Catching up on a New Yorker backlog, I finally read John Seabrook’s article on the Antikythera Mechanism. Amazing stuff. It seems to me that the Mechanism is begging for someone to write a novel about it. (Clockpunk set in the first century AD?)

On academic libraries and crossover

A couple of days ago I went to a forum on libraries and education at UPenn, at which one of the speakers (Alexius Macklin from Purdue) talked about integrating information literacy into the curriculum in a way that most of us in libraries haven’t yet: by teaching writing classes herself and working the information-seeking skills directly into the classroom. While I don’t think every librarian should try her approach,* I was impressed by the assignments she described, and the lengths she went to. It got me thinking (again) about something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: that academic libraries and the institutions they serve need more crossover, on many different levels.

Not that there isn’t interchange between librarians and faculty; not that there aren’t already a few librarians co-teaching classes); not that there aren’t faculty interested in library issues; not that there aren’t plenty of people who move back and forth between both worlds. But I’m starting to think there should be more structures in place for crossover, more opportunities built into the way higher education happens. Co-teaching is one structure I’d really like to see in place: it’s a common lament among librarians that when we only get one class session to talk to students about how to use the library, the students are likely to tune out, because it’s outside the context of what they’re doing in the class and we’re trying to cram everything into just under an hour.

(Of course, the prospect of co-teaching raises questions about what kind of pedagogical training the potential teachers of such classes will get. But, given the spotty-at-best pedagogical training that so many faculty members get, I think these questions ought to be raised for everyone who gets up in front of a classroom.)

And the other thing I’ve been thinking about: crossover between master’s programs in library science and master’s programs in other subjects. I started thinking about it because taking History of the Book this quarter has made me wish I’d taken that class the first time I went to grad school. There are all kinds of aspects of the study of information (and its intellectual structures, and the way knowledge is created, and the way we organize our understanding of things) that can appeal to people who are learning to be scholars in a discipline. And if we want to make academic librarianship more intellectually rigorous, which was part of what Steven Bell said in that article about niceness, why not encourage intellectual interchange between library programs and other departments? Why not have seminars in the history and theory of information science, and make them open to graduate students from all over the university? Why not have co-teaching there, as well?

These are nebulous ideas as yet. Anyone care to weigh in?

* I’ve taught composition, so I know how hard it is to do well if you haven’t been trained in it. If I ran the world, colleges and universities would pay their composition instructors six-figure salaries, and fight over hiring them. (Mike and Clancy, I’m thinking of you guys!)

Speaking of Shakespeare and opera…

I’d never heard of the International Opera Theater until today, when one of my coworkers told me about them. But apparently they adapt Shakespeare’s plays into chamber operas, and, what’s more, their version of The Winter’s Tale is going to be performed here in Philly on June 22nd and 24th. I am intrigued, not least because The Winter’s Tale is quite possibly my favorite Shakespeare play of them all, and I’ve never seen it performed on stage.

Between that and the Center City Opera Theater’s production of Lowell Lieberman’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, June is shaping up to be the Month of Operas Adapted from Literary Works. (Not that there aren’t a great many operas in that category, but still.)

Still here

… still internetless at home, still blogging from computer labs and the public library, and still fed up with the whole situation. The longer posts I’ve been contemplating will have to wait (again). Can anyone recommend me an ISP that actually does its damn job?

In lieu of profound thoughts and well-honed prose, I’ll just mention that I’m slowly succumbing to the by now heavily documented lolcats phenomenon. I didn’t get into it until I discovered, first, lolbrarians ("Im in ur IFLA faceting ur classification"); then, a retelling of the classic "Trouble with Tribbles" Star Trek episode in lolcat-speak; and, most recently, loltheorists, where Socrates asks "I can has dinner in town hall?" and Schroedinger proclaims "I haz ur cat."

Yes, I think we’ve established it now: I’m very easily amused. Fellow opera fans: who wants to start making lolcomposers macros?

Vanishing Shakespeare? I don’t think so.

One of the mailing lists I’m on drew my attention to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s
"Vanishing Shakespeare" report. There’s been some conversation about it on The
, too. Quite a lot of this report triggered my skepticism
reflexes. In particular:

  • The claim for an "assault on Shakespeare" at colleges and universities.*
  • The out-of-context Shakespeare quotations.**
  • The tone of horror at the fact that films are sometimes taught in Shakespeare classes.***
  • The way the report data seem to be drawn entirely from course descriptions.

written my share of course descriptions, and they’re a tricky genre: in
a couple of hundred words, you have to give a general sense of
what your class is about while also trying to entice undecided students. There’s not much room for
detailed reading lists; those details may not even be
set when the description has to be written. For all of these reasons, a
syllabus is a lot better than a course description for gauging the
content of a class.

But the writers of this report don’t seem to have looked at syllabi, which might have told them how often Shakespeare’s
plays crop up in classes not exclusively devoted to them. (My
unscientific impression is that this happens a lot. The Little Professor makes a related point: sometimes authors aren’t required because students will study them without being made to.) Nor do they seem to
have talked to any students or professors.
The report reads, instead, like they made up their minds in advance:
Colleges are going to the dogs! Shakespeare’s out of fashion! To the

I took several courses on Shakespeare as an undergraduate, not to mention others on Chaucer and
Milton — which I loved so much that I wrote my senior thesis on
Paradise Lost. So I’m not exactly anti-canonical authors, or
anti-single author courses, either. But I just can’t get worked up by the absence of Shakespeare requirements. I think English majors should graduate
with a good sense of literary
history, of what kinds of works were being written during various time
periods and why, of the critical fortunes of key authors, of the
various vocabularies people have used, over time, to describe how
literature functions. I also think they should gain a great deal of practice in attentive, close, critical reading.

But is a single-author course the only way to study literature "in
depth"? That seems to be a major premise of the report, but I’m not
convinced. You study more of an author’s work in a single-author class,
and gain a stronger sense of his or her overall career, but it seems to
me that you can pay as much detailed attention to, say, Twelfth Night
in a multi-author course as you can in a semester’s Shakespeare survey.

I’m not worried about students never being exposed
to Shakespeare, because Shakespeare is all over the curriculum as it is
— not to mention all over the culture at large. I’d rather make sure
that English majors get a chance to read authors who aren’t as widely known, because English majors are probably a lot more likely than
other students to go on reading Shakespeare after they graduate.

You want to get riled about what’s wrong
with higher education? Start with universities’ use of overworked adjuncts who
don’t have enough time to spend on their students. Rant about
the overemphasis on athletics. (Hey, ACTA, where’s the outrage about
football coaches pulling down exponentially higher salaries than anyone who
teaches great literature?) But don’t tell me Shakespeare is vanishing
from the curriculum, unless you can provide some more substantive
evidence than a bunch of course catalogs.

* I get suspicious every time I hear the phrases "war on X,"
"assault on X," or "X is under attack." War metaphors always seem to signal a certain type of ideologically loaded rhetoric. ("War on
Christmas," anyone?)
When Antony says "This was the most unkindest
cut of all," he’s ostensibly mourning Caesar while calculatedly
stirring up the crowd for his own
political ends.
When Malvolio says "Some are born great, some achieve
greatness…", he’s reading a letter designed to trick him by flattering his inflated ego, and he falls
it. Apparently, part of the value of Shakespeare for ACTA is that he
wrote so many quotable one-liners, which can be detached so neatly from
all their messy dramatic context and used to affirm the value of "The Bard."
*** After all, it’s not like Shakespeare wrote his plays for any purpose as
vulgar as popular entertainment. And it’s not like seeing a performance
ever helped students understand a play, either.