Off to ACRL

On Friday morning I’m heading off at a truly ungodly hour to the ACRL conference in Minneapolis, there to attend as many papers, panels, and posters as I can cram into my schedule, participate in a roundtable with my fellow Fellows, maybe take in some theater if there’s time, hopefully meet a few people I know only from the blogosphere (I have another engagement that conflicts with the bloggers’ dinner, but if anyone reading this is going to roundtable 10 on Saturday morning, I’ll be on it), and, of course, network network network. If I can find a seat, or even standing room, at the recently-added panel on the Google digitization project, I’ll take lots of notes and blog it when I get back.

You know, it’s been nearly a year since I first got the news about this fellowship, and a year ago, I don’t think I would have pictured myself gleefully saying "network network network!" or getting excited about panel topics like "Is Quality Metadata Shareable Metadata?". I wouldn’t have ever guessed that I’d enjoy fielding reference questions; at that point, I was still operating under the assumption that I preferred not to interact with other people. I knew librarians were doing some pretty cool stuff (I was already getting a ground-level part-timer’s view of it), but I didn’t know how cool. I knew there were ex-academics-turned-librarians out there, but I didn’t realize quite how many of us there are. It seems like I got here yesterday, but the distance between who I was then and who I am now is enormous.

This week is heavy on the kinds of stuff that have to get done before going out of town, plus — ugh — taxes, and I have hardly any time to think, but I just wanted to say that before returning to laundry and cleaning and packing.


Paging Cleis: My first Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab order arrived yesterday. Whoo! I ordered six perfume samples and they threw in an extra one for free. I had to restrain myself from trying all of them at once. Right now I’m wafting orange blossoms and medicinal herbs around my apartment. Tomorrow I’m going to try the one that’s supposed to smell like a thunderstorm (or maybe the one that’s supposed to smell like the Moroccan desert). This could turn out to be habit-forming…

April foolery

I’ve never been much of a one for playing April Fool’s Day pranks myself, but I’m glad to see that the good people at Library Journal have been observing the day in an appropriately leg-pulling spirit.

Since the special LJ April Fool’s Edition will probably disappear tomorrow, here are a couple of screen captures for posterity (click to embiggen*):

Lj Lj2

I doubt the headlines will be as funny to anyone who isn’t a librarian. For my part, I knew I’d made the mental shift from academic literary critic to librarian-in-the-making when this kind of thing started to make me laugh.

[Update: K. G. Schneider of Free Range Librarian replies. Bwah! By the way, I have a (by now kind of un-timely) post a-brewing on the "Michael Gorman vs. Blogs" controversy.]

In other news of the silly:
Bloglines in Klingon! (hat tip to Dorothea)
Google releases Google Gulp. Mmmm…sero-tonic.
As always, Miriam of scribblingwoman links widely and entertainingly.

* When did "embiggen" cease to be a Simpsons in-joke and enter the language? And how did it become specifically associated with the action of clicking a thumbnail image to see the full-sized version? Inquiring minds want to know.


Spring is here. Spring has been here for weeks, complete with snowdrops and daffodils. There’s a giant magnolia tree in front of the Rotunda that’s completely covered with potently aromatic white flowers. Today it got up into the 60s and half the student body was outside in flip-flops and shorts. A week or so ago I saw what I think was an Eastern bluebird near the University tennis courts. It was a duller blue than the guidebooks lead one to expect, so I think it was probably a female bluebird; but it had the blue back and the orange underside and was approximately the right size and shape.

This may not be at all exciting to readers who live in more rural areas, but I’m a city girl. Red-winged blackbirds and the occasional hawk are about the most exotic avian wildlife I’ve ever seen on my daily rounds before. I begin to understand why people make such a fuss about the outdoors.

Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour

Via Crooked Timber, a report from Florida on a bill aimed to curb "leftist totalitarianism" in the classroom and prevent "a misuse of [professors’] platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views."

Now, I’m pretty left in my political views. When I taught, I had students who were proud members of the College Republicans. I had students who opposed gun control and students who thought that separation of church and state was an overrated idea and "I’m not a feminist, but…" female students. (Of all the types of student whose politics I disagreed with, those "I’m not a feminist, but…" women drove me the craziest.) But at no point did I feel entitled to turn them all into Democrats. I was, if anything, probably trying too hard to be impartial toward their opinions. I knew perfectly well that they could shred me in their end-of-term evaluations. But, beyond that, I was trying to model the kind of open-minded approach to inquiry that I wanted them to take away from the class. And I take umbrage at the implication that left-leaning college professors are "intellectual dictators." For both the professors’ sake, and the students’.

The idea that 18-to-22-year-olds are helpless mental weaklings who are incapable of forming an opinion of their own, or whose brains are so mushy that the mere hearing of a forcefully expressed idea is enough to "indoctrinate" them, is a) patently untrue and b) utterly insulting to the intelligence of your average 18-to-22-year-old. I mean, I’ve seen some inept attempts at reasoning from college students,* but nothing that would indicate the level of brainlessness that the framers of this bill seem to want to impute to the young. If I were eighteen right now, I’d be writing a really indignant letter to the Florida legislature asking them why the hell they’re implying that I couldn’t think for myself.

While I was in graduate school, a professor in my department drew the
ire of local conservative groups by teaching a course on gay male
studies with a provocative title (more provocative than the course
itself, by all accounts). There was much ranting from the course’s
opponents about how this was a sign that Gay People Want to Recruit
YOUR CHILDREN!!!** A friend of mine, who like me was teaching composition
that term, discussed the situation with her class. She said that her
students’ response to the controversy was "They think we’re going to
change our sexual orientations because we took a class? They must think
we have no brains." And that is exactly the point.

Have these people who go around trying to "protect" students from the dangerous lefty profs ever even set foot in a college classroom? I think not, because if they did, they would notice a few things. One, that students are under no particular obligation to pay attention or agree (have you ever tried changing the minds of a class full of students whose greatest concern is getting a good grade on the final? it’s surprisingly difficult); two, that those who don’t agree with the professor are often not shy about expressing their disagreement; and three, that students who don’t like the manner in which the class was taught, can and do lodge formal complaints — up to and including the descent of irate parents on the department, demanding better treatment for Junior. Students, in other words, are not pawns, powerless to resist the Svengali appeal of a charismatic professor. (Just as straight people are not going to suddenly turn gay the moment they’re exposed to the idea that gay people aren’t freaks. You know, I’m starting to think that this "they want to recruit your CHILDREN!!!" rhetoric derives a lot of its engine-power from homophobia even when it’s not overtly about homophobia. Hmm. Must mull over.)

If I were in a more charitable frame of mind, I’d say that maybe the Florida legislature is unusually attuned to the life-altering force that really good education can have, and that they think so highly of the exalted power of teaching that they fear its potential for misuse. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think they’re just afraid of any opinions that aren’t theirs. Consider the lawmaker quoted in the article who explains that "Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear." Yes, indeed. Freedom is a dangerous thing. Also, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

Look, guys. The very idea of education offends you to your soul? Too bad for you, but you can’t force ignorance on the rest of us who aren’t threatened by thinking. You want to call me an arrogant, elitist academic because of that? Fine. Go right ahead. (But why are you insulting the intelligence of our CHILDREN???***)

This is not the way you act when you live in a participatory democracy. You don’t promote "freedom" by forbidding people from expressing a view. You don’t condemn "totalitarianism" in one breath and then involve the state in regulating what can and can’t be said in the classroom. Not unless you’re schizophrenic, or a raging hypocrite, or completely unclear on the meaning of terms like "freedom" and "totalitarianism." In any of which cases you really shouldn’t be an elected official.

What the hell happened to my country? People have gone insane.

Update: Echidne of the Snakes has also been thinking about the Florida bill, paternalism, and definitions of freedom.

* On rereading, this sounds snide. I don’t mean to imply that all college students reason ineptly; I mean that even the ones who have a hard time writing a coherent paper are still smart enough to form their own opinions.
** The excess punctuation is there to convey the level of hysteria in the public outcry around the course. Yes, I know it’s gauche to use multiple exclamation points.
*** That sentence is meant to be a parody.

In which I go to a recital

So, the longer report on Tuesday’s concert with Katarina Karnéus: Thanks to the luck of the Tuesday Evening Concert Series ticket-buying procedure, wherein if you aren’t a subscriber you have to get on a waiting list and then they give you the first sold-back tickets they can find for you, I got a seat in the second row of the orchestra section. If I’d been one row closer, I could have followed the score by peering over her accompanist’s shoulder.

We were provided with the words to everything she was singing, with facing English translation, which was handy — though I really they’d printed up a booklet instead of giving us sheets of paper stapled together, because you could hear mass page-turning all through the auditorium. Even when she was singing in English! C’mon, people, who here really needs to follow along with the lyrics to "Can’t Help Loving That Man"?

So I mentioned before that some of my favorite Baroque guys were on the program. For once, the pieces by Baroque composers didn’t grab me as much as the later ones. Something about Karnéus’s performance style made her seem more at home with lieder than with big bravura arias. I say this even though I thoroughly enjoyed her "Parto, parto" from La Clemenza di Tito; she pleaded "Guardami!" so affectingly that, were I Vitellia, I’d have relented right then and there on the spot. ("Oh, all right, Sesto, you don’t have to kill him if you don’t want to. Whoops, there goes the entire plot." Then again, I would swoon if anyone with the right voice sang "Parto, parto" to me, so I’m not the most impartial judge.) I also liked her interpretation of Gluck’s Alceste, staring death right in the eye and not flinching.

However, I felt kind of disengaged when she sang the aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the first piece on the program, and she sounded like she was getting tired by the time she got to Cenerentola’s "Non più mesta" at the end. But as soon as she launched into Mahler’s "Frühlingsmorgen," she was in her element. She has a full, rich, round-edged voice,* and she could definitely fill the auditorium with it, but perhaps because Cabell is such a relatively small space, or perhaps because I was so near the stage, the smaller-scale pieces were the ones that worked the best.

My favorite parts of the program were the songs by Mahler, Strauss, and Poulenc, all of which were delightful. French art song isn’t my usual cuppa, but I loved the crazy-fast cavalcade of metaphor in "Paganini." (Surréalisme!) She highlighted the playfulness of many of the songs: the cuckoo refrain in "Ablösung im Sommer," for instance, and the hippity-hoppity "Killingdans" by Grieg, ending with a rippling "tra la la!" which made the audience giggle. I have mixed feelings about opera singers singing Broadway numbers, but it was a hoot to watch her leaning on the piano and confiding to us with a little "what can I say?" shrug that fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. As an encore, she sang Gershwin’s "Summertime" and some more Strauss.  In the end, the best parts of the recital were as if she’d invited us all into her living room to hear some really interesting pieces that we might not have encountered otherwise. I ended up not missing the full orchestra.

* I always seem to think of
voices in terms of textures and shapes. I think of wines the same way (soft; fuzzy; flinty; convex; pointy). It’s about as close as I get to synaesthesia.


Very quick summary of today:

Phone interview: not quite sure how it went. Think it was all right, but won’t hear until next week.

Library discussion group this afternoon (topic: folksonomies and social tagging): neato.

News received later this afternoon re: other job applied for: encouraging. Very encouraging.

After-work pool game at Orbit: fun despite losing streak.

Concert in the evening: most excellent.

Dinner at home afterward: much needed.

General mood: hopeful, sleepy, earwormed with Jerome Kern.

Lingering blogger’s block: unblocked, apparently.

Full report: tomorrow or Thursday, but for now, suffice it to say, in Bridget Jones fashion, v.v.g.

Waiting for tomorrow

Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. In the evening I’m going to hear Katarina Karnéus give a recital at Old Cabell Hall. I’ve never heard her sing, but the program looks marvelous (Mahler, Strauss, Grieg, a few bits from my favorite Baroque guys here, a dash of Weill there). And for once I lucked out and got a seat where the view of the stage isn’t half blocked by a pillar.

In the morning — and this is the bigger part of the day — I have a phone interview with a search committee for one of the jobs I’m applying for, which I’m hoping will lead to an interview of the in-person kind. I’m nervous about it, but excited as well: it’s a job I’d very much like to have, it’s a bit of a long shot but in many respects a good fit, and if they call me back I’ll be happily gobsmacked. However tomorrow morning’s interview goes, I suspect I’ll be heading off to the concert in a celebratory mood just for having gotten this far.

Now back to laundry, dinner, and nail-biting interview-preparation.

The envelope, please…

Herewith, the results of the pseudo-aria contest. Though, really, since I couldn’t pick any one entry, it’s more like the caucus-race in Alice in Wonderland, in which everybody has won, and all must have prizes. Anyway, the winners are:

  • “Come vergine”: simile aria from a baroque opera by Handel, in which the hero (countertenor) compares his besieged city to a chaste vestal virgin. (From a certain Madonna song title suggested by Bane.)
  • “In punta di piedi va il cane”: cheerful (but dramatic-irony-laden) baritone aria from long-lost Verdi opera, accompanied by an offstage hunting horn. (Rana‘s suggestion: “A dog walks on tiptoe.”)
  • “La gallina fa le uova”: mock folk song by Donizetti. An outtake from L’Elisir d’Amore. (Also from Rana: “the chicken, she is laying.”)

Some of the results sounded more like titles of entire operas, e.g.:

  • Le Cisaillement des Arbres Grotesques: allegorical one-act opera by Ravel from around the time he composed L’enfant et les Sortilèges. Or, alternatively, by Stravinsky. (From MisterBS: “The pruning of the misshapen trees.”)
  • Il Serpente al Cuore Freddo: very early Mozart; serpent motif foreshadows giant snake in Die Zauberflöte. (Another of Bane’s 80s song-title suggestions: “Cold-Hearted Snake.”)
  • L’accumulatrice di Filo: opera buffa by Rossini, in which the plucky heroine’s skill at fiber-crafts saves the day; musicologists note its comic rewriting of the Penelope and Ulysses myth. (From Heather: “She who hoards yarn.”)

Thanks to everyone who contributed random phrases and titles. Comfits and thimbles for everyone all round!

Flyleaves and pastedowns

Check out this exhibit of hand bookbindings through the ages from Princeton University Library. Among the highlights: disappearing fore-edge decoration (scroll to the bottom of this page for an explanation of how it’s done); books meant to be attached to your belt; a sixteenth-century book satchel from Ethiopia; lovely embroidery; and recycled manuscripts used as bindings. Someday I want to learn bookbinding in my spare time.

Reason #42 why digitizing library collections is worth the effort: how many of us, otherwise, are going to get a chance to hold up a magnifying glass to a rare French incunabule?