Monday, January 31, 2011

Mantor Monday

Hey, guess what? The book basement is back in business! The carpet is dry, the study rooms are open, and the students who regard this quiet part of the library as their study sanctuary are happy again. Floods are nasty, damaging and expensive - but we all feel that it could have been much, much, worse. (If the pipes had burst at night, for instance, when no one was here.)

The On Our Minds film series will be kicking off it's second semester on Feb. 8th, when we host "The Global Banquet: Politics of Food". The Global Banquet examines the social justice and ethical aspects of the global food supply, and tackles such issues as factory farming, agribusiness, the patenting of life forms, and the true causes and cost of hunger. It will be screened in Lincoln Auditorium at 7pm, with encores in the Mantor Browsing Room at 2:00pm and 6:00 pm on Wednesday the 9th. Remember - when you attend OOM events, you can enter a raffle to win a book! Titles we'll be giving away this semester include The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky, The Omnivore's Dilemna for Kids, by Michael Pollan, and The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Call for Reviewers!

Do you have a favorite book, movie or CD that Mantor owns? Would you like to review it on Browsing Room? We'd be happy to post your review and share it with our readers. Just send me an email or add a comment to this post, and we'll get that worked out for you. Not sure if Mantor has the item you want to review? Check out URSUS and find out. If we don't own it, why not suggest it to us? I happen to know a handsome, intelligent librarian who reads this column religiously, and he just might make that purchase happen. :-)

Hope to hear from you soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Basement Update

If you are a member of the UMF community, you've probably heard we had some unexpected guests yesterday afternoon: the Farmington Fire Department.
Here's what happened: a large pipe located in the custodian's closet in the book basement broke, and by golly, it was a gusher. Library staff leaped into action, and immediately started loading books from the lowest shelves onto book carts as the water rose. Ilze took one for the team, and stood barefoot in ankle-deep water, re-enacting the story of the Little Dutch Boy by attempting to plug the hole and slow down the flow. Fortunately, Facilities was able to get the water mains shut off before the water level reached the books, and none were damaged. The fire fighters arrived with giant squeegees and began the clean up effort that continues today, with several large fans humming away to dry the carpet.
The book basement will remain closed until further notice, and due to the fact that some water lines must remain shut off, some of the first floor bathrooms are out of order as well.
If you need a book from the basement, a staff person or library aide will be happy to retrieve it for you. And speaking of the student library aides, the ones who were on duty during the flood deserve a big shout out. They held down the fort while the entire staff was in the basement, moving books. We really appreciate our student workers. Thanks, crew. And thanks to Facilities and the Farmington Fire Dept. , too!
Hopefully, the basement will be cleaned, repaired, and open soon. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


File this under the "Cool New Technology Tidbits" category in your brain. I just came across a new search engine this morning. Qwiki. What does it do? Well, think about Star Trek--how the characters would ask the computer a question, and then the computer would tell them the answer, summarizing anything to give the bare-bones essentials of what the characters needed to know. Qwiki is like that. It's a search engine where you type in a search, and then it returns not a huge long list of results, but rather a video it put together on the fly, complete with pictures and a narrative giving you a summary of the essential facts. It just went open to the public, and you kind of have to see it in action to understand. Go ahead--give it a shot, then come back here.

Cool, huh?

I tried it with my hometown, and I was pretty impressed with its accuracy. Yes, it got some of the pictures mixed up, but my town isn't exactly a thriving metropolis--I was impressed it got as much right as it did. Plus, the technology is still in the alpha stage, meaning it still has a lot of work before it's ready for prime time. Still, I thought it was pretty interesting as a sign of the sort of direction technology might be heading in. Add this with a good dictation software program like Dragon, and you'd have a rough rendition of the computer on the Starship Enterprise.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mantor Monday

Hello, and welcome back to the first Mantor Monday post of the spring semester. It doesn't feel very springlike at the moment, since the temperature has plummeted - but that's okay. It's perfect reading weather.
If you like to keep up with current titles in both fiction and nonfiction, why not browse the Discoveries Collection case? We've got some brand new offerings. Here's a little selection of January titles:

Full Dark, No Stars
Earth (the Book): A Visitor' Guide to the Human Race
Sh*t My Dad Says
The Poacher's Son (Set right here in western Maine!)
Zombies vs. Unicorns
And there are many, many more to choose from. Or, if you still haven't had a chance to read our On Our Minds selections, there are multiple copies of both books on the lobby display case.
Oh- and speaking of display cases, we've got some interesting new stuff going on. In the lobby: Twinkies. Yep, the anti-health food: facts, lore and recipes. And in the third floor display case, we're featuring a display called "Dinner by Decade: Fashions in Food on the American Table, 1950 - 2010." We've even dug up some recipes that will make you shudder - especially if you're old enough to remember them on your own dinner table. (Jellied vegetable salads: need I say more?)
So, come in out of the cold, and pick up a good read to take home and curl up with. Hot chocolate and fuzzy slippers optional, but highly recommended.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Mantor Movie Collection

I was just downstairs perusing the movies we have here at Mantor, trying to decide which one I wanted to review today. The thing is, we have so many good ones, I just couldn't choose. It's not that we have thousands of DVDs. At last count we had 746, and I ordered another 100 or so for this next year, which will appear on the shelves as they get cataloged.

746 DVDs wouldn't look like much compared to the shelves of a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, but the shelves of a Blockbuster store are burdened down with a lot of dead weight. Movies that just aren't very good. In other words, the good movies to junk filler ratio is abysmal. In our collection, I'd like to think the ratio is much better--as close to no junk filler as possible. (Collections and opinions being what they are, I don't think it's possible to have anyone come in and look at a collection and be 100% sure they won't say there's any junk).

So what do we have? A bit of the best of everything. We've got some horror, westerns, noir, comedies, classics, documentaries, manga, mysteries, drama, foreign movies--you name it. We don't have the modern movies. I've tried to avoid adding many films that are readily available to rent elsewhere. But if you're looking for a good intro to any genre, this is the place to come.

Plus, did I mention they're free?

Come on by today and check one out for the weekend.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Undercover Romance Becomes NO Cover Romance?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, romance novels are the hottest selling items in the ebook market, leaving every other genre in the dust. The reason attributed to the popularity of ebook romances? Discretion. Consumers who would previously be embarrassed to be seen in public with a bodice-ripping title can now download and enjoy in private. In a Daily Mail interview, romance author Talli Rand said "There is a stigma attached - fairly or not - to reading romance novels. A lot of professional people... probably don't want their hunky heroes splashed across their covers for everyone to see."
It seems there's a big pool of readers out there who love romance novels, but wouldn't be caught dead carrying around cover art featuring an oiled up warrior with a flowing mullet and bulging pecs locked in a steamy embrace with his well-endowed lady love - and ebook marketers are on to them. Barnes and Noble has launched a dedicated "Romance Shop" for it's Nook e-reader (with a staggering number of titles), and companies like All Romance ebooks are doing a booming business.
This trend is no news to libraries who lend ebooks: back in 2009, Paul Keith, Electronic Resources Librarian at the Chicago Public Library noted that circulation of ebooks was up noticeably, and that "Heavy readers of romance novels love e-readers."
What about you? Would you be more inclined to read a romance novel if you didn't have to worry about other people snickering at your reading material?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Welcome Back, and So Long Open Access

If you've been into the library today, you've noticed two things. First of all, school's back in session, so we have students again. Yay! I'm at the reference desk right now, and it's quite picturesque. Snow falling outside in gentle flakes, students back working at the computers, professors hurrying by to get classes rolling: how can you not like a Maine University in winter?

So that's the one change. The other change is that we have signs up all over the place notifying everyone that we've stopped offering open access computers, meaning there are now no machines in the library where you can get on to surf the internet without signing up for an account and logging yourself on to the machine. We've offered this for years and years, and yet we had to stop. Some of our loyal patrons are understandably upset, so I thought I might take a moment to explain why we had to bring this chapter of Mantor technology to a close.

There's this thing called "copyright." We were recently notified (by lawyers for an entertainment company) that someone had been using a library computer to download copyrighted material illegally. When I went to check and see who the culprit was, I discovered that . . . I couldn't know who the culprit was, since he or she had used one of our two open access machines. This puts the library in a predicament. If we do nothing, then if the lawyerly types find our computers being used to download illegal material, they can bring a lawsuit against us and the university as the Internet Service Provider (ISP) who allowed the illegal content to be downloaded.

We love our patrons, but we're kind of allergic to lawsuits, and we don't really condone the whole "illegal activities" thing on our computers. In fact, you have to sign a document when you get an account that says you'll not do anything illegal. Up until last week, we had two open access machines where you didn't have to do that.

Now, we don't.

The moral of the story? Don't abuse a good thing. Think of others and of the consequences of your actions. We try to put our patrons first and do as much as we can do meet everyone's technology and information needs, but in the end, we have to do things to keep the library open and available to the majority.

I want to note that you can still come in and get an account to use our computers. You just need some ID. A computer account is free, and you can use it whenever we're open. You can still do all the things you'd like to do and have done before.

You just can't do them 100% anonymously.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: The Passage

The Passage (The Passage, #1)The Passage by Justin Cronin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A vampire book that isn't your typical vampire book. A more realistic take on the genre, with viruses and genetics and rational explanations and plagues and guns and danger and everything else you can stuff into a thick book. Should be great, right? That's what I thought, at least. And it certainly was intriguing. The first act of the book was really good--I was reading at a fast clip, and it was getting more and more engrossing. Then act II hits, and I stopped.

Not a brick wall sort of a stop. More slowed down in molasses. The book was still good, but I wasn't reading it very quickly anymore. I had to sort of force myself to keep going. I don't want to say exactly why, because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who might be thinking about it, but suffice it to say that I think you need to be very careful about alienating your readers by the way you treat your characters as an author. Readers build up a relationship with characters, and there's a fine line between being predictable and going too far.

I'm not saying Cronin passed that line. After all, I still finished the book, and I enjoyed it, more or less (although it did commit the heinous sin of deciding to be book 1 of a series without alerting me of the fact). Even so, Cronin definitely looked over the edge of the line on numerous occasions, and that's all I'll say about that for now.

What was good? It was certainly of epic proportions, and you couldn't accuse it of being predictable. There were character pieces in it that were very moving and hard to read. What was not so good? Sometimes there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. Lots of characters in this one--lots and lots. It's hard at times to feel really invested in any one or two, because as a reader you're scared Cronin is going to make those story lines irrelevant. And he arguably does. Be warned.

That said, the book was good. Not great for me, but good. It's done all right for itself, so clearly it's great for some people. Just not me. I'd love to hear from someone who's read it--am I off base? What did you think? Do share . . .

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Check Him Out

Imagine walking into your library, handing over your library card, and checking out a Buddhist monk for a thirty minute conversation about peace activism. Once you've returned the monk, you might check out a heavily tattooed biker with multiple facial piercings - and find out he is an opera enthusiast.
I read about the Human Library Project
a few years ago, before I was working in a library. I thought it was a great idea then, and when a co-worker read an article about it recently, and suggested it as a Thursday blog item, I was glad to see it's still going strong.

The goal of the Human Library is to combat prejudice by bringing people of diverse backgrounds together, and allowing them to communicate. Volunteer "Books" are people who are willing to be "checked out" by other people for a conversation about their life. Often, the "books" are representative of a group or lifestyle that experiences prejudice from mainstream society - they may be gay, punk, an ex-gang member, or Wiccan, to name just a few. The volunteers are "open books" - readers may ask them anything they might want to know about that book's lifestyle. Patrons of the Human Library are encouraged to examine their own biases, and then check out a "book" that might help dispel prejudice through simple, one on one conversation.
Take a look at a video clip of a Human Library event in the U.K, as a patron learns, after her conversation with one of the volunteers, "not to judge a book by it's cover."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Verizon and Apple

At long last, after literally years of speculation and rumors, the iPhone is coming to Verizon on February 10th. No word yet on pricing for data plans (although it'll set you back $200 for the cheaper 16GB phone). Why is this big news, worthy of a Technology Tuesday blog post?
  • Up here in rural Maine, we don't have AT&T. This means that we haven't been able to get the iPhone until now. While there are many other smart phones available, I don't think anyone can deny the ability of Apple products to make something popular. With the iPhone headed our way, I anticipate a marked increase in the number of people who use smartphones to access our web page, try to search databases, etc. So maybe this is more a "big changes needed for Mantor" than a big changes for you (assuming you don't buy an iPhone).
  • For Apple, this opens up the largest cell phone company to their product. They've been locked into an exclusive contract with AT&T since the iPhone first came onto the scene. Getting out of it--and into the bigger market--will make the iPhone that much more popular and mainstream. Count on it.
  • The new Verizon deal isn't exclusive, which means you might see the iPhone coming to Sprint soon, too.
  • The Verizon phone has the ability to act as a wireless provider for up to five other devices, meaning you could let other people use your iPhone's wireless internet connection to let them access the internet, too. It's called tethering, and it's pretty cool. AT&T just lets you do this with one other device over Bluetooth.
Some news (such as pricing) remains to be unveiled between now and then, but still--big changes are coming.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you haven't read much steam punk (and I haven't), this seems like a good intro to the genre. It takes place in Seattle. Not the Seattle we know today, but the Seattle of an alternate post-Civil War era, where a huge tunnel digging contraption (the Boneshaker) drilled through the main part of the city, opening up a seemingly endless pocket of toxic gas that turns people into zombies.

So, zombies and steam punk. A match made in heaven.

The story concerns a young man whose father was the pilot of that disastrous Boneshaker. He's out to prove his father's innocence. His mother is out to keep him from killing himself. A good premise, and the book sustains the action well throughout. There are airships, triple barreled shotguns, and everything else you could want from a steam punk book. The characters aren't perhaps as rounded as I'd like, and it all feels a bit off from perfect, which makes me wonder if I were more familiar with the steam punk genre, if I'd still be giving this 4/5 stars.

But I'm not familiar with it, so oh well. Any of you out there read it? Am I off base? What are some better steam punk books to start with? Do share, please . . .

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Lightning Bug and the Lightning

The book world is abuzz this week with the news that Alabama publishing company NewSouth Books is planning to publish an edition of the Mark Twain classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which every instance of the word "nigger"(219 times) is replaced by the word "slave".
Behind the change is Twain scholar Alan Gribben, English professor at Auburn University Montgomery. Gribben, in defense of his censored version, said "I want to provide an option for teachers and other people not comfortable with 219 instances of that word."
According to Herbert Foerstall, author of "Banned in the USA", Huckleberry Finn is the 4th most frequently banned book in American schools - with offensive language cited as the most common reason for the ban.
Yesterday, nine authors, English professors, and a professor of law weighed in on the subject of sanitizing the Twain classic in the New York Times feature Room for Debate. All nine responses are excellent reading. I enjoyed them all for the passionate and articulate points each author made.
Twain himself cared about words and chose them very carefully. In fact, he said "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning". I'm pretty sure I know which side of the argument Mr. Twain would come down on.
Even Steven Colbert had an opinion.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Huckleberry Finn Censorship
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

How about you?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kindle Sharing

Big developments in the world of ebooks over the last week. Well, one big development at any rate. Amazon has announced it has decided to start allowing the sharing of Kindle books. There are strict boundaries to what they'll allow right now--each person may share a book one time (and one time only) for up to two weeks. During that two week period, the book can't be read by the sharer--only the sharee. So this is quite similar to what you can do right now with regular books: you can loan it to a friend for a few weeks so the friend can read it. The friend returns it, and then you can read it again.

I personally think more of this needs to happen--without the silly "one time only" clause--for ebooks to really flourish and take off. Everyone's talking about the death of the printed book like it's a bad thing, as if it signals the death of the book publishing industry as a whole. I find this idea silly. I mean, look at the music and film industry. We've had many years now when you can get those songs and films without the need of buying a physical copy. People can record their own songs or make their own movies and share them using the same channels that music or film companies use. However, you don't suddenly see the collapse of the music industry or the film industry. What's changed is the method of delivering the material, not the demand for quality material itself.

Yes, everyone can now write his/her own book and publish it online. So what? The fact is that most of the stuff people write and publish on their own is (more or less) garbage. I'm sure it's very interesting to that person and his five closest friends, but that's about as many people who are going to read it, in the end. Publishing companies--editors and their buddies--will still need to exist. They act both as a wonderful filter for all the rest of the garbage, and as a refiner for the end product itself. When everyone can and does publish an ebook, you need to be able to go to a place where you know you can find quality material.

So this brings us to the question of why there's such reluctance to enable borrowing in the digital era. I mean, it's not like people can't obtain copies of whatever they want to watch, listen to, or read for free. There's this thing called the internet, and it excels at connecting people to pirated material. So why not turn on borrowing privileges on ebooks, with no limit? After all, people have been lending friends their books for years, and that hasn't done in the publishing industry--it just promotes more reading and spreads the word on good authors. If someone really likes the book, then they can go and get an e-copy of their own.

I know I for one would be more inclined to buy an ebook if I knew I could then turn around and lend it to others. That way, I'd feel like I was getting more bang for the buck. I suppose the biggest concern would be people would start setting up online communities where one person would loan out their book a hundred or a thousand times to different people. Of course, that's sort of the exact model libraries have been using for a long long time, and again--the publishing industry seems fine to me.


I know I'm oversimplifying some of this, and that there are greater issues at hand, but in the end, I think that the more owners of content try to control that content with an iron fist, the less likely those owners will be to succeed.

What do you think?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mantor Monday

So, how's 2011 treating you?
The library is closed today, and the library bees are busy shifting books, reorganizing archive materials, and generally doing tasks we don't have time to do when we are open to the public. We will be closed next Monday for the same purpose. (And the following Monday for MLK day.)

I did just want to pop in and mention that the new acquisitions list is out. You can take a look at our new books, movies and music here.
We will be open at 8:00am to 4:30 pm through the rest of the week.