Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I've decided to talk a bit more about libraries in my blog, particularly since my reviews are no longer being posted here in full. First and foremost on any librarian's mind these days is funding. Along with cuts to essential services like education, police, and fire departments, many municipalities have chosen to cut funding to libraries or simply close them. Regardless of where the tax revenue comes from, those revenues are falling at a time when they need to cover more costs than ever.

But why should you care if your public library closes it doors? That's what the internet is for, right? If you're a fine upstanding citizen, you can buy your books and other media from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, both of whom will ship them right to your door. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and even cable companies like Comcast will let you stream movies and television shows. If you're a rather shadier character than that, you can pirate all manner of material. I read these arguments online far too often, and there are a few problems with them. First, piracy is morally and legally frowned upon. If too many people pirate too much material, that will limit the creation of new material, because it will no longer be profitable for anyone involved. Granted, piracy may need to be taken to the extreme to cause that kind of damage, but it is possible. Second, it requires that everyone have a computer (or other electronic device) and the internet. Third, this supposes that you have an unlimited amount of money at your disposal for your entertainment.

Because I'm most familiar with the library system I work for, I'm going to throw some of our numbers at you. Yes, this is one specific example, and is not a representative sampling from libraries across the country. But I hope it will give you an idea about how much a bargain your local library is. My library is a district library system consisting of 13 branches. We are funded by a millage on property taxes that is renewed by the municipalities we serve every few years. While some people will pay more towards the library and others will pay less, all based on how much their property is worth, we charge non-residents (who are not paying taxes into the system) a $50/year fee. This is meant to represent what they might expect to pay, on average, should they move within our service area. Once upon a time this was a rather low estimate, but with the drop in property tax values we've seen in my community, I'm guessing that it is now a more accurate number.

On the internet, without unusual deals or promotions and using only legal suppliers, $50 will get you:
  • about 3 new hardcover books OR
  • about 6 new paperbacks OR
  • about 1 new audio-book OR
  • about 2 new DVDs, or 2 new BluRays OR
  • about 4 new CDs OR
  • about 1 month of cable internet OR
  • about 6 months of basic Netflix, steaming or DVD by mail only.
I'm not going to try and work out how much you could buy in just electronic formats: prices are too scattered between big names and small names, and somewhat between vendors.

Now, $50 at my library will get you the following:
  • the ability to check out up to 50 items at a time, including up to 10 movies (VHS, DVD, and/or BluRay formats), 10 CDs, and 10 audio-books (in cassette tape, CD, and/or MP3 formats), AND electronic downloads (books and audio-books in several formats depending on publisher) as well as traditional books and magazines.
  • access to over 700 different library collections as part of the Michigan Electronic Library System (an inter-loan/co-operative program between Michigan Libraries). Materials are requested online, and are then shipped to your home library free of charge.
  • up to three hours a day of computer time, in one hour increments.
  • free WiFi
  • free computer classes, ranging from basics to advanced word processing, social media, and e-book downloads
  • free tutors for adults and children, including ESOL classes and Citizenship classes
  • free public showings of movies
  • free lectures on various topics
  • free children's programming such as story time, crafts, and performances.
  • free book clubs
  • free professional help for research, or just help selecting your next book based on what you've read and liked previously.
And that's just the basics, and only the first three truly require a library card. We're stretching your $50 rather far, and goes way beyond the non-fiction section most people think of when they think of a library.

I encourage you to check out your local library's offerings, and also take a gander at a non-profit group called Geek the Library, which does public awareness about Library funding across the country.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dos Santos is another artist who if you read any Sci-Fi/Fantasy at all, you've seen his work. It's everywhere, and that's a good thing. As well as doing book covers, he also does some work for DC Comic's and Wizards of the Cost among others. To me, his signature is all about the incredibly vibrant colors and strong women. You can see more of his work, as well as purchase a few prints, at his website. He also contributes to a group blog, Muddy Colors, which is an excellent read for both artists and those of us who just love eye candy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A few days ago, an article appeared in The Atlantic Cities about a project in New York City to convert pay phone booths into ad hoc, or "guerrilla," libraries. This is interesting to me on a number of levels.

It would be so easy to see this as an experiment combining two dead technologies because of the advent of e-books. But I think that's unfaithful to what's really going on here: an attempt to share information and entertainment in a very twenty-first century way. In an ideal world, where people replace the materials they take with other materials, I would imagine that these little libraries function much like social media does. How many times have you used your social network to find music, books, movies, or just the next internet meme? Watching your Facebook feed would be a little like watching what turns up in these libraries. Books on art and history from my friend who makes miniatures for a living, books on pet care from those who work for the humane society, or books on meditation from the Zen Buddhist. Mixed in with these would be books of general snark from an entire generation of assholes liberated from being social pariahs by the internet and 4chan. What's available is random, hard to predict, and impossible to control. 

You wouldn't look materials up and go to the specified destination, you'd stumble upon it quite by accident. And of course, it's free. When you're done you send the material on the next person by putting it back in the library, not too dissimilar from what internet pirates do with their torrents. Except, the authors and publishers of the materials in the library have been paid for the copy that's being shared. Yes, they're not getting paid for every single use by every single user, but that's not new. And what if someone found a book that they loved? That they had to share, but the book's been read so many times it's falling apart? What if they bought a new copy for them to keep, either electronic or paper and ink? What if they then bought a new copy to place in the library? Except at academic libraries, which are collecting for posterity, this happens all the time. Community libraries and large urban libraries are collecting for right now. What's being checked out? Let's go buy more of that. This paperback has been checked out by ten people and is falling apart? Let's consider buying a new copy. This would simply be an informal version of a system that's already in place and widely accepted (unless we're talking e-books, which for some reason must be different. But that is a discussion for another day).

Unlike NYC, my city has very few pay phones left in service, and they're mostly at gas stations. This makes sense in a Midwestern city that has not had significant pedestrian traffic since the automobile became widely available. So while my city, and likely most cities in my state, would not be able to use this exact design of shelves in a pay phone booth, there are other public structures such as covered bus stops which could feature shelves with free books on the honor system. I'm also struck by what affect  these guerrilla libraries could have on urban illiteracy. So many people with reading problems don't like to venture into the library, because the first thing we ask you to do is to read and write a library card application. How embarrassing if you can do little more than write your name! The library becomes the most intimidating place to go, even if we're one of the best solutions to your adult reading problems. Others rack up late fines that they have no way to pay, and so are prohibited from checking materials out, sometimes for years. This system does away with both of those hurdles. However, I don't foresee guerrilla libraries utterly taking the place of a traditional library system. A twenty-first century library is so much more than just books: it's technology classes, tutors for adults and children, book clubs, lectures on various topics, and even just an old school community center where you can go to just hang out without having to constantly buy something. But it's not random, and user input is filtered by authorities with access to purse strings and shelf space.

I will be very interested to see how the Department of Urban Betterment's experiment with pay phones and libraries pans out. What are your thoughts?

Friday, February 24, 2012

There aren't many cover artists currently working in watercolors or pen and ink, and I always think this is a shame whenever I spot one of Law's covers. I find them to be unique, beautiful, and extremely eye catching. She's also one of the few cover artists and illustrators who sell their work to the general public. Love on of the covers below? Check out her website, and chances are either the original is for sale, or she'll sell you a print. Her tarot deck is just amazing, and someday I plan to buy the accompanying art books because a tarot sized card is just too small a format to truly appreciate the details Law puts into her work. She's also active on DeviantArt and Etsy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Awards Update II

The Nebula Award Nominations were announced on Monday, and can be seen here. This also includes nominations for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. While the nomination list is always a fun thing to look through for suggested reading material, only members of the SFWA can vote on nominations. Membership of the SFWA is limited to authors who have made professional sales with approved publishers in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. More than any other SFF award, this is the one by industry insiders. The awards will be awarded at the Nebula Awards Weekend May 17-20, 2012. You do not have to be a member to attend, simply register for the weekend like any other convention. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I absolutely loved Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It's incredibly smart, and pulls you through a teen-aged girl's story without feeling at all preachy. For more, head over to my review at the Ranting Dragon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The library may be an excellent place to spend an afternoon with your significant other when you're a teenager: it's a safe public environment that your parents will not object to, and is filled with entertaining things like computers, books, music, and movies. However, should you choose this venue for your courtship, do keep a few things in mind:

1. You and your girlfriend should not disappear into a bathroom together. At the very least this will get you banned from the library for at least three months for indecent behavior.

2. When caught in said bathroom by your girlfriend's father, you can expect some verbal abuse and anger. Please be understanding, even if his threatening to beat you up is not terribly thrilling. Put yourself in his shoes in twenty years with your own fourteen year old daughter and her older boyfriend. Granted, a public library lobby filled with witnesses is not a good place to have this altercation as it attracts all sorts of attention.

3. Do not threaten to shoot your girlfriend's father. While he has threatened you with assault, you have now threatened him with assault with a deadly weapon. Guess which one is more likely to get the cops called immediately?

4. When being questioned by the police, try to be respectful and do not lie about who you are and how they can contact you in the future. You've just made them very suspicious, and they suspect they should hold you and question you further. Perhaps back at the precinct, because you must have a reason you're lying and giving them a hard time in general.

5. When the handcuffs come out DO NOT RUN AWAY. This is resisting arrest, the most serious charge thus far. However, if you do feel the need to prove your track star qualities, I would suggest not running towards a pedestrian heavy street and/or a place like a bus station. There are likely to be fine upstanding citizens who may feel inspired to help the police. The chances of your making a clean getaway just got worse, not better.

6. When the police do catch you, DO NOT HIT THEM. This is assaulting an officer. You have now so thoroughly pissed them off they will charge you with everything they can, treat you like shit, and generally do their best to make your life as miserable as they can. And all this goes on your record. Won't Mom be proud?

Kids these days! What are they thinking?

On a side note: working in an urban library is never dull for long! However, keeping your sanity does require a certain amount of black humor to get through the day.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another YA review up at the Ranting Dragon. Paranormalcy is cute and fun, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected. You can read my full review here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Awards Updates

First of all, the poll for the Locus Awards is up at Locus Magazine, as well as a recommended reading list.  The polls close April 15. Voting does not require a current subscription to Locus.

Finalists for the Phillip K. Dick Award have been announced, and the award will be given on April 6.

The Skylark will be presented this weekend.

A new award, the Kitschies, announced their winners this month as well. You can take a look at their selections here.

The Hugos, the John W. Campbell Award, and the Nebulas are all still in nomination process. Those who wish to nominate works for the Hugo and the Campbell may do so by buying a supporting membership or greater to Chicon 7, which is hosting this year's WorldCon.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Heartless is the fourth and penultimate book in Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. The final volume, Timeless, is due out in March of 2012. I've reviewed the first two volumes, Soulless and Changeless both here and at The Ranting Dragon, and Blameless is also up at The Ranting Dragon. You can now, at long last, read my review of Heartless as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I'm starting February off not only with unseasonably beautiful weather, but another book review. The Clockwork Prince is the second installment in the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. You can read more about it at the Ranting Dragon.