Children's books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

shuffling stuff

Children's books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

Children’s books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

The second in a short series of posts where I talk about what exactly I do in my new job as a Children’s and Youth Librarian.

My least favourite part of my job is figuring out where to put books. Our library system has a floating collection across dozens of branches, which means that when a member returns a book to a branch in the system it stays where it was returned and doesn’t have to get trucked back to some other branch where it nominally belongs. What it means in practice is that we get these huge gluts of books on our shelves based on who the last requester was. It also makes getting all of the volumes in a series together on the shelf tricky.

So a big part of my job is dealing with stock rotation. I’m responsible for the Children’s/YA collections in our library and our 5 other small branches in the zone. I get a box of unwanted books from one small branch and go through it to see if we already have copies at our branch; if we do I check which branches in my zone don’t have a copy, then I label it and get it ready to get on the truck so it can be delivered to a small branch where they curse the arrival of new books because their shelves are packed. So they go through their shelves and send unwanted books back to me and it keeps on going. If we have copies in all our branches I have to go and beg and cry on the email lists to get some other library outside our zone to please take some books, and no one wants the stuff I have 18 copies of because they’ve just gotten down to 6. I send books to them and they send books to me in this endless dance of keeping the shelves interesting/relevant without overloading any one branch.

Stock rotation haunts my fucking dreams. I hate it so much.

Weeding, though, weeding I like. That consists of going through the collection and seeing what’s old, beat-up or just not being used and removing it so the stuff people are interested in doesn’t get cluttered out by the rest. One of my favourite things to do is check dinosaur books to make sure there’s at least mention of feathers, and the space books to ensure Pluto isn’t still being called a planet. Weeding is the main way I have a say in our collection development, because the way our system works there’s no librarian selecting material for the system. In order to get new books in our system we rely on our members making suggestions (awesome!) and on the vendor to tell us what we want (umm… less awesome). I get to keep the good books even if they’re old and try winnowing out the less-good ones.

In any case, this stuff I have to deal with collection-wise is in a lot of ways just part of being part of a biggish library system. If I worked in a one-branch system and was in charge of the children’s and youth stuff there, I’d probably be griping about how I have to go through catalogues and pick everything myself even if I didn’t feel qualified. Because the collection is shared among all these branches and there are shelf-space issues everywhere and boxes of books keep on showing up, this feels like the part of my job where I have the least control over anything. And that kind of sucks.

I was at one of our local high schools this week. I loved the fact that I could do a couple of mini-booktalks on China Miéville books and the librarian, who hadn’t heard of him before that, could be really impressed and order them for the library. Just like that. In a larger system that doesn’t happen. Or at least I don’t feel like I can do that.

But my next post in this series will be happier again because it’ll be about something I do have power over. I shall leave you in suspense about what that may be.

book review: dark eden

Chris Beckett’s book Dark Eden felt like it was going to be a lot like The Knife of Never Letting Go when it began. It’s about a small community called Family on a planet with no sun, but warmth comes from the trees that extrude from the ground. They struggle through their lives trying to gather enough food to keep them going another day. Every AnyVirsry they tell stories of Hitler and Jesus fighting over the Juice, and the three companions who came and settled Eden from Earth in their Veekle, and how if they stay right by the Circle when the ones who left for help return from Earth they’ll be able to get them.

Family has been waiting for the people to return from Earth for 160-ish years.

The story begins with 15-year-old (though they don’t naturally talk in terms of years or days, not having a sun, but wombtimes and wakings) John Redlantern asking why they do things the same way they’ve always done them. Why don’t they try to do something new? The rest of the book is about what happens when John Redlantern tries to do something new. Which is cool and the stuff of many an adventure tale. That’s not where Dark Eden stops though.

What makes the book great is that it really gets into what an asshole John Redlantern is, and how he manipulates people, and how that’s a part of the myth he’s creating for himself. It’s done by giving chapters to a number of other characters, some of whom are more aware of the importance of things than others. The moral ambiguity of everything in this book makes almost everyone sympathetic. John Redlantern is the kind of quintessential frontier-pushing explorer, and this story doesn’t just hold that up as a model of what people should be, but how that can break people. Killing a person was unheard of on New Eden, and they had no word for rape.

The other thing I love about the book is how it tries to avoid imposing 21st century Western moral scruples on things. Everybody has sex with everybody, and there are loads of batfaced and clawfooted people resulting from 160 years of breeding from the two people who started human life on New Eden. Sex is really interesting and eventually when things get more tense in Family you can see the germs of patriarchy and sexual control of women start to arise. There’s an incident where a character is almost raped and the way they dance around giving that act of violence a name is so intriguing.

All in all, it’s a great book and also has things to say about how we build the stories of a society and how we use the stories as well. If you’re interested in science fiction you should really give this a try.

book review: supergod

Supergod is the story a British scientist tells of how the world was destroyed by nations putting their trust in hugely powerful beings who can fly. It’s an interesting read for the ideas and the pictures of superbeings reshaping the world.

There aren’t really any characters to get attached to apart from the narrator, who basically takes the place of Uncle Warren telling creepy tales of mushroom sex and soviet robots. Also, because it’s a Warren Ellis comic, of course the British space program plays into the story.

It’s a different take on superhumans than something like Black Summer; a much bigger picture story, and one that highlights how badly people would really deal with that kind of thing.

book review: april 2011 bulk edition

I have been neglecting my reviewing duties. But don’t worry, I’ve still been reading. I haven’t given up on the printed word (and image). Just been slow in typing about them. So here is a list of the books I read before coming to Australia.
Continue reading

book review: incandescence

I took a break from reading a Mary Shelley book because I needed something with a little less overwroughtness, and Greg Egan’s Incandescence was exactly the right thing to read. It’s about travel and about the joy of doing science.

See, there’s a rock. Inside this rock live a planet’s worth of creatures. They’re sort of collective-minded, gaining satisfaction from conservatively working together in teams. Their world is vaguely known to be a fragment of some larger world in the past but who the fuck knows? They know nothing about the wider universe. The majority of the novel is about these creatures developing the spark of curiosity to develop the geometry needed to save their world.

There’s another line of the story as well, which is about some galactic citizens learning about these aliens. This is where more of the Travel aspects come in, and also how the reader gets a bit of perspective on how fucking weird the place those aliens live is.

In all, this was the kind of science fiction story that seems really pure or something. It’s so about science. Greg Egan disdains people who dismiss it as impenetrable as being to chicken to read a novel with a notebook and pencil to work things out.

This leaves me wondering if they’ve really never encountered a book before that benefits from being read with a pad of paper and a pen beside it, or whether they’re just so hung up on the idea that only non-fiction should be accompanied by note-taking and diagram-scribbling that it never even occurred to them to do this. I realise that some people do much of their reading with one hand on a strap in a crowded bus or train carriage, but books simply don’t come with a guarantee that they can be properly enjoyed under such conditions. – Greg Egan “Anatomy of a Hatchet Job

I read most of the book on a plane without taking notes, but still enjoyed it (enjoyed it less than I did Diaspora, but still). A great book of ideas.

book reviews: a summary of the past month

I’ve been reading, but not a lot, and for some reason haven’t been real keen on writing everything up as I finish it. Here’s what I can remember since the last review.

Recently I finished Shadow & Claw the first two volumes of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tetralogy. A classic and one I’m enjoying. It’s got short chapters which help you not feel like you’re slogging through stuff.

I read The Moor’s Last Sigh just before the Salman Rushdie thing. It was the last of his novels I hadn’t read and good. I feel like I’ve said this before about some other book but it feels like the novel is an excuse to get the backstory out there. We need to read the story of Moraes’ grandparents’ love story to know anything about him. It’s interesting to consider in light of SR’s notions of the role of the novel today.

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut was found at a used bookshop a few weeks ago and devoured in an afternoon. Have I mentioned that I got the first volume of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing? The new edition that has his first story on the title in it, not just the beginning of his first arc. Also read Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet, and today I finished Nick Abadzis’ amazing comic Laika, which was heartbreaking.

amundsen, scott and shackleton

At work I was shelf reading (also known as reorganizing the things that patrons mess up through their “use” of the books) in the 900 section. I love the boundary number areas. Today’s example: Going from the 919.8s which are about Antarctica (and explorers of said continent) to the four books we have in 919.9 which are about space exploration, to the 920s: Biographies. What is the connection there?

I also was sorting some books on a cart and got two books (about the I Ching or something) next to each other with call numbers that were 194.325 JON and 194.325 WOO. I smiled. Oh and Miss America from 1995 has the name Whitestone, but on the spine of her biography our library tag has it split into three lines like so:


(The B is for biography.)