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February 2005
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April 2005

Marty's Open Mike Night

I know I oughta do this more often.  When I got near the end of my set, having brought six or seven other musicians up, and pulled the cord out of my guitar to go tearing through the audience I felt about as good as it's possible for a body to feel.  Lynn knows the drill, and was at the stage to plug me back in for a roaring finish.  No matter that it was 2:00 in the morning and on any normal given schoolnight I'd be sound asleep getting ready to do the director thing in the morning.  I do love taking over the club like that.

I haven't been to one of Marty's open mike nights in -- what, a year or more?  Having Richardson in town gave me the excuse -- I booked a room at the Radisson four blocks away so that we wouldn't have to deal with the drive home.    We met Richardson at Sakura for a little sushi and then walked over and put our names on the board.

It was the usual eclectic mix -- a couple of newbies who were tentative but earnest, one or two who were maybe a little too rambunctious for their own good.  There was a devil of a young mandolin player that I brought up to play my set with me -- he was magnificent and I would look forward to playing with him any time.  Richardson was in fine voice.  Bestwick came down and did an excellent set.    He and I need to do more of this together.  Maybe in June I can carve out some time.

Lynn and I woke up about 10:00 this morning.  I was disoriented, forgetting that we were in a hotel and not at home.  I was hungover, sleep deprived, hoarse, and reeking of smoke.  I felt as fine as frog's hair.


Library Juice

I haven't posted much here lately because I've been devoting much of the little time I have for writing to my next editorial for the Journal of the Medical Library Association.   Writing the editorials is very un-bloglike.   Even though they're only 2,000 words or so, they take weeks to evolve, as I go through a slow process of writing, and rewriting, and testing the sentences and the thoughts to try to figure out what I really think about the issue at hand.

This time, I'm writing about blogging, so I've been reading a lot in the blogosphere.  Librarian.net points me to Library Juice, where Rory Litwin has one of the sanest bits of writing about blogs that I've yet seen.    The explosion of blog technology (i.e., tools that enable people to easily post to the Internet) has indeed created a craze where people are using the tools for all sorts of purposes, whether they are really the right tools or not.  The technology is indeed a transformative one -- but we're still not very close to seeing what those transformations will be comprised of.  Remember that the printing press didn't instantaneously create the print culture that we all grew up in -- the technology enabled it, but it took decades of experimentation with that technology before the transformation matured.


Who Speaks For Me?

Lonnie and I were having lunch at Fraz's, talking about why it was so important to me that Lynn and I get married.   We weren't going to have kids, and I wasn't planning on adopting Marian.  We'd already decided that we'd keep our finances separate.  I was nearly forty, she was forty-four; we were pretty independent people and, although we were in love and wanted to share our lives, we still wanted to protect that independence as much as possible.  So why get married?

It was during the last year of my father's life.  His surgery for cancer the previous December had not been successful.  He would die in another two months, just a few day's short of a year from that surgery.  I had watched my mother and he work through their fears and concerns and make their decisions.  My brother and sisters and I were a part of the decision making, but the choices had to be theirs.  And if my dad became unable to speak for himself, my mother would make the decisions.

"Marriage," I said. "Is the way you declare to society who it is that gets to speak for you.  No matter how many years Lynn and I might spend together, if we don't have that official sanction and something were to happen to one of us, there'd be no guarantee that the other would be able to intervene on our behalf.  I want to make it very clear to the world that she is the one who gets to speak for me."

I find it ironic, now, as the Schiavo case spins surrealistically out of control, that it is the "sanctity of marriage" crowd that seems most adamant about destroying this fundamental concept.   It's an awful situation, to be sure.  I ache for the suffering of the parents.  I don't know what's right or wrong in this case -- but I do know that it is the husband who has to make the decision and it is frightening to see so many politicians jumping on a cheap bandwagon to overturn that fundamental principle that has been repeatedly upheld by the courts during seven long years.

It's another example of how far the Republican Party has spun out of control.  There was a time when the Grand Old Party stood for strong limits on how far government could intrude in people's personal lives.  Now it's looking more and more like a red, white & blue version of the Taliban.


Getting the Sentences Right

Rolling Stone uses much of its current issue to memorialize Hunter S. Thompson, "the man who embodied  the spirit of the magazine for more than thirty years."   As a man, Thompson was a fringe character living on the edge, but as a writer he was a meticulous, disciplined craftsman.  Thompson believed in the sacred importance of writing, and was dedicated to getting it right.  Every sentence mattered.  The fact that his sentences were so strikingly different from his predecessors' made the work very difficult, but intensely exhilirating.

In his Paris Review interview,  Hemingway said he'd re-written the ending of A Farewell to Arms 44 times.   Asked what the problem was, he said, "Getting the words right." 

Over the past week, I've been immersing myself in the blogosphere.  There's some useful stuff out there, to be sure, but most of it is artless, bland and redundant.   The best blogs, not surprisingly, come from people with a journalism background of some sort -- people who have a bit of training and expertise in the discipline of moving a thought along a few paragraphs and making the journey interesting and insightful.  They compose, even when they're writing quickly.  They pay attention to the sentences.

Most blog writing isn't composed.  It's spewed, as if all I have to do is connect my brain to the keyboard, and let the words tumble out.   However they end up on the screen is fine, because I've got to get on to the next thing!  The result is not only sentences that are a chore to get through, but a lack of critical thought on the part of the writer.   The instant comment is the hallmark of the blog -- here's my gut reaction, given without reflection as to whether or not what I'm saying is really coherent. The process of revision, and rewriting (and the incredible usefulness of editors) is that it forces the writer to confront what has been written, to go over it again, to face up to it, to make sure that every sentence is true.


Blog Magic

Last week, just a few hours after I posted a trackback re: Gorman to somebody's library blog (I forget which), I got an email from Susan Barribeau in Madison, Wisconsin, asking if I grew up in Kaukauna.  We went to several years of grade school together.    Now our paths can cross electronically in ways that would've been highly unlikely not very long ago.

She scanned in our 3rd grade class picture.  I'm on the bottom row, 4th from the left.   Lynn says the lack of a beard confuses her, but I don't think I've changed at all.

3rd_grade_class


Damaged For Life

The Gorman teapot tempest gave me the idea for my next editorial.  Deadline is approaching.   So I spent much of the day cruising through librarian blogs.

I was sure I'd find hundreds of them positively on fire over the slander that Gorman had foisted upon them.  It's a movement, after all.   

Um...

Maybe not.  Looks like there were nine or ten librarian bloggers who were really annoyed.   Gorman must resign!  He makes us look bad!  David Rothman on Teleread calls Gorman "a threat to librarianship."  Much wringing of hands and foaming at the mouth.  A fun day in library blogland. 

There were fewer librarian blogs than I expected.   By far the best is bizgirl (international librarian of mystery).  Natalie knows how to write, and knows how to tell a story.  I'm willing to carve out a little time in my day to see what she might be up to next. 

My bookshelves are groaning, and the books gathering dust on them look out at me balefully knowing they're not even next to next on my list.  I haven't gotten to the Scholastics yet in Russell's History.  It'll be June before I have a chance to read another novel.  I was reading to Josie from the January issue of Foreign Affairs last night (she loves it when I drawl out those big words in the World Bank articles... rumble, rumble, is all she hears as she lays against my chest), but next time it'll be a repeat of the Tawny Scrawny Lion.   Why should I be spending any of my precious time on blogs?

It's gotta be the writing.  Clay tablets, parchment, broadsides cheaply printed...  I don't care.  Blogs are just another haystack to crawl through.  Don't waste my time.


Gorman on Blogs

Gorman is engaged in the same fight that Jonathan Swift took on in his "Battel of the Books" (1710).   As recounted by Matthew Battles in his splendid "Library: an unquiet history" (which should be required reading for every librarian concerned about where we are and where we're going), Swift was "concerned about the role of pamphlets, those quickly authored and often poorly edited texts that were the chief medium of the quarrel of the ancients and moderns..."  These pamphlets, of course, were the foundation for the print journalism that we grew up with.

It's too easy to speak of the "Blog People" as "the unpublishable, untrammelled by editors or the rules of grammar".  Certainly there are those -- but in the age of Fox News, talk radio, and a New York Times non-fiction best seller list that leads with Jose Canseco's "Juiced", why single out bloggers for derision?  In the late fifties and early sixties, anyone with a mimeograph machine could start a "little magazine" and crank out stream of consciousness poetry and prose, most of which is barely digestible.   But we also got Ferlinghetti and The Threepenny Review.  Keep in mind Sturgeon's Law:  "Ninety percent of everything is crud."

What role blogging will have as our communication tools evolve, I wouldn't attempt to predict.  Certainly the claims of the most avid bloggers, that they represent the complete overthrow of the MSM, are overblown.  And yet, blogs are beginning to have the same level of societal impact that so worried Swift about the pamphlets.   I'm not suggesting that this is necessarily a good thing -- but it is a fact that will clearly have an impact on what librarians do.  Gorman is not a Luddite or an "Antidigitalist", but in his clever haste to deride and dismiss blogs altogether, I fear that one of our finest seers betrays a blind spot.


Impact of Open Access

Try as I might, it is difficult for me not to see the Blackwell "Online Open" program as anything other than a cynical attempt (along the lines of the similar Springer program) to "prove" that authors don't really want open access.   There may be a few authors, deeply committed to open access, who will pony up the $2500 to "free" their article.  But I don't think it'll be many.  Authors (just as is the case for most human beings in most circumstances) will act out of self-interest, and if it's a Blackwell journal that they want to publish in, and they can do it for free rather than pay $2500, they're probably going to do that -- even though they might be willing to pay the $2500 to publish in a high-quality open access journal if that was their preferred outlet.  Surely the people at Blackwell understand that.  Since they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, it's hard for me to figure out a business case for them that makes sense; unless they really are so concerned that enough authors are going to start seeking out open access journals that they have to compete in that arena -- in which case, the open access movement is being more successful than I thought!

I'm in the process of gathering information on the impact on MLA of the JMLA being open access.  Lynanne is gathering some financial & membership info for me, and I'm about to send out a little questionnaire to get the opinions of readers.  My hypotheses are that there will be no discernible impact on membership, but a significant impact on the association's finances.   I'll report the initial findings at the Allen Press seminar in April, and probably use them as the basis for the October editorial.   It'll be very difficult to demonstrate actual cause and effect, but at least I'll have some facts to work with -- facts being generally in rather short supply as the debate rages on.